Solar Storm

Author : Patricia Stewart, Staff Writer

“Good Day space travelers. This is James O’Brien bringing you the latest system weather update. Solar activity is very low in the ecliptic plane facing Earth. No solar flares occurred during the past 24 hours. The solar disk continues to be spotless in this hemisphere. Earth’s geomagnetic field is expected to be generally quiet for the next three days.

“Well, things don’t look so good on the other side of Sol. The space weather prediction center reports that solar activity in the ecliptic plane facing Venus is expected to be very intense over the next three days. Currently, the solar wind is blowing at 8,000 kilometers per second, with gust to 15,000. Numerous C-Class events are expected, with a slight chance for an isolated M-Class event possible. High speed coronal mass ejections will reach dangerous levels for anybody in non-shielded areas. A Solar Flare Advisory Warning is in effect until the end of the week.

“Moving on to the northern polar region. Electron flux levels of…”

“Computer, radio off,” ordered Steve Aligninc, “and bring up the schematics for the propulsion system.” The monitor came to life showing a semi-transparent 3D outline of the ship. Seconds later, the fuel tanks appeared, followed by the fuel lines, exhaust manifold, combustion chamber, and the primary thrust high velocity nozzle. Finally, between the gas generator and the turbine, a bright red silhouette of the turbopump injector began flashing. “Well, Candunn, there’s the problem. If we can’t repair the injector before the storm hits, we’re dead men.”

“Com’on Steve, aren’t you overreacting? Solar storms happen all the time. If it was that dangerous, space would be littered with skeleton filled ships.”

“This is a pleasure craft, you idiot, not a science vessel. Remember, we told the rental company that we were going to the asteroid belt, not to Venus. Besides, we have to go outside to repair the injector. I’m not sure the spacesuits they gave us were designed for solar flare activity. Computer, is it safe for an EVA?”

“Negative,” was the disembodied reply. “The flux density outside the ship is already lethal to humans.”

“Fine,” Candunn snapped. “We’ll just hunker down for the duration.”

“That may not be safe either,” Aligninc pointed out. “Not if there’s an M-Class flare. Computer, it sounded like the flares are confined to the sun’s equator. If we fire the control jets, can we climb above the ecliptic, and avoid the storm?”

“Negative. The control jets don’t have enough thrust. It would take 15 days to reach a safe latitude.”

“Okay, what if we wear our EVA suits inside the ship. Would the combined shielding protect us?”

“Negative. You will be protected from soft radiation, but the coronal mass ejections would easily penetrate the hull and your suits.”

“Okay, what if we use the ship’s batteries to polarize the hull? Wouldn’t that deflect the coronal ejections?”

The computer actually laughed. “You humans crack me up,” it said. “Your understanding of basic physics is dreadful. Where did you go to school, Tisch? ‘Polarize the hull using the ship’s batteries.’ That’s too funny.”

“Okay, wiseass. Do you have a better idea?”

“As a matter of fact, I do,” replied the computer. “All rental ships have a panic room, with X-Class shielding. You’ll be safe in there.”

“Panic room? I don’t remember seeing a panic room?”

“It’s the bathroom, of course. It will be cramped, but you shouldn’t need to stay in there more than a day or two.”

“Uh oh,” whispered Candunn. “I guess I shouldn’t have eaten those three bean burritos for lunch. Sorry, Steve.”


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Author : Rob Burton

I watch Kamille comb her beautiful dark hair, and I can’t help but wonder what horror now grows inside her. She’s from a fine family, well respected travelling merchants, with enough money to have selected the best from amongst many possible children, with some low-level inconspicuous enhancements thrown in for good measure. Her eyes are a shade of blue found deep within a glacier. But, honestly, it is her normality that charms me most.

The merchants sometimes encounter distrust, most often ill-deserved. Travellers survive only by maintaining a reputation for honest dealing; it is the business that necessitates constant travel, not any need for anonymity. Low-energy transportation, dirigible air ‘barges’ (a history lesson few realise), are slow – merchant families must travel together. This is less true of those of us who follow.

Perhaps, then, it’s the presence of freaks like me that fosters distrust. Freaks were rarities once; sometimes simple aberrations, sometimes the result of inbreeding. The situation could not now be more antithetical. Births are never accidental, but part of a carefully planned contract, contraception ubiquitous, sex a recreational activity utterly unrelated to child-rearing. Now it happens only because one of the parents has reached the borders of speciation.

Even the poorest usually carry some form of gene modification – perfect eyesight and an enhanced immune system, if nothing else. But the very rich are something else entirely – a people apart, decadent and wasteful of their potential. If they fall upon hard times, the very code that lives inside them becomes their last source of wealth. Those amongst the lower orders who aspire to greater things will give everything they own to forge a parental contract with these glorious beings, and, thereby, a child. Without the careful attentions of the best doctors, however, such children sometimes arrive in unexpected forms.

It’s often uncomfortable for those of us whom appear so obviously different. People cannot help but stare. Hair where it should not be. Fingers fused, diminished or multiplied. Unusual height or build. The variety is endless, the result always the same.

It’s not unusual for us to attach ourselves to these travelling groups. We fit in well with others who feel they don’t fit in. Nothing so distasteful as a freakshow, you understand. I do not sit whist gasping onlookers stare at my patterned fur or my fierce yellow eyes. They come to see the musicians and players, similarly attracted to the nomadic life. Perhaps we add a little intrigue – a glimpsed strangeness amongst the milling troop. I clean the solar collectors atop the canopy, a dangerous task, and tend to electronic systems and engines. Nobody asks how I acquired the skills.

Most of the other ‘eccentrics’ (the polite term, I’m told) don’t even have the education to understand exactly what they are. Not me, though. Because I am a fake, no freak at all. I hide my grace with false mistakes. I pretend to see less well than I do. I keep my silence though I hear everything. I was designed, many years ago, carefully crafted. My family own a quarter of the western continent. I am quite old. I have many children other than the uncertain thing growing in the belly of my love. Her father, recently informed of my status, thinks that the child will be wondrous. I fear he may be right.

I could survive a famine. I have written symphonies. I can run for three days without rest. I was once considered a great beauty.

I just went out of fashion.


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The Light Between

Author : J.R. Blackwell, Staff Writer

Rae woke up strapped to a table, which was hardly out of the ordinary, but always came as a surprise. She had a headache, but that was to be expected, since she had a metal bar through her forehead. Her fingers were smoking.

“Bergh.” she said, although what she intended to say was “I could really go for a coffee.”

Winston leaned over her, jubilant. He was always jubilant, no matter how much she was smoking when her eyes opened.

“It worked!” he said, repeating his usual script. He was so pleased with himself.

“Graah.” Rae said, when what she wanted to say was “Get out of my face.” He was always pawing at her when she was strapped down.

Winston whirled away, laughing maniacally. “Brilliant!” he shouted. “I’m brilliant!”

Rae felt that if Winston were really brilliant, he wouldn’t have to keep shocking her to keep her alive, but she wasn’t about to complain, mostly because talking took so much effort. Her tongue was not her own and wouldn’t always obey her. If she wanted to talk, she had to force it to shape the words, think about the pressing of the l against the roof of her mouth, the little whistle shape she had to make to say an S. It was too much hassle.

“I really am a genius.” said Winston. “Though no one understands me.”

How cliché, thought Rae. It’s because you’re crazy. And your personal hygiene is questionable. Rae sighed. Her sighs, at the very least, were hers, full of meaning. There were stories in her sighs, novels.

“They want you down at the office park,” said Winston, unbuckling the straps and throwing them across her giant body. “You remember your installation, don’t you?”

“Krrphh,” said Rae, when what she meant to say was “As if I would forget what I’ve been working on for the past three months, you imbecile.”

Winston drove. He drove a jeep. At one time, he drove a small Japanese car, but now he needed something with a roof that could be opened, so that Rae could fit inside.

“Doctor!” cried the middle manager when he saw Winston and Rae pull up into the parking lot. Rae’s giant sculpture bloomed in front of the building, giant silver tendrils, like a wicked tree. They reflected like in sharp, white lines, refracting light onto the grass, the building, back towards the sky.

Rae climbed up her enormous sculpture and let Winston talk to the manager. She bent errant pieces into crisp angles, the sculpture reaching in all directions upwards, towards the heavens. Winston explained that it was meant to be motivational to the employees, to inspire them to do their best every day. Rae knew that was bullshit, but explaining what it meant was impossible with her tongue.

Rae marveled at her hands, so compliant, twisting and turning, grasping. Like her tongue, they were not her own, but perhaps hands were more agreeable than tongues, or perhaps all tongues have rebellious spirits. She looked at her hands then, but they had no opinions.

“Murphl,” she said, because she felt like speaking. She ran her obedient hands along the sculpture, the metal edifice reaching towards the sky. She imagined rain clouds gathering, grey and that strange yellow color before a storm and then blue and white and purple electric light would strike her sculpture, and it would conduct lightning between the sky and earth, for a moment, dangerous and alive. The sculpture wasn’t some symbol of achievement; it was her, her own, a life between two places.

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Julia 13

Author : Ken McGrath

Her name was Julia 13.

There had been twelve others before her, all exactly the same. The only thing that was meant to be unique about her, about them, was the number after the name.

But she started to act differently.

Unlike the others Julia 13 began to get curious. It had never happened before. The others had just accepted what they’d been told. Julia 13 had begun by asking questions. The sort of questions that made those around her uncomfortable and silent, the ones nobody wanted to answer or was even sure how to answer.

First there were the queries about her name, about the number which followed it. She then tried to find out about her forerunners, about the original Julia, if in fact there was one, or if she, Julia 13, was just a composite of many women. She was trying to find out about a past she’d never had, that those in charge believed didn’t belong to her.

Someone, one of the technicians on the lower rungs of the ladder that made up the Facility probably, let slip to her about the vat where the previous Julia’s, where she, had been bred. She learned where she’d been born, in a lab, in an artificial womb, deep below the Facility Building.

It had confirmed some of her fears, but she wanted to know more. She needed to find out about her ancestors, if indeed they could be called that, the other Julia’s and what had happened to them.

Her persistent questions had brought her the unwanted attention of the Facility Director though.

He’d let it run on for a while. He was curious too. He was always interested to see how his girls would develop and up until this one they’d all been a success. They’d all conformed. But Julia 13 was different to the others. She was much more inquisitive. In the end he decided that thirteen was probably just unlucky for some, especially since none of the others had shown this trait. In the end he had her removed.

Julia 13 did have a legacy though. After her they stopped giving the girls numbers, after her they were just Julia. Plain and simple, a name with no number, nothing to distinguish one from the one before or the one that came after.

There were certain elements of the past after all which the Facility didn’t want to keep on repeating.

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Presque Vu

Author : Debbie Mac Rory

One doesn’t earn the title of the system’s greatest escape artist without effort. I’ve broken out of all of them, and in record time. Well, except for that one time they placed me in an archaic brick and mortar cell. I think the first hour I simply stared at the walls in disbelief and spent the next laughing so hard I couldn’t even pick myself up from the floor. But this time they’re really outdone themselves.

You see, in my day and age, scientists have tried almost everything. And one of the things they’ve tested exhaustively is time-travel. I can understand the fascination; after all, who wouldn’t want to be able to travel back and, perhaps, find out just who it was who stole the Mona Lisa? No, it wasn’t me. That was well before my time, but I admire their style.

Alas, much to their frustration they found out very quickly that it is impossible to move back in time. Let me explain. Take a book, anyone you like, though one printed on paper. Jules Verne is one of my particular favourites, though for the purpose of this demonstration, it makes no odds who the author is. Now, if you were to take a page from another book, you’ll find it is not possible to simply place the page within the book to yield a new version of the book. The page does not of its own will assimilate itself with the existing book, and will not without some significant external influence.

Just so regarding time travel. All their studies found that though they could look, they could never touch. But an idea, a thought has no mass at all. It leaves no imprint on the world, even if the subject interrupted by their testing brings “their” new idea into practice; providing of course that if doesn’t radically alter history. And so they found a way to transfer an entire consciousness into a past being. A one way trip of course, specially reserved for extremely dedicated historians. And people like me.

I’ve spent hours starting at these fingertips, all etched with curls and whorls and completely organic. When I touch something now, the only information I receive is that from this body’s own sensory system. To be fair, they did show a little mercy in that they left me in a period that has ready access to alcohol and recreational drugs. I suppose they hoped that I’d just drink myself into oblivion.

Unfortunately, being the kind souls they are, they handed me their undoing in their mercy. Far enough forward in time so some basic technologies would be available, though severely limiting my ability to tamper yes, but also far enough that this culture has already mastered the science of genetic manipulation. And being the technological expert that I am, it was a simple matter to hack their systems and set up a preservation order for my family line. It’s the latest craze of this age. They removed most of my hardwire modifications, but not the ones I’d had coded down to cell level. And so I’ve planned a nice little surprise for my would-be captors.

Cryogenics is still beyond this time, and will be for some time if my recollection is correct. And that’s a shame; I would have loved to have seen the looks on the faces of my judge and jury for myself when they see mine over and over and over…

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