Saving the drowning girl

Author : Ian Rennie

I was out for a walk last night when I heard a cry for help. There was a girl in the river. I don’t know how she got there, she didn’t say at the time, and I haven’t asked her yet. All she said then was “help!”, in a voice that got sharper and higher as time went on.

I moved quickly, but deliberately. Doctor Mahnke used to tell me “less haste, more speed”, better to get things done right first time than have to try again after you get it wrong. I got out my equipment, which I carry with me at all times. “Be Prepared” is another thing that Dr Mankhe used to say, but he didn’t know about the equipment. Not then, anyway.

In a moment, the computer had interfaced with the girl’s cortical drive, and by a forced handshake the download process started. It took about thirty seconds. While it was going on, I watched her, paying quite close attention to the expressions on her face and the sounds she made as she tried to stay afloat. It was two minutes and fourteen seconds from the start of the transfer to the last time she went under. I timed it and made a note.

The transfer process took place without error. When I got home, I moved her file to the menagerie.

I saved her.

Now I’ll always have a copy.

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Lone Wolf

Author : Liz Lafferty

Jonathan Wolf had grown old in space. His craft chugged across the Milky Way on its return journey to Earth. As the first solo explorer and the first man who’d left the galaxy, he was anxious to return home.

Potential candidates had been selected based on hereditary aging DNA. His family members had routinely lived into their hundreds and prior to his departure, one of his uncles had reached the age of one hundred and thirty. He would be long dead by now.

The other trait happened to be one of his strong suits. He enjoyed being alone. The mission involved mind-numbing, insanity-inducing loneliness, unless one had prepared both his mind and his body against such predispositions. He’d rejected the idea of a mate. Why inflict further torture when one outlived the other, as would eventually happen. In the depths of space, he didn’t believe he could endure the absence of a cherished partner. He’d work alone. He’d study. He’d read. He’d explore.

The craft library was stocked with media, all digitalized from Moses to Plato to Hawking. The bay area of the craft was largely empty. A few rocks from distant planets. He was especially fond of a glow-in-the-dark purple specimen he kept in his night room.

His mission had been a failure, or at least a failure by mission standards.

He had found no one. His only discovery: the universe was a vast, empty place. Space was aptly named.

Twelve years ago, he’d lost contact with Earth. There’d been no incoming messages, though he believed his messages still got out. Since most information about space was theoretical, he’d had to theorize about the disconnect. Messages could have gotten lost, scrambled, gravitazationlized.

Or maybe they simply vanished into the ether.

As he sailed into the solar system, the familiar planets came into view. Saturn and Jupiter, beloved twins, their trajectory nearly aligned. Efforts to hail Earth failed. If he hadn’t gotten used to twelve years of silence, he might have been alarmed. Instead, an excitement unlike anything he’d felt since the day of his launch hummed through his veins, making him feel light-years younger.

The gentle hum of his craft soothed him as he neared Earth’s planetal rotation.

John scanned the limited horizon of his viewing screen. Earth should be coming into view. But wasn’t. He ran the program for the star date to determine Earth’s location. A small cluster caught his eye. The white cheese pocked moon came into view. Without its planet. The computer scanned, confirming his suspicion. The moon wandered, ripped from its gravitational anchor by some unknown event.

John blinked, allowing the weight of his emotion to darken his hope. There was no one. The Earth was gone.

He couldn’t be the only one. Others must have been sent out. They would eventually come home, too. He would wait. John Wolf set his craft to orbit the sun in Earth’s orbit – every 365 days. If he lived the rest of his natural life, he might get to see another human again.

His only mission now was to make sure the next person who stumbled upon him was not left alone in the universe.

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The Bird-Watcher

Author : Jeff Phillips

Grace took her hat off, wiping the beads of sweat from her forehead with the back of her aged hand. She hated the angle of the sun at this time of day, but this was the only place on the grounds where she felt alive. Butterflies lit on the hummingbird bushes that flowed musically from the wind. For just a moment, she saw the faint ghostly image of a cursor blinking to the right of her view. She froze, allowing the image to blink, blink, blink until it disappeared. Grace knew, just like any other institution resident would, that the cursor wasn’t real. It was only misfiring neurons, replaying sensory input from 52 years of computer use.

The institutions–thousands of them across the world–were created for patients like Grace Dawkins. Everyone born after the mandatory integration of the “Internet” into the human brain became a patient, almost without exception. The only individuals who escaped the symptoms of the integration residue were those who lived in all-natural communes in desolate areas, or those with brain damage who never fully integrated to begin with.

Grace grew up in Pittsburg, one of the first ten cities to be integrated with the wireless, government-funded “I-Net” hubs. After a resident received the minor outpatient surgery necessary to link up, the collective consciousness of the world was accessible with a thought. At that time, 33-year-old Dr. Grace Dawkins was the lead bioengineer for the project at the Department of Homeland Security, to which Congress gave the funding. Grace remembered the years of human testing, from low-level brain-machine connections to the first real mind-controlled computer. And she had been in the lab when Dr. Shah became the first human to interact with the original Internet using only his mind. She never would have proposed the project if she had known about the consequences. Elderly people who were connected more than half of their lives began to have intrusive leftover images from the half-brain, half-computer I-Net. Flashes, flutters, ghost images, and withdrawal symptoms started showing up as the integrated population aged. Scientists and doctors from the government’s own agencies began to question the safety of I-Net. Dr. Grace Dawkins and her life’s work eventually became a curse to humankind, sending millions of people to institutions late in their lives in order to disintegrate from I-Net.

A deep-red cardinal landed on the bird feeder and scared the other, smaller birds away in a flutter. Grace’s eyes picked up the action which released shocks of electricity in the vision center of her brain. That’s why she loved this place–so full of action and life. It was the only place at the institution that gave her sensory input that came anywhere close to I-Net. Although the amount of information was miniscule compared to being linked to every computer in the world, this garden reminded her of that feeling. Grace imagined for a moment that she could access data about the cardinal, the weather, the evergreen trees in the background—anything she wanted to know more about. Her mind instinctively tried to link up to I-Net, but then a flash of words entered her mind in a jumbled mess and she felt dizzy, reminding her how profoundly the net had corrupted her brain.

Grace took a deep breath, closed her eyes, and listened to the singing birds.

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Author : L. Mellancorps

Allis coughed. Jard pulled his knife out of its sheath.

Jard carries a hunting knife he found in a museum, so it’s probably even older than the video cassettes he likes to collect. It has a blade as long as my forearm with a thick, leather-wrapped hilt. It’s scary looking, sure, but I don’t know why he keeps that old knife. He has to sharpen its edge with a piece of scrap-steel every time we get back from an expedition. He says he doesn’t mind the extra work.

Jard sliced through the twisted nylon ropes holding the body to the wall and let it drop. The corpse cracked as dried joints gave way, and one curled finger skittered across the floor. Allis dry-heaved a few times before we could continue.

Allis does not handle corpses as well as the rest of us do, even if they’re only skeletons. I don’t blame her much in this case, though. Even though the body was old, I could tell someone had really messed up this poor kid. He didn’t look more than thirteen years old, and someone had broadened his smile with a razor blade. Ear to ear, his face was split open in a disgusting grin, and around his neck hung a sign that read “Liar.”

Jard sheathed his knife and we went on. Allis kept her head down and I thought for a minute she was crying, but I couldn’t tell for sure.

Allis really shouldn’t come on these expeditions if she’s going to lose her cool at one dead kid. It’s not unusual to find corpses this far out from base. There are probably still rural areas that haven’t even been explored. As far as his being a kid goes, I’ve seen worse. The orphan gangs that chose rural outposts after the apocalypse ended up completely barbaric. We’ve stumbled across cannibals, cults, even a few feral bands that attacked us with snarls and fingernail-claws.

Jard, of course, has a theory for this. He says they got that way because they left their angels behind. He says that angels tell us how to live, but they live in the past. He says that if we stay close to our past, our angels can help us in the present.

I don’t think Jard knows anything about angels, but when he talks like that, it makes me want to remember the times before Beleuchtung.

That night, Jard played us a song on his harmonica, another thing he found and kept from the old times. It took him a long time to clean it and figure out how to play it, but now he’s pretty good, and sometimes I’m glad he has it with him.

Jard’s pack is heavier than anybody else’s. He carries his knife, his harmonica, his favorite video cassettes, a bottle of Coke he doesn’t let anyone open, even a book. I know he can’t read, but he says it’s a holy book, so he doesn’t let us tear out its pages for kindling. I doubt it’s really a holy book. I think he just likes saving things from the old times, back before the Trans-Con Collapse, the photo-technology boom, back before Beleuchtung. He does it to remember.

Jard played for a long time on his harmonica that night. He played until Eli took my place on watch. He played until the coyotes stopped howling. He played until the fire dimmed, the moon rose, and Allis finally fell asleep.

I couldn’t help wondering, as I fell asleep, if the rest of us could borrow Jard’s angels.

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Visit To A World Called Dirt

Author : Michael Varian Daly

~About a million miles out from the planet, space began to quiver and distort.

After a few seconds, the Susapan scoutship Illaun dropped into normal space. It was small by Susapan standards, twenty six miles on its axis, a bit over seven at its widest diameter, its smooth ovoid surface a mother-of-pearl swirling.

But only a half dozen Triads called Illaun home, so there was plenty of room.

Noseemateemah, voted Captain for this voyage, checked the instruments, wrinkled zir’s massive brow.

“No electromagnetic activity whatsoever,” zee beamed to zir’s shipmates. Zee received collective Dismay/Confusion.

“There should be at least a basic technology available,” beamed Kashiatosopate, Illaun‘s XO. A collective Sigh went through the ship.

“Blind landing,” was the Group Thought. An atmospheric shuttle was activated.

“I’m going down myself,” beamed Noseemateemah. All knew zir well enough not to waste time debating the matter.

Close in, biosigns were detected. Noseemateemah chose a spot nearest the largest grouping, a community of about six hundred or so clustered on a temperate coastline.

Saamerah looked up from reweaving her fishing net to watch the spherical shuttle land upon the beach. She kept sewing while observing.

A seam in the sphere opened and out came this huge being, somewhat pyramid shaped, with six flexible looking arms around its thick midriff and walking on..Saamerah counted, ‘seven, eight’…ten legs. She estimated the creature weighed a quarter ton at least, though it moved quite gracefully.

It stopped in front of her, held up all its arms, palms out.

“Universal sign of friendship,” she thought. She stopped sewing and responded in kind.

The creature looked at her with a pair of wide green eyes, made squawking sounds with its lipless mouth.

“I do not understand what you’re saying,” said Saamerah.

“Ah, thank you,” said the creature in Saamerah’s tongue. “I am Noseemateemah. Is this Dirt?”

“Dirt?”, she said. “Not sure what you mean.”

“Is this the world called Dirt?” Noseemateemah said.

Saamerah thought for a moment, then laughed.

Noseemateemah recognized amusement. “Why is that funny?” zee asked.

“Earth,” said Saamerah. “This world is called Earth, which granted is a word for ‘dirt’”

Noseemateemah turned a bright purple. Saamerah though it a lovely shade.

“Deity, I feel like a fool.” Zee bowed slightly. “My apologies, friend.”

“No worries, Noseemateemah,” Saamerah smiled, “It’s an obvious semantic mistake.”

She extended her hand. “My name’s Saamerah, by the way.”

Noseemateemah gently grasped Saamerah’s hand. “Greetings, Saamerah.”

Zee then looked around. “What happened here?” zee asked.

“What do you mean?”

“The cities? The civilization? Where did it all go?”

Saamerah heard some distress in Noseemateemah’s tone and felt a kinship for this odd looking being.

“Got rid of all of it,” she said.

Noseemateemah’s eyes got even wider, which actually amazed Saamerah, and zee’s mouth hung open. “Got rid of it?”

Saamerah laughed again, felt a bit guilty about that.

“Oh, we have buckets of tech, just not here.” She gestured around. “Only a few hundred thousand Small Earthers like me live here. The rest, about two billion or so, live on the Orbitals on the other side of Sol.”

Noseemateemah made a trilling sound that Saamerah swore was laughter.

“Deity Bless, I nearly had a stroke.” Zee huffed a great sigh. “I was worried.”

“So, what brings you to these parts, friend Noseemateemah?”

Zee’s lipless mouth curled up in an actual smile.

“This was our home world once, about twenty thousand Solanums ago,” zee said, “Some of us got nostalgic and wanted to see what was going on with the old place…”

Noseemateemah looked straight into Saamerah’s eyes, “Cousin.”

It was now Saamerah’s turn to gawp.

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