Author : Amanda Baker
Years ago, Christina stayed over at Emily’s house, and found herself belting out this awful pop song in the shower. Some boy band kind of thing. She didn’t remember the song; boy bands hadn’t been popular since the nineties, and she’d be hard pressed to name the band and tune, or hard pressed to admit she still had a fondness for nineties pop, even back then. To be fair, she didn’t even realize she was singing at first, and she silenced herself in embarrassed horror as soon as she did, stopping the silly “love you baby” lyrics from leaving her mouth as she rinsed the bubbly foam out of her hair. Her singing voice was pretty awful.
Of course her girlfriend heard her. Emily being Emily, she didn’t give Christina a hard time about it, but still, Christina knew Emily knew, and she felt ashamed. She had been caught doing something incredibly stupid.
Christina doesn’t think she remembered it until last Saturday—after all, she’s got better taste in music now, and she hasn’t talked to Emily since the breakup. Christina’s a loud sort of person, and she’s got a million better memories with Emily if she wants to feel nostalgic, and a dozen sillier memories that she can look back on if she wants to laugh at herself. She’s been quieter since Saturday, though. Everyone’s been quieter. When Christina turns on the news, crime is down. Of course crime is down. Even the criminals are stunned.
Everyone’s busy watching the sky, too. The talking heads on TV told them it wasn’t like that, the messages came from light years away, and there’s nothing to worry about. They couldn’t be here yet.
Peace negotiations have started. Peace negotiations, and it’s only been less than a week. It’s funny, almost. Back when the war started, Christina went out to city hall every weekend with her protest sign. She wrote letters, signed petitions, blogged rant after rant just to get people to care… pretty much everything she could do, and it took this to get peace negotiations to start? The first day, she thought this was a hoax. Probably everyone did. It’s something out of science fiction, which she used to actually like, before it was all over the news that extraterrestrials had made contact. It was better back when it wasn’t real.
It’s terrifying now. It’s like a hidden camera on the wall, like being the teenager who thought she could get away with everything, and then suddenly you’re faced with evidence that your mother knows every detail of what went on at Hannah’s birthday party. No, that she might know. No, that “Mom” exists. Christina frames it in another concept, thinks about it differently, but really… Do they know about Hiroshima? Do they know about the holocaust, or slavery, or the way humans have fought each other tooth and nail over absolutely everything ever since they’ve had the bad luck to evolve from the chimpanzees?
And they still want to talk to us. Christina hopes that maybe they don’t know us as well as they could, that we’ve got another chance to make an impression if we just behave ourselves from now on. Christina herself has gone to work on time, stopped grimacing so much, called her father back before he called her again to ask why she hadn’t called. And it’s not just her—it’s everyone. Everyone’s trying to shape up, to be better for whoever’s watching.
As Christina sees it, it’s as if humanity itself has been caught in the galactic shower, singing bad love songs off-key.
Author : Ian Rennie
Matron moved almost silently from ward to ward. The faint silken brush of her passing made the nurses look up, meeting her eyes as she passed, exchanging glanced messages that said as much as conversations. The few awake patients did not look. Most of them stared at the ceiling, or listened to music quietly, or slept, or cried.
This an early ward, where the patients were coaxed from catatonia into some basic level of function. The sisters here were soothing more than encouraging, only gently touching the sharp edges of broken minds. Once the patients began to recover, they were brought to day wards where they would recuperate, rehabilitate, take faltrering steps towards health. They spent their days in rooms where french windows opened onto the seaside, where the crash of waves and bracing sea air brought them relaxation and health.
Her rounds completed, Matron moved further into the hospital. She stopped outside an unregarded wooden door, checked that nobody was around, and unlocked it. As the door opened, soft sounds of pain could be heard. This was the relapse room, not spoken of beyond its wooden door.
“How is everyone today?” she said in a hushed voice to the sister who sat at the ward desk. Beyond her, men lay in beds, scratching at imaginary bugs, screaming at invisible enemies.
“Quiet so far” the sister said: she was blonde, with beautiful but absolutely unsexual features; as alluring as a marble statue, and as cold.
“I don’t see Mr Morningside. Did he have another episode?”
“I’m afraid so. Metal men this time.”
“I’ll go and talk to him.”
Halfway down the room, there was a side-ward, separated from the main room by a heavy door. Matron opened this, remembering to bolt it behind her. Alone in the room there was one man in one bed. He was clad in blue and white striped pajamas like the others, but where they looked like patients, he looked like someone in a costume, unused even to his skin.
“I know what you are,” he said as she entered
“Hello, Mr Morningside, and what do you imagine me to be today?”
“You’re a ghost. A ghost of electricity. You’re a piece of mathematics that lives in my head.”
“That’s nice. Did you take your pills?”
“They’re poison. You’re trying to poison me and make me forget. I’m not in my body any more. I’m not even in my mind. It burned away, it all burned.”
“Mr Morningside, if you don’t take your pills, we will have to restrain you again.”
He flinched, visibly. When she held the pills out to him, shied away, but then opened his mouth with a display of childish reluctance. He dry-swallowed the pills, not waiting for the proffered glass of water. He was crying as they began to take effect, dragging him into a muttering sleep.
Matron was subdued as she left the ward. It disturbed her when a relapsing patient stumbled towards the truth. He wasn’t in his body any more, wouldn’t be there until his mind was healed enough to accept the trauma of the war’s memories. The new bodies were regrown, but the minds just weren’t ready for them yet. Let them heal here, where they were safe, where they had matron and her beautiful, identical sisters to look after them.
From the day ward she heard a few patients gather together for a morning sing-song.
“Oh I do like to be beside the seaside…”
Author : James Marshall
Captain Will Kano of the Aries was sitting on an air-chair watching baseball with the sound muted. The latest round of memos from mission control, or the office as they called it, lay spread out on the floor beside him, along with a Rubik’s Cube and an empty Juice-Sack. He sighed.
“I’ve got to get my shit together, Alan.”
“Your shit is together, Captain”. Alan was the ship’s interface, and he appeared on a dedicated LCD above the television. He was represented as two dots for eyes and a line for a mouth on a yellow background. He looked like a Lego man, before they developed frowns and stubble. His voice was deep and breathless. Everyone liked Alan.
“I’ll talk to Sarah tonight. Put an end to it.”
“There’s no rush. Don’t do anything you don’t want to do.”
“I’m being stupid. I’m married.”
“You’ve never been stupid in your life, Captain. It’s a long, boring trip, you know that. Give yourself a break. Worry about Tanaka.”
This made Will laugh. Tanaka was nuts.
“I’ve got another list here if you’re interested,” said Alan. “This one’s from the Country Women’s Association of Australia.”
“Go on then, said Will. He shifted in his chair and put his hands up behind his head.
“’Another small step for man, another giant leap-‘“
“A man. ‘One small step for a man.’ That’s what he said. Next.”
“’Life goes on.’”
“Like it. But no.”
“’A new world, a new promise.’”
Alan went through the list, which did not contain anything remotely inspiring or memorable.
“Shall I send them a thank you mail?” asked Alan.
“I’m sure we’ll come up with something when the time comes, captain.”
Will leaned across and picked up the Rubik’s Cube. He had all of the blue and almost all of the yellow, but he couldn’t proceed without losing what he already had. When he was a child he would give the cube to his mother before he went to bed, and there it would be in the morning, sitting on the kitchen bench like new. One night when he couldn’t sleep he walked into his mother’s room and saw the cube spread out in bits across her bed. She had fallen asleep, still holding the screwdriver she had used to pry it apart.
“How about something simple?” said Will, trying to move a corner piece around without screwing up the whole thing. “I’m going have so much on my plate when we land that I don’t think I’ll be able to remember a long, rambling speech. What about something like… ‘Here we are’?”
“That’s what the man who first landed on Mars said in the book Red Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson. The colonists went to Mars in a ship called the Aries too, by the way.”
“Really? Damn. Ok, how about… um… on behalf of all people on Earth, we come to Mars… in the spirit of human endeavor and-“
“Very similar to Mars Crossing by Geoffrey Landis, I’m afraid.”
Will sighed. “I give up. We need a scriptwriter, not a pilot.”
“What we need is a copyright lawyer,” said Alan.
Will chuckled. He dropped the Rubik’s cube in his lap. He yawned.
“You know,” said Alan, “Coca-Cola have offered you a billion dollars to say ‘Coca-Cola.’
Will sat up. “Have they really?”
Author : Cesium Artichoke
“Hey, Tom, uh… you got a minute?” Robin ambushed him as he came out of his office. He had a meeting with the Secretary of Energy about space-based power, but she was visibly nervous and fidgeting, which set off alarm bells.
“Sure, what’s up?”
“Better get your computer, it’s already downloading.” She gestured to his office door.
He retrieved the tablet and continued down the hall. “Come on, walk with me. So what’s so important?”
Robin hurried to keep up with his long strides. “Well, we… we decoded the Procyon signal.” Tom stopped in his tracks.
She pointed to his tablet. ‘Download Complete’, it read, and the summary from the xenolinguists flashed onto the screen.
As he perused the report, she studied him. Thomas DiMattia, the man who saved NASA. He’d reached out to commercial space ventures and revived the nation’s interest and faith in NASA by landing a man on Mars. He’d even managed to keep the cosmologists happy. If this was what everyone feared it was, she couldn’t think of a better man to lead.
“Jesus,” muttered Tom.
He slumped into a nearby chair, glancing up at her. “Could this be a joke?”
“A joke? Not on our part; it’s definitely extrasolar. Otherwise, they have a weird sense of humor, ’cause Keck says there’s something there, exactly where they said.”
‘The Alliance or any representative or member thereof is not responsible for economic, biological, informational, or other damages resulting directly or indirectly from said Project. Continued residence in the aforementioned Stellar System will signify your acceptance of these terms.’ So the message had read, and if the team at the Keck observatory knew anything about anything, the giant fleet from Sirius would arrive in about a decade for their little Project with Earth’s sun.
“Jesus,” Tom repeated. He took a breath, and a slight resolve seemed to grow in his voice. “You’d better call some lawyers. We’ve got a hell of a loophole to find.”
Author : Al Vazquez
The retro-rockets jolted the ship as it began its decent into the thin, cold atmosphere. Excitement welled-up inside his belly. He felt a slight shaking in his leg, but his hand was steady on the controls. He was known for that; cool as a cucumber when it really mattered, and it never mattered more than now. He briefly recalled his first landing at the airport near his hometown. It seemed like yesterday. He remembered his leg shaking then too as he pressed against the rudder pedals.
He peered out of the window. The trajectory on his heads-up display was exactly like the simulations but the vividness of color and texture; seeing the planet below with human eyes, could never be duplicated by any sensor. He loved his job, he had always been lucky that way. He looked over toward his partner thankful she was there; someone to share the experience.
The ship was the peak of technological advancement; it had to be. They needed it for almost two years; it was their home; their lifeboat. They would leave a large part of it behind to continue the work in automation that they would begin shortly. Skilled colleagues, friends all, would follow their path and continue the endeavor. But they were the first ones. That weight rested on their shoulders, on his shoulders; he was after all landing the craft.
Back on earth everyone was watching on television video feeds from orbiting satellites. This, he knew, was going to change things, colonization; Terra-forming under geodesic domes …a permanent colony, one small step. But now his job demanded his full attention. Knowing this she declares, “Whatever you do, don’t f:)k this up”. They both laughed out loud. She never cussed; he thought to himself. She must be nervous.
The violent buffeting came and went just like it was supposed to; the product of atmospheric breaking – then parachutes. And finally what every pilot lives for, the switch to manual control. A little more precious energy, crab a little to the left to avoid some rocks, near the trench, but not too close, touchdown! “Piece of cake”, he declares back to his singular audience. They laugh aloud again, relieved.
He calls the boss – “Houston, Argonom Base here, the Eagle has landed.” About seven minutes would pass before the words crackled through the speakers at Mission Control. The place would erupt in the traditional cheers, handshakes, and smiles. On Mars their silence was interrupted by the whir of solar cells beginning to deploy.
They gathered those things needed for their first excursion – the inflatable dome and anchors, the atmospheric processing units, the machinery that would dip into the trench ice and provide them with life giving water, hydrogen, and oxygen. Three months didn’t seem enough time for all the work they needed to accomplish.
When everything was ready they made their way to the exit hatch and opened it, as far as the eye could see – magnificent desolation.