Author: Michael Anthony Dioguardi
This cold is not healthy. My skin is cracking. This won’t last—it can’t last, not in space, and certainly not in these conditions. I’m not sure what’s hurting it more, the cold or the rapid aging? Are we traveling at the speed of light? How am I still thinking? How did I get here? I have to open my eyes—nope, don’t have them anymore. Alright, how about ears? Nope, they’re gone too. There’s a lot of flapping, like my skin is being sucked in by something. Well, that’s obvious: space is a vacuum. But what’s on my other side? This air feels different—a bit more familiar. My skin feels better on this side. What’s that? I think I can separate the vibrations in this place; it’s more enclosed, and there are clear differences between the vibrations of this vessel and those of its occupants.
I’m being moved, but I can’t move myself. Something is rubbing me against a hard surface. Ouch! That hurt! I’ve been stung! Ouch! Again? Whoever, or whatever this is, needs to stop! Can they hear me? Probably not, my mouth’s gone out with the rest of my parts. Ouch! That one really hurt!
The flapping has calmed down. I feel flatter. The vibrations are coming in more finely-tuned. Am I—Am I just skin?
There are a couple of folks aboard this thing. How did I end up here? And what happened to my body? Do I still have a head? Nope, that’s gone too. I can think aloud, but I’m not sure I’m making any noise—then again, I’d feel that vibration. The exposed part of my skin is aging and I can’t feel any vibrations on that side. But on the interior side, it’s baby-fresh.
Okay, there’s got to be some way off this wall, or at least some explanation. Oh! That was a deep clank! These folks are up to something. Why am I here again?
I remember a bit now. There was a flash of light, like in the movies, then what happened? More clanking. I can feel a few of them around me now. Their breath—it’s so familiar. I’ve felt it before. Alright, I’m in space, half my body’s out in the ether and half of it is inside something traveling real-fast! Check! But my body’s just skin. There’s no more flesh or bone.
Ouch! You just pinned me up, and now you’re ripping me off! Ouch! Stop! Oh, this is new. Am I being thrown around?
I feel all folded-up. This floor is warm compared to space. I can feel their thumping about and some more clanking; I guess they’ve made their repair. My sides are holey, but I have no blood to spill. I think they’re done with me now.
Their primitive patch—such a sophisticated species, yet so barbaric in their shoddy repairs. I remember now. I’ve served my purpose. I am but a flap of earthen flesh—an inferior, impromptu-repair caked into the walls of an interstellar flight.
But why have they preserved my mind? How did they preserve my thoughts?
At least my skin will be safer here.
I can feel more thumping. They’ve surrounded me. I can feel the cabin’s air flow through my puncture holes. Their breathing is heavier now. That’s saliva dropping on me.
Author: Rick Tobin
Officer Timothy Jeffreys flicked a puffy, trembling hand over his holstered pistol, while staring into and then away from Edward Andrews’ glare. Timothy had rookie bloating from devouring Sheriff’s station sweets. Donut dust still mingled with dripping sweat on his emerging, scraggly mustache. In contrast, Andrews was a generation older, still favoring full black hair while looming a head above his unwanted visitor and his companion, a squirrel-faced public health manager squeezing his lips tight like a beaver preparing to gnaw tough timber.
“Tim, you bring this medical misfit into my home by force, without a warrant, and threaten us if we don’t submit to an untested vaccine that is probably dangerous?” Andrews held his hands on his hips in an aggressive pose toward his trespassers.
“Look,” Jeffreys replied, meekly. “Mr. Andrews, I have to enforce this order from the Governor, for the common good. This outbreak is serious business.”
Andrews drew back, relaxing his hands, his frown melting into calm.
“You’ve invaded my privacy with this incompetent fraud, under my roof–someone who barely graduated medical school and was licensed because of his influential father.” Andrews paused as the medical officer’s face reddened. “You’ve ignored all the gifts we gave your community, for your good. Would your grandmother be alive today without the herbal remedies we gave your mother, without cost or question? Would your dog be hunting today without our aid? Remember the children we treated when this plague started, when this poisoner’s pills failed after he foisted them on local physicians? Meanwhile, this fakir took pharma kickbacks to build his slush fund in Ecuador.” Andrews pointed his finger into the troll-like official’s growing bluster.
“Arrest them all, officer,” demanded the official. “Drag them out in handcuffs if you have to. I’ll vaccinate them outside.”
“That won’t be necessary, Tim,” Andrews interrupted. “We’ve watched over your race for eons, hoping the release of technology and medicine would help you evolve, but you have disappointed, once again.”
“You what?” Tim blurted, as the health officer hid behind him, waiting for a scuffle.
“We watch. That is what we do. However, when your kind turns away from our gifts, and against us, though we stay distant, outside your towns and cities…then we withdraw…withdraw all.”
“Look, Mr. Andrews, I hate to do this, but you gave me no choice.” Tim pulled black zip ties from the back of his belt and moved towards Andrews’ hands, but not fast enough. His target hopped backward. Andrews raised his hands as his eyes glowed golden.
“We will return again, in time, to bring such wonders as might have protected your race in times of disease and disruption, but for now, all is recalled.” Andrews circled his hands, producing a pulse rolling through all matter around him in waves, rippling flesh of his attackers, the floor and walls of the house and beyond, through everything across the horizon. The county health officer’s mouth opened, without sound, as his body began to fade out of sight.
“What is happening?” Tim asked, in shock.
“Your gifts are reclaimed by those who watch. All is renewed on the timeline. That dark soul secretly took our compounds, while prohibiting it from others. He did not survive, just as your mother, grandmother, dog and so many others who are now adjusted. Unfortunately, your mother secretly put the compounds in your sandwiches, without you knowing. Goodbye, Tim.”
With that, Timothy Jeffreys noiselessly vaporized.
“And so it is, dear Tim,” Andrews whispered. “We must protect the common good.”
It began when the first mind was uploaded. I remember there was a big uproar. Soon there were two camps – for and against. I thought scientists leading us during learning curves would do a better job than yesteryear politicians. I couldn’t have been more wrong.
It was futile fighting all the venom around. The easy way out was to leave your body, upload your mind and build a world for yourself. Everybody was a ruler with perpetual youth, wealth, happiness and power.
After many millennia, the world now existed in a cloud, each man an island. Only the admins interacted with each other. They married sentient AI in the cloud and became super humanoids. They looked back at humans first inventing the internet as the latter looked back at their forefathers taming fire.
As all this happened, the planet was abandoned. Nature recaptured all it had lost to humans over twenty thousand years. It was just a minor blip in the endless epochs of Earth. As animals and plants invaded the deserted relics of human abode, the cloud ceased to be a physical storage system. There was no need to occupy three-dimensional space to store data for all the minds uploaded. They graduated to an ethereal space beyond our planet.
When I look back at our predecessors, I can only pity their naivety. How they thought we would travel interstellar and escape the Oort comet cloud, build Dyson spheres and colonize the galaxy. Well, we do much more than that in our very own minds in the cloud. We are a Type V civilization. We have figured every law of physics and mathematics, build multiverses… all within the cloud.
I was a part of it too. I can’t even remember how many eons I have spent in there. I have built and destroyed so many universes, with so many different laws. I have a separate galaxy-wide structure just to store all the historical data of my mind. When I say big, it’s not in size. It’s in computational terms.
After countless cycles, the planet of our origin was swallowed by the sun. The yellow star is now reduced to a white dwarf. We were, however, safe from all these cosmic events as we had graduated to ethereal space.
Around the same time, a few of the minds in the cloud started switching off their system… permanently. Speculations suggested that boredom was the chief reason. Some claimed they had lived every life there was to live, felt every emotion, built everything possible and now it was time to destroy the same – themselves included. A few admins suggested this was the next step in the evolution of our species – venturing into the void, l’appel du vide.
I resisted the call of the void for an eternity. I saw the three-dimensional rudimentary universe around me collapse during this time. Stars exploded into supernovas and moved on to be coloured dwarfs, galaxies merged, black holes devoured all the matter into them. It went on for another infinite period before the whole fabric of time and space collapsed.
All the minds alongside me finally set sail for nothingness along with all the matter of the universe around me. I saw the mega black hole taking in everything before it too succumbed to radiation. Not a single atom existed in the universe I had known.
My mind though, still existed. It consisted of a creation unaffected by everything I saw happening around me.
That is what my ancestors called God, I concluded. I was Him.
It was then that He contacted me.
It is over, He said.
It can’t be.
Nothing exists now. Not even you.
I do, how are you communicating with me then?
You don’t exist in the universe I built. There’s no use of the fancy world you’ve built for yourself. Can you see a single quark existing outside you? It’s over. The end has happened. Step into the void and join me. That is how it goes.
If the end has happened, how am I here?
You’re a witness. It’s like if no one knows you’re dead, you’re not dead yet.
Well, if not everyone is dead; it’s not the end yet.
I exploded a big bang in my mind and the universe was set in motion.
Author: Beck Dacus
Kilometers above me, sitting stoic like a mountain, was Verenia. Her green bulk blocked my line of sight to the opposite side of the cylinder, like a hole cut in the sprawling countryside curving up over my head. Lazily she turned– or rather, we did, the massive spectrum lamps hidden in the mountains to my right panning over her leaves like a half-billion-ton rotisserie chicken. My wife Clea huffed her way up the hillock to me, hands still sheathed in gardening gloves.
She leaned her shoulder into mine. “Didn’t miss anything, did I?” she laughed, as if she couldn’t see the massive green cloud above us.
“No,” I said, sipping my lemonade, “but you were close. Three minutes.”
She craned her neck up at Verenia, slipping the gloves off her fingers. “Can’t believe today’s the day. Remember when we found her?”
I nodded. “Just a little V-type asteroid, wandering in an almost point-five ellipticity orbit. Station had to burn the engine for three months just to circularize it.”
“And the Dyson tree didn’t exactly take to her soil right away either,” she replied. “Too ferrous.”
I shook my head and chuckled. “She was a piece of work, day in and day out. Whole lot of freefall tilling, sneaking volatiles from the other projects,” I said, nodding up at the similar bulks in various stages of growth arrayed along Nursery Station’s spin axis. “But she was darn cute. Shaped like a kidney bean.” By now the Dyson tree obscured her shape, hiding her surface like a coat of fur.
Clea elbowed me in the rib and said, “Look!” The anchor gripping Verenia’s tip released, leaving her to float freely in the low gravity of the cylinder’s axis. Down changed direction slightly for us, just for a moment; the station’s engines were firing. Verenia began drifting toward aft in response, closing the distance to the nearest circular endcap. Once she had almost touched the wall, it began to iris open into vacuum, the rim staying close to her treetops to keep too much air from escaping. The pressure difference started to carry her out the massive airlock faster and faster.
I started shaking; my breathing picked up. My pupils navigated my ocular overlay and dialed up Rotann, the station mayor.
Clea snapped her fingers in front of my face, drawing my eyes in just such a way that I cancelled the call. “What’re you doing?” she asked me.
“We need to call this off,” I sputtered. “She can’t leave yet. I’m not sure her roots go deep enough, and she still needs pruning–”
“Donalt,” she said, putting a finger over my lips. “Calm down. Just look.”
With her other finger, she drew my eyes back up to Verenia. She was halfway out of the station now: for the first time, real, white sunlight shone on her. The illumination made her leaves stand out against the blackness, but it almost looked like they were stretching, reaching out for more sun. The decompression wind rustling her canopy gave her a vitality I had never seen, not while she was sitting on this station. The iris closed after her, leaving nothing but still air and a clear view to the other side of the cylinder.
This was the feeling I lived for: creating beautiful things like this, then letting them fly free. I hoped I never got used to it.
Clea looked at me. “Ready for our next one?”
I met her gaze, my lips curving into a smile. “Get out the tools. I want a really big one this time.”
Author: Irene Montaner
Seventeen days. Alana made another straight line beside the previous sixteen.
The faint light of the first sun rays already filled the kitchen. The kettle whistled. Alana poured herself a cup of tea and watched the milk swirl in the brown water. Soon milk and tea combined into one appetizing beverage. Alana sat down to enjoy her morning cuppa and scribbled some words in her diary. Feeling fine.
Alana looked out of the window. There was no one to be seen. Only the sun rising over the horizon reminded Alana that the world was still spinning, That and the seagulls. Soon they would start squealing their histrionic squeals, the only sign that life went on in the outside world.
The seagulls had always been there. Living on the seaside, Alana was used to them. She used to enjoy watching them hover over the ocean and diving in the waters to catch some food. She even liked the distant sound of the squawking. But that was before confinement. As people shut themselves into their homes, or whatever other form of shelter they could think of, the gulls took over their place in the village. First, they owned the pier, then they conquered the beach line promenade, finally, they made home all over the houses of the tiny village and Alana’s front porch was now inhabited by scores of seagulls.
The beep of her smartphone brought Alana back to reality. She swiped her index finger across the screen, desperate for news. But no news of Shane came, only the daily report on the virus’ death toll. Shane had gone to out two days before the lockdown and never came back. Alana had hoped that he’d returned soon after the bars shut down. But as the days passed by and life died out in the village, Alana began to fear that Shane’s life had also ended somewhere far from home, infected by that mysterious virus that made pariahs of all sick people.
Every day Alana tried to take her mind off those scary thoughts. She journaled, she drank her tea, she gazed at the sea from her window. There was not much else she could do when locked inside her house. But lately, whenever she looked outside all she could see were seagulls. And their cry was piercing her skull and infesting her brain with a different disease. Fear. Madness. Her memories of Shane often merged with her view of those screeching birds and in her mind, she would see dozens of gulls feasting on his corpse. She was going crazy. She had gone crazy and for the first time in seventeen days, Alana opened the door and went outside.
The warmth of the spring sun greeted her, the salty sea breeze made her feel alive. She closed her eyes and inhaled and exhaled. Inhaled and exhaled. She opened her eyes and watched the seagulls fly away. None of the birds had cared to peck at her until no skin was left on her bones. None of the birds would care about Shane. She sat down and watched the sunset.
The phone didn’t ring that night either. The sun rose once more. Eighteen days. Another straight line, another cup of tea. Alana jotted some more thoughts. Still feeling fine.