The Future Soon

Author : Neil Shurley

“Will you just cool it about the jet pack?”

It was all I could do not to shout at him. Barry’s daily tirade against the state of the world left me feeling nothing but tired. Ever since New Year’s Day he’d go off for at least ten minutes every morning about the alleged lies he grew up on, about the lack of domed cities, flying cars and jet packs.

“Can you say redundancy?” I continued. “If your rocket goes out when you’re flying through the air at 80 miles an hour, how are you going to do anything but crash land? Splat, Barry.” I grabbed a raisin out of my bowl and squished it for emphasis. “Splat. Right on your moving sidewalk.”

Barry drained the coffee from his Mystery Science Theater 3000 mug, then took another bite of pie.

“Can we just accept it now?” I said. “We got the future we got. We’re going to have to just make do with it. And look at the good side. No nuclear holocaust. No robot rebellion. No super-intelligent apes taking over. It’s all good, right?”

Barry scraped the remaining cherry filling off of his plate. “So you’re saying I should be happy there’s no jet pack in my garage?”

“First off, you don’t have a garage.”

“I’d keep it in the closet. With my coats.”

“Where would you keep the fuel? You’d have to buy it by the barrel. And rocket fuel ain’t cheap, my friend.”

“Mister Fusion,” he said. “We were promised nuclear fusion. It would totally run on that.”

I just shook my head and slurped the sugary milk out of my bowl.

Barry slid his plate into the table slot and double-tapped his mug. He warmed his hand over the steaming coffee.

“What about the moonbase, Chad? Where’s our moonbase?”

“Hey, at least we didn’t blow the moon out of orbit with our spent fuel rods.”

“Pppft. Give me a break. We should have hotels on the moon by now. And you know it.”

I shook my head and sighed.

“Fine,” I said. “You’re right. We were screwed.”

“That’s all I’m saying.”

I double-tapped my temple and tweeted to my 14,608 followers: “Barry says we’re screwed. What a moron. He hasn’t had a positive thing to say since he turned 107.”

“Hey,” Barry said. ”I see that.”

“Doesn’t mean it’s not true,” I said, staring through the windshield as we shot past endless green fields. “Doesn’t mean it’s not true.”

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Author : James Riley

“Oof!” Miller grunted, raising the bar for John to take it. He exhaled deeply and sat up. John casually dropped the weight onto the maglev lifts and patted his friend on the back.

“Think that’ll do it?” John asked.

“Should. . .” Miller replied, tapping his left forearm twice. A pale blue display appeared on his skin. A graphic was rotating and a box of text popped up that read “Updating. Please wait.” Expectation began to stir within him.

A faint vibration on his forearm indicated that the calculation was complete. Miller watched a cherry red bar slide from left to right on the display. He urged it forward. There was just a bit further for it to go. . . and. . . a loud metallic chime was emitted from the display and rang through the gym. It was wholly satisfying, like taking a long drink of water after waking up in the middle of the night. “Ding,” Miller said, grinning widely.

“Grats,” John said, giving him a high five. Several other weightlifters echoed John’s congratulation. Miller’s strength level was now 42, almost where he wanted it to be.

His display buzzed and he looked down. A message had popped up in a small square toward his elbow, “Just reminding you about our date tonight–Marina.” A heart graphic pulsed below the text. Miller smiled again and headed to the showers, he didn’t want to be late.

For hours the sun had been setting, but Marina and Miller, walking hand in hand, never noticed. Part of the reason they didn’t was that the light posts lining the street had been smoothly illuminating, little by little, to compensate for the waning sunlight, but mostly it was due to the fact that they were having so much fun together.

As they were walking Marina was telling a story about how her shoes got stuck in a vent that day at work forcing her to walk around barefoot for the rest of the day. In between laughs Miller quickly glanced down at his display. Tonight’s date pushed the little bar forward that measured their relationship. He wasn’t surprised. He had ordered Eggplant Parmesan, her favorite, for her at the restaurant, given her his coat when they went for a walk, and had even complimented her new shoes— Miller had done everything a good boyfriend should. And each correct decision had automatically been given a value and recorded.

Soon, they reached Marina’s apartment. “Oh,” she said, before opening the door, “Julie’s engagement party is next month. Want to be my date?”

Miller chuckled. “Want to? Nah. Boring small talk with people I don’t know isn’t my thing. But I’ll come, because I know it’s what you want, and that’s what good boyfriends do,” he continued.

“But you’d rather not come?” she asked, her tone cool.

“No, to be honest, but I will, because it’ll make you happy.” He hadn’t noticed her demeanor change because he was glancing at his display. Sure enough, his willingness to do something he didn’t want to for her sake caused the relationship bar to inch forward. According to the meter, Marina should be elated with him. He looked up from his arm, though, just in time to see her slam her front door in his face.

Miller stood for a moment, his mouth slightly agape. The meter indicated Marina’s happiness with him should be at a peak. He snorted. “Stupid thing’s broken again,” he muttered, shutting the display off by punching his arm so hard that he made himself wince.

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The Other City

Author : Cesium

They were together when the city stopped.

Their office perched atop a spire reaching up from the business district. Usually holoscreens afforded them a panoramic, unobstructed view of the city, or of whatever other landscape they wished to see, but those were dead now and only a single transparent wall afforded them a view of the neighboring towers, now suddenly gone dark and silent.

Then, because it was their job, they ran down the hall to the backup interface and tried to trace the problem.

Basic systems were still running — power, water, air — but all higher-level functions had ceased. Citywide routing and guidance algorithms had failed, leaving vehicles to come to a halt on their own collision-avoidance routines. Only a few emergency lights, designed to be always on, still cast their soft glow onto the streets. And of course all information and communications systems were down, including the interactive panels that lined these corridors.

The backup interface was a wide area packed with machinery whose purpose even she wasn’t sure of. It was the first time either of them had seen the city go down, and even their teachers had only been able to offer advice instead of concrete knowledge about this situation. He glanced at her; she shrugged, but tossed him a manual. It was a physical book, thick and bound, and he fumbled for a second before he could open it. Outside, some of the lights were starting to come back on, as they were switched over from the city’s unresponsive power-management grid to standalone controllers.

The first test was to try the direct neural interface. But the link was down; her thoughts couldn’t establish a connection. Similarly, the giant holoscreen mounted on one wall flashed red and displayed an apology; it couldn’t locate the city server.

They tried then interface after interface, going through the long list of communications protocols that the city understood, which it had accumulated over centuries of upgrades to its computer core. And slowly they discovered what the machines filling the room were for. After the first hour they had to abandon the holoscreen. One method used an interface combining hand motions with voice control, which she found immensely tiring. The fifth hour found them both staring at a flat screen, touching a pad in front of them to manipulate symbols and icons. And still they kept running into failure after failure. The protocols they were using were too high-level; the error was somewhere deeper.

By the seventh hour, they’d gotten out an ancient piece of polymer called a mouse, and were moving it around on a table. And then, the screen lit up. It was something he’d tried on a whim, activating a function buried deep in the code. The screen bore the words “more magic”, and a crude line drawing of a bearded figure on a cloud. Below was a button labeled “let there be light”. She glanced at him; he shrugged.

She clicked on the button.

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What’s The Manual Say?

Author : Patricia Stewart, Staff Writer

The shuttlecraft was careening out of control in the upper atmosphere of an uncolonized Class-M planet orbiting Alpha Mensae. Lieutenant Ashby reached down and touched the control panel to shut off the alarm. “What’s the Manual say we should do now?”

“Who cares?” responded Ensign Tappan. “The Manual told us to stay with the shuttlecraft. Considering that we’re about to be vaporized, it doesn’t seem like its giving us very good advice.”

“Would you rather be floating around in a spacesuit until your oxygen runs out? At least we have a fighting chance in the shuttle.”

Tappan scanned through the index of his hand held electronic Flight Manual, and displayed the recommended actions. “Well, let’s see. Ah, here it is, right after ‘kiss your ass goodbye.’ It says we should remain calm, disengage the autopilot, increase our angle of attack to 25 degrees, and begin executing S-turns to bleed off our forward velocity. Okay, you do that. I’ll modulate the underbelly force field and manage our life support system.”

“Wow, flying manually,” remarked Ashby. “I haven’t done that since my Academy days.” The ship buffeted erratically. “What’s the Manual say about landing?”

“Landing? Aren’t you being optimistic?” Tappan scrolled to the next section and read aloud. “At an altitude of three kilometers, our velocity needs to be approximately 600 kph. Maintain a glide slope of 22 degrees until we are exactly 80 meters above the ground. Then perform a flare maneuver to change our final glide angle to 1.5 degrees. Try to land on a flat patch of snow, sand or dirt. Water is acceptable if we have flotation gear on board, which we don’t. Oh, this is good; it says don’t attempt to land in a mountainous or rocky area.”

Tappan watched nervously as sheets of hot plasma shot upward past the forward viewport. The shuttlecraft came out of its final arc and headed toward a grassy field. Its landing approach had it passing 50 meters above a heavily wooded area. The radiant heat from the shields started a long, narrow forest fire. Ten seconds later, the ship was skidding on the grass. After half a kilometer, it came to a smoldering stop. The cabin began to fill with acrid smoke. Ashby and Tappan unbuckled themselves and scrambled out of the escape hatch.

The two men were standing 100 meters from the shuttlecraft when it erupted into flames. “That’s just wonderful,” said Ashby. “What does the Manual say we should do now?”

Tappan turned his body to block the sun from the viewscreen, “According to the Manual, we need to look for shelter and water. I say we head toward those mountains. Maybe there are some caves and a creek.” Per the Manual instructions, they used a bunch of rocks to create an arrow pointing toward the mountains, so a rescue team, if one ever came, would know where to begin looking for them.

After they walked several kilometers, they spotted a large cloud of dust heading their way, accompanied by the sound of stampeding animals. Ashby used his hand to shade his eyes. “There must be a thousand of them,” he said. “What does…”

“I know, ‘the Manual say’. Oh great. It depends. If they’re herbivores, we run with them and they’ll run around us. If they’re predators, we stand still, and don’t make eye contact. If we’re unsure, it says we should lie down and play dead. With our luck,” he remarked, “they’re probably scavengers looking for corpses.”

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Our Title was “Revivalist.” We Performed “The Process.”

Author : D. Maurer

“Coffee?” I asked him; we were watching a recovery procedure. This poor sap died well over five hundred years ago. He was the oldest meat popsicle we had attempted to revive.

“Excuse me?”

“Would you like some coffee?”

“No. No, thank you.”

I looked at him and the giant polygon that the popsicle was in.

“You’ve been staring at that thing for at least 2 hours. Nothing’s happened yet. Not supposed to for a while yet.”

“But we never know.”

“But the machines notify…” I trailed off. We were not really doctors like they were back when this guy was first alive. More like engineers. That’s as good as bad.

He sighed. “Of course, but it’s not the same.”

Pause in the dialogue. I thought about it.

“I can see that.”

“See what?” He looked closer at the polygon. 13 sides. Matte black. Longer one way than the other, of course. Some industrial designer’s idea of modern. It sat in a small room. We sat in a small room carved from the other room by glass walls and a door.

“I mean, I understand. It’s not the same seeing them when they first wake.”

“Understand what? Oh. Yeah,” He leaned closer, nose almost against the glass.

“What did he have?”

“Something with his kidneys. Or his heart. Or cancer. Doesn’t matter. We’ve grown new organs. I’m not worried about anything but the brain,” he looked at me for the first time in hours. “And you should only be worried about that, too. The rest is,” he flipped his hand over, looking for the word, “fixable.” He turned back to the black thing.

We’d heard some people getting revived with massive brain damage; if the damage is too severe to a given cell, it’s abandoned by The Process. You didn’t want too many of those; even a handful in the wrong brain area was bad, but if someone woke up with a soup of cell components instead of proper nerve cells, there was really no telling.

Best case: memory loss was common, incontinence close second, but you were alive. Catheter and therapy took care of the urine issues; time and therapy took care of the memory.

And he stared at the damned polygon for another hour before it opened. When it did open, it revealed a bald, naked, and scared human being.

We entered the room and I spoke quietly to him. I spoke a dozen old languages and dialects; my partner, a dozen others. Between us we had most of the popsicle languages covered.

“Richard, we’re here to help. You were frozen when you died; we cured what killed you and you’re still alive,”

“You can hear me but probably cannot talk. We will teach you these things.”

“You died in 2034. The year is 2561. You have been dead for 527 years but now you are alive. You were rich and your investments have paid off handsomely. You are rich almost beyond measure. Your first-hand history will serve you well. You lived in an interesting time.”

He was trying to talk, a sound close to “Matilda?”

His chart said he was married. This Matilda had moved on and had elected not to be frozen and revived. A good sign he asked about her, though. Memories and all.

“We’ll get to that sir. Can you stand?”

He could. We led him to the recovery area. He only peed a little bit on the way there. I talked to him because he was more alone now than I could imagine.

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