Author : Duncan Shields, Staff Writer
It was slave labour, that’s what it was.
My nose drew a little circle in the center of the condensation on my faceplate. The visors were supposed to be moisture resistant but like everything else, the company had cut corners. We could see enough to do our jobs.
Tiny, valuable crystals coated the billion square kilometers of the half-Dyson. Very dense carbon deposits.
Manual labour was the cheapest way to get them. Like any loser here, I’d believed the hype about getting shares in the company. We were paid well but they took everything we needed to do our job out of our pay at exorbitant prices. It was the oldest scam in the book and there was always another crop of uneducated fools ready to sign up.
When a person was prying a diamond off the hull, the cheap tool would snap and the worker would rock back. Sometimes, he’d rock back too quickly and break his gravplate bonds.
That person would float off into space. That person’s screaming intercom would be cut off by control. He’d dwindle to a speck over the course of a day.
We were supposed to have tethers. We were supposed to have maneuvering jets. There were supposed to be ambulance shuttles standing by. All very expensive. Safety inspectors were bribed. We cut corners ourselves to heighten our own wages.
It was stupid and dangerous work.
I crawled, stuck to the surface by weak gravplates on my knees, feet, elbows and hands, on what appeared to me to be a flat black plane stretching away to the horizon on all sides.
Weak flashlights on either side of my helmet kept trained on the ‘ground’ one meter in front of my face. I was in the stimulus-response trance that repetitive work brought on. It was almost meditative.
That when I heard Julie’s frightened bark of a scream click off into silence.
We’d been sharing a bunk for two weeks. It was against company regulation but really, the ignorance of the law went both ways. This was deep space.
I loved Julie and she loved me.
I looked up and saw Julie floating away. I had a clear memory of being back on earth and seeing a child accidentally let a balloon go, crying as it flew slowly up into the sky.
Julie was kicking frantically, trying to ‘swim’ back to the hull but she was too far away.
Both of us had forfeited our jets and tethers for the dream of making enough money to get away from here and live together within two years.
I was watching that dream float away into space.
Without thinking, I kicked off towards her.
My aim was true and we collided. She panicked at the collision and we scrambled for contact before she realized it was me.
Her face smiled in relief through the faceplate for half a second before her eyes widened in horror at what I’d done. Then she choked back tears. She hugged me as much as the bulky suits would allow.
We floated in an awkward waltz. Maybe two deaths in one day would look suspicious. Maybe they’d grudgingly send a wagon out. Probably not, though.
We each had eight more hours of air.
I touched my helmet to hers so that she’d be able to hear me when I spoke.
“I won’t let you die alone.” I said.
Author : Patricia Stewart, Staff Writer
“Captain, we’re being hailed by Ambassador Kapris. He say’s it’s urgent.”
Dammit, thought Captain Santiago, I don’t have time for this. “Tell him that I cannot be interrupted.”
“Sir, he says that it’s a matter of life and death. He says that our tachyon experiment won’t work.”
“What? Nobody on Pegasi Prime knows about this experiment. How the hell did he find out?”
“He says that if you transport down, he’ll tell you.”
A few minutes later, the captain materialized in the office of Ambassador Kapris. “This is a breach of security, Ambassador. I demand to know how you found out about the experiment.”
“I told him, dad,” said an old man standing next to the Ambassador. Santiago hadn’t even noticed him until he spoke. The old man continued, “I’ve waited decades for you to get here. What’s the matter, don’t you recognize your own son?”
Santiago studied the old man. He had to admit, there was a resemblance. “What are you talking about? I don’t have any children.”
“True,” replied the old man. “But you will, unless you listen to what I have to say. When I was young, you told me that the experiment you’re about to run failed. It started a cascading temporal distortion that destabilized your warp core. You and your crew managed to get into escape pods, but when the reactor blew, everybody was killed, except for you and Mary Toole. A temporal rift transported your Pods back in time almost 90 years. You landed on this planet and went into hiding so you wouldn’t disrupt the timeline. You eventually had a child, me, and I too have lived a secluded life. Mom died several decades ago, and you died within a week. Today, the circle is complete. I can finally come out of hiding. You had asked me, if I lived long enough, to try to save your crew. Please, call your ship. Tell them to shut down the experiment. But hurry, time is running out.”
“Ensign Toole from Engineering? I barely know her.” After a moment’s reflection, Santiago finally said, “No, this is ridiculous. I can’t stop the experiment without evidence.”
“Okay,” offered the old man. “Just delay it ten minutes. Then you’ll have your proof.”
“What kind of proof?”
“Well, I’ll disappear, of course. If your ship doesn’t blow up at the exact same time, you’ll change history. My history, to be specific. The cascade won’t start at 10:25, you won’t get into the escape Pods at 10:28, the ship won’t explode at 10:31, and you and mom won’t be transported back in time to have me. I’ll cease to exist. Simple, huh? Can a ten minute delay hurt?”
The captain studied the sincerity in the old man’s eyes. Eyes, he realized, that were nearly identical to the ones that looked back at him every morning when he shaved. He decided that it was worth the gamble. He tapped his communicator, “Captain Santiago to Engineering. Power down the tachyon generator, and await further instructions, out. Okay, ‘son,’ let’s say you’re right. Won’t this cause your death?”
“Technically, yes, but I’ve already lived 86 years. Besides, maybe a few years from now I’ll be born again in this timeline. But do yourself a favor, dad. When you get back to the ship, get to know Mary Toole. She’s a wonderful person. She’ll make a great wife, and a fantastic mother. And, please, make sure that you tell her that I love her.” With that, the old man smiled and faded to nothingness. The chronometer on the wall read 10:31.
Author : Sean Monaghan
Jerry ducked Monica’s projectile, his knees up to his chin in zero-G. The sno-globe missed his head by millimeters and smacked into the aluminum window casing, then spun through their cabin.
‘Honey, it’s okay, it’s-‘
‘Ladies and Gentlemen,’ the captain’s voice crackled over the intercom. ‘We’ve been cleared for re-entry by Mojave control. If you look out your windows now, you’ll get your last view from space, dawn breaking over eastern Siberia. We’re about to fire our braking rockets and drop into the atmosphere. All going well, we should have you on the ground and cleared through quarantine in twenty minutes.’
‘Where are they?’ Monica yelled. Her make-up was smeared from wiping tears. Jerry wondered if she was still drunk from the end of cruise party. She’d probably kept drinking after he’d turned in.
‘Allan’s holding them. I told you. We can’t go through security with-‘
Monica reached out and plucked the spinning souvenir from the air, flinging it at him again. The globe impacted his abdomen making the adhesive prosthesis jab him sharply. He saw the snowy hills of Mars again, encapsulated in the small drifting quartz sphere.
The ship jerked. ‘We are beginning our descent,’ the intercom relayed. ‘Please be seated in your gravity couch. Ensure you fasten your webbing harness.’
Jerry grabbed the netting. In the cramped cabin, it was hard to drift out of reach of anything, just as it was hard to avoid Monica’s missiles. He could hear a hissing sound.
‘The whole point of the trip,’ Monica said, ‘was to bring home the diamonds. And you give them away.’
Jerry looked out the window, seeing a trail of glinting vapor. ‘I didn’t give them away,’ he said.
The window was leaking, he realized. Ariadne’s cheap reputation included a poor maintenance record, and the sno-globe had probably wrecked the window seal’s alignment.
‘Cabin crew, cross-check doors. And be seated for re-entry.’
‘We can’t trust Allan.’ Monica grabbed her own webbing, pulling herself in and managing to slap Jerry’s face a few times.
‘Maybe not.’ Red plasma was streaming around the window as they struck the atmosphere.
‘I didn’t even see him on the whole trip,’ Monica said.
A robotic voice chimed through their speaker. ’13B, your harnesses are unbuckled. Ariadne Spacelines will not be responsible …’
‘Shut up!’ Monica yelled. ‘I’m putting it on!’
The pane’s edge was glowing now. Jerry knew at this stage their cabin door was sealed so, even if the window blew out, the ship’s integrity would hold. Assuming door maintenance was better than for windows, the other four hundred passengers would be safe, while he and Monica got crisped.
‘Are you hot?’ Monica said.
The window was a blur of red and he could see a thin blowtorch of flame from one edge.
‘Dammit,’ he said.
‘I’m not giving Allan any of my percentage.’
Jerry threw her a look, then ripped off his harness, feeling the tug of deceleration still pushing him against the couch. He pulled up his shirt and peeled back the prosthesis. The piece of artificial skin flopped around and he slapped it onto the damaged frame. The fibrous bioshard material designed to elude security began shrinking and charring, then congealed into a solid glittering carbon lump, the diamonds showing. Still, it had stopped up the hole.
‘What the hell?’ Monica said, staring at the makeshift repair.
Jerry sighed falling back into the couch. So much for his plan to tell her that Allan had given them the slip at the spaceport.
Author : George Li
The rusted orange hue of the sky made dancing reflections on Mirna’s “skin”. Carefully, she raised the fragile watering pot.
People had thought it would be them who caused this. Sentient robots that would rebel and destroy humanity. It didn’t work out like that. Robots simply had no need to rebel, they did not have the urge for power like most humans had. It simply wasn’t needed, wasn’t in their programming. Even the ones with no directive, no programming, even they had no such urge. These “Free-Thoughts” discovered in seconds, with their huge infallible minds, what took human philosophers millenniums to figure out. The rarity of life. The need for diversity, companionship, and harmony. So it was not the robots that caused this. It was the humans themselves.
Like most things, it started slowly. A buildup of mistrust, paranoia, and hatred. People started blaming everything for their troubles, everything but themselves. Wars started, lives were lost. But it seemed humanity would survive, like it had done so many times before. Until someone went nuclear.
Mirna slowly released the valve. With robotic precision, she filled the pot.
It took several years for humanity to die out. But eventually, even the race’s legendary resourcefulness could not save them. Robots tried to help, tried to stop the impending extinction. But they were pushed away, the paranoia and suspicion of the human mind was too hard to overcome. For the first time in thousands of years, Earth was free of humans. And the Robots were alone.
Synthbot M-1RN Edition A. That was what Mirna was, that is what the label on her back still said. Her original directive was gardening, taking care of the now desolate parks. And yet, even after all her masters died, even after she learned how to override her original programming, she still enjoyed her work. Perhaps it was something about making life, and seeing it grow.
Mirna walked over to a half broken cup filled to the brim with soil. On the top was a small flower. She delicately tilted the watering pot, and watched as a few drops of this now precious liquid fell.
There were plenty of spare parts, abandoned machinery, and broken vehicles. With careful rationing, Mirna could live forever.
Lazily a colorful butterfly landed on the small flower.
Mirna smiled. Maybe she would get to see the Earth reborn.
Author : John C. Osborn
The sound of the spray paint can spitting neon green from its nozzle drowned out the ambient noise of the city: police sirens, echoing gunshots, and the monotonous drone of the Floating Eyes. Ty directed the colorful symphony across a giant raised billboard that read “One World, One People,” creating a large middle finger in the center of it all. When the spray paint puttered to an end, he appreciated his work like a viewer does at an art gallery.
Ty pulled down the black bandanna covering his mouth, looked at the smog-distorted cityscape stretching toward the horizon. He sat down, pulled out a protein bar, and devoured it whole.
“You again,” said a stern male voice.
“You know me,” Ty smiled and crumpled the wrapper, “I like my art.”
Ty looked up at the police officer wearing a gray uniform. Sown in to the uniform’s sleeves were American flags with one star instead of fifty. The officer looked up at the billboard, smiled.
“A middle finger,” he said. “Ah, can’t say that’s original.”
“It’s the symbolism that counts,” Ty replied.
“Either way, it’s against the law,” the cop said as he sat down beside Ty. Ty looked him over, noticed his disinterested gaze stare out across the city.
“But you’re not going to bust me are you?”
“No,” the cop smiled, “I’m not.” Radio traffic clattered from the cop’s walkie-talkie. He turned it down. “If the Governing Council can’t take a joke, screw ’em.”
Ty laughed, “You know it’s much more than a joke these days. I think you see the same problems I see, only you’re a part of it…”
“Just trying to survive like everyone else,” the cop interjected. “You think I like busting kids like you for petty vandalism and sending you off to one of the camps?” he paused. “No. I’d rather be chasing murderers and drug dealers.”
A loud humming noise startled them both. A floating metallic orb the size of a human head hovered above. A glowing red computer-like eye scanned both of them.
“Warning!” a robotic voice said. “Crime against the state detected. Vandalism, First degree. Hateful speech, first degree. Defacing corporate property, first degree…”
Ty’s eyes lit up. He felt a strong urge to run but the cop’s eyes looking at his told him to wait. Ty took an anxious breath.
“I’m in the process of apprehending the criminal,” the cop said. “I don’t need any assistance.”
The Floating Eye focused its mechanical eye on him, “Officer Grace Steward, Homeland Security Division Four. You are aiding and abetting a political criminal. You will be…”
There was a click and a thundering boom.
It happened fast. Ty didn’t see Officer Steward whip out his sidearm and blast the Floating Eye in one graceful motion. As the smoking metal heap fell, Ty asked, “Why?”
Officer Steward looked at Ty, “I think you already know the answer. Now get out of here. There are plenty more billboards that need defacing.”