Author : David Dykes
Geoff said to Alice, ‘I like how you smell. It reminds me of Bounty bars.’ With a slow realisation, she noticed that the sounds bouncing off the work office walls were speech; then, as they entered her ears and travelled to her temporal lobes, she found out that the words were meant for her. Geoff leant back, closing his eyes whilst letting the creamy scent of her breakfast curl up his nostrils, saying, ‘I haven’t had one in ages. Not since I got replaced.’ Alice tried to respond with repeats of old conversations, but the words got clogged somewhere in between her lungs before they could ever reach her vocal chords.
Silence smothered the offices again—the low ceilings threatening to slam into the floor in a cloud of bloody vapour. The words didn’t matter; it was just the sound of humanity that Alice tried to cling to. She felt his voice pulling away and wished that she could bite and devour it so it would never escape.
After the offices closed (no work, there was never any work) Alice went back to her room at the Institution and filled a tub with coconut milk. Using the oven’s final puff of gas for that week to heat the water, she then took the remains of her breakfast—plus the last two melancholy coconuts, hidden under the bed—and scraped the meat into the pan with an old penknife. There was a pair of tights she’d been saving for a special occasion: she used these to squeeze out it two or three times over, making sure the milk was thin, so it wouldn’t congeal over her body.
The juice lay serenely in the metal tub. The smell rose up around Alice’s head, and the scent of sunshine floated around her, like falling blossom. She covered the tub up with her bedsheets, trying to save the scent until morning, but the white vines of the coconut air escaped through holes in the wool and pierced her tear ducts, making Alice dream of Caribbean islands, steel drums, and escapism.
As Alice lay in the coconut bath the next morning—lifting up her legs and watching the milk cascade over her skin—she thought about how she would only have bread to eat for the rest of the month, and how little that really mattered to her right now. Whenever the cold shivers of isolation suddenly shook her body Alice made up conversations in her head about the economy: how it could be fixed, what jobs were the best to get right now, her life before the crash. Anything so that she could retain a voice, and be able to hear the echoes of someone else’s lungs again.
Alice went back to the work offices that morning to find out that Geoff had been moved to another zone; where more work could be found. The mocking ink on the rota followed her around the cold corridors to the worn-out seats of the waiting room. It was always the same: he would go there to be told, ‘Who told you we had jobs? We’re all automated now. You’ll just have to wait around until work becomes available,’ but nothing was ever available when machines would do it better.
Alice sat in the pale corpse of the office building, waiting with the rest for any sign of work and remembering when she used to talk about the cogs in her brain, and how they felt like they were juddering to a halt now. No-one asked Alice why she smelt of coconut milk. No-one else noticed.
Author : Benjamin Fischer
“How do I feel about this?” Tavare said, repeating Arcand’s question. The hard-faced Spaniard frowned and didn’t immediately answer. Arcand was tempted to open his mouth again, but then Pack Instructor stopped that mistake.
“Arcand! Suit up, you damn mutt!”
Arcand barked his response and hefted his helmet. Squat, matte black and prominently featuring a beat-up pair of oversized wolf ears, Arcand and none of the other Cubs would merit factory-fresh armor until they passed this, the last of their exams.
He lowered the helm onto his shoulders. There was that jarring moment of pitch black, and then the suit’s systems blinked to life. Arcand’s heads-up view was restricted only at the very edges of his vision, where Tavare and the other two Cubs in the Pack lurked.
The tingling of the jacked-in nerves at the back of his neck told him his Mark XI was all up round–one hundred and fifty rounds in his right forearm, sixteen twenty millimeter grenades in his left.
“Cub Three up,” Arcand barked. Tavare was right behind him as Cub Four.
“Alright, mutts,” called the Pack Instructor, somewhere safe and in the rear, “I have one last piece of advice for you. Make it quick–no points for style or technique.”
Arcand mashed his heavy mauling claws together, nervous.
Pack Instructor paused, probably to sip from his ever-present mug.
“The coffee’s only getting colder. Range is red.”
With those words, the heavy blast doors swung open before Cub Pack Sixteen Dash Twenty. The blasted, raped remains of the New Manchester colony reared up before them–an O’Neil space colony that had seen better days but now was nothing better than a combat training ground. Once a verdant parkland, the innards of the long cylinder were a dusty, log-strewn clearcut dotted with hexagonal shipping containers serving as makeshift bunkers. What atmosphere was left was barely thirty percent Earth normal, and the station’s spin was so weak it resembled Luna’s gravity.
Sixteen Dash Twenty moved out in a ragged line, Arcand taking the extreme left flank. Cursory scans of the O’Neil’s interior revealed no signs of life, but Arcand still felt conspicuously naked. Loping along at a half-sprint, he hoped he could trust the pre-mission briefing’s promise of no snipers.
His ears pricked; Cub Two was engaging.
“Small arms, and a squad weapon,” Cub One reported.
Glowing icons of target detections popped up in Arcand’s vision. A running leap, and he was circling around the side of the hostiles.
“Cub Two is down,” said Cub One.
“Jesus,” swore Tavare.
Arcand had no time to comment. Scuttling over a tremendous deadfall, he landed face to face with a hostile armed with a rocket launcher. The man staggered back, just out of claw’s reach, but Arcand was already hosing him with his automatic. The hostile went down with a shriek, and something dinged off Arcand’s helmet. He reactively fired a grenade to his left and the air went pink.
Tavare had found trouble, by the cluster of red icons around a bullet-riddled Lunar Transport container. Cub One called in a medevac on Two, and Arcand readied both his weapons.
Suddenly a pair of small hostiles bolted from behind the container. Arcand fired on the lead, smashing him to the ground.
“No!” screamed the second hostile, who Arcand suddenly recognized as a woman. She dropped to her knees, clutching at the mangled man.
She looked up at the huge and brutal form of Cub Three. She started to say something but a flurry of high velocity rounds interrupted.
Tavare strode around the container, his forearms smoking.
Later, at Cub Two’s funeral, Arcand answered his own question.
“How do I feel?” he said, meeting his new brothers’ yellow eyes.
“I feel like a wolf.”
Author : Nathan Andrew Blaisdell
“What you choose as your first improvement says a lot about you.” Sam said thoughtfully through a mouthful of pizza.
I agreed with a nod, glanced up at the TV in the corner of the restaurant, and gave him time to swallow.
“I mean, it’s a very important decision.” He went on. “Some of them are really expensive, you have to figure out what you would really use.”
“Yeah, I know.” I replied.
The first personal improvements came out about eight years ago; and there were only a few of them available at the time. Over the years however more and more have come out, and they’ve become much more affordable. What the improvements actually did varied; but they were very popular among those who could afford them.
At the moment it was about a month before my 18th birthday, which meant I would be of legal age to get improvements. I had saved up my money, and my parents said that they would chip in too as a birthday present. The only problem is there were so many appealing improvements to choose from, I didn’t know where to start. My friend Sam already had what he wanted all picked out, so I decided to talk it over with him at lunch.
“I just think wall-crawling or super jumping would be really cool.” I continued.
“But how often would you really use it? That’s why I think I’m gonna get improved memory if I can. Relatively speaking it’s not that expensive, and it’s incredibly useful. Besides you could get the cool stuff later.”
“Yeah, but… I mean it’s still kinda new technology. I don’t want that kind of surgery on my brain if I can help it you know?” I explained.
“It’s perfectly safe. Everyone was scared laser eye-surgery was gonna make their eyes fall out years down the road, and now we’re giving people x-ray and heat vision.”
“But wouldn’t it just be so cool to climb up a building or even jump up it?” I asked.
“Well, in that case you better get improved healing too. I would think that stuff is much more dangerous then getting brain improvements.”
“They give you training for it.” I cut in, but he continued.
“The super jump surgery is pretty intense anyway. I’m telling you, you won’t lose your brain. If that was a risk it wouldn’t be legal… or popular.”
“I don’t know.” I said. “I mean, I probably don’t even have enough money for the super jump surgery anyway. But wall-crawling isn’t that expensive. I could do that and even something else maybe…”
Sam started to say something but suddenly I wasn’t paying attention anymore, because at that moment I looked up to the TV in the corner again. I couldn’t hear what the news anchor was saying from where I was sitting, but underneath were the words: “HPI Tech unveils new personal improvement: flight.” There was a picture of someone with what looked like large metal boots and metal circles on their hands: a surgically implanted jetpack.
“I changed my mind.” I said. “I don’t want wall-crawling or super jumping.”
He smiled. “See, I told you. Don’t get tricked by how cool they make something sound, go for the practical… What are you looking at?”
I smiled too.
Author : Glenn Blakeslee
They said the best thing to do was stay at home. That way, they said, the retrovirus would have fewer chances to spread and the effects would be minimized.
We made it for three days, Donna and I. We had plenty of food we’d saved for emergencies. We both worried about Cody, who was at the Conner’s for a sleepover when the retrovirus broke out.
Like I said, we lasted three days. On the morning of the fourth day someone pounding on the front door woke me. A middle-aged man stood on my porch, yelling, “Let me in! This is my house!” He looked angry.
I opened the door a crack. The man tried to push through, but I pushed back. “Let me in!” he screamed through the crack. I yelled back at him, “This isn’t your house!” The man stepped back a little bit, looked at my house and asked, “Are you sure?”
The government says that the retrovirus rides piggyback on a gengineered meningitis virus. It’s able to push through the blood-brain barrier, and destroys something called NMDA receptors on hippocampal place cells. The government says that area of the brain is vital for “the rapid acquisition and associative retrieval of spatial information.”
I’m no scientist, but the retrovirus didn’t seem like a big deal.
I bolted the door, and discovered Donna was gone. We’d argued about Cody, whether he was safe, and I knew where she’d gone before I found the note. I ran for the car.
People were wandering the street. I watched the same man knock on three doors. My heart was pounding because I needed to find Donna and Cody, and I felt feverish but figured it was the adrenaline. I used my cell phone as I turned the corner, but none of my calls went through. A bus was parked past the corner, the passengers crowded about, some of them yelling at the driver who stood shrugging. At the stop sign three kids on bikes, two of them crying, rode aimlessly down the street. I turned at the stoplight, pretty sure it was the way to the Conner’s.
At the next light I realized I was lost.
I’ve lived in this goddamn city all my life. I’ve driven, walked or rode nearly every street. I’d remember houses, buildings, trees, and used them like a roadmap. Places had built a structure in my head, but I suddenly couldn’t access it.
Buildings have a shape and a texture, trees a form and color, but every tree and building looked like any other. I couldn’t point and say, “That’s a hospital,” because I didn’t know what a hospital looked like. I had built the structure visually, and now my eyes were all I had. It was my knowledge of places, and their relationship to one another, that had failed me.
I’m no idiot, I know my own address. I should have brought my GPS.
I drove, searching, until the gas ran out. Now I’m in a crowd of people on the street, milling about. Some are screaming and crying, some are smiling as they recognize others they know. One man climbed on a newsstand and started preaching, until a group of men pulled him down. The police are as confused as everyone else. We’re like a herd of lost animals.
I keep looking for Donna and Cody.
A woman I spoke to said that it’s like this everywhere. Everyone is lost. She said, optimistically, that the government will send in guys dressed hazmat-style, and they’ll lead us to our homes.
But then what?
Author : Patricia Stewart, Staff Writer
Proteus is Neptune’s second largest moon. When unmanned probes were sent to explore Proteus in 2308, the radioactive decay of uranium-238 into thorium-230 revealed that the moon was not 4.6 billion years old as expected, but was less than 20,000 years old, making it the youngest astronomical body in the solar system. Consequently, GASA decided to send a manned science mission to Proteus in an attempt to understand its origin.
As the SS Verrier approached Neptune from the sunlit side, the majestic deep blue globe filled the foreground of the main viewscreen. Streaks of bright white clouds could be seen in the upper atmosphere rotating slowly around the planet. Well, perhaps “slowly” is the wrong adjective. The clouds only appeared to move slowly because of Neptune’s tremendous size. In reality, clocked at more that 1,000 miles per hour, Neptune has the fastest planetary winds in the solar system. They would be a Category 50 hurricane on an extrapolated Saffir-Simpson Scale. “Head toward Proteus, Mr. Gujarat, and set ‘er down,” instructed the captain. The helmsman dutifully entered the appropriate commands into the navigation console.
The Verrier skimmed above the irregular rocky surface of Proteus like a seagull effortlessly gliding above a choppy ocean. The helmsman selected the flat plains of the Challis Planitia, near Proteus’ North Pole. He oriented the bow of the Verrier toward Neptune and descended vertically toward the moon’s surface. When the landing pads touched down, the ship lost all power. The bridge became pitch black.
“What the…,” exclaimed the captain as the low intensity emergency lighting activated, giving the bridge a red hellish appearance. “Mr. Kelheim, what happened?”
“Unsure, Captain,” replied the Chief Engineer. “I’ll have to look at the main power grid.” He unbuckled himself and headed toward the equipment locker. “The backup batteries will provide life support for 48 hours. Hopefully, I can get the main power online before then.” With the captain assisting, they began to systematically work their way from the generators toward each of the ship’s primary stations. They replaced several overloaded power couplings and disconnected all nonessential systems. After four hours, they were ready to reset the circuit breakers. They all breathed a sigh of relief when the ship’s lighting came back on. They could hear the whine of the air circulation pumps as they ramped up to maximum. However, when the main viewscreen came online, the bridge lighting appeared to flicker rapidly. When they looked at the viewscreen, they could see Neptune rotating at an unbelievable speed. In the background, the sun was flashing like a strobe light as it was rapidly rising and setting as Proteus whipped around Neptune several times a second.
The helmsman turned toward the captain, “What’s going on, sir? Why is the universe going so fast?”
Realizing what was happening, the captain ordered, “Prepare for immediate take off. Get us off the surface, fast! The universe isn’t going faster, Mister Gujarat; we’re going slower. Apparently, there is an extreme time dilation effect on Proteus. That’s why the radioactive isotopes showed it to be so young. The flow of time has practically stopped here.”
Once in space, the Verrier returned to normal space-time. Neptune’s white clouds were again moving lazily across the upper atmosphere. The stars appeared motionless behind Neptune. “Contact Earth,” ordered the captain. “Find out how much time has elapsed.”
Even at the speed of light, it took the radio transmission four hours to reach Earth, and then four more hours for the answer to return. The year was 2395. The Verrier had been declared lost 85 years earlier.