Phase I

Author : Patricia Stewart, Staff Writer

Lachlan was vacationing with his parents in the Kakadu National Park in the Northern Territory of Australia when he spotted an object high in the sky that was slowly spiraling toward the ground. It took several minutes before it “landed” in a grassy field fifty meters away. The object was about a meter long, and five centimeters thick. It was bent in the middle like a boomerang. But it couldn’t be a boomerang, Lachlan thought; we’re the only people around for kilometers. Lachlan took the object back to his campsite to show to his parents. However, to his disappointment, they weren’t interested. His mother told him to get rid of it and wash his hands for supper. Instead, he hid the object in their tent. After supper, the family took a ten kilometer hike along the Katherine Gorge. When they returned, the exhausted Lachlan collapsed onto his cot and was sound asleep in less than a minute.

During the night, the tip of the boomerang-like object peeled open, and a slender twenty-centimeter long wasp-like creature crawled out. It was solid black, except for two large ruby-red eyes. But its eyes were not the compound eyes of an Earth insect. They were slotted, single-aperture eyes, like a reptile’s. The bioengineered creature was called a Guepe. It had been created by the Apocritian civilization from the planet Orion-IV. Approximately ten thousand Guepe had been systematically released over every land surface on Earth using aerodynamic pods designed to land softly. Their mission: To exterminate all of Earth’s large animals, as Phase I of the Apocritian Colonization Program.

The Guepe blinked rapidly as it surveyed its surroundings. Then, beating its oversized wings, it slowly lifted itself from the ground and flew over to the boy’s cot. In the cramped confines of the tent, the massive Guepe sounded like a distant propeller driven airplane. Although the three humans stirred, none of them woke up. After landing, the Guepe secreted a small amount of mild painkiller onto Lachlan’s upper leg, and then injected a paralyzing agent. The boy’s body went limp. Using its hollow “stinger,” the Guepe deposited twenty eggs into the boy’s thigh. It then flew over to the adults to repeat the process. It deposited fifty eggs into the mother, and seventy eggs into the father. With its first task complete, the Guepe flew out the open window, and landed on the apex of the tent. Off in the distance, it spotted several kangaroos. It took off in pursuit of the nearest one.

The heat and moisture in Lachlan’s body began incubating the eggs. They all hatched within a few hours. Almost instantly, the newly emerged larvae began gorging themselves on the living tissue of their paralyzed host. The carnivorous parasites ate continuously for several days; consuming everything but their host’s skin. The pupae then crusted over to begin their metamorphosis into adult Guepe. Two weeks later, fully formed Guepe chewed their way through the skin covered human skeletons. The Guepe were parthenogenetic; they didn’t need to find a mate, they only needed to find hosts for their eggs. Like a fleet of tiny helicopters ascending in formation, the Guepe rose above the shriveled carcasses and flew out of the window. This cycle would repeat itself, over and over again, for months. Within one year, every animal on Earth larger than a rat would be dead. Soon after, all the Guepe would die of starvation. When it was deemed safe, the Apocritian Planetary Engineering Team would arrive to begin Phase II.

Discuss the Future: The 365 Tomorrows Forums
The 365 Tomorrows Free Podcast: Voices of Tomorrow
This is your future: Submit your stories to 365 Tomorrows

Only Time Will Tell

Author : Patricia Stewart, Staff Writer

The ship’s computer revived me from stasis. It took hours for my body to fully awaken, and for my muscles to respond to my wishes. But what could you expect from a woman that was 345 years old? We had volunteered for this one-way ambassador mission in the year 2136, shortly after the space probe Tycho Brahe passed through the Alpha Centauri system. The probe had sent back images of an Earth-size planet orbiting in “The Goldilocks Zone,” approximately 1.1 AU from Alpha Centauri A. But the most amazing images came from the planet’s night side. It was lit up like a Christmas tree. The planet (called Telles, after the Roman goddess of the earth) was supporting an industrialized civilization, estimated to have a technology slightly behind Earth’s. This assessment was based on the observation that there were no artificial satellites orbiting the planet. Earth’s central command wanted to send a manned vehicle for first contact, and we were eager to volunteer. The Tycho Brahe made the original trip in 53 years; but it was a flyby mission. Our ship needed to accelerate, turn around, de-accelerate, and achieve orbit. It also had to carry life support and enough food to last six people for two years (in case we couldn’t digest Tellean food). We also took seeds to grow food, if necessary. Anyway, it took our ship 312 years to make the trip. Now, it was time to meet the neighbors.

One of the first things I did (after peeing for five minutes) was check the ship’s logs. I didn’t understand what it meant, but our ship hadn’t received a transmission from Earth in 167 years. Then Jack reported that he couldn’t see lights on the night side of Telles. Elizabeth had the only encouraging news, the telescope revealed metallic structures in orbit. At least Telles had made it to the “space age” during our long journey.

After the computer successfully put our ship into orbit, we were able to confirm what we’d been dreading. Telles was lifeless. Electromagnetic imaging revealed that there had been life, and a bustling civilization, but everything is dead now. The cities were destroyed, and the atmosphere was contaminated with lethal amounts of radiation. It appeared that Telles had had a thermonuclear world war. Stupid bastards.

We didn’t have a lot of options. We didn’t have enough fuel to get back to Earth, and we couldn’t land on Telles for at least ten thousand years. So we decided to crawl back into stasis. Our only real hope was to be rescued one day, because it was unlikely that we could survive an additional ten thousand years in stasis. Before entering my stasis chamber, I sent a full report to Earth. It would be eight and a half years before a message made the round trip. I instructed the computer to wake me in nine. Why rush?

As the Stasisosane gas filled my chamber, I began to think of Earth. Why did they stop transmitting 167 years ago? Did they forget about us, or did they destroy themselves too? Is self-destruction an inevitable consequence of intelligent life? I hoped not. We may well be the last six humans alive. If true, we’d have to land on Telles one day, and attempt to repopulate it, assuming we survived one hundred centuries in suspended animation. However, if by some miracle we did, I prayed that our descendants would not be as foolish as their ancestors, or the previous inhabitants of their new world. Only time will tell. I closed my eyes and drifted into oblivion.

Discuss the Future: The 365 Tomorrows Forums
The 365 Tomorrows Free Podcast: Voices of Tomorrow
This is your future: Submit your stories to 365 Tomorrows

Tau Ceti II

Author : Patricia Stewart, Staff Writer

Tau Ceti is a yellow-orange star slightly smaller than Earth’s Sun. It’s approximately 11.9 light-years away, in the southern Constellation Cetus. It has three planets. The most notable is the second planet in the system, Ketos. Ketos is midway in size between Earth and Mars, and orbits within the star’s habitability zone. Several things make this planet notable. 1) It harbors indigenous plant life; 2) its atmosphere is 19% oxygen; and 3) it rotates synchronously with its orbital period, keeping one face always pointed toward Tau Ceti. This is unusual for a habitable planet, because the sunward side is approximately 200F, and the night side is –150F. Exogeologists believe that Ketos once contained a planet wide ocean that was two miles deep. Over the millennia, ice gradually accumulated on the cold night side, and the oceans receded from the hot sunward side. Ketos ended up desert dry on the sunward side, and had a four-mile thick glacier on the night side. However, separating the sunward side from the night side was a 100-mile wide ring of semi-tropical land running around the planet. Within this narrow band, plant life flourished, receiving water from the melting glaciers as they slowly, but relentlessly, flowed toward the terminator.

Jake Laomedon and Troy Priam were on the first mission to explore this unique world. On day eighteen, they began to explore the Aeacian Mountain range with their android assistant, Leonardo. As usual, the sun was along the horizon, where it never moved. The thermally generated winds blew at a steady 50-60 mph. The cold damp air hugged the ground, as the hot dry air slid above it. Thunderstorms were common. During this sojourn, a particularly bad storm erupted. Seeking refuge, the explorers ducked into a large cave in the nearby mountains.

“Wow,” remarked Jake, “this cave is massive.” There was an expansive central chamber, with two major secondary caves, each about thirty feet in diameter, branching off the central chamber. “You think they were carved by water?”

“Probably,” replied Troy. “Let’s check them out. Well start with that one.” She turned toward the android, “Leonardo, you monitor the weather. If the storm breaks, notify us immediately.”

“Do you require my assistance, ma’am? I’d really like to participate. It’s what I was designed to do.” But they ignored him and disappeared into the first cave.”

After about 30 minutes, Jake and Troy returned to the central chamber. “Nothing exciting in there. How’s the weather?” Troy asked as they turned toward the second cave.

“No change, ma’am,” Leonardo replied solemnly.

The two humans traveled about 50 yards into the second cave when they spotted a primitive “wall painting.” A horizontal line with a semicircle above it (similar to a sunrise). But within the semicircle were two eyes, and a drooping nose that hung below the horizontal line. Fingers, on either side of the head, draped over the horizontal line. Under the drawing was a caption “Kilroy was here.” The two explorers were dumbfounded with excitement. Did this mean aliens had visited Earth in the twentieth century? Or was this planet part of some co-evolutionary parallel solar system? They debated these theories for hours, as well as other equally unlikely scenarios. They knew in their hearts that this discovery would make them both famous. They discussed possible publications, lectures, interviews, and the prestigious appointments that awaited them. Troy even suggested which actress should play her in the inevitable holofilm about their discovery.

Back in the cave’s central chamber, Leonardo held a small clay briquette behind his back. If he possessed the capability to smile, he would have.

Discuss the Future: The 365 Tomorrows Forums
The 365 Tomorrows Free Podcast: Voices of Tomorrow
This is your future: Submit your stories to 365 Tomorrows

Capital Punishment on Beta Hydri

Author : Patricia Stewart, Staff Writer

Using his pincers, Brachyura meticulously trimmed the crust off the edges of his sandwich. Satisfied that it was all removed, he rapidly consumed the meal in a nibbling motion that was too fast for his human visitor to follow. Brachyura arched his two protruding eyestalks backward over his brow plate and cooed. “Wow,” he exclaimed, “that’s the best thing I ever tasted. What’s it called again?”

“Peanut butter and jelly on sourdough,” answered Mike Kramble.

“And this exquisite white liquid?”

“It’s called milk. Listen, Brachyura, let me talk to our Governor. Perhaps I can convince him that this incident was just an unfortunate misunderstanding. Maybe I can persuade him that you didn’t mean to kill the maintenance workers.”

“Oh dear, Mike, you keep using that nasty word ‘kill.’ I didn’t kill them. I simply ate them.”

“It’s the same thing, Brachyura.”

“Of course it isn’t. It’s just eating. I was hungry; they were food. Nothing more, nothing less. It’s what we do on Beta Hydri. Doesn’t your species eat meat?”

“We don’t eat sentient beings, Brachyura. Listen, you’re wasting valuable time. In a few minutes the guards are going to come in here and escort you to the beach. They plan to execute you in front of your friends and family. They want to make an example out of you, to discourage any future attacks. Please, Brachyura, I can beg for clemency if you show any sign of being remorseful.”

“Mike, I’m not remorseful. I’m just full. Besides, it’s not a problem. I love our beach. It’s next to the ocean. I can finally go home.”

“Brachyura, you don’t understand. You’re not going home. There’s a twenty-foot high electric fence around this island. We had to build it because you guys think that it is okay to eat us. We only want to live here in harmony with your species.” Mike could hear the escort detail coming down the main isle. A minute later they unlocked the large cage door and slid it to the side. The guards used their cattle prods to motion Brachyura out of his cage. Electricity was the only effective weapon against the four-foot tall by ten-foot wide crustaceans. Bullets only ricocheted off their super-hard exoskeletons. As Brachyura walked down the corridor, his eight legs skidded erratically on the hard concrete floor. When he stepped out of the makeshift warehouse prison onto the soft sand, he paused. He spread his foreclaws apart and raised them toward the noonday sun. Momentarily startled, the guards jumped backwards and extended their prods.

“What a beea-uuuuu-ti-ful day,” proclaimed Brachyura. Then he lowered his claws and turned toward Kramble. “I will miss you, my friend. I will also miss peanut butter and jelly on sourdough. Perhaps in a few years, the relationship between our two species will improve, and you can make me another sand-d-wich.” With that, he bowed his head in a respectful gesture. An instant later, the back of his shell split apart to allow four large wings to unfold. In a maelstrom of blowing sand and debris, his massive body lifted off the beach. He hovered for a second, then majestically turned and flew over the fence. He splashed into the ocean approximately 100 yards offshore.

“Well, I’ll be damned” remarked Kramble with a smile. “They can fly.” Then he suddenly realized the colony had a serious problem. “Whoa, I guess that kind of makes our electric fence worthless.”

The 365 Tomorrows Free Podcast: Voices of Tomorrow
This is your future: Submit your stories to 365 Tomorrows

Circumstances Beyond Our Control

Author : Patrica Stewart, Staff Writer

“It’s not a great analogy, Professor, but think of it this way,” explained the chronotechnician, “time flows like a river. Something we call a ‘world line,’ which is the sequential path of an object through space-time. I can select any object, say you, and follow your ‘world line’ back through time, and project the image on the Chronoloviewer screen. Would you like a demonstration?”

“Absolutely. Show me what I was doing yesterday, at exactly this time.”

The chronotechnician spent five minutes entering the appropriate data into the control panel, and then activated the Chronoloviewer. Although there was some noise in the image, the Professor saw himself at the lectern in front of his 10:00 Paleontology class. The notes on the computer screen at the front of the class were clearly from yesterday’s lecture. “Wow, that’s incredible. Do you have sound?”

“Sorry, Professor, not yet. Would you like to go further back? Maybe see if O. J. killed Nicole?”

“Hardly necessary,” he replied with a trace of disgust. “Can you go back 65 million years, to the Cretaceous-Tertiary extinction, and show me what killed the dinosaurs?”

“Huh, I guess so. I believe I can follow Earth’s world line.” This time the data entry took about an hour, and the image was slightly noisier, but the dinosaurs on the screen revealed they were viewing the correct time. However, the scene was right out of a sci-fi B movie. Streamlined aircraft, firing energy weapons, were hunting the dinosaurs. The forests were being set ablaze, and all the animals were being driven into large nets and transported up to gigantic hovering saucers. The Professor didn’t know what to make of these images. Why were space aliens hunting the dinosaurs? Was it for food, or sport? Did the aliens cause the mass extinctions? Maybe the Chicxulub impact was a big coincidence, and had nothing to do with the actual extinction of the dinosaurs. The fires the aliens were setting could explain some of the contradictory soot evidence found by Paleontologists. “Quick,” he said, “go to the Triassic mass extinction, around 195 million years ago.”

It was the same scene, although the ships were visibly more primitive. But this time the aliens were using pulsating energy beams from orbiting space ships, concentrating most of their firepower in the centerline of Pangaea. The continent seemed to split in half as horrific lava flows were driving the animals toward large metal cages. Shuttlecraft were ferrying the trapped animals into space. The Professor realized that the lava trench could be the start of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. And, there was archeological evidence of extreme lava flows coincident with the Triassic mass extinction. This was extraordinary!

Over the next six hours, they viewed the Permian-Triassic extinction, the Late Devonian extinction, and the Ordovician-Silurian extinction. The scenarios were always the same; alien spaceships harvesting Earth’s animal population. “Nobody will believe this,” mumbled the Professor.

“Ah, sir, I don’t want to be an alarmist,” said the chronotechnician, “but this could be very bad news for us. I’ve done some quick back-of-the-envelope calculations; if you divide the dates of these mass extinctions by 32.5 million years, you get whole numbers: 2, 6, 8, 11, and 13. It’s like these aliens live on a planet or space station that approaches our solar system every 32.5 million years. I’ll bet there were minor-extinctions in between the major ones, say at 32.5, 98.5, 130, or 162.5 million years ago. If I’m right, it’s been 32.5 million years since their last visit. The hunting parties are due back at any time.”

Discuss the Future: The 365 Tomorrows Forums
The 365 Tomorrows Free Podcast: Voices of Tomorrow
This is your future: Submit your stories to 365 Tomorrows