Celestial Mechanic

Author : hraesvelgr

“Solar Systems are easy to program. Way easier than I thought.”

“Told ya so,” I could hear the Director’s voice crisp and clear. “Did you enjoy the challenge?”

I smiled down at the still water of the lake before me, reflected in it a perfect image of Earth and its moon as viewed through the dome of my Surveyor Station. The sight was pristine, perfect; not just the beauty of reality as a canvas, but now that I knew every detail of the situation’s physics, now after I had run millions upon millions of equations, sorted through mathematics that had previously been beyond my imagining, I could appreciate the movement of the planets and satellites in a way no other human being would ever be able to.

“Yes,” I answered plainly, after a long pause, having almost forgotten the phone at my ear. “I mean. I love what I do.”

“Someone will be there in the morning to check on your productivity, but from the sound of things, I’m guessing all those recommendations were right about you.” The Director’s voice had a certain allure to it; one that told of a promotion, maybe even a bonus or an upgraded  Surveyor Station. “Once I get the report, kid, there’s a chance we can talk about getting you to work on Letser 920. It’s a sixteen-planet job.”

More work! I stifled a small laugh of sheer joy, still eyeing the reflection, watching as the moon drifted gracefully so near earth that it looked for a moment that the two might touch. “I’m up for anything you can throw at me, boss. Now that I have a handle on it, I could probably even build a solar system from scratch.” There was a flash of light in my little lake, reflected from above where the sun was peeking out from between the two celestial bodies. My distracted mind thrummed over the math of the event for a moment, and there was a little tick in my subconscious telling me that the sun was still three hours from that sort of dawn. The Perturbation Theory could account for that, maybe. But, really…

My thoughts paused to reprocess what was going on, taking their time, going over the calculations I’d run and trying to figure what had…

Happened. I snapped my head away from the reflection. Looking up, I saw with my own eyes, the flash of light hadn’t been from the sun; Earth had just suffered a head-on collision with its own moon. “Son of a bitch!” Goodbye, Africa.

For several seconds I just stared upward, speechless, only partly hearing the director’s inquisitions about my sudden explication. I could see it all now: the perturbations that had gone wrong, the prophetic calculations of what was to come, the Earth breaking apart, the orbits of the other planets all skewed into catastrophic spirals. It was to be a dead solar system. And what’s worse, it was going to be hell for me to score even a two-planet job after the Director heard about this one.

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Reflections

Author : =arkhein

Deeg snuck out of his parent’s cabin late on the last night.  He had noticed the elevators had cameras in them, so he took the stairwell instead.  There would be consequences for his actions, but if he could avoid some of them, that would be nice.

The stairwell turned out to be a narrow tube, thirty stories high, with a flimsy ladder welded to the inside.  The sight of it made his eyes bug, but he climbed in anyway.  She would be there.  She probably was there already.

“Are you going to be at the homecoming party at the Core tonight?  Veena had asked.  Deeg distinctly remembered the rainbow sparkles in her long blonde hair and the overwhelming scent of strawberries.

Rather than asking what the ‘Core’ was, Deeg just nodded and said “of course!”

Halfway up the tube, Deeg was exhausted and sweaty.  His hand slipped, and he fell.  Deeg almost screamed, but realized he was falling much more slowly than he should, and grabbed the ladder quickly.  Taking a deep breath, he pulled himself up hard and sailed upwards several feet before slowing down.  The rest of the way up, he took superman leaps.

“Oh, I’m going to be there too,” Veena had said, looking down at the ping-pong table intently and twisting the hair near her ear round her finger over and over again.  Deeg opened his mouth to ask her if she wanted to play another game, but she set the paddle on the table.

“Well, I gotta go.  Bye,” she said, making eye contact with him for a second, then rushing over to a gaggle of giggling girls who were playing a dancing game in the corner.

As he approached the hatch, a thumping sound came to his awareness.  Deeg opened the hatch and dance music blared.  He pulled himself inside.

The Core was a huge circular compartment, over a hundred feet across.  Thin poles ran at all angles across the cavernous room, bearing multicolored, spining lights. People moved up and down the struts via handholds, and then swung themselves out into the air, dancing and flailing and spinning.

Deeg’s eyes were on the huge, circular windows on the walls throughout the Core.  Most showed some part of the huge white ship they were on, the cisluar ferry Atluntos.  Its bulk was the huge habitable ring that could be seen in all directions.  The Core was at the very center of the ship, attached to the ring with huge struts.

Then he saw Veena.  She was at the nearest window, peering out.  She was dressed in a rainbow colored body suit covered in lights that pulsed with the beat of the music.  Her golden hair formed a floating, shining corona about her head, and Deeg gasped.  

Veena looked up, saw him, and grabbed his arm.  She said something, but Deeg couldn’t hear.  She said it again, then pointed at the window.  He looked out.  There was Earth.  It wasn’t full, but still glowed brightly against the blackness of space.

She moved forward and he could feel her breath on his face.  It made him dizzy.  She bit her lower lip slightly and looked into his eyes.  Then she kissed him.  It was sloppy and rough and the taste of strawberries filled his mouth.  His hands moved to her back and behind her head, and he returned the sloppy, wonderful first kiss.

* * *

Years later, the only thing he could remember about his teenage vacation to the moon was a strawberry smell, and the reflection of the crescent Earth glowing brightly in Veena’s eyes.

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Tin Foil Hat

Author : Todd Keisling

“People of Earth, hear me!”

The transient stood in the center of the station and held a large placard that read “THEY’RE WATCHING.” The few commuters who paid him any attention allowed a large distance between themselves and this poor, confused soul.

“The Shadow Government that controls this planet does not want me to tell you what I know. They know I know, and I must make haste before they triangulate on my position.”

His voice was studious and eloquent. It came as a shock to the few who noticed. This dump-dweller, with his drab army fatigues, plump winter parka (despite the Summer temperatures) and vacant look in his eye, was the speaker of such intelligent diction?

Those who managed to hold his stare did not do so for long. Their eyes were distracted by the carefully sculpted hat of tin foil on his head.

“We are the last remaining few! When Atlantis sank, it was only part of their master plan to enslave humanity. They keep us in bondage by partitioning out the airwaves in small, digestible chunks, easy for our tiny minds to swallow while they withhold that which they do not want us to know.”

One of the few commuters actually paying attention spoke up and said, “I thought Atlantis was a myth?”

“That’s what they want you to think,” the vagrant countered, pointing in the young lad’s direction. “They want you to believe that. Area 51 isn’t really a secret lab for testing alien spacecraft. There are no aliens. There never was a moon landing. We are alone, but they want us to fear the possibility of extraterrestrial existence. They pump our minds full of Hollywood glamour and lies. Fear is their bargaining chip. It’s their foothold over civilization—so it has been, and so it always will.

“But I know. I know too well. They couldn’t keep me contained at Groom Lake, and they won’t keep me contained here. They think they can steal my brainwaves and turn me into one of their sheep—”

He pointed to the tin foil hat. He didn’t notice the approach of two security guards.
“—but I know how to beat them. The men who run this Shadow Government want us to remain asleep in our beds of fear, and their—hey, let me go!”

The vagrant offered little resistance. While one guard handcuffed him, the other took his sign. As they ushered him out, some commuters heard him say, “They can’t keep me! They’ll never get my brainwaves!”

And then they were gone. The station returned to its normal hustle and bustle, the low drone of human voices and shuffling feet. Across the lobby, two men in black, three-piece suits and fedoras put out their cigarettes, stared at one another for a brief moment and then erupted into laughter.

“And all this hoopla about Area 51! Everyone knows it’s one of our subterranean retirement centers,” one said.
“‘The men who run this Shadow Government,'” said the other.

“I know! It’s absurd!”

“As if there ever was such a thing! Men and their self-absorbed fantasies. The human mind still astounds me. Do you think it’s safe, letting the last few run free like this?”

“Oh, I’m sure the Collective knows best. As long as they don’t know the truth, Plan X will continue.”

“I suppose you’re right, Krelyx. ‘No moon landing,’ indeed.”

They cackled as they vanished into a passing crowd of commuters.

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Dream Weaving

Author : Salli Shepherd

In Fresno, California, Kalisha Henderson jacks herself in to a palm-length, slimline psii-pod and closes her eyes. She is young, barely in her teens, and her mind soon fills with images of pink, prancing horses with horns of silver.

She hasn’t yet learnt to hold her impressions well or long enough to leave a decent neural imprint. Soon the horses shred and tatter, fading into cartoonish, equine ghosts. With a low moan of despair, she watches her popularity rate spike briefly and then plummet again to almost zero. She’ll have to try harder, much harder, if she is ever going to succeed. She also realises her Subscription is running out and, in anticipation of that terrible loss, weeps loudly into her hands.

On the other side of the world, Peter O’Flaherty is enjoying the fruit of being a Master of his art. From Peter’s psii-pod and thence into ArtiCon’s main gallery flows a horrifically lifelike pack of Hell Hounds, slavering and many-limbed, set loose on a roomful of barebreasted cat-women. Millions watch the carnage, enthralled, and for every minute they do so a credit leaks from their account to ArtiCon’s coffers. Peter will see one ten-thousandth of the money, but he doesn’t care. His popularity rate just went through the roof, and the subsequent endorphin reward meted out to him through the Subscriber chip embedded in his temporal lobe sets him shivering, pleasure dripping wet and warm down his thigh.

They are just two, among six billion Subscribers.

Kalisha’s little burst of misery, a mere drop in the ocean, is nevertheless a  source of great happiness to Narghaflog. Roughly the size and shape of an inflated sleeping-bag, the alien hooked up to ArtiCon’s artificial brain by hairlike microfilaments quivers and blubbers in joy. What fuel these creatures provide! What manner of mesmeric delicacies! Narghaflog’s entire planet is beholden to It for this cheap source of food, fuel and entertainment. And to think, It almost passed the place by. With a pulse of neurons and self-satisfaction, the great Arcturean explorer transmits a message to Its second-in-command.

“Lhamayaoh! Plant discord in that large spike on Subscriber #27985362, immediately.”

The lesser creature does as It is bidden, proceeding to insert a twin trend of manufactured outrage and disapproval into Peter O’Flaherty’s rating stream. Immediately, a massive wave of murderous anger drives response levels off the chart– Peter’s dedicated fans and followers, numbering in their millions, won’t stand for the creations of their favourite Dream-Weaver being sullied by unfavourable critique.

Moments later, the slug-like denizens of Arcturus let out a telepathic roar of approval as a tide of human rage floods at the speed of Thought across space, permeating their depleted auric channels. Narghaflog allows a final shudder of pleasure to wobble Its colourless flesh before turning back to the neural monitors, thanking the Spawn-Source for happy accidents and the limitless vanity of artists.

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Hammond's Miracle Machine

Author : DarlingDante

Dr. Hammond mopped the sweat from his forehead, his round red cheeks heaving in labored breath. He’d maintained a manicured composure during countless conferences, lectures, and even the couple of morning news shows he’d smiled through, but on the day of the test, a beaded crown of anxiety hung on his brow.

Newspaper headlines around the world read: “Hammond’s Miracle Machine”, “Energy from the Air”, “A New Beginning”, and so on. He knew the technical aspect of his work was lost on most of his colleagues, let alone the average individual, but as long as he flashed a chart or a diagram on TV, and the people who were supposed to know what they were talking about agreed with him, that was good enough for everybody.   

A smiling head popped into his office from the hallway “Almost show time Dr.!” Dr. Hammond barely nodded in acknowledgement. The flimsy familiar office chair that he’d grown old and fat in creaked as his weight shifted slowly off its edge. “Showtime” he muttered to himself.

He could see the machines busy with activity. Engineers checked over every inch of the mechanisms and, from the distance of the observation window, looked like ants swarming on a stick jabbed in their nest. The Nevada sky was clear, and although he couldn’t see them, he knew that there were thousands of spectators from around the world huddled in a half circle behind the safety mark. Little villages of onlookers had popped up out of the desert around the testing site in the weeks before. He had been so angry that a member of his staff had been careless or stupid enough to leak the location then, but now that the day had come, he knew it wouldn’t matter. His life’s work was framed in the long glass in front of him, as if some grand or mad painter had seen the whole of him and spread it out on crystalline canvas. The observation room was private by his request. He wanted silence at the climax of his life.

Dr. Hammond’s moment of reflection was interrupted by a hasty knock, followed by the door to his sanctuary being flung open. Robert, his chief assistant, dashed inside with a bundle of computer printouts tucked under his arm. Robert was the only other man alive that had understood some of the critical workings of the project, and in some minor ways contributed to its fruition.

“Dr. we really need to talk.” Robert sputtered, catching his breath. His words sounded discordant in the vacuum of Hammond’s haven.

“Well what’s so important?”Hammond spat back with a look on his face as if he’d been struck.
“I know you’ve told me to relax and enjoy myself, but I couldn’t help going back over the numbers, and some things just didn’t add up.”

He turned his back to Robert, again fixing his gaze on the edifice that was preparing to activate.
“The numbers are fine.”

“Doctor, I really think we should take some time to look this over…” Robert trailed off, and after a moment’s hesitation said: “We are going to have to reschedule the test.”

A small smile crept across Dr. Hammond’s wide cheeks.

“The numbers are fine.”

The countdown blurred into a hum of syllables sounding to Dr. Hammond like a backwards count into anesthetic sleep. There was a brilliance that seemed to darken the crystal sky, then a violent shake that split the awful image of achievement into fragments. As the concussion rushed toward his outpost, Dr. Hammond pressed his palm to the glass.

“It’s finally finished.”

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