Author : Patricia Stewart, Staff Writer
(Circa 2256) Epsilon Indi is an orange-red dwarf star located in Ursa Major, near the bowl of the Big Dipper. By astronomical standards, Epsilon Indi is a newborn, having only become a main sequence star around the time that the Great Pyramid of Giza was being built. Its feeble solar wind is still struggling to blow away the gases and dust in its thin accretion disc. The star is accompanied by two brown gas giants and one nearly insignificant dwarf planet, called Epsilon Indi C, which is affectionately referred to as “Cee.” Cee is approximately one third the mass of Earth’s moon, and orbits relatively close to its cool luminary; closer in fact, than Mercury orbits our sun. For the next 1,000 years or so, because of the sun’s extremely low heat output, Cee will retain a thick methane atmosphere and moderate temperatures. But eventually, Cee’s weak gravitational field will loose its tug-of-war with the solar wind, and its atmosphere will be blown into space. But for now, travelers can enjoy the benefits of this unique world.
Gavin Keaton stood at the precipice of the 5,000 foot tall El Nuevo Capitan, just north of Cee’s equator. The bloated crimson sun hung overhead giving a blood-red hue to the jagged rocks at the base of the cliff. Keaton’s thin, air tight, microsuit covered his entire body, except for his head. His head was enclosed in a fracture proof transparent dome. Flexible tubing connected the dome to his portable life-support backpack, which supplied twelve hours of breathable air. “Okay Gavin,” crackled the small speaker in Keaton’s ear, “cameras are recording. You gonna jump, or not?”
Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea, Keaton began to think. Sure, he only weighed 15 pounds on Cee, but his mass was still over 200 lbm. In freefall, it’s all about mass, not weight. He might be moving relatively slowly when he reached the bottom, but he’d have his full momentum. What if this didn’t work? He’d be splattered like a water balloon.
“Come ooooon,” urged the voice in Keaton’s ear. “Do you want Kathleen to go first?”
“Shut up. I’m going,” Keaton snapped. With that, he took a deep breath, crouched down and launched himself, head first, off the edge. To the crowd of spectators standing behind him, Keaton looked like a twentieth century cartoon character that floated in midair until he realized there wasn’t anything below his feet; only then would he begin to fall. After several interminable seconds, Keaton finally disappeared below the line of sight. Ever so slowly, he began to pick up speed. As he plummeted downward, he suddenly realized that he had forgotten to breathe. Following his simulation training, he counted to twenty, and spread his arms into a swan dive, and spread his legs to expose his “tail membrane.” As his airfoil “wings” sliced through the thick atmosphere, Keaton began to arch away from the sides of the cliff. Gradually, he leveled off, and began to glide upward. He started to flap the flexible airfoils in the complicated wavy motion that he had practiced for hours in the training room. A few minutes later, he soared above the horizon to the cheers of the spectators. His lifelong dream of flying like a bird had finally come true.
Author : Phill English
Bob leaned back in his chair and sighed. The first day had been a long time coming. Every time they thought they had the whole project licked, a new feature came to light that had to be incorporated into the preliminary model. And there were a whole lot of features. How long had he even been at this? It seemed like decades ago that he had begun the project as a hobby in between building planetoids for superstars. It wasn’t long before it consumed more hours than the weekend could provide. He started asking around at work for people interested in joining his little experiment and found a few kindred spirits willing to get involved for a laugh. It was just a bit of fun; a problem to get a kick out of wrapping your brain around. After a year or so of hacking together what they could, the now dozen-strong group realised they needed some outside expertise and advertised for volunteer positions on the Galaxyweb. A modest following sprung up, which then exploded when the project was mentioned on one of the more popular news feeds (Jump Squared; a self-proclaimed “directory of awesome”). Soon the job of overseeing thousands of eager minds overtook Bob’s weekday efforts and he resigned to more effectively manage the project. Its popularity only seemed to grow over time, forcing Bob to start screening volunteers. This lead to the whole deal becoming a yardstick for the hacker culture. Every tinkerer, repurposer, and eccentric engineer wanted in on the prestige that came with being selected to help with Bob’s grand experiment. It was tough, but eventually he had a steady core of brilliant minds helping him to achieve the nigh-impossible detail required by the original plans.
And now it was time. He felt like the unwitting participant in the ultimate Rube Goldberg machine. He wondered what it would do, this replica, this cynical doppelganger. Hopefully provide a bit of harmless entertainment for the news feeds to report on from time to time. It would probably get the zealots up in arms. Whether they’d do something drastic was still to be determined, but he figured they’d probably be curious enough to let it be. He didn’t really care, for him it had been all about the build; now that it was done, he had no interest past letting it go. Bob spoke calmly into his microphone. “Is Adam in place? Good to hear. Illumination technicians on standby? Great. Alright guys, get ready to set the timer on my mark. Three-thousand years, that’s correct.”
Everything was in place. Alright, thought Bob. Time to see if it really went down the way He said it did. The panel in front of him flashed green. The station went quiet. Millions held their breath.
And Bob said, “Let there be light.”
Author : Steven Odhner
Jacob looked down at his hands, at the skin that had grown wrinkled and translucent over time, veins rising as the liver spots bloomed around them. His wedding ring rattled around loosely on his twiglike finger, secured only by the gnarled joint of his knuckle. He had done so much with these hands. They glowed red intermittently as the light on the control panel flashed beneath them, begging him to reach forward and press the button that would abort the experiment. Already the others that could have done it had fled to what they prayed was a safe distance. He had told them to, sent them away without telling them that the experiment was actually going as planned.
There were voices, speaking to him from the console. Telling him to abort, telling him that whatever was happening was beyond the understanding of physics and had to be stopped before it tore the world apart. Jacob ignored them and turned the speaker off. He gazed once more at the ring of gold on his withered finger, scratched and worn. Remembered the feel of his wife’s cheek against his, the dry warmth of her skin. He thought, too, about the way the ring reminded him of the brass linking rings he had used in his performances. Making some extra money on the weekends, his hands not yet shaking and curled from arthritis, hiding and revealing cards and coins as his spectators stared in awe and confusion. His wife was among them, always, watching his eyes rather than looking for the trick.
Once more the safeguards tried to kick in, and Jacob calmly disabled them. He had told his teachers, his students, his coworkers. Physics is about magic tricks – and the deeper you go the more magic is revealed. The motion of the tiniest building blocks of reality seemed mysterious only to those unfamiliar with the tricks of the craft; his hands could disassemble the most complex puzzle-boxes as easily as they wrote equations on a blackboard, as easily as they made a dove seem to vanish into the air, as easily as they traced the secret lines down his wife’s form that only he knew – and so he had known the trick to the universe would unfold before him eventually. There was always an equation up God’s sleeve, a palmed quark, a hidden force. But he had searched for the trap doors and secret compartments, never stopping even when his wife took her final bow and did a vanishing act right in his arms, leaving only her cold body behind – a particularly cruel trick.
The room went dark for a moment, but his hands knew every inch of the control panel and he coaxed the device back to life. The emergency lights now showed the walls seeming to buckle and warp, but this was an illusion; misdirection. Communication with the world outside the lab would be impossible, and Jacob wondered briefly if the lab was even visible from the outside anymore, or if the scientists were panicking at it’s apparent departure. Watch, closely, ladies and gentleman – now you see it…
Jacob the Magnificent’s hands made a flourish as he reached for the button. “Abracadabra,” he whispered, and pressed. The world was still. He reached down and plucked the wedding ring off of his finger seemingly through the bone, and it unfolded into a chain of interlinked rings longer than the universe itself. With another flourish, he produced a new galaxy from his other hand – and behind him, his wife clapped.
Author : Grant Bergland
“Computer, I am not the captain, I am a fifth midshipman.”
“Incorrect. According to Navy regulations you are captain. The captain and first mate were atomized with the science officer and chief engineer. Point seven seconds later, the chaplain, sanitation engineer, and…”
“Stop. Computer, how many others were ahead of me in rank?”
“Thirty nine, Captain.”
“And how much of the crew is still alive?”
Lars gulped. “What is life pod functionality?”
“Life pods are disabled.”
“Computer, create escape scenarios.”
“Just a moment ….”
Surprised to be kept waiting, Lars looked helplessly around his quarters. Since he didn’t have any weapons, Lars pulled a leg off his metal cot and tested its weight.
The computer spoke rapidly. “I apologize for the delay, the Vorpan occupies many of my processors.”
“She also has full access to my sensors and is advancing on your quarters.”
“How can I escape?”
“Get inside an engine, orient the engine towards earth with thrusters, then purge the core.”
“Computer, I need..”
“I am a liability to you. I will incapacitate myself with a feedback loop.”
“Wait, you have to…Computer?…Computer?”
Lars tightened his fist around the metal strut and jogged down to engineering. The hallways were empty, Lars reasoned between gasping breaths that others were hiding or ashes.
Suddenly the deck turned bright purple and glowed. Lars squinted his eyes shut, assuming he was atomized. When he cracked open his eyes seconds later, he blinked in disbelief.
Somehow he was on the shore of a purple ocean. On the beach were thousands of fat walruses. Behind him, Lars saw the Vorpan. The walruses blinked and grunted to each other.
A man in a U.S. Navy jumpsuit appeared by the walruses and walked to Lars. The man’s face melted and sprouted long ears and a rabbit nose.
“You humans have an odd method of communication.” The rabbit/man’s nose wriggled and its mouth chewed.
Behind Lars, the Vorpan closed in.
“You use your eating apparatus to make noises that are not the thoughts themselves, but rather representations of the ideas.”
“Who are you?” Lars said.
“Our name is Legion, we are many.” The rabbit/man waved his hand behind him. “We are a consciousness in space. A human representation of us is walruses on the shore.”
Lars looked over his shoulder at the Vorpan and ran.
“We’ve perused your memories.” Lars hit a wall hidden by the impossible beach and felt the ship in front of him. The Vorpan fired her gun and Lars hit the deck barely missing the shot. “We very much enjoy your bunnies.”
The rabbit/man hopped over and got down on his haunches in front of Lars.
“Is something wrong?”
“The Vorpan.” Lars yelled.
The gun melted in the Vorpan’s hand and the monster shrieked.
Lars got to his feet.
“Wait, we would like you to explain bunnies to us.”
Faster than Lars thought possible, the Vorpan tackled him and drew a knife. The rabbit/man, still on his haunches, blinked his eyes.
“Is there a problem?”
The Vorpan plunged the knife down. “It’s trying to kill me.”
The rabbit/man twitched his nose. “What do you mean…‘kill’?”
The knife sliced into the side of Lars’ neck.
“Oh, that.” The rabbit/man said.
The Vorpan vanished.
“We’re sorry. Our people do not have an equivalent to your ‘kill’ or ‘die’.”
“You killed it?” Lars said, pressing his hand to his throat.
“Yes, utterly, completely.” The rabbit/man clasped his hands together and rubbed them with excitement. “Now, please…Lars, tell us of bunnies.”
“Um…they like carrots.”
“Yes, yes, carrots…..”
Author : Debbie Mac Rory
Sonia swallowed her meal pills, grimacing. She hated the things, and they always stuck in her throat. Adjusting the infusion cuff on her arm, she picked up the control and started thumbing through a selection of dining experiences: family dinner; ugh, no, not after the last one. Fancy French restaurant, seafood bar, roadside café… She finally settled on a noodle bar. Simple, easy and usually noisy enough so she wouldn’t have to deal with other people. Hitting select, she lay back on the couch and closed her eyes, waiting for the program to load.
* ** *** ** *
Dove grey walls greeted her when she opened her eyes. Great, she though, trust me to pick somewhere busy. Gradually the room began to resolve into an appropriate waiting room, and other people began to materialise, appearing in groups and couples. She ignored them all, wishing she didn’t have to go through this. But she’d missed her last two dining episodes. If she missed this one too she’d have to face going to the doctor for a check-up, and she needed that less than having to go through the episode.
It wasn’t always bad, she supposed, as a virtual waiter glided up to escort her to her seat. Less than fifteen minutes would elapse in her world but it would give the infusion band time to work with her meal pills, ensuring her body was in prime health and not deficient of any nutrients. The mind too was serviced in this time. Each episode gave a person a much needed chance to relax and socialise, to interact with other bases far distant, without taking much time at all out of their work schedules.
As the waiter collected menus for her, Sonia glanced about the room and found her eyes meeting with a gorgeous redhead, sitting on her own. The redhead smiled, and Sonia found her foul mood lifting as she smiled back. She leaned to the waiter and gestured. She didn’t even need to say a word; he smiled his understanding and guided her to the seat opposite.
Sonia gave her order, and introduced herself to the redhead… and the rest of the meal passed by in a flash. They shared gyoza and rice wine, laughing and chatting, and just touching each others fingers. People came and went around them but were barely noted by either. After entirely too short a time, a chime on Aimee’s wristband, and she smiled sadly. She cocked her head and blew Sonia a kiss, fading away so her smile lingered in Sonia’s mind like that of a cheshire cat.
Sonia looked down at the empty plates littering the space between them and only then noticed the shimmer of a data-card. She picked it up and with a skip of her heart beat she thumbed her wristband and began to exit the episode…
* ** *** ** *
Sonia stirred slowly, groaning. Coming out of an episode early always left her a little groggy, but the faint chime of her control drew up her awareness. She opened the data-card, biting her lower lips in nervousness. Aimee, it read, Luna 9, number 5164. Sonia smiled. Luna 9 wasn’t very far away, it wasn’t impossible that they could co-ordinate a week-break to meet in person… but for the mean time, a few more lunches, maybe a private dinner. Episodes were definitely looking up.