Author : Brian Armitage

The field sputtered light, a cloud of particles flashing in waves and sparkles. Edward was surprised, and a little disturbed, at how bright and colorful it was. He looked over at Sandra, the company liaison, with her carefully neutral expression. “How, uh, long does it usually…” And his breath stopped when Joan’s face appeared in the glittering fog.

She stumbled forward as though shoved from behind, and looked around slowly, dazedly. Edward still wasn’t breathing when her eyes settled on his feet, and crawled up his body to meet his stunned gaze.

Joan glittered softly, the back wall of the particle chamber just visible through her transparent form. Her features, her entire body was hazy. But the eyes. When they settled into his, he knew. It was her.

He looked mutely to the woman in the suit, but she had already slipped out of the viewing chamber, supposedly to give him privacy. What he could not forget, however, was the company’s policy of monitoring all visitations, ostensibly for the purpose of security. They would hear all of it.

Edward looked back to Joan, and the words leapt out of him. “I married Rachel.”

She stared at him, her eyes clear. Her mouth moved. “You married Rachel.” Her voice projected from the speakers, a harsh digital transmission.

Edward could not suppress a shudder. He had too look away from those eyes, and turned his gaze to where her legs dissolved into mist, then immediately to the ridge where the two-inch pane of glass separated the two chambers. Still, he felt vulnerable. “I never meant to-”

“You brought me back,” Joan said, stalking toward the edge of the energy field, “to tell me you married my sister.”

“Joan, I-”

She waved her left hand in front of her, exactly as he had before. “No, just… no.” Her eyes scrunched shut in in frustration, and she covered her face.

“I’m sorry.”

Joan’s hands swept away from her face, sending waves of charged particles scattering through the chambers, and looked at him. He knew that cold, blank expression. When he had pushed her too far. “Go to hell, Ed.” She looked over her shoulder. “Turn it off.”

“Joan!” He cast about desperately, looking for a technician. “Please, no! Don’t!”

“We’re sorry, Mr. Eisenberg,” the liaison’s voice said, with a touch of sadness, “we must honor the deceased’s wishes.”

The particles flashed and began to dim, and Joan with them. Edward ran to the glass, pressing against it. She shook her head as she faded from view, and tossed up her hands. “You thought I didn’t know?” she shouted. It was barely loud enough to hear on the laboratory speakers. Her eyes disappeared last, and with them, the light was gone.

Sandra looked sideways at her intern, who stood next to her, watching the monitor as Edward Eisenberg collapsed. “You asked why we make them pay in advance.”

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Author : Steven Odhner

I’m staring at the clock. Just staring at it, waiting for it to tick off a minute at which point I will have exactly one hour left of this hell. My brother the crazy artist says I’m not living my life. He says that I’ve sold my soul. If he knew my automator was broken he’d be ecstatic, he’d probably try to get me to go out and party with him as if I didn’t have to go to work anymore.

Actually, though, calling out tomorrow might not be a terrible idea. My productivity is shot anyway – I keep finding myself staring at the screen in front of me, drifting off and daydreaming. It’s the sound of everyone else working; it’s hypnotic. They’re all typing at full speed, seated thirty to a row, all the way down this massive room. It sounds like a thunderstorm pouring around me. I wandered down the aisles this morning for ten wasted minutes, just listening to the endless shower of keystrokes and looking at all of their blank faces… the only good thing was that I saw someone I went to school with. We’ve probably been working together for ten years. I should call her later.

I know my brother isn’t alone, there’s a very vocal minority that will talk your ear off about how terrible automators are. I can only assume none of them have office jobs, because I’ve only been here for four hours and I’m ready to murder someone. Don’t even get me started on my exercise routine! Do I really do that every morning? Why in god’s name would I want to be aware for that? I finished less than half of the workout before going back to bed. If they can’t fix my automator soon I’m going to get all pudgy.

If I tried to explain this to my brother he’d just suggest that I work somewhere more interesting, as if everyone in the world can be an artist for a living. He’d say having less money would be worth not going through life as a zombie, but every second that ticks by feels like an hour and every time I look at the pathetic amount of work I’ve gotten done I know exactly why a “work day” used to be eight hours – more for some people! Missing my life? If this is what my life is when I’m not looking then I’m happy to miss it. Only fifty-nine minutes and thirty seconds to go. Please, let them fix me soon.

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The Long Journey Home

Author : Patricia Stewart, Staff Writer

“Are you telling me a spaceship really did crash in Roswell in 1947?” asked Dr. Ambien as he panned the badly damaged spaceship that had been laid out in the spacious hangar.

“Yes, Doctor. The spaceship contained three aliens, but they all died in the crash. However, there was a very sophisticated on-board computer that we managed to capture.”

“You mean ‘recover’.”

“No, Doctor, I mean capture. When we tried to load the spaceship onto a flatbed, it fired its engines and tried to escape. Fortunately, because it was badly damaged, the ship didn’t get far. The computer is that large glowing ball in the cockpit.” He indicated an eighteen inch diameter, translucent pale green sphere that had a geodesic metallic framework surrounding it. “It wasn’t easy in the beginning, but we were able to extract a lot of useful technology out of the computer by modulating its power intake. Of course, we couldn’t admit that it was alien technology, so we had to give credit to human scientists for all the new inventions. You know, William Shockley got credit for the transistor, Jack Kilby for the microchip, Al Gore for the internet,” he added with a smirk.

“Wait a minute,” interrupted Dr. Ambien. “What did you mean when you said you modulated its power intake?”

“Well, we needed to gain its cooperation. So when it wouldn’t give us information, we’d cut back its power, or change the frequency of the electric current. Sometimes we would place powerful magnets around the sphere to scramble its electrical pathways. Eventually, it shared its technology.”

“You mean you tortured it?”

“Come on professor, it’s a computer, not a person. Is it torture to cut the power to your PC?”

“It’s not the same thing. This is unethical behavior. I don’t think I can work for this Program.”

“Look Doctor. You’re here for one thing. You’re under contract to give us an independent assessment of that satellite,” he pointed to the automobile size contraption at the far side of the hangar. “We built it based on the designs given to us by the alien computer. It’s supposed to be able to detect fissionable levels of weapons grade uranium from orbit. But, to be frank, it has a lot of hardware that we don’t fully understand. We’re reluctant to activate it without the concurrence of industry’s top scientific minds. You either work with us, Doctor, or you’ll never do work for the government again.”

You bastards, Ambien thought. Homeland Security is going to blacklist me. Then he noticed the translucent sphere pulsating. It was Morse Code. “Please help me,” it spelled out. After a few seconds thought, he made up his mind. “Yes,” Dr. Ambien said aloud while staring at the computer, “I will help you.” Almost instantly, the new satellite emitted an intense pulse that caused all of the humans in the hangar to collapse, except for Dr. Ambien. The satellite lifted from the ground and floated toward the alien spaceship. When it landed, a hatch opened, exposing an internal cavity about the size of the sphere. The compartment contained dozens of cables with unique connectors. Its function was obvious. Dr. Ambien quickly climbed into the damaged spaceship and disconnected the sphere and carried it to the satellite. It took him five minutes to connect all the cables. The sphere glowed bright yellow as the satellite drifted upward, where it hovered for several minutes. Then the public address system of the hangar transmitted a message, “Thank you, Dr. Ambien.”

The satellite rammed through the skylight, and disappeared into the clouds.

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Unimagined Fears

Author : M. Tyler Gillett

We should have known it was a foolish hope. None of us knew each other, but we recognized each other as members of the same faith. We had all signed up with various cryonics companies, preserving our bodies – or more often, just our post-mortem, surgically-severed heads – after we died, all in the expectation that a future society would possess the technology to cure death, clone bodies and bring us back to life.

We did not really think it through, though. We had speculated about various potential problems that might crop up with the future scenario we spun out in our (admittedly) sci-fi-informed minds. What if a disaster hit the cryo-bank, a fire, an earthquake, or simple corporate insolvency? Or a larger catastrophe, such as climate change or an asteroid strike eliminating human civilization entirely? The oldest among us, those pioneers who were the first preserved in tanks of liquid nitrogen, had carried the specter of global thermonuclear war with them into their icy sleep. But not freezing ourselves would mean succumbing to eternal death. Cryonic preservation gave us a chance, however slim, however fraught with potential calamity.

Perhaps the most prevalent worry, left unspoken, was: what if the future didn’t want us? The fear of our own insignificance, the fear that our leap of faith, throwing ourselves into an unknown, unseen future, would simply be ignored by our far-flung descendants, that fear gripped each and every one of us as we held the pen, poised to sign the cryonics contract. But we quickly dismissed it and signed anyway, confident that our belief in a future resurrection was on firmer ground than our religious forebears. As long as civilization survives, the arc of science and technology ineluctably leads to nigh-unlimited possibility. A future society, reaping the benefits of nanotechnology, zero-point energy, and other advances unfathomable to us cryonauts, could not help but be magnanimous and grant us our last and greatest wish.

If only we had paused longer, thought more about other possible consequences of an unfathomable future. We were blinded by our hopes and fears and by the very times in which we lived, times when few of our desires could be realized, times that shaped our morals in specific and limited ways.

We never considered the possibility that a society of unlimited and incomprehensible capabilities would resurrect us, not out of charity or nostalgia or even a sense of obligation to the past, but for their own sport. We never imagined – in many ways were incapable of imagining – the morals of a world where everything is possible. Now we, the once-dead, are endlessly reborn in bodies of hideous configuration, toys for the play of capricious gods, forever broken and remade. Because we could not imagine them, we did not understand that there are fates worse than death.

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Prima Notte

Author : Duncan Shields, Staff Writer

Aside from the “more-arms-than-us” thing and the blue colour of their skin, they weren’t as alien as they could have been. They didn’t look like insects or floating blobs, for instance.

At first contact, we all conceitedly thought it just chance that they looked somewhat human. I mean, we’re great, right? Why shouldn’t our form be on other planets as well? Sheer self-centered assumption.

The aliens were bred in tanks in giant arkships.

Remember the hype over the last fifteen years or so about rednecks being kidnapped by aliens and experimented on? All those anal probes and skin samples and implants and all that?

Well, it all happened. It was all true.

The aliens went from planet to planet and kidnapped intelligent life. They studied the inhabitants, bred their own genes into dominant splices and grew the results to maturity.

All of these blue-skinned creatures with black eyes, wide mouths and too many arms were grown from a half-human base.

The aliens’ “true” shape on their homeworld was like a cross between a centipede and an octopus and they were used to an atmosphere that would corrode a human in seconds. They needed our genes to survive here.

And to be ‘compatible’ with us.

Half a million aliens were put down in each capital city. They knew English, Mandarin, and were fluent in the language of the city into which they were dropped. They had food and clothing to last them six months.

Males and Females. There was an exactly equal number of each sex. For a full week, nothing happened. There was an uneasy peace.

But humans are humans. There were attacks on the aliens. A worldwide panic started to build. It looked like a mass genocide was about to take place but immediately, their leader talked to us. I say ‘talked’ but it was more of a telepathic shout that brought every human to a quivering standstill.

The leader of the aliens made us an offer that we couldn’t refuse: let them breed with us and become part of our society or face certain extinction.

He made an example of Paris.

We took the offer.

That was over a decade ago.

There are nearly a billion children now with eyes that have no whites. Their skin has a bluish cast and they have smaller sets of arms poking out at random around their ribcage.

They are polite. They study. They word hard. They are creative.

Their race has shared their knowledge with us.

The entire planet is now on a schedule of the aliens’ devising. We are overcrowded but we’ve been assured that we will be a space-faring race within the decade. This is a plan that has worked hundreds of times before, they say.

There is an even split between us who are repulsed by what they see as invaders and people that have welcomed them and volunteered for marriage and babies.

Religion is taking a beating and a lot of politicians seem to be pretty depressed. The aliens have let us keep our elections and our money-based economy but there’s a general feeling on Earth that we’re children eating at the adult’s table.

Children that have been allowed to keep their toys so that they’ll be quiet.

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