Author : Richard Watt
Here it came again. A microsecond burst, inaudible to human ears, and – until relatively recently – to human-designed technology, the sudden squirt of dense information still alarmed those who were exposed to it; even slowed down so that it lasted just over a second it sounded like nothing on Earth.
The first transmission which had been intercepted had made headlines; people all over the world had celebrated what was being described as the first clear indication of intelligent life out there somewhere, but nearly a year on, it was old news.
Mainly it was old news because no sense had been made of the transmissions at all. The finest minds of several generations had been applied to them; colossal research grants and vast amounts of government funding had been poured into decoding them, and absolutely nothing of any use had been discovered.
The intervals between the transmissions were random; the sounds themselves were dense, complex and unrepeating, but no-one had been able to relate them to anything – well over a million personal computers were hooked up to a collaborative project to compare the various elements of the signal to the digits of pi or a broad selection of other universal and interesting numbers, but nothing. The signal had been dissected, sliced and spliced; subjected to analysis at all frequencies and even merged with itself, layered over and over until it resembled white noise – but a type of white noise unsettlingly unlike what was familiar to human ears.
Nothing. Nothing usable in any way. The transmissions were of uniform length, but the duration seemed to give no clue – it related to no known wavelength or frequency. The complex waveforms of the signal delivered no meaning, and even the painstaking work which had been done in unpicking the signal – stripping out individual sounds – gave no indication of how they had been produced, or why.
The only practical application of the signals, aside from the endless philosophising which the human race had suddenly become prone to, was a piece of dance music which some enterprising producer had put together. Using the signals as source material, and using the random intervals between them as an erratic and awkward rhythm, the resulting piece of music had been a brief sensation – thousands of listeners all over the world had claimed to divine some kind of message from it, but none of them could agree in any way just what that message was, and the excitement surrounding it died as quickly as it had flared.
The most puzzling thing of all, of course, was that the signals appeared to come from somewhere close. Close enough, in fact, to be within the moon’s orbit. Any number of outlandish explanations for this had been offered, but even a hastily put together collaborative space flight could shed no light on it. The signal came from nowhere, and as far as anyone could tell, meant nothing. Funding was slowly redirected to other projects, and the attention of the world moved on.
In a place which human understanding of the time was incapable of describing, a lifeform which was closer to an idea than a corporeal form took the decision to stop the transmissions. Had it been capable of speaking in English – which it most certainly was not – it might have said something like:
“Pity. They appeared more intelligent than they were. We’ll try again in another 43 lifecycles or so.”
Author : Ryan Somma
Director Almod peered at the computer screen frowning in contemplation, “I don’t get it.”
“It’s a star,” Jaed offered helpfully.
“I know it’s a star,” Almod gaze never broke from the image. “So what?”
“Sooo…” the smile gracing Jaed’s face only moments before had vanished, “So it was made from scratch.”
Almod looked at her, quirking an eyebrow, “On a computer.”
“Yes. On a computer,” Jaed’s hands began playing with one another in that way they were prone to do when she was anxious. This was not going the way she had planned, “I gave the computer eight decillion virtual hydrogen atoms, described in exquisite detail, and defined an environment with physical laws just like our own Universe, and…” Jaed’s mouth scrunched up at the look on Almod’s face.
“And it made a star,” the Director’s frown deepened.
“I–I don’t like to think of it as making a star, so much as the computer inferred a star,” Jaed swallowed.
“What are the applications of this?”
“It’s a proof of concept for the Cartesian method,” Jaed stumbled over the words trying to get them out. “In the 17th century, the philosopher Descartes argued that everything about reality could be known through logical inference. In the 18th century, John Locke argued that reality could best be understood through experimentation, and this has been the dominant paradigm for centuries, the scientific method. The only place Descartes’ idea has had any relevance is mathematics.”
Director Almod’s eyes were starting to glaze over, and Jaed’s hands continued wringing one another, “So you see, this program, this simulation, is a proof of concept. I’ve given the computer a cloud of the most basic atom to work with, and, using gravity, the electromagnetic force, and the strong and weak nuclear forces, it has inferred fusion, producing helium. It has even inferred several gas giants in orbit around the star. So you see…?”
“Hmph,” Almod grunted and Jaed’s heart sank. “We live in a Universe a few billion years old–”
“13.5 billion years old…”
“–Running that on a computer, even accelerated, you might have something useful to the company in… What? A few million years?” the Director shook his head, “I’m sorry, but we can’t dedicate more computing power to something with such mediocre chances of profitability. We don’t do science experiments here.”
Almod left the room without another word, leaving Jaed to swivel back to her disparaged accomplishment. Helium now made up 0.27 percent of the atoms in the simulation, Oxygen and Carbon made up 0.006 percent and 0.003 percent respectively. Neon and Iron were there too, and when the star eventually went supernova, Jaed was certain it would produce all the other elements found in the Universe.
But that event was decades away (not “millions of years” as Almod had grossly exaggerated), and would only occur if the server was allowed to run that long. In the meantime, Jaed could at least watch her simulated Universe of a single star for her personal enjoyment, maybe get a Discover magazine article out of it.
She zoomed in on a tiny speck of clumped matter, a planet made of carbon was orbiting the star. It had an atmosphere as thick as the layer of varnish on a globe. H2O molecules were pooling on its surface, forming lakes and oceans.
There was also a strange discoloration spreading across the planet that puzzled Jaed. There were no chemical reactions with the few elements present in the simulation that she could think of to produce the color green.
Author : Jeff Soesbe
Blood transferred and body hidden, Fulton unplugged the transfer tubes, twisted shut the valves of the metal cat’s access port. One step left. With a deep breath, he leaned forward, set his rusted wrench on the gleaming winding nut. His heart sped like a hummingbird’s wings. The scent of cloud roses hung heavy around him, and it gave him pause. Ardenne always loved cloud roses.
Ten full turns to wind the spring, the muscles in his arm shaking during the last turn. To the soft whirr of the internal machinery, the cat’s eyes flickered open with a click. Their white blankness, like ocean pearls, followed Fulton as the great cat raised its head to the song of gears and wires.
“I live.” A harsh voice, a rasp on metal, air through hollow tubes.
“I’m Fulton. I made you.” Carefully, he reached for the cat. The coldness of the metal made him gasp. He rubbed between the ears and the cat’s purr was a distant thunderstorm.
“Echo. You remind me of someone.”
“Echo,” the cat growled, then froze. It sniffed, a whistle like the distant call of eagles, and searched with its nose. “Fresh meat.”
Faster than fire through dry wood, Echo rose. Fulton followed, shuffling through leaves as the cat moved, silently, unerringly, to Ardenne’s hidden body. With a great paw that glistened in the sunlight scattering through the oaks, it uncovered the body, brushing aside dried leaves and crisp green limbs carefully arranged by Fulton.
Seeing Ardenne again, her blood-streaked face frozen in a final silent cry, Fulton’s heart turned. He had to look away, at simple shoes on her feet, at red and brown leaves around her.
“Newly dead.” Echo opened a mouth like sharp daggers, aimed at Ardenne’s stomach, then paused.
Fulton sighed deep, his mouth dry like dust, relieved the cat had not bitten.
“Her blood is mine,” Echo called. “It runs through me.”
“Yes,” Fulton stuttered. “I gave you her blood.”
“She died. I love her. I wanted her to live on.”
Flipping Ardenne’s still form over with a nudge of its nose, Echo sniffed at the dark matted spot in her hair. “Metal.”
The wrench was still in his hand. He shivered, dropped it into the grass where it thumped against an oak root.
“Why did you kill her?” Echo sat back on its haunches.
The stillness of its pose, like it was about to pounce, drove fear into Fulton.
His emotion was an explosion of water over rocks. “Once, Ardenne said she gave me her heart, her blood. But she was going to leave me. I couldn’t let her.”
“Hm.” Echo turned to Ardenne’s body, flipped her again, then in a flash of large metal teeth bit out the left side of her chest.
“No!” Fulton stepped forward, reaching, but the cat’s cold white eyes froze him in his step. He watched with horror as Echo slowly chewed Ardenne’s bones and flesh. Every crunch was a slap to his face, a blow to his stomach that left him breathless.
Once finished, Echo swallowed. “Now I have her blood and her heart. They were not yours to take, nor was her life. Goodbye, Fulton.”
The cat sauntered off, the only sound the wind in the trees and the songs of the birds.
Fulton fell to his knees at Ardenne’s side, into the pool of red that seeped from the gaping hole in her body. His tears came freely, tears at a heart now lost twice, twice through deeds steeped in blood.
Author : Ian Rennie
“All right, just tell me what happened,”
Flight Commander Athelston was a long way from happy, but right now exhaustion outweighed anger. His two subordinates, one furious, one sheepish, started to speak at the same time. Eventually Turner, the angry one, won out.
“Sir, Cook’s endangered the whole mission with his stupidity. He’s contaminated the scene with lord knows what effect and put everything we were trying to do in jeopardy.”
“Look, it was nothing serious! You’re only freaking out because of-”
“Both of you, hush.”
They turned from each other to the commander. Anger was poking its head up again.
“Right, without laying blame, tell me what happened, not what you think of each other.”
After a pause, Cook spoke, sounding like the naughty kid found drawing penises on the blackboard.
“All right, full story. I was off duty last night, and I was bored, so I opened up the emergency spirit rations.”
“An offense under section-” Turner began, before catching the Flight Commander’s eye and shutting up. Cook continued.
“I got a bit of a buzz on, nothing else to do on this place, is there? And when I went on patrol this morning I was feeling the after effects a little bit.”
Athelston closed his eyes.
“Please tell me you didn’t throw up on the planet we’re meant to be observing.”
“No, no, nothing like that!” Cook began, his opening defense hasty with little to follow it up, “It was just… well, I was half a mile from base camp, and I was bursting for a piss.”
Athelston let out a sigh.
“So you used the emergency suit reservoir? No, of course you didn’t.”
“There was this little warm puddle by this rock outcropping and-”
“And you decided to make it bigger and warmer? Cook, you may have forgotten, but we are meant to be a non-contact mission. Our engines are full-capture, we take no samples. We don’t even take on water. Our purpose is to observe without impacting. What part of that tells you to take a leak against a rock?”
“Recommend his immediate court martial, sir!” Turner said, crisply.
Athelston paused, considering the months of his life such a court martial would take. Him answering questions in a courtroom instead of piloting missions, smart lawyers insinuating this was his fault, the endless headaches that would at best leave a smudge on his mission reputation.
“No,” he said slowly, “That won’t be necessary.”
“But the environmental-”
“Urine is sterile, Turner. Cook disgraced himself, but he didn’t put the mission in danger. Cook, you’re a bloody idiot, and you’re pulling engine room duty all the way home. Understood?”
Both men nodded, neither entirely happy.
“Good, now let’s finish up and get off this planet before Cook decides to take a crap on it.”
A few hours later, the launch capsule took off again. It was a remarkable thing, managing capture of almost all of its exhaust emissions. With a strong wind, any signs of its presence would be gone within the week.
In a small, warm puddle, half a mile from the landing site, interesting things were happening. Cook hadn’t thought to mention the girl he’d run into on their last planet leave, or the things she’d done with him in a bedroom above a kebab shop. He wouldn’t even know for a few days that he had caught a dose of something from her. Nevertheless, bacterial signs of that tryst lived on in this puddle. The only life on the planet, they started to multiply in this warm, nutritious mixture. When the rains came in a few days, they would be spread into the rivers and oceans of this planet.
And the morning and the evening were the first day.
Author : Skyler Heathwaite
Joshua had always been a God fearing man. He went to confession, said his prayers before bed, and gave to the collection plate. Then one day he saw an ad on TV for Revival.
The idea itself was simple: Science had found a way to download a mind into a fresh body at the moment of death. A transmitter at the base of the brain stem, a monthly fee, and never again would one have to fear death.
There was a tiny hole in Joshua’s heart, a defect in the womb. He signed up, and took a few days off while his neck healed. On his last day off he was shot in a robbery at his favorite liquor store.
He awoke in a healthy young body surrounded by doctors. They validated his identity and sent him home.
That had been a month ago. He poured the gasoline over the basement steps as he ascended to the ground floor. In a crumpled heap below lay his wife and two daughters, like so much wet cardboard.
He struck a match and leered at it. No death, no fear of God.