Author: Gorilla Sapiens
Well, spit it out boy, what did you find down there?
Machines, sir, self replicating machines.
I see, what were they doing?
As near as we can figure, sir, they’re consuming enormous amounts of power and generating vast amounts of waste heat by feeding themselves random numbers as input to… a puzzle.
Speak plain, boy!
Sir, it’s not my area sir, but the guys over in science think it’s some kind of closed field cubic curve equation.
No sir. We believe all life down there died out due to an ecological catastrophe caused by all the waste heat from the machines.
Strange way to suicide, eh son?
Killing your whole planet with a silly game. What a shame.
I suppose so sir.
Alright, catalog it, launch a warning buoy, whatever algorithm that is, is obviously deadly and contagious, level 5. The next closest star system is about 4 light years from here, set a course for that. Trinary system, 2 yellows and a red dwarf, that should be interesting.
Author: Josie Gowler
“What do you see?”
The last bandage came off and I opened my eyes, blinking hard. Even in the low lighting, everything was stark and clear. And astonishing, vibrant, like I could taste and hear the colours. But I wasn’t going to say that. That just sounded crazy.
“Seven, all seven. Bright,” I replied. “I mean, I’d heard about it, I could pick out some of them, I knew the mnemonic, but I’d never… I’d never appreciated it, you know?”
“Does it give you a headache?” Dr Noakes asked.
“No… no… it’s just… well, hard to explain. Same as when people used to say ‘what’s it like?’ and I gave them a funny look because the whole point was that I didn’t know what being colorblind was like because I’d always been colorblind.”
“Here, try this.”
Dr Noakes held up some cards covered in coloured dots to do an Ishihara test. I laughed out loud. The letters were so obvious now, leaping out from their background of blobs of other colours. I read them out easily. Previously I couldn’t see any letters at all.
“So, what’s the first thing you’re going to do once you get out of here?”
“I’m going to enjoy the journey back home, marvel at seeing everything as nature intended it… then I’m going to redecorate the house. I bet it looks horrible to me now.”
Dr Noakes laughed. “Now you’ll get to find out whether your husband was simply being polite about your choices.”
“I never appreciated what colorblindness really was until now I’m not colorblind any more. This is awesome.”
“What can I say, Lieutenant, other than welcome to the space programme. Such a waste, careers being closed off because of something as trivial as a few cones in the back of the eyeballs.”
I stood up and stretched, grinning. “Thank you, Doctor. And about the other… proposal, that’s fine by me too.”
Dr Noakes chuckled. “Well, let’s get you used to seven colours before we branch out. Not like the tech’s going anywhere.”
“Well, whenever you think I’m ready,” I said. Two PhDs and an exobiology career in the military, I knew I’d always been ready, and that was before I studied agronomy as an extra.
Dr Noakes carried on. “With your experiences of having been colorblind and then not, you’ll have more idea of what it felt like to be the aliens, how UV and IR expanded their range….”
“And how it enabled them to use their food production tech,” I finished for him.
Dr. Noakes smiled. “I’ll leave you to get used to the change and call back in an hour. All being well, you’ll be on your way home by dinnertime.”
He left the room. I picked up my hand terminal and flicked through the pictures I’d got stored there. Circuit diagrams were suddenly brighter: I could figure them out in an instant. And with the next upgrade, who could tell what would happen? Yeah, people had used goggles and filters, but it wasn’t going to be like living the colours. I knew that from my forays with colorblindness-fixing glasses compared with the eyeball upgrade I had now. And that was why I reckoned we couldn’t get the alien tech to work – it simply didn’t understand us on a visceral level. And solving that would mean food for everyone, both home system and colonies.
I stood up and walked over to the window and stared at the bluest sky I had ever seen. And now I was actually going to travel beyond it.
Lullabies are for the air
Poets are of water
Remember this well
Do not mistake one for the other
And then my dream state abandoned me to have me face my cruel fate. I was doing repairs on my spaceship and then a freak anomaly hit me. And now I’m in water without boundaries. There was no light but there was life. I traveled for miles, trying to find the surface. I would have been ecstatic if I could see the ocean floor if only so I can know up or down. The memory of my last meal refused to leave my mouth. My suit couldn’t save me much longer. It took some time to convince it, but I ordered my suit to turn off life support.
I woke up again. At first, I was mad at my suit for disobeying me, until I realized I was on a firm dry surface. Without waiting for my suit’s permission, I took off the helmet. I can breathe. I quickly discarded the rest of the outfit. It was cold and damp but bearable. My muscles atrophied by staying in that suit for so long, but I got my balance back on the uneven ground. There was a faint light all around, but it was enough to see the aquatic creatures on the floor. I recognized some of them earlier. Later, the ambiance increased to my liking.
I checked what was edible, built a fire, and had a meal. I used the suit’s filtration system to give myself clean water to drink. It was so good.
After resting, I got up to survey my surroundings. Every once in a while, water would rush in past objects in the distance that looked like doors. It was too controlled to be natural. I asked my suit to provide the data of my surroundings for the last three days. I was followed for two days. A whale-like creature as big as a city was trailing me. It was too far back to be a threat. The creature only rushed up to me when my life support was off.
Am I in this creature? The scientist in me emerged from its dormancy. I examined the readings of the environment. This is amazing. Pressure and temperature were nearly uniform throughout the waters. Is this an aquatic universe? How did it come to be? So many theories came flooding into my brain.
My suit took a beating, but it’s working. Good, as it is the only thing that will make my new life bearable.
After a hard day of work, I found a dry spot to have a good night’s sleep. As my heavy eyelids did all the work, I realized my surroundings became comfortably warm. And then I dreamed.
“Boundless you and I.”
“You, in my mind?”
“I is eternal ocean. Eternal ocean is I. Days many followed.”
“Saw you when breach I. Empty, death, and dry. Needed life so to my waters you dive. Now rest. Tomorrow songs to make.”
“Thoughts to form and fly.”
Author: Alzo David-West
Hujen awoke. He could remember little, only the flames. His eyes adjusted to the straggling light that filtered through a charred silken curtain. He saw another survivor of the night: a standing door frame, its elongated shadow cast right-ways on the smoke dust. He sat up and rubbed his face. Memories surfaced in particles: chanting, shouting, and projectile sparks. His heart was beating rapidly. He looked at the burned ruin of his domicile, the neighborhood, the settlement. He closed his eyes.
What did the they want? he asked himself. Their purpose was not clear. It was a mobilized frustration, a manic impulse, the passion of the mob. The sky brightened. He glanced upward at the mansions of the sun and wondered if anyone out there would come. His scorched resident certificate lay in the ash pile beside singed pictures of people his mind had put away. Gradually, the thoughts congealed: the scream of a woman, the wail of a toddler, the cry of an infant, and the ululation of the mob: Large eye, long snout! Take your pouch and haul it out!—or something like that, something like that.
He looked sullenly at his hands and the spiny fins. Condensed dew-drops fell from his shiny gills.
Author: Ross Clare
“What exactly have you been doing all this time?” the alien demanded.
The scientists of the Legacy Project stood in a loose group before it, shuffling awkwardly from one foot to another. Many were desperately attempting to avoid eye contact by absolutely any means necessary.
One scientist attempted a response.
“Mnh!” The sharp interjection from the alien was intended merely to instate silence. It was accompanied by a very stern look, raised eyebrows, and a single raised index finger.
The finger was eventually lowered, and the alien took a deep breath as if about to deliver a lecture on responsibility to a roomful of adolescents.
“When we came here,” it said, “those many, many years ago, we left specific instructions on what your kind were supposed to do. And, how to do it: how to move forward, how to achieve space travel, unity, technological sophistication… and perhaps most importantly, how NOT to live.” This last point was enforced by a withering look in the direction of no scientist in particular.
“Your ancestors, however many times over, were to pass our guidance down through the ages. Did they forget? Is that what’s happened?”
It looked around, finding no-one. For none dared confirm that their ancestors had not, in fact, forgotten at all.
“Why isn’t your region of space filled with intrepid cosmonauts? Where is your quantum technology? Optronics?”
“Have you seen what they’re doing in Andromeda? Do you know what they’ve accomplished over there?” As if to say: ‘why can’t you be more like Andromeda?’.
It continued. “You do realise, don’t you, that we left an entire cache of fresh water beneath the surface of your Moon? What do you suppose that was for?”
It didn’t wait for an answer.
“It was a waystation, of sorts. A kind of service stop on the way to greater things. Now,” and it said this word with serious energy, “I find you’ve been there… once? In all this time?”
Even as it paused for a little longer than before, the scientists were far too busy attending to matters around them that were, suddenly, of the utmost importance: using their fingernails to chip away at painted walls, scratching a sudden itch on their shoulder, reassessing the pattern of the ceiling tiles.
“We stopped by Mars on the way here, you know,” it informed them with a cutting scorn entirely unbefitting the comment it was underpinning it. “All of the planets in the system, in fact. You see, we’d left materials, resources, supplies on every single one. Every one! And it turns out the food we implanted under the Martian dust is now… dust! Been there so long, it’s a desiccated bed of microscopic fossils. Useless it is, now. A waste.”
It wasn’t done. “My my, we surmised, something terrible must have happened on Earth this past millennium. Yes! Yes, it had. You!” It raised its arms up in half-mocking exasperation. “You happened.”
It stopped here momentarily, to let disgrace sink right in, before going on.
“We find that your world is on fire. Literally, in some instances. Everyone hates each other. Then, when they find other people to hate, they form loose groups of like-minded folks and hate collectively. Lies are the new truth, facts are now fiction, and science, oh!” No, not science! “Nobody trusts science anymore. Nobody trusts you,” again, an almighty emphasis on this last word for maximum efficiency of shame-allocation, “though now I’m starting to understand why. You’re not going out there into the great unknown – you haven’t even got to grips with things on the ground!”
That one brave scientist, once chief of the Legacy Project and now a mere mumbling man-child, ventured another response.
Oh, but it was willing to hear them out now. You’d better have something good, chief.
“Go on! Enlighten us, please… No? I ask again, then. What have you been doing all this time? What, from our set of very specific and generously provided aims, have you achieved?”
The chief thought for a moment.
“We—” he began. And then: “… We’re sorry.”
The alien took this in. With hands now placed on hips, it began nodding, though it kept its eyes looking regretfully toward the floor.
“Yes. Yes, I understand. You’re sorry.”
Then it turned its face to theirs once more.
“And so am I.”
It feigned sympathy – or was it sincere?
“You see… I’m not angry. No, not angry.”
The scientists awaited the death-knell they all knew approached.
“I’m just disappointed.”