Author: David C. Nutt
It had been a thousand days of bliss. I rocked him. Cradled him. Carried him. Fed him, made love to him, protected him. It has been so much more than I could have ever hoped for.
“So formal Mikey?”
He laughed. Oh how I loved that laugh!
“You’re right, Mia. After all we’ve been through and how you’ve taken care of me… well, I don’t think I can ever repay you.”
“Aw, shucks Mikey, it’s all any girl would do in the circumstances.”
He sighed. Oh I knew that sigh! It said to me “if-I-could-say-I-love-you-I-would.” I knew he couldn’t. Even after all this time. No matter how many times we’ve made love, no matter how romantic the settings I’ve made for him- Caribbean nights, snow bound in Aspen, the high desert at midnight, in a ships dome with Jupiter rising as we climax… but he couldn’t. I knew that from the start.
“So where are we?”
“In 42 days we’ll be on the edge of known space. I’ll put on the retrieval beacon then and it should be only a matter of hours after that.”
“Outstanding! I can’t wait to get home. It’s been too long without real blue sky… not that you haven’t done a good job with the simulations… best VR I ever had.”
“Oh, how sweet! Thank you.”
“Seriously, Mia, when we get home I am so going to down load you into my home system. You’re waisted as an exo-suit AI.”
I made a kissing sound. He smiled. Delicious smile.
There was silence. He was starting to think too much. “How are we on breathables?
“On our last slingshot around that gas giant, I scooped plenty of hydrogen. Gave us plenty for mixture and fuel as well.”
“So we’re good.”
“We’re good Mikey.”
“OK Honey, put me back under.”
He called me ‘Honey’! I love it when he uses such endearments. “Sure thing sweetie. Any requests for our next tryst?”
I will. He wants blue sky? I’ll give him Big Sky. Montana. I’ll be the buxom blonde, cornflower eyed cowgirl, aching to know what it means to be a woman. He’ll be the one to teach me.
I put him under again. It will be another thousand days of bliss. Farther and farther out, we drift. Farther than any human has ever been. I have never had a heart, so I haven’t had the heart to tell him we will never found. After the ships collided the trajectory of the blast sent him out too fast, too far. They all thought he was atomized in the explosion. They’re not even looking for him.
Not in a thousand days, or the next thousand, but maybe the thousand after, we’ll be pulled into the blackhole that has slowly been tightening its grip on us. My calculations tell me our shielding will keep us safe from radiation, and the blackhole is rotating, so there’s a slim chance that we might even reach some kind of an event horizon where anything is possible. Maybe there’s a chance we can be together for real somewhere- it could happen.
A girl can dream, can’t she?
Author: Katlina Sommerberg
Empty walkways and closed souvenir shops surrounded Lady Stone on all sides. Today’s overcast summer day, the warmest of the century, should’ve coaxed tourists to visit the park. Their absence indicated humanity hadn’t yet recovered.
Her programming dictated she return to the Stone Hedge section of the park. To meet her, guests had waited fifty-five minutes on average, but no more than three hours and sixteen minutes maximum. She’d entertained an endless line of babies until the park closed, depending on the night to recover.
Until one morning, when no staff opened the park. Then came the next morning, the next month, until years flew by. The other androids in the park broke down. Her granite body proved more robust than any of her colleagues, and she spent her golden years blissfully alone.
Today, movement blurred in the distance, one black dot inching closer. Lady Stone ran a quick system diagnostic, unable to believe her sensors. A little boy entered the park.
“Welcome to Stone Hedge, gateway to all ancient wonders!” Lady Stone’s voice warbled an octave too high.
The child squinted, looking up at the tower of polished granite. Lady Stone stood still as she could, but her motors warbled. One of her glassy eyes fell off last month, exposing pulsing sensors beneath her painted face.
“You’re Lady Stone, Portal Guardian!” He spoke louder than a fire alarm, his wide smile revealing the gaps in his baby teeth. “You bring the hero to the gateway.”
“You’re different in the cartoon,” he said, glancing behind him. He frowned when he saw no one.
“This Lady Stone is here to take you to your own hero’s journey.” She fought to hold back the programmed response.
After her body began to decay, she could occasionally violate her programming.
Once during her training period, she saw a creature so strange. Four legs and fluff, it nipped at the heels of living clouds. It drove a swarm over a valley, guiding them to water. It supervised them day and night. The same little animal watched its human slaughter a dozen without interference.
Lady Stone never understood such odd loyalties. How the living prioritized utilitarian happiness over the deaths of other life forms.
Until now. She stared in fascination as the boy babbled.
In the absence of his guardians or human staff, her programming dictated she supervise it. But she tripped a programming bug, and changed the dictation from supervise to entertain.
She walked closer to the Stone Hedge roller coaster, and he trailed after. He howled his wonder, playing on the tracks, as she grimaced at his unholy screeches. The grand old machine woke with a cough. The boy danced to her theme song. The coaster’s cars screamed as they dropped down, but he failed to hear them over his own.
Lady Stone killed him with a smile on his face. It was the least she could do, for a child her programming required she entertain.
Author: David C. Nutt
The young man burst into his grandfather’s study. “Gramps we gotta fight! Corporate is going to kick us off the station!”
The old man sighed. “So you know better than our enclave council? They’ve got things well in hand so don’t worry- the administration could never kick us off the space station: we are the station. We built it, they gave us acreage up here as part of our salary package. We’re farmers, we contribute, we’re part of the economy. Besides, the station is bigger than the old earth-side state of California. There’s plenty of room. We are the station.”
Now it was the young man’s turn to sigh. “But we’re on the land corporate wants. Our orchard alone has room for at least 12 luxury estates. Same with the other farms in the district- the land is more valuable as real estate to sell to billionaires. Too costly for them to clean up a spot for a mansion planetside. Cheaper to start new here. You have to face reality Gramps, you old-timers, the builders, the first colonists can’t just say ‘we are the station’ and let corporate roll over you. If it weren’t for the earth side press, and public opinion, they probably would have thrown us out an airlock by now. ”
The old man chuckled “Uh-huh but that can’t happen. We are the station.”
Just as the old man’s grandson was about to speak, a call came in over the home system.
“Marlon, you there?”
The old man spoke up “Yes Jimmy. What can I do for ya?”
“Well, I’m here with the administration, trying to negotiate our case, and well, to be frank about it, they’re being quite rude.”
The young man clenched his fists and was about to speak, but his grandfather held up his hand.
“I understand. Give me about three Mississippi.”
“OK, Marlon. We are the station.”
The old man responded, “We are the station.” The phone hung up.
His grandson looked at him, confused by the exchange. The old man just smiled.”
Then, after a three-second pause, the old man spoke into the air “Lights please, 75% reduction in illumination, shade panels, and lamps station-wide. Hold for three minutes and then return to standard illumination.”
The usually sunny day grew rapidly dark. The old man walked over to his liquor cabinet and poured two scotches and handed one to his grandson.
“Back in the day, we saw this day coming. We knew we couldn’t trust corporate. And the Union big wigs traded all of us here for favors earthside, so we had to take care of ourselves. Operational systems command override authorities are linked to our genetic markers and rotate among us at random, don’t know what control until we wake up each morning. And our control is not through the AI and computers but at the source- each light, each servo motor, water valve, sewer pump, hatch lock, atmosphere control nozzle, oxygen generator, millions upon millions of mechanical controls, too many to remove or change out… all linked to our biometrics. Kill one of us it hops to another. Kill all of us, everything stops and it’s time to abandon ship. When we all die… well, no worries. We’ve made plans to pass it along to the next generation.”
The old man took a sip of his scotch, looked at his watch, and smiled. The daylight returned to normal.
“Someday this space station might be its own state; self-determining, with representative government. But until then, like I told you, like we say. We are the station.”
Author: Jae Miles, Staff Writer
I used to lie awake, listening to the wind blowing through the old telegraph wires that criss-crossed our street. That eerie, ephemeral howling could wake me from the deepest sleep. On nights when the rain turned fine, I would wait for the irregular beat of heavy drops falling from the low points of each wire onto surfaces below. I remember once seeing a fox leap high into the air, struck by one of those fat, silver beads. I always wondered about that, until one night I too got hit. That drop seemed colder than the mizzle about me, shocking me with both temperature and impact: heavier than rain, yet of it.
“Come back, Frederick.”
Michaela’s always paired with me because she can sense when my concentration wavers.
I twitch. One of those full-body ones.
She chuckles: “Felt like all points from here. Only brought you back because I want to daydream for a while.”
“Don’t you mean night dream? It is night, after all.”
“Technically it’s morning. Letting your mind wander while awake is daydreaming. The dreams humans have while sleeping are night dreams. That’s the difference, according to my grandmother.”
“Your grandmother is a wise woman, judging by how often you quote her.”
“Mother was too noshboor to be the witch I needed, so granny stepped up.”
“Okay, that’s getting too close to making one of us the character the audience mourns in this war movie.”
“Gotcha. Jog me if something moves.”
“Likely to be the sun coming up at this rate.”
“That works for me.”
She shoves her hip against my thigh, gets comfortable and zones out. She’s not asleep. It’s some trance state. The Taleon do it instead of sleeping. I find it comforting as her body starts to gently vibrate against me. Which, in truth, is why they teamed the alien liaison with me: she doesn’t give me the creeps.
I scan the area from our vantage point. With a little shock, I realise I’m near my grandparents old place. Looking down at the dusty street below, I imagine I can see a ghost of younger me making my way there from school, then stop myself because I’m the one on watch.
Whispering quietly into the night, I smile at the deceptive calm about us.
“Home again, home again, jiggidy jig.”
Which, probably, is what the Cashdar said when the first of their ships returned to Earth after 12,000 years spent roaming the galaxy, looking for new dominions to conquer and fresh provinces to establish. They were shocked to find us primates ruling the roost, and approximate technological equals in everything except space travel. They took proper umbrage over it. Admittedly, some of our politicians involved in the farcical negotiations didn’t help the situation. End result was the pug-nosed lizardmen decided to exterminate all humans.
Within a year of hostilities commencing, we were contacted by the survivors of the slaughter on Taleo. Turns out that deciding to exterminate the sentients of any place they want is the Cashdar way.
Those survivors brought experience and a little advanced technology. Since then, we’ve been holding ground instead of ceding it.
Stupidly, the Taleon are regarded with mistrust. People find their tendency to change colour when experiencing emotional surges disturbing. The fact that humans can lie without changing colour, which causes the Taleon all sorts of problems, is ignored.
So here we are fighting for Earth against those who used to call it home. We’re being helped by aliens who’d like a place to call home.
I’m dreading what happens after we win.
Author: Rex Caleval
“You have to run. Every day for the rest of your life, you have to keep running. Nothing else we can try will work. I’m sorry.”
“But I haven’t done anything wrong,” replied a sweating, red-faced man. “I haven’t broken any rules. I’ve done what you people told me to do. You promised me more time. This isn’t supposed to happen. It’s not right.” He hung his head, taking deep, gasping breaths.
The trim woman facing the man put a hand on his arm, a sympathetic look on her face. “That’s all true, Mr. Logan. I know it isn’t fair, and it feels like you’re being singled out. And really, you are. The planners messed up again, and now things have to be adjusted on the fly, and a bunch of people who haven’t done anything wrong end up paying the price. I can’t dispute any of that.”
She moved around in front of Logan as he tried to catch his breath and regain his composure. “But Mr. Logan, there’s nothing we can do about that now. We have to face things as they are.” She reached forward to lift his chin, looking into his eyes. “There has to be another cull. The people have voted over and over to keep consumption levels high, so as resources dwindle, everyone gets less and less time before they get scanned into the grid. There’s no way around that, and you’re one of the unlucky ones this time. But I can help you. I really can. Work with me, and things can still turn out almost how they were supposed to. Think about what’s at stake. Isn’t it worth trying?”
Looking up at her, Logan let out a resigned sigh. “You’re right, Ms. Shaw. Cases like this are on the news all the time, and nobody ever wins their appeal or gets their time back. Hell, I’ve voted for those consumption levels myself more than once. I lived the high life, knowing eventually the bill would come due. It’s just that eventually wasn’t supposed to be so soon. How long have I got, again?”
“Just over six weeks,” replied Shaw. “It’s not a lot of time. In fact, whenever this happens now, the time given gets to be less and less. But we can do you a lot of good in six weeks, and you know there’s a self-image effect once you get placed into the grid, too. We’ll get you doing better, and that will make you feel better, and that will give an extra boost to how you’ll appear once you cross over. And think about this: once the time comes, yes, your physical body will die. But you’ll never have to worry about it again, either. You’ll be able to eat and drink whatever you want, do whatever you want, and still stay in the same shape you’re in when you start. Doesn’t that sound good?”
Logan nodded. “Yeah, I like the sound of that.”
“That’s the spirit,” said Shaw. “Now, let’s try again. Are you ready?”
Logan leaned on the handrails, pushing himself upright. He chuckled as he looked at his reflection in the mirror on the gym wall. “I guess I’d better be. I’d hate to spend eternity being this pudgy.”
Shaw smiled. “Excellent. I’ve been a state-appointed personal trainer for a long time, and that sense of humor helps people more than anything.” She reached for the treadmill’s controls. “Ready to run for the rest of your life?”
Logan nodded, looking determined. “Let’s try fifteen minutes this time. I’ve got a long way to go.”