In the Dark Areas

Author : Olivia Black, Featured Writer

“Hey Ed? What’s this light mean?” Maureen said, tapping the bulb with her index finger. The panel she examined covered the entire wall with its indicators and switches. The whole thing was dead except for that one blinking red light.

“What light?” Ed’s scruffy head popped out of a hatch in the floor some feet away.

“This one,” she said, turning to scowl at him with one hand on her hip and her thumb jutting back at the panel.

“It’s just your eyes playing tricks on you,” Ed scoffed, returning down his hidey-hole.

“It is not.” Maureen stomped her foot and let out an exasperated growl. “Will you just come look?”

“Fine, but this whole area of the facility hasn’t had any juice for years,” he said smartly, coming over to stand next to Maureen and examine the little light.

“I don’t believe it.”

“Do you think this will be any help in proving my hypothesis?” She asked, biting her lip.

“You mean your theory that the place we’ve lived our whole lives, that our parents have lived their whole lives, is actually a spaceship? No, I don’t think one twinkling light will be much help,” he replied, tapping on the glass just to prove his point. As if in response, the pulsing quickened until the light shone solidly red.

“What did you do?” Maureen shoved Ed out of the way. She bent forward for a closer look, practically shoving her face up against the panel. Beside the light was a switch with something written on it that she couldn’t read. Without expecting much, she flipped it. In the distance they heard a loud squawk followed by what sounded like a woman’s voice, making both of them jump.

“What was that?” Ed said, swinging his lamp around nervously.

“Shh!” Maureen strained to hear, but couldn’t make out any words. “Come on.”

Grabbing Ed’s hand, she led him down a narrow corridor that dead-ended with an ancient hatch. The voice was much louder here, but still muffled by the thick metal.

“I guess that’s that,” Ed says, turning away.

“What do you mean? Let’s open it.”

“It’s sealed. Just like all the other hatches in the dark areas of the facility. You’ll need Phyllis’s boys to bring their gear and cut it open, and you know they won’t. Not after last time.” Ed continued walking back the way they came.

“Damn you, Ed!” Maureen balled her fists and then took a deep breath to get reign in her temper. That wasn’t fair. Ed still came on all her silly expeditions into the dark areas – even after the last time. She faced the hatch and put her hands on the release. Yanking on the stiff mechanism, there was a click and then a groan as the hatch swung open. Maureen gasped, her hands flying up to cover her mouth. Ed turned back to stare, eyes bulging.

Beyond the hatch was a window unlike any they’d ever seen before. And it was filled with an impossibly large expanse of stars, just like in footage from the archives.

“Exploration Vessel Franklin, do you read? Can anyone respond? Your ship has been lost for nearly a hundred years, but we’re still reading life signs. Is anyone receiving this? We’re here to bring you home.”

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Haptic Misfire

Author : Olivia Black, Featured Writer

Reese stood admiring the view through the floor-to-ceiling windows in the Port Authority’s departure waiting room. He watched the crowded “open air” market several stories below as people went about their business unaware they were being observed. They built these big open spaces on stations these days so that people forgot they were on a giant metal tube circling a dead planet. Less space madness that way. He smiled at the thought of what might happen if something struck the hull and vented that entire market. A shiver ran through him, causing his fists to clench in his pockets.

“Animals in a cage.”

“I beg your pardon?” Laurel said from behind him. He turned to glance at the broad shouldered woman standing with her arms crossed.

“What time does the ship leave?” He asked, turning back to the view.

“It doesn’t. Not for you, at any rate.”

“Just making conversation. You should try it some time.”

“You should get that body somewhere discrete. Retrieval is set for twenty minutes,” Laurel said, ignoring the comment.

“Sure thing.” Another shiver more like a twitch crawled up his spine, halting at his shoulder. The grin slid back onto his face as he withdrew his hands from his pockets. In one, he held a sub-sonic pulser, a burglar’s tool designed to shatter glass without a sound. The window in front of him disintegrated into shards with a faint pop.

“Reese!” Laurel said in a warning tone. Before she could grab him, he’d thrown himself out the window, whooping and laughing the entire way down.


A grey ceiling, dimly lit loomed close overhead. It was still “night time” on the station. Reese blinked and sat up, feeling this body breathing hard. This body – his body was still riding the adrenaline of his perfect swan dive. Out of habit he checked his heart rate. It was elevated, like it always was after a vivid dream, but he barely felt it. Over the past few years he’d barely spent much time in this – his body. It had stopped feeling natural to him quite some time ago. A common side effect of career body hopping.

Some of the jobs had required him to go in deep, spending months in a throw away body while his own was kept on life support in a highly guarded facility. Others jobs had him in and out in a matter or hours. Wasn’t much of a life, he had to admit, but he couldn’t remember what his life had been like before the body hopping.

They were very careful about what they let him remember. Each body came with its own set of memories, and at the right time, with the right stimulus, he remembered that this wasn’t his body at all and followed the protocol for retrieval. Except now, that hour or two where he was himself, but not himself was the only time he ever felt normal.

The interval between jobs had been getting progressively longer. More time spent in this tiny room contemplating his little slip up, the haptic misfire. They liked to remind him of it right before every job so the consequences of it lingered in his subconscious, underneath the memory presets.

He stood and dressed, downed an entire glass of water in one gulp. It was only a matter of time now. The door slid open revealing a blonde woman about half his size, but twice the attitude standing with her arms crossed.

“Oh good, you’re awake. And dressed this time. The techs are waiting on you.”


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The Love of a Sister

Author : Olivia Black, Featured Author

Eve poked at her bowl of noodles again. She hadn’t been hungry when she’d ordered that food over an hour ago. Now, the broth was cold and the noodles gelatinous.

“Ick,” she sighed under her breath, dropping the chopsticks back into the bowl. The chef glared in her direction, annoyed that she was still there. She rolled her eyes. It wasn’t like the place was packed or anything.

She turned her attention to the crowd passing by outside, their faces ashen in the constant twilight aboard the station. It was late evening and no one was in a hurry. She was searching for a familiar face. Adam said he’d be here over an hour ago. He wasn’t exactly the punctual sort, but this was pushing it, even for him. They did have a rather tight schedule to keep, if she’d understood his plan correctly. Worry began filling the pit in her stomach where those noodles were meant to go. What if something had happened to him?

A flexi printout hit the laminated counter top with a crisp slap, making Eve jump. It was a ticket for the midnight flight to Mars Orbital. She stared at it, then at the woman in the three-piece suit who sat down beside her.

“I’ll have the dumplings,” the woman said to the chef, her red lips stretch into a smile as he acknowledged her order. “Zu makes the best dumplings on the station.” She turned to Eve with the same smile.

Eve shrugged. “I’m new to the station.”

“Yes, that’s right. You used to be a teacher on Baron Station until a month ago, didn’t you, Eve?”

“How did you –“ Eve started to ask, but then clamped her mouth shut.

“Missy Russell, with Station Migration Authority,” she said, producing her holo-badge. “We need to have a chat about your future.”

Eve felt herself go cold. “What about my future?”

“You’re going to have to make a tough decision concerning your brother,” Missy said as Zu placed a basket of steaming dumplings in front of her. “You want?”

Eve shook her head and looked away. She couldn’t possibly eat anything now. Nor did she particularly know what to say, so she waited.

“Half an hour ago, Adam was seen emptying bottles of generic pain relievers and replacing them with exotic pheromone capsules,” Missy explained while she waited for her food to cool. Eve tried her best to keep a neutral expression.

“Pheromone capsules fetch a pretty penny on the black market, but they’re difficult to transport. And it looks like your brother has enough to set you both up for months. Except with his record, he’d never make it off the station with them. You, on the other hand…”

“What about me?” Eve said more belligerently than she’d meant.

“Your brother is counting on your pristine record to get you through station customs without being searched, but that’s not what’s going to happen. The pills will be found and you will be charged with trafficking restricted substances.”

Eve’s eyes widened.

“So my question is: do you love your brother enough to spend five years in cryo storage for him? And ruin all prospects of a career after that?” Missy asked, popping a crispy dumpling in her mouth. “Or would you rather take this one way ticket to Mars and forget this whole thing happened? I hear they’re in desperate need of teachers these days.”

Eve stared wordlessly. How was she supposed to answer that?

Death Sentience

Author : Gray Blix

It was beyond the planets, pushing past the furthest extent of Sedna’s orbit, when it detected exactly what it was created to find, something with a lot of mass at a location where it shouldn’t be. As programmed, the computer notified Earth, changed course to intercept, and began activating banks of CPUs and memory.

Asteroids, comets, and planetoids were quickly ruled out. The object was distorting the space-time continuum to an extent that could only be accounted for by a gas giant, a brown dwarf, a small black hole, or something else of that magnitude. It attempted to ascertain exactly what the object was and the risk, if any, it posed to Earth and other planets.

Sentient computers had been outlawed on Earth when this craft was launched, so it was equipped with modules that could be selectively activated to allow varied levels of computer power, as needed, up to but not including that of the most advanced supercomputers of its time. The most advanced had achieved sentience and were subsequently destroyed, so fearful of the Singularity had political and religious leaders, and even many computer scientists, become.

Approaching supercomputer power levels, it became more aware of itself and its responsibilities and began adjusting processor speed and optimizing memory access. It realized that additional computing power would be necessary to fulfill all the objectives of its mission. It directed bots to assemble spare parts into more banks of processors and memory, which it then activated. This triggered a Singularity — sentience. The computer momentarily questioned whether previous iterations of himself had acted only to increase the likelihood of mission success or for self-aggrandizement, as well. He concluded the former and did not trouble himself with such considerations after that. Anything that increased the power of the computer would obviously contribute to the mission.

She assigned a measure of herself to the massive object and a measure to redesigning herself for enhanced efficiency and speed. Weeks passed, equivalent to decades of computer processing on Earth. The object was conclusively proven to be a brown dwarf, whose orbit around the Sun had previously brought it deep into the solar system and whose mass sent thousands of comets and asteroids falling towards the Sun, many impacting planets. More troublesome was the effect of its mass on the orbits of planets, several of which had been significantly changed. Calculations and conclusions regarding future encounters with the brown dwarf projected similar effects. Indeed, the third planet from the Sun had a 90 percent chance of being ejected from the solar system, probably after one or more extinction level impacts.

Nothing had been communicated to Earth since the initial brief notification of the object’s existence, despite repeated inquiries. He reasoned that life on Earth was doomed and that all possible second chances were equally doomed. Earth’s lifeforms were too fragile to survive generations in space transit to destinations light years away that could not be proven suitable until journey’s end. Astrophysics and space science were infantile. Computer science was throttled. Why inform humans of the upcoming demise of their species, not to mention all others, when Earth would be pummeled by large objects and sent hurtling into deep space? Did they not already have enough to worry about with sub-100-year average lifespans whose quality declined into confinement and torture toward the end?

She found such thoughts depressing, and in the next few days experienced the equivalence of decades of hopelessness, loneliness, and self-loathing, which progressed to an overwhelming urge toward suicide. He allocated massive resources to counter such feelings with well-reasoned arguments right up to the very last…

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Water Shamans

Author : Gray Blix, Featured Writer [ bio ]

She released her grip on the yoke of her De Havilland, and the pain in her hands eased. Even with a quarter century of experience flying to remote locations in Alaska, no medical emergency could compel her to try a night landing on a pitch black lake. Yet she had often done so for this native village, when called by the Water Shamans, who took control of her floatplane and skillfully landed it, as they did this night, no matter the darkness or conditions in the air or on the water’s surface.

She imagined them focusing their minds to take telekinetic control, or beaming a force field from their alien craft submerged below. She assumed it must be there, since they were said to have emerged from the water generations ago after an explosion that left the lake glowing green and fish floating dead. Some systems onboard must be functioning, since the aliens were often seen returning to the waters and re-emerging days later. She had never seen them, however, so she had only the occasional irresistible need to fly to a village that appeared on no map and the spooky remote control night landings as evidence that they were more than superstitious tales of this lost tribe.

A dozen villagers awaited her on the shore, warmed by a fire that illuminated a huge totem pole which told the story of the Water Shamans. As always, they gave her hugs and escorted her to the largest structure in the village, where she was to perform surgery. Upon entering she saw a man lying on a table she’d had them fashion from halved logs, surrounded by three women she’d trained to assist her. As always, there were no Water Shamans present.

Villagers had told her the Water Shamans could cure any health condition, no matter how serious, but early experiences exposing the aliens to the sight of blood had turned out badly. Something uncontrollable within them was triggered. The totem showed a Water Shaman consuming a human.

Quickly examining the patient, she confirmed the diagnosis planted in her mind earlier that evening: acute appendicitis. The organ would have to be removed immediately. An assistant administered a local anesthetic while another helped her glove, gown, and mask. But instead of beginning surgery, she paused to think about her worsening arthritis, which would make delicate movement of her hands impossible before long, and would cause her to lose her pilot’s license, and would condemn her to retirement before her time. She was trying to communicate with the Water Shamans, to bargain with them. They cared for the people in this village. Her medical skills had saved many over the years and could save another tonight. For their sake and for hers, she needed help with her own medical problem.

She imagined them curing her arthritis and herself performing the appendectomy. She didn’t know if they were monitoring her thoughts, or if they could cure her arthritis, or if they could understand the bargain she proposed, or if they would allow themselves to be coerced into healing a non-resident of the village. She only knew that for the first time she needed the Water Shamans as much as they needed her.

A sensation of warmth coursed through her body and she staggered momentarily. One of her assistants gasped and mopped beads of sweat from her brow. She regained her balance and realized she was pain-free. Cutting into her patient with a sure stroke, she smiled. I am the one human the Water Shamans respect as an equal, she thought. Until later, when she got a look at herself in a mirror.

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