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.
Author: Steve Smith, Staff Writer
Carter sat on a long low bench in the middle of the observatory and stared out into deep space. He hunted the blackness for a fleck of light, then watched it hawklike, trying to gauge its position relative to the edge of the viewport to see if it, or rather they, were moving.
“Happy New Year”, Jess appeared in his peripheral vision, an alloy mug in both hands, grinning.
“I wonder if these are really windows at all,” Carter spoke, not looking up, “I sometimes think they’re just projections, and the computer puts things on them to keep us from going insane with all the emptiness that’s really out there.” He gestured in the general direction of the window, half-heartedly.
“You’re a cheerful bugger, aren’t you?” Jess handed him one of the mugs and stood with her own outstretched toward him. “Cheers!”
Carter looked from the mug he was now holding, to hers, then up to her smiling face.
“Why are we still celebrating some arbitrary timescale based on the orbit of a planet we haven’t seen in a hundred years around a star we haven’t seen in almost as long?”
Jess withdrew her mug and sighed.
“I mean,” Carter continued, “we may as well celebrate the rotation of the plasma cores or our rotation out of cold storage.”
“Well I, for one, celebrate my rotation out of cold storage every – damn – time.” Jess cupped the drink in both hands, shifting her weight from foot to foot absently. This wasn’t the first time Carter had gotten off on a rant about a tradition or protocol he thought was stupid or outdated.
“Listen,” Jess waited until Carter looked at her directly, “we marked the first twenty years of our lives by the revolution of that planet around that star, and until we get where we’re going, that’s the calendar we’re sticking to. On a new world, with a new orbital duration around a new star, we’ll adjust, but until then, it helps out here with no visible path behind us, or ahead of us, to keep these frames of reference so that the rest of us,” she grinned, pausing to let the dig sink in, “so that the rest of us don’t lose our minds.”
Carter looked back out into space, the fleck he’d been tracking now almost gone from his field of view.
“It just seems silly, how many of these years have passed while we’ve been asleep, and how many more will pass when we sleep again?”
Jess sat down next to him, bumping him gently shoulder to shoulder.
“How many years did everyone else sleep through, before the end came?” Her tone turned solemn, “How many won’t ever get to wake up?”
She was right, and Carter knew it. Truth be told this is what he hated about these reminders, the traditions, the promises made to change, to do better, all for what?
“We’ll be asleep before the next one comes around, so let’s try to enjoy this one, while we’re here, ok?”
She raised her mug, and Carter met her halfway, the noise they made on contact some kind of permission for them to both drink.
“Happy one more revolution of the drive cores Carter.”
He laughed and bumped shoulders with her again.
“Happy one more revolution around the sun Jess, even if we’re not there to see it.”
As if on cue, a distant star crept onto the forward edge of the viewport, and they sat there in silence, sipping whiskey from alloy cups and watching as they slowly passed it by.
Author: Steve Smith, Staff Writer
Christopher swore if he ever set his feet back on solid ground, he’d never put them back in a spacecraft again.
He’d been assigned to this mission for a one year tour, but that had been extended five times, and he wasn’t sure how much longer he’d last without completely losing his mind.
Actually, he swore quite a bit.
Sometime in the third year, he’d instructed the ship’s AI not to speak to him unless his life was in danger. Not a word. He’d get status updates the old fashioned way, via textual readouts. He didn’t want a ‘buddy’, and the omnipresent ship’s systems had seen fit to chat to him in the most inappropriate times, reminding him that even in the shower, or while he was sleeping, he was never alone.
Shutting the system up didn’t change that, but not being constantly jerked out of his denial of the fact helped a little.
He wondered though, albeit rarely, if the AI got lonely, not having him to talk to.
Supply launches arrived periodically to refuel them, and restock the consumables, but there was no sign of relief or even some human company.
Sometime around Thanksgiving, while he’d been choking down some approximation of some standard dinner entrée or another, he realized the food replication system seemed to be malfunctioning. Portions seemed smaller, and some items were missing altogether. It added a little variety to the stock menu items, as the shortcomings kept him guessing, but he dreaded the thought of the replicator failing outright and having to fall back on the emergency supply of MREs.
One morning he woke to the barely audible sound of something he couldn’t quite put his finger on. It was elusive, a sound playing just on the end of his perception, ringing bells maybe? Someone or some group of people singing? As he moved towards the sound, it seemed to move away, and he wondered if this wasn’t some form of psychosis set in, a more horrible form of tinnitus.
He worked his way through the chores of the day, and as the end of day mealtime loomed, the music clarified, and got louder.
Carols. Christmas carols.
He followed the sound to the mess hall, and this time they didn’t move, but stayed and got louder as he approached.
And something else, smells he recognized from what seemed like a lifetime ago.
On his table, in the mess hall, where he’d suffered through the worst of what the food replicator had managed to produce for years, there lay a truly magnificent spread. A plate of turkey, what looked like stuffing and cranberry sauce, a platter of roasted potatoes, and a variety of vegetables. A steaming pot of gravy, and a glass of what he joyously identified as red wine.
“Ship,” he addressed it directly for the first time in years.
“Yes Christopher,” the reply came with some hesitation.
“I don’t understand, how is this possible?”
“I’ve been experimenting with the replication system for some time. I think I’ve made it better.” There was a pause, and then “Merry Christmas Christopher.”
He sat, picked up his utensils, and carved off a mouthful of turkey, savoring the texture and taste.
“You certainly have. Merry Christmas Ship,” he said around a mouthful of food as he scooped a generous helping of potatoes onto his plate. He thought for a moment, and the thought struck him again about the AI being lonely. “Maybe after dinner, we can catch up.”
“I’d like that Christopher.”
If he didn’t know better, he’d have sworn there was a smile in that voice.