The Sunset War, Revisited

Author: Logan Smith

Yavik initiated the firing sequence. A small change in the audible cadence of his warsuit’s power cycling was, at first, the only indication that Yavik had done anything at all.

He was already on the move, the angular mass of his suit pirouetting away and knifing deeper into the star system. The small, rocky planet he had been facing was enveloped in a spidery lace of violet light for a moment before the warsuit’s paracausal weapons converted the planet’s mass to energy and then steered the torrent of sheer elementary destructive power in a broad, lancing arc that followed the edge of the system along what had been the planet’s ecliptic plane.

Yavik’s suit had no displays – the substrate in which warsuit pilots were immersed acted as an extension of their own modified nervous systems – and his awareness registered a positive hit on the vector by which he had entered the system.

Slinging himself into the concealment of the system’s first gas giant, Yavik drifted through the storm of molecular hydrogen, assessing his options. Pressing at the edge of his awareness, his target had been stalled only briefly by the paracausal detonation that had cost the system its outermost planet. With a thought, Yavik urged his suit back into motion, seeding the gas giant with mirror drones, noetic images of his own warsuit that would buy him the time he needed. The drones, extrapolations of Yavik’s own consciousness, could initiate multiplanar strikes on the target, leaving Yavik to deal with the real space threat.

Then Yavik was on his way, his warsuit cutting through the solar system in a series of maneuvers that would have been impossible for any conventional spacecraft. Fractals in colors he couldn’t describe swam at the edge of his vision as psychedelics flooded his system, signaling that the noetic drones had begun combat. Yavik personally hated this part but the drugs didn’t work on machines and human pilots needed them to engage with these star-devouring ‘gods’ in all the dimensions humans were generally ignorant of while the warsuit did the heavy lifting in real space. Yavik knew some pilots who preferred to call it space magic. Fucking space magic.

As the ruddy mote of the gas giant behind him vanished, Yavik swept his aft scopes over the place it had been, and what he saw nearly stopped him dead in space. He hoped it was the drugs, at first, but a second scan showed the same thing. A vast form, slithering and pulsating into a million billion impossible shapes all at once. Uncountable eyes, some of them even human-looking, and each one a window into a reality that Yavik hoped would never be his own.

And behind it was a great rend in space, a fissure from those unspeakable universes the gods had come from. And they were coming out.

The Time Traveler’s Complaint

Author: John Affleck

Last thing I remember, before sitting up and screaming, was being pinned down in The Handless Clock while some Viking-looking dude toyed with a hardwood mallet and eyed my leg. My left knee, specifically. Away from us, I could hear a drunken argument over just who at one table had gone back and killed Hitler, while at another table, they were singing in a language I did not understand. Check that. Language family I did not understand.

Time-traveling sounds like a blast for a certain kind of geek, and I have to admit I’m among them. Alpha and Omega, you get to see it all. But there’s a choice to it. Once you are approached for the game, one option the Travelers offer you is to abandon everyone you ever knew and just go on missions. By that I mean repairing holes in time-space, eliminating the odd timeline completely, eliminating the odd bad actor completely, which is complicated and involves reaching back several generations, then moving forward and accomplishing everything that family would have accomplished. You live nowhere and everywhere. It’s a lot — physically, emotionally. Those folks are the closest thing to pirates I’ve ever met, except for actual pirates.

What’s also a lot is the other way of playing it. In that scenario, your work tends to be a little tamer — science and observation and all that — and you come back the same moment you left to the same family, the same friends, the same life. Only, here’s the thing. You’ve got to be exactly as you were when you left, so you don’t screw up the timeline. So, say, you’re 5-foot-4 and 120 pounds, and you’re sent someplace like Holland to learn more about Rembrandt. Having to be Dutch, what the wiseasses call our “costume department” will make you 6-foot-8 and 230 pounds to fit in. But you must go back to 5-4 at the end of the day. Not comfortable.

In my case, I was approached by a member of the Travelers Society while I was in the hospital, recovering from a busted kneecap I got in a bicycle accident, where it turns out the orthopedic surgeon just happened to be the girl of my dreams. Battered as I was, I knew it right when I met her — and that fact, and the correctness of my decision — were confirmed by my travels, which revealed her warm and loving nature throughout life. But there was an obvious issue for me, that being the number of journeys through time in which a broken leg is a good idea are relatively few. No way around it. I go time traveling, the leg heals. I come back to my lady the moment I left …

So, here I was in the Clock, again, getting ready to make myself acceptable to my doctor and the rest of the hospital. The pub is one of several Traveler hangouts around time, or maybe out of time is more like it, and the only place I would really trust such delicate work to be done. “Sure you wanna play it this way, mate? There’s still time to ask for a transfer,” a mad, sunburned Aussie in bad need of a sonic shower asked as he climbed onto my chest and poured a whiskey down my throat.

“It’s what I do for love, brother,” I coughed.

“Love stupid,” the Viking said as the hammer crashed down, shooting me into my old body like a supersonic train on which some jerk has just hit the emergency brake.

Brain Browsing

Author: Shannon O’Connor

Which one do I want? Which one is best for me?
How about the former astrophysicist? That would be a smart one. Maybe too high-end for me? But a nice change.
How about the woman who climbed Mount Everest? An endurance brain! One that’s been to the top of the world. A possibility.
How about a high school English teacher? I’d have read a lot of books, and I’d have dealt with misbehaving children. I don’t know if that’s the one.
There are so many brains to choose from, but they’re not all right for me. I have to find the correct size for my head, and I have to make sure we’re physically compatible. It’s not all about what I want.
I might want a fresh brain, but there aren’t that many. The pure, untouched brain that does not contain a bad thought or a misdeed, one that is wiped clean of all mistakes and memories, clean as a shiny penny, is rare and expensive. I don’t have the means for that, and I don’t have the qualifications. You have to be a person who has never lived a life in reality, one who has only lived in fantasies. I have lived on Earth and I have seen some things. Some drastic things, some heavenly things. I need a new brain to help me forget what I have known.
I want a hopeful brain, but not too hopeful. I want a brain that fits my needs and desires. I want to see new things, and go new places, and not be afraid of the world around me. I want to be transformed.
At the brain bank, I stop to admire the merchandise in different tanks floating, almost beckoning me to take them. There are so many, I can’t decide.
“You have time to choose,” the brain dealer said. “You can spend a day deciding which one you want. They will be here tomorrow.”
“It’s not a decision to be made lightly,” I said. “I will become another person. I will have a new life.”
“You have to decide what you want most in life,” he said. “Choose what your future will be. The future is like the ocean that never ends. You think you can see where it terminates, but it goes on and on.”
“I want to live a beautiful life.”
“I think I have the brain for you.”
“Which one is it?”
“I have the brain of a surgeon who quit to become a poet. He wrote lovely poetry about birds and avocados.”
“That sounds like the brain for me.”
“Here, read the description.”
He handed me a flyer about the brain for sale. It was compatible to me. The former surgeon was happy when he died because did what he loved most. I would have a contented, brilliant, interesting brain.
“Come back tomorrow, and we can finalize the sale,” he said.
“No, this is the brain I want.”
“We never make same-day sales. This is a new brain, not a pair of shoes.”
“If I must. But hold it for me.”
I stayed up all night, considering the new brain I would purchase the next day. I had never had another. But I was ready for a fresh start.
I went to the brain bank, and made my purchase. It would be implanted within a week.
I exploded with joy. I believed my brain would illuminate secrets, and direct me down the path to my true potential with a brilliant brain.

Stowaway Miracles

Author: Thomas Desrochers

There is a disturbance on Deck Four. The Pilot can see it plain as day in the readout, magnified by his attention, an atmospheric ammonia reading eighty times normal. It was pure luck that he saw it at all, one readout among thousands.

He calls out to the copilot. Nobody answers. He remembers, a recurrent pain, that Bradford died years prior. Freak malfunction in the cryopod, the chief mechanic had said. There’d been no evidence. There’d been no spare copilots. The Pilot had been moved to the rest shift, the last ten days in the ship’s hundred-day cycle. Everything but the reaction and life-support off. Nothing to break. Nothing to worry about.

He stares at the readout.


And dust.

Bradford is gone. The Pilot will be alone for the next fifty years. He undoes his harness and stands, massaging his atrophied legs with his skeletal hands, and leaves the glowing cocoon of the two-man bridge.

The ship is empty, everyone tucked away for Recuperation. The Pilot makes good time. He steps off the ladder onto Deck Four. Quiet, a tomb but for the beating of his heart and the hiss of his breath.

The air should be still, but it brushes against the back of his neck. He shivers, starts along the endless curve of the hallway. A third of the way around, by a sub-hold, he hears it. A faint noise like the pipping of a dozen system alarms. The Pilot opens the door; his nose wrinkles.

The chief mechanic sits before a container, the lid propped open. Light spills out, painting him a golden idol. He closes the lid. Quiet.

The Pilot blinks. “Keelan?”

The chief mechanic nods.

The Pilot shuffles over. “What have you got in there?” He cracked the lid and peers inside. Birds. Three peeping babies sheltering under, next to, and on top of a harassed looking mother. She bup’s plaintively at him. A wattled, fearsome head shoots into view, one beady eye fixated on him.

He closes the lid, looks out over the dozens of containers. How many were mislabeled? How many tons of contraband? He turns to the chief mechanic. “We left seven billion behind.” A brief pause measured in aching heartbeats. “We left everything. My wife. My daughter.”

“I know,” the chief mechanic says. He looks down at his feet, then back at the Pilot. “I had to save something.”

“God damn you Keelan, you saved chickens?”

“What would you have had me do? Another worthless wealthy fool?” The chief mechanic snorts. “God damn me indeed. Those bastards said to leave the animals, the flowers, the bugs, that there was no way to keep them fed and no time to keep them frozen.” He stood, eye to eye with the Pilot now. “They condemned our children to hell to save twenty politicians. Instead of growing up with birds and meadows, they were to grow up with slime and tomatoes!”

The Pilot looks away. It seems so long ago. Five conscious years, hundreds of freeze-thaw cycles. He remembers, dimly, the corpulent tagalong whose cryogenic unit failed the first week. All life has a price, he thinks.

“Keelan. Did you kill Bradford?”

The chief mechanic looks stricken. “No. I would never.”

The pilot gazes down at the container. The mother hen inside, chicks nestled beneath her. A queer miracle; he’d thought them dead with everything else. The future he had accepted changed imperceptibly – was it still so empty? He wasn’t sure.

“I miss them all terribly,” he murmurs.

The Pilot begins to weep, his first tears in fifty years.

Cybernetic Suffrage

Author: R.D. Harris

A young lady stood in front of me, waiting to vote like I was. Her glances in my direction were not rude but certainly repeated.
“You’ve never seen an android at the polls?” I asked.
“No, ma’am,” she replied in a thick twang.
Others in the library looked over. A great many frowned with unmasked disapproval. Change tends to scare the rank-and-file citizen. Luckily, people adjust to change. Humans had already molded their own acceptance of androids joining the workforce, owning businesses, and simply living untethered in society.
“I didn’t know y’all could vote to be honest,” she said, in a hushed voice this time. She was aware of outside interest in our conversation.
“We’ve been able to for quite some time. There were special voting locations before.”
The queue moved a bit.
“Never heard of that before.”
“We had to transfer data from our memory for inspection before we could vote. Even then, our votes were supervised. Not that any of us wanted our private information or pictures scrutinized. Most of us androids went through that because it was the only option. Having rights as you do is important to us.”
The friendly woman was lucky. She was just another human in the crowd. No cameras in her face or judgmental eyes upon her.
“I’m sorry you had to go through that. I really am. That sounds terrible,” she said.
I said, “it’s all right. People either empathize or disapprove. We don’t have feelings to hurt.”
Making it to the booth, I presented my personal identification before casting my ballot and walking out the way I’d come. The woman I befriended in the queue came up to me in the parking lot across the street.
“It was nice getting to know you.”
“I thought so to,” I replied.
She walked off to an idling car. There were two children in car seats with an older woman in the driver’s seat. Presumably her mother.
“I get funny looks too,” she called out before entering the vehicle.
I offered a blank smile and waved, processing…