Stars going out

Author : Chris Abernethy

I don’t know why I ran.

Caution, paranoia, groupthink… pure blind panic maybe, god knows what finally sent me scurrying up out of the elliptic, screaming in tight round ol’ Ares and out into the darkness.

Guess it won’t really matter, hell it’s not like there’s anything up here to actually be running to, though that’s half the reason I hurled myself out here; last place anyone would look because it’s the last place anyone with half a brain would run… no easy way back, nothing to slingshot yourself round; just you, the black and all that delta-v you’re sat barrelling along on…

To start with I hoped, kidded myself, maybe even prayed that I’d just jumped at sounds in the night, that all the little things that had spooked me turned out to be a series of coincidences; nothing but an addendum to the catalogue of meaningless accidents and lives sacrificed to the cold depths of space.

But then the reports started coming in, slow at first; lost Kuiper Belt terraforming teams spiked from one in ten to nine in ten, the deep imaging array on Charon fell off the grid, SatGov declaring a state of emergency after all contact was lost with Rhea colony… the litany of loss went on.

I suppose that’s when people started to really worry, EarthGov statements that “these rumours of a crisis are baseless fear mongering” not withstanding, but things went ballistic when the Belt mining stations started dropping out; one or two at first, then dozens, then hundreds… the industrial heart of the species was going dark and the only thing the politicians had to offer us was, “No comment”.

Panic was all but inevitable, people ran where they could; to other colonies, to satellite rings, to the hills, to each other.

Things seemed to peak for a moment when the UNSC special forces were sent in to find out what had happened in the Belt; days of upbeat but oh so serious reporting from the media as they moved towards their targets, then silence… for hours, nothing.

God knows what happened to those soldiers, even trying to patch things together after the fact it’s hard to find anything concrete about what happened, what they faced, why none of them came back.

One thing I can tell you from the fragments of coms chatter that I’ve scrapped together from what filtered out; they died bloody, they died hard, they went down howling their defiance at an unseen and implacable foe.

After that history seemed to pause; whatever was lurking malignantly in the heart of our system stopped reaching out for a time, bland assurances were issued, whole worlds held their breath.

Then it went for Earth.

Have you ever listened to a planet die? Listened to millions of lives being torn away in an instant and billions more screaming for a reprieve that would never come?

We were culled, wiped from the face of universe like a flawed design, something best forgotten…

I huddle here terrified and impotent in the night watching the shattered remnants of civilisation’s light gutter out one by one in the darkness, knowing that as each light goes out it will never come again, and I mourn the slaughter of my kind.

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A Rose by Any Other Name

Author : Jacob Lothyan

When the box was finally opened, it was assumed by some that it had been tampered with beforehand. After all, there was a fairly explicit warning that stated: ANY ATTEMPT TO OPEN THIS BOX OR OTHERWISE INSPECT THE CONTENTS BEFORE THE INTENDED TIME WILL RESULT IN IRREVERSIBLE DAMAGE TO THE CONTENTS. That warning had always been enough to dissuade any attempts by the current generation of scientists and politicians to prod any further than curious glances and wild speculation. It is well known, however, that over the centuries many attempts had been made to destroy the box before it could open. Different groups throughout history had sprung up declaring that the box was a super virus or mega bomb that needed to be suppressed instead of guarded. At least a couple of those groups actually came into possession of the box for brief periods of time. It is unknown what type or level of tampering took place during those periods, but it is speculated that it was enough to irreversibly damage the contents.

Another group believes that the “box experiment” had simply failed of its own accord. They figured that whatever the point of the experiment had been, it had lost its meaning and significance over the centuries that it had taken for the box to open. Many in this group argue that the timer was either damaged during mishandling, or that it had been set wrong from the beginning. Either way, they argued, it had been foolish to focus so much time and energy, and so many resources, on an irrelevant artifact from a lost civilization. In these circles, the “box experiment” is commonly referred to and understood as the “botched experiment.”

I, however, am of another school of thought. I believe that the box was intended to convey a very significant message. Simply because none of the greatest minds of our time can comprehend the message does not mean that box is without a message; it is just, as yet, not understood. I believe that once the object contained within the box is finally identified, every question from even the most outspoken of skeptics will finally be answered. I believe that understanding the box is our only and final opportunity if we hope to save the world as we know it, if we hope to save humanity. As it is now being asserted in some groups, ancient knowledge is knowledge none the less.

Of course, I accept that I may be partial; I was the only one lucky enough to see it live and in person, the only one to smell it, and it seems to have made a greater impression on me than any of my colleagues. I was alone in the box chamber when I was startled by a very audible click as the unknown timer expired. I turned just in time to witness the whistling mist of decompression. Despite warnings about possible airborne contaminants, I approached the box. Peering over the edge, into the depths of the box, I was not immediately awed, more confused. All that lied inside was a strange, thorny, green stick with thin, red, feathery pads overlapped at one end. It was the most beautiful and intricate biological specimen that had been witnessed in our time, but seemingly nonsensical. Just as a rich, earthy aroma reached my nostrils, the thorny stick began to turn brown in the feathery part, the pads beginning to curl. Before I could summon my colleagues to my side, the contents had reduced to dust, leaving us all to wonder and debate.

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Author : William Tracy, Featured Writer

1165 Third Street is quiet, as it has been quiet for over a century.

Once, its two hundred floors housed accountants, engineers, executives and staffers. Its occupants ebbed and flowed with the fickle whims of the economy.

All that ended with the Great Collapse.

Gone are the desk phones and paperwork. Here are mildew and insects. Once-plush offices have become dank caves home to skittering vermin. The gleaming plate glass windows have given way to jagged holes whistling in the wind. In sunlit corners, mosses give birth to grass.

1165 Third Street groans. Its steel skeleton cries one last plea against the indignity of neglect, then is silent. For one heartbeat, two heartbeats, three, it drops from the sky.

On the second floor, a deer leaps from a gaping window and bounds to safety. On the forty-second floor, an owl awakens in time to know its own mortality. On the fifty-third floor, a lynx screams for its kittens. On the one hundred thirty-seventh floor, a hawk spreads its wings and lunges for the sky.

On the roof, a lone tree twists in the wind. A mouse scurries in its shadow, then squeals as the ground drops from beneath it.

1165 Third Street drives into the earth with a roar. All around, waves of blackbirds and crows rush aloft. Beneath them, deer and jackrabbits bound down the cracked and pitted streets. A black cloud rolls after them, raining shards of glass and metal.

The boom fades to a dull rumble, and the air is filled with the scolding and chattering of birds.

The rubble moans and settles. Here a chunk of plaster skips through a maze of metal. There an I-beam seesaws hesitatingly before sliding to its resting place.

The wind changes direction, and the clouds of dust part. The setting sun burns crimson through the haze, and the ruins cast long shadows on the murky air.

A deer steps deliberately, nose twitching, ears alert. A coyote snuffles through the twisted debris, then dashes after a rodent.

The old financial district is quiet, as it has been quiet for over a century.

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Holy War

Author : Duncan Shields, Staff Writer

The oval office had been compromised. I knew because I was the one who compromised it.

I was standing over the body of the atheist president. The dark hues of her face were being framed by the blood from her slit throat as she lay on her back looking up at me. Her feet kicked slower, more of a rub that a kick, and then lay still.

Her throat stopped bubbling.

The hammering on the door was what snapped me back to reality. I could hear footsteps outside and I knew that soon the room would be filled with fireworks.

I made the sign of the cross, activating the transmitters embedded in my forehead, shoulders and torso. They lit up blue, wiped the room with bright light, and I vanished.

Soldiers burst through the blood-spattered doors into an oval office containing the corpse of a now ex-president, the smell of lilacs, and nothing else.

I arrived in the transportation bay with a double-flash of light and a release of pent-up breath. I was never comfortable on missions that required an instant transport. I’d been reassured by the people that built it, people smarter than me, that it was safe. Whatever. As far as I was concerned, it just hadn’t malfunctioned yet.

I stepped off of the platform into the receiving bay and was greeted by my fellow Holy Marines returning from their separate missions. Almost all of them had returned by now.

The top businessmen and politicians in the world were being killed by us and blame was being thrown around by our operatives. Operation Rapture was well on its way to being a complete success.

I knew something had gone wrong even before I got the news.

Agent Petersen hadn’t returned from his mission yet.

An alarm turned us to the bank of monitors embedded in the ship’s walls. CNN was playing a clip live from the office of wealthy Slovakian industrialist Nick Milovets. He was holding up Agent Petersen’s head and yelling at the cameras.

The subtitles told us that he was asking us if this was the best we could do. Bodyguard mercenaries lay behind him, destroyed by the battle to bring Agent Petersen down.

“There goes our cover story.” said Jefferson to my right. I shot him a disapproving look and called up Cooper from Response and Containment.

A hologram of Cooper appeared in front me, flickering, with a questioning look on her face. I nodded at her. She frowned and shot me a stiff salute before disappearing.

“Clear” came from the loudspeakers on all decks.

I sent an overload command to Agent Petersen’s subdermal transmitters. On the television, Petersen’s head smoldered, burned bright, and Nick Milovets yelped as his hand started to burn. The yelp turned into a scream as his office shuddered.

The screen went white and CNN lost the feed. The newscasters returned to spouting panicked theories.

I was the oldest and highest-ranking officer on the deck. Everyone on the command deck held their breath and looked at me.

I smiled at them.

“Open the channels”, I said “Let them know that the end of the world is coming.”

The deck erupted in cheers.

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Cogito, ergo sum.

Author : Jacob Lothyan

It comes back to an inherent flaw in the system. The Incident Imprinter isn’t exactly time travel, not as time travel was originally imagined. That is to say that we still don’t fully understand how matter on the quantum level can be in two places and times at once, so we simply leave our bodies behind. Our consciousnesses travel to different times and distant places, wherever we can imagine, really.

It was great for a while. We were the disembodied embodiment of the unobserved observer. Humanity learned more about the world and its history than ever imagined. We studied dinosaurs and wars and eruptions. We spent days with philosophers, generals, and playwrights. We watched pyramids being built and rivers drying away.

Everything was perfect until a brilliant physicist tried to go back and watch the beginning of the universe. Unfortunately for her, Descartes was right. A tech came across her body, burnt and frozen and starved for oxygen, still strapped into conduit 761231. It is hypothesized that she found herself in the complete darkness of space, and was probably fine at first. Over a small duration of time, as the universe began to unfold in front of her, she began to consider all of the physical properties that she understood about space. Forgetting that she did not have a body that could burn or freeze, or need oxygen, she panicked. It was the first ever trip to space using the Incident Imprinter. It was also the last. It is the most cited case when debating the effects of mind over matter.

That may have been the last visit to space, but it was not the last evidence of the flaw. Once other travelers realized that they could impact their physical being even while detached, they couldn’t get the thought out of their minds. Travelers started coming back with scrapes and bruises, burns and missing limbs. Wars and eruptions saw an immediate and steep decline in tourism. Suicides became more creative.

It was only a matter of time before some less scrupulous individuals took advantage of the flaw. Eventually, it was found that, even though we couldn’t understand the physics involved, travelers were able to create physical manifestations of themselves while visiting the past. These manifestations were nothing more than blinks or blurs, but still enough to be viewed and noted by the natives of any particular time. Worse still, these travelers discovered that with a little practice they could also be heard. It wasn’t until recently that ripples have been detected in the timeline.

It is hypothesized that we have found the cause of apparitions such as ghosts and spirits. We no longer believe that prophets who claimed to have spoken with angels or messengers were insane, just the victims of cruel pranks. It is even suspected that the voice of God may be walking amongst us. Needless to say, public access to the Incident Imprinter is no longer allowed. They are even thinking of canceling previously sanctioned school and business trips. Nobody is above suspicion.

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