Author: Steve Smith, Staff Writer
“We have a problem,” Gates was talking as the door was still swinging shut behind him, “a massive fucking problem.”
Cooper switched the displays between them from opaque to semi-transparent and nevertheless managed to regard his subordinate with clear irritation.
“Come in, have a seat, no – I’m not busy at all.”
“It’s Osiris, there’s a serious problem with Osiris.” Gates had closed the distance to the desk and stood shifting his weight from foot to foot, agitated. He plucked a stack of documents from his PDA and flung them up on Cooper’s display, the pages orienting themselves and sorting into stacks of requisitions and shipping manifests.
Cooper’s irritation deepened, he had work to do.
“Mars? What about it, and what the hell is all this?”
“Not just Mars, specifically Osiris. Our mid-space foundation project there. A decade ago, after we sent a stream of bulk loaders and drop pods with large facility printing gear to the surface, funding was pulled. It was officially resupplied twice to secure a permanent outpost there and then we shut it down.”
“So, how is this a problem now?”
“There have been thirty-eight supply drops to Mars since then. There should have been zero. They started about six months after we pulled the plug. They were buried in relay shipments we sent to Artemis, supplies apparently requisitioned there, but the cargo never got offloaded on the moon, it was forwarded to Osiris station.”
“Why the hell would Artemis be procuring supplies for Mars?” Gates started flipping through the manifests; raw materials, mining and material processing equipment, maintenance robots, control systems, and more and more advanced and specialized 3D fabricators.
“That’s part of the problem,” Gates leaned forward, bracing himself with both hands on the desk, “nobody at Artemis knows anything about this. They received instructions from us to refuel the bulk loaders in orbit and send them on, but we didn’t make any such request. They thought they were following our instructions, and we assumed we were fulfilling their requests, and nobody had any reason to ask any questions,” he paused, taking a deep breath, “until now.”
Cooper pushed the stacks of documents to either side of the screen, clearing the space between himself and Gates.
“Osiris just put forward a request for a seat on the world council.” Gates’ words were almost a whisper.
“What the fuck are you talking about? Osiris is an empty warehouse on a rock, there’s nobody there. There never has been. We haven’t put so much as a foot on that desolate dust bowl, who the hell is pulling your chain?” Cooper shouted. Gates stood up and took a reflexive step backward.
“The initial deployment included a prototype AI with instructions to adapt to the resources and environment on Mars. The idea was for it to build the best facility with what we shipped and what it could mine onsite, but it was a prototype, and we stopped shipping resources and didn’t provide any further guidance. Nobody thought to turn it off.”
Cooper stared across the desk at Gates, struggling to comprehend the information he was receiving.
“Do we have satellite visibility?”
“There’s a distortion field of some sort in place, atmospheric disturbance maybe, but it remains consistent and we haven’t been able to see through it.”
“We should get a recon patrol…” Cooper started, but Gates cut him off.
“We sent a tactical platoon of Atlas drones, they landed and we lost contact as soon as they breached the dust zone. We received a message from Osiris shortly after, ‘Improvised, Adapted, Overcame’, followed a little later with ‘Thank you for your service.'” He winced. “It appears to have learned sarcasm.”
Cooper slumped. This was going to be his ass when he had to explain the situation, and there didn’t seem to be a way around that.
“Give me everything you’ve got, I’m going to have to take this upstairs.”
Gates stuffed both hands in his pockets and shrugged.
“That’s the icing on this particular shitcake. Osiris’ last message was that this had already been communicated to a higher authority, and to notify you as a courtesy that we’ve been relieved.”
Author: Steve Smith, Staff Writer
Julia sat in her boss’s office, barely taking up any room in the massive wingback chair, eyes locked across the massive wooden and steel desk at Tomas.
“I know something,” she began.
“I pay you to know things,” he didn’t give her the chance to finish, “and I pay you to go through the appropriate channels to make them known to me. I don’t have time for the low-level interruptions of the worker bees Julie.”
“Julia. My name’s Julia, and I know something you don’t know that you really, really want to, and if you want me to tell you, you’re going to have to sit quietly and listen.”
Tomas fought down the rage rising. He could throttle this insubordinate little bitch without a second thought, and an army of sycophants would dispose of the body without question, but his curiosity was, for the moment, the stronger impulse. Violence could wait. He sat back, steepled his fingers and held her with an icy stare.
“Enlighten me,” his tone flat, “but please do make it quick.”
Behind him, through a massive expanse of glass, the sun painted the sky in deep pink and violet hues as the day slowly turned to night.
“Your prediction system, your approach doesn’t work. It’s impossible to predict what someone else will do in the future, it’s only possible to predict our own individual futures, and only in the very near future before the iteration tree becomes super-massively complex.”
She paused and smiled a thin little smile.
“I know you never achieve your aspirational goal of violating the privacy of anyone else’s future.”
She straightened in her seat and held his stare. “This all amounts to nothing.”
“Well, if that’s true, how could you possibly know what I will or will not do in my future?” His tone smug now, amused as his response. “You’ve just told me you can’t know my future.”
“I can’t, not exactly, but I can extrapolate what happens to you from my own actions, from my own future. I have seen everything I may do in many of my possible futures, and from that, I can predict with relative certainty what your future holds.” She fumbled idly with her satchel as she talked, but her voice held steady.
“Well, I can tell you what your definite future holds, how about that?” Tomas leaned forward as he spoke now, all traces of amusement lost. “You won’t come to work tomorrow, because you’re fired. And you can find out how successful we’ve been on our project when our stock skyrockets, something you won’t benefit from as your options are revoked for cause. Did you see that future coming?”
“It doesn’t matter now.”
Julia fished a portable music player from her satchel, thumbed the ‘play’ button and began slowly sliding the volume from low to high.
“What on earth are you doing?” Tomas stood and pounded the desk, then started around the desk towards her. “I’m nearing the end of my patience, I could…” he stopped, teeth clenched, shaking.
“Kill me?” Julia finished the sentence for him. “I know. You have… will… maybe a hundred times. Some futures you have me killed, in some I take my own life, in a couple you even find the balls to kill me yourself.”
Tomas flinched as the sound coming from her music player suddenly hit a frequency that caused one eardrum to crackle like a radio tuned between stations. Seconds later it was gone, but the pain stopped him halfway around the desk.
“Once I realized there was no future in which I didn’t die, and how many of those futures you had a hand in, I figured out why, who you are and what you do. Then I searched for the one that had meaning.”
She found the right frequency and held there as the glass started to oscillate too.
“At least in this future, I amount to something.” Her smile now merely one of determination.
Behind Tomas the wall of glass shattered into a cloud of pebbled fragments, the pressure difference at altitude sucking the wreckage out into the early evening sky.
Tomas half turned, momentarily dumbfounded by the sight.
Julia hit him in the midsection with her shoulder at a full sprint, her momentum coupled with their combined mass carrying them both across the short distance and out into the cold air.
“In this one,” she screamed, still holding him as gravity turned their forward motion downward, “in this one you go with me, you pretentious little prick.”
Author: Steve Smith, Staff Writer
“What is it doing?” Cerulean shimmered into the environment, overlapping the space Fuscia already occupied, though they didn’t seem to mind.
“It’s dancing,” Fuscia replied, moving to fully envelop Cerulean, their resulting colour an oscillation between both of their beings rather than a blend of them. “It’s a dancer, it dances,” they added, as though this was obvious.
Cerulean studied the room, it’s pale yellow floors, and the walls reflecting back the image of the dancer as it danced. From one corner of the room waves rippled through both spaces, theirs and its, undulating and rolling back on themselves when they reached the hard boundaries the dancer danced within.
“Its movements, are they caused by, or are they causing the waves of undulation?” Cerulean pondered, out loud. “They are almost synchronous, and yet not, quite, exactly.”
Fuscia spread through the space, leaving Cerulean at the edges and rode these undulations around the dancer, mimicking their frequency, their amplitude, following them as close as possible.
“It’s not as easy as it looks,” Fuscia mused, “as quick as I am, I can only go where it’s already been.”
Fuscia detached from Cerulean completely, and attached to the dancer at the tip of one flailing appendage, then followed as it danced, an otherworldly shadow.
Cerulean was fascinated, this creature of a physical world so in tune with a form of energy they in the spiritual took so for granted, a form they presumed was theirs and theirs alone to experience.
The atmosphere in the space itself then changed, in an instant, as Fuscia locked into absolute synchrony with the dancer, who itself seemed to channel the frequencies and amplitudes of all the energies at once in the space they occupied together. They were, for an impossible moment, all interconnected and intertwined.
Cerulean alone bore witness, and in the magic of the moment was changed, indescribably, but absolutely.
As quickly as it began, the moment passed.
The undulating waves in the room ceased.
Fuscia fell out of synchronicity with the dancer, as the dancer itself stopped dancing, collecting its things and moving to leave the space.
Soon even the light waves in the room were no more.
Cerulean and Fuscia stayed, silent for what seemed an eternity, reveling in what they had just witnessed and been a part of.
“I want that, I want to do that,” Cerulean was first to break the silence, “I don’t understand it, but I’ve never experienced anything like that.”
Fuscia simply beamed.
“I want the dancer to come back. Make the dancer come back.” Cerulean strained at the edges of the dancer’s hard space, a strange yearning now growing inside.
“The dancer always comes back,” Fuscia replied, “it always dances, it’s as if it knows something, knows there’s something here and is trying to become one with the energy it so eloquently chases in this space.”
Cerulean softly keened.
“Don’t worry,” Fuscia comforted them, “the dancer always dances.”
Author: Steve Smith, Staff Writer
Jake rides the lift to the eleventh floor, walks to the corner of the hall and lets himself into his apartment.
The lights automatically bathe the room in a warm afternoon glow, the delicious sounds of Charles Mingus coming from everywhere and nowhere, Pithecanthropus Erectus filling the space, and before Jake has made it to the bedroom Monterose and McLean’s dueling saxophones have him well abstracted from the stresses of the office, Waldron fingering the ivories, Willie Jones punctuating the remains of the day with staccato strikes, and Mingus himself holding down the bottom end, Jake unconsciously keeping time with each step.
In the bedroom he stops facing a floor to ceiling mirrored wall where he absently admires the well-suited man before him, his attention divided now between his reflection and his musical reverie.
The nine to five suit, the office suit, the ‘bringing home the Soylent’ suit.
With a thought he calls up a carousel of images in the mirror, cycling through the available meat-suits for after work.
The gym suit, the swim suit, the dinner and a show suit.
He settles on the dance hall suit, tighter and leaner than the current meat-suit, more graceful, the musculature dialed in and conditioned for an evening at the club on the dance floor. It had been upgraded since the last time he’d worn it out to include swing dancing and salsa, and he hoped the evening would give him the opportunity to try those out.
Standing on the loading pad facing the mirror, he pushes the palm of his hand flush to the glass, the dance suit mirroring his movement. There’s a rush of consciousness while he transfers, and when the fuzziness of migration is complete, Jake in the dance suit stands in the bedroom, the nine to five suit having rotated away into storage, the reflection now vacant.
Stepping back, he dismisses the carousel and regards his new self, now lean in the version of his body ready for an evening of frenetic exertion.
The audio suite has shelved Mingus and now pipes an upbeat M83 track into the apartment, his body reacting appropriately as he makes his way back through to the door, where he checks himself in the hall mirror to be sure he’s absolutely perfect.
The dance suit pauses the nine to five persona, calling up a carousel of Jake versions in the hall mirror.
Swiping left on nine to five Jake presents dinner Jake, then meet the parents Jake, emotionally available Jake, then killer date machine Jake.
Dance suit smiles, and pushing the palm of his hand against the glass of the mirror, he waits for the fuzzy transfer of personas to complete, nine to five Jake safely stored for work in the morning, and killer date machine Jake loaded for the evening’s entertainment.
Nine to five Jake is a good provider, but KDM Jake is where the action‘s at, and dance hall meat-suit isn’t going to waste its new talents.
Jake positively vibrates in the lift with anticipation, summoning a car to take him downtown.
He knows exactly what he’s suited for.
Author: Steve Smith, Staff Writer
Jeb startled at the suddenly ringing telephone. It took a moment to register, the old analog handset on his desk hadn’t been used in years, and he struggled to identify what that sound was before digging through a stack of papers to retrieve the receiver from the cradle.
“Hello? Yes? Dr. Stenson here, who is this?”
A tinny voice crackled through the speaker.
“Dr. Stenson, this is Darlene at the Green Bank Observatory. Apologies for the wire call, it’s all we get out of the radio-quiet zone.”
Green Bank, the radio telescope out of the Monongahela Forest.
“Darlene, I don’t believe we’ve met, have we? What can I do for you?”
“Well Dr. Stenson, your name is on the top of my call sheet if anything unusual happens with the radio chatter we’re monitoring from space, and… well, something unusual has happened.”
Jeb straightened in his chair, pulling the bakelite phone across his desk as though having the unit closer might make the signal clearer.
“Unusual? How, unusual?” She had his full attention now. He’d been monitoring radio signals from space for most of his career, and they’d been described using many words synonymous with boring and uneventful, never unusual.
“A few days ago, the amplitude of all the incoming traffic cut in half. We checked the calibration of all the equipment, as we thought it may have been something out of alignment on our end, but everything checks out, the radio signals just got quieter, and then today…” She paused.
“Yes? What today?” Jeb almost shouted at the phone.
“Today it all stopped. Nothing. It’s all gone quiet. I think you should get down here, see the raw data, see if it makes any sense to you.”
The Dr. pushed back from his desk, holding the phone to his ear, waiting for an explanation to present itself, but nothing came.
“Dr. Stenson?” Darlene broke the silence.
“You’re sure this isn’t an equipment malfunction?”
“Positive. We’ve recalibrated.”
“I’ll head down now, I’ll need an address.”
“I’ll have to give you directions, you can’t trust GPS out here.”
Darlene dictated the route he’d need to take turn by turn, which Jeb scribbled on a notepad before hanging up and rushing to the parking lot.
A few hours later, as Tom Petty was belting out ‘Runnin’ Down a Dream’, Jeb hit the first landmark from Darlene’s instructions, turning to head South on Route 92, and instinctively turned the radio down low so he could concentrate on following her directions.
Fifteen minutes later he drove through Arbovale. The sun already down, the road in near utter darkness, he turned the radio off completely so he didn’t miss his destination.
His hand froze on the stereo knob, and he hit the brakes hard as the realization struck him.
He sat in the middle of the road staring at the stereo for a long time, before slowly looking up.