Visitor Log

Author: Rick Tobin

Great, a clear connection, finally. Now I can understand your thoughts unmistakably through my brain mush. The AI translator is integrating. It was a muddled mess when techs first hooked me into their software. All I sensed were whispers and groans from visitors, but now even my caregiver’s thoughts come through as fresh as sitting across from a hot date on a barstool in Old Town cafes. I miss those days, watching rare Martian dust twisters forming across preserved barren zones, and churning gray skies. Your memories match I see. Good times, man.

Thanks for coming by and connecting. Been a while. You’re probably busy running off to your daily errands. I heard the new shuttle to Phobos increased your commute time so I’ll keep it short. I’m glad you can share a few thoughts. Relatives don’t visit. Too gruesome, I guess. Sometimes loneliness inside these wrappings, without hearing, talking, and touching makes me an abandoned riverbank fish. My old battle partner Eddy told me these synthetic bindings twisting me about the bed, head to toe, reminded him of drasis worms struggling free from ancient green mud canals, but it keeps my skin alive—bedsores are still likely until I heal. I have to believe it can happen. I’m a faither like my mother was. It’s something to hold onto.

No, not angry. Everything genuine in life has risks. Wouldn’t be a Mars without our pioneers. My great grandparents were Third Wavers. Hard to imagine their lot, isolated, freezing to death whenever resupply shuttles failed. They knew risk. Their honor is our duty. I wonder what they would have made of Cogelians. It took a hundred years after they landed to excavate Mars’s outer crust, discovering huge alien hives belowground.

I remember my great grandfather’s stories when he was a sheriff on Old Earth. Yeah, our cop blood runs blue. He complained in his journals about misused tasers. The military was furious when civilians accessed them. They finally got banished after cops were often killed when perps wrestled them away. We didn’t learn from those lessons. Now, look where I am.

You remember academy sergeants telling us lasers were non-lethal? They’d just leave light burns and stun the Weedies. After all, the Cogelians were passive plant life. They couldn’t understand pain or anything else—they were salads. We herded them to reservations. Never thought they were organized or conscious. How could they ever use a laser pistol with those fronds for arms? What a ridiculous idea. Yeah…how stupid could we get?

No, I let it go. It was a trap. Intelligence failed us. We didn’t know until later that Cogelians built massive underground cities millions of years ago. We kept frying them with flamethrowers in their underground passages until we found out too late that they were far beyond us in tech and were telepathic. Maybe I’m paying the price for our butchery…but I’m still here. There’s hope these artificial tissue cultures will bind and grow back my burned skin. Maybe take years, but the rest of my squad didn’t make it. I’ll live to tell a wild story whenever I get out of my cocoon.

Eddy told me Sandra doesn’t ask about me. She gave up. Never was that devoted. I was too busy humping to worry about her character. Painful lesson. I’ll do better next time.

And…you have to go? Hey, don’t be a stranger. Really appreciate the time. Stay safe on the shuttle. They’re still working out bumpy takeoffs. You too and say…yeah…ah, he’s gone. Oh, damn!

Hope a nurse comes around soon. I need watering.

Outtakes

Author: Robert Beech

Outtake number 334400, uploaded today.

I talked to the kids today. Not in person, just on the computer, but still, it’s good to keep in touch. During the conversation one of them reminded me (again, or so they said) about the outtakes files. They explained (again, or so they said) about how to download the app and put in my password so I could look at the old versions of things I had saved to the cloud, or even ones I had deleted. I wrote the directions down. I’m sure someone a little more tech savvy could have downloaded the app and started scrolling through the files while the conversation was still going on. Or at least made a note and saved it on the computer so I wouldn’t have to keep doing this. Still, I trust the pencil to remember.

After we hung up, I downloaded the app (again, apparently). My computer remembered the password, which was a good thing since I did not. There was a lot of interesting stuff there. Photographs from vacations we had taken when the kids were little, diary entries from when our marriage had started to go bad. The day I blew up at my boss and stormed off the job. The kind of things you would never forget. The problem was, I didn’t remember any of it. It was my face (or at least a younger version of my face) in the photographs. My heart that broke when we realized there was nothing we could do to put the pieces of our marriage back together and my rage and fury that led to my short-sighted decision to slam the door on my career. But it wasn’t me.

I sat there, befuddled, looking at these fragments from the past, a past that belonged to someone who was, and was not, me. As I scrolled through them it came to me that these were the versions of me that I had decided to delete. Too precious to discard, but too painful to keep living through. Somehow, I had put them away into the cloud, made new memories, happier ones, of a life where somehow I hadn’t screwed things up quite so badly or so often. It seemed like a pretty good idea, tucking away all those other choices, those other lives, just keeping the good ones, or at least the not too bad ones (you have to have a few screwups to learn from, don’t you?). But what about all the other people in my life? Maybe the choice that was best for me wasn’t the best choice for my wife or my kids. How do you decide which life to keep and which ones end up in the outtakes? And who gets to decide? Had I decided what lives went into this outtakes file? I couldn’t remember doing it. I hadn’t even remembered there was an outtakes file until that conversation with my kids, so who was doing the editing?

And then I thought, what about the rest of the world? I mean, my life’s not so bad. I have enough to eat, a nice house to live in, 2 cars in the garage, my kids are healthy and, as far as I can tell, even happy. But in other parts of the world people are starving or dying of disease, wars, or political oppression. Shouldn’t the world wars, famines and plagues all get put into the outtakes files, too? Or maybe they already have. I wonder if….

End of recording. Press play to continue to Outtake number 334401.

Feeling

Author: Evan MacKay

It was cold. I knew it was cold even if I couldn’t feel it. I knew because my brain told me it was cold. They’d stuck me in the freezer after all. But I couldn’t feel. Oh Lord, I couldn’t feel. But the pain was gone. When they’d fried my nervous system they’d taken any chance of feeling pain with it. A blessing of sorts. A small one considering I was in a freezer, and dying. And I was dying. I knew that too. My brain told me it was so. How could I not be?

I thought back to what they’d said. Animatronic upgrades. Bones of steel, veins made of wire. I’d be stronger, faster, smarter. In every way the superior man. Ten thousand childhood daydreams come to life, a thousand novel and movie scripts made real. But they’d messed up, and now I was dying in the freezer. The knife had slipped. What had I expected when they’d brought me to an empty warehouse? But all the best science was performed in empty warehouses. Wasn’t that what the movies said? I’d believed the movies. Fuck the movies.

My legs were gone. They’d removed those first. The world went black while I sat there, that must mean the time was near. My time to die. I might have been crying, I couldn’t tell. They’d taken my legs off and now I was bleeding to death. Oh they’d tried to stop it. Tried about as hard as any scientist operating out of an empty warehouse would. But it hadn’t helped and now I was in a freezer.

I wonder what my wife will think. My ex-wife, I have to remind myself. I picture her now, as things had been before the divorce. It makes it a little easier, because I can feel that I am crying now, and I don’t want to die. I picture my wife and pretend that we’re not divorced, that we’re still a happy family with a dog and two cats. She’d taken the cats with her, which was fine because I hated them, but in my mind we’re all back together and I don’t even mind the cats that much. Which is a strange feeling.

Black again and then back again, which is an even stranger feeling. If I could move my head I’d look down. One last look at the legs that aren’t there. For a moment I imagine the scientists. I imagine all sorts of horrible things happening to them. Decapitations, car crashes, anything that is awful and terrible. They’re gruesome images I conjure up, but not nearly as gruesome as the image of half a man dying in a freezer.

It’s the third black and back and I know that the next one is THE one. The one that we spend our whole lives dreading. So I buckle up, dig in and imagine my wife and I not divorced, and her stupid cats, and gruesome, horrible things happening to those gruesome, horrible scientists. And as I close my eyes for what I know to be the last time I feel something strange. Peace.

Dear Jane Rutledge

Author: Jenna Hanan Moore

Jane Rutledge invented a method for sending messages through time. It was the best she could do without more funding.

The Scientific Grant Agency refused to fund Jane’s efforts to invent a time machine without proof that time travel couldn’t alter the course of history. This invention would provide that proof, but first, she had to test it. She began with a message to her younger self.

***

Dear Jane Rutledge, aged 14:

You don’t know me, but I want to give you advice. Time moves faster than you can imagine. I should know; I’m an expert in time. Don’t put off chasing your dreams. That doesn’t mean you should do everything you want this very moment. Just don’t pass up the opportunity to study abroad or climb Mt. Rainier.

You also should know you don’t need to excel at everything you try. You won’t be as good at painting as you are at solving equations, but you don’t have to be Frida Kahlo to enjoy your artistic endeavors.

Sincerely, Jane Rutledge, aged 48.

***

She sealed the envelope and sent the letter back through time. She received a reply minutes later.

***

Dear Jane Rutledge, aged 48:

You may be the future me, but you don’t understand the present me. Adults never do. I know you’re trying to be nice and all, but please don’t tell me how to live my life. I get enough of that from Mom.

Sincerely, Jane Rutledge, aged 14.

***

Jane chuckled. In setting up her experiment, she’d overlooked a key variable: she’d forgotten how stubborn she was as a teenager.

To Jane’s surprise, a second response arrived two minutes after the first.

***

Dear Jane Rutledge, aged 48:

Keep sending messages to your younger self, no matter how snarky her replies. This correspondence will lead to the break-through in time theory you’ve been looking for.

Sincerely, Jane Rutledge, aged 54.

***

Jane began a reply to her future self, reminding her how stubborn her adolescent self was, when another letter arrived.

***

Dear Jane Rutledge, aged 48:

I suppose you have no intention of following my advice. You’re every bit as intransigent as you were at fourteen. But I had to try. The future of time travel’s at stake.

Sincerely, Jane Rutledge, aged 54.

***

With the future of time travel at stake, Jane tried reverse psychology.

***

Dear Jane Rutledge, aged 14:

You’re right; I don’t understand you, but I can tell you the one thing I regret in life. I spent too much time on my hobbies. Had I devoted just a little more time to my research, I might have proven my theories about time travel by now.

Sincerely, Jane Rutledge, aged 48.

***

Jane sealed the letter and sent it back in time, then waited for a response. And waited. And waited.

After an hour, she went to her studio to see if her letter had changed anything. The room was filled with richly hued paintings of nebulas, planets, and stars. The difference in quality between these and the paintings that had occupied their places two hours earlier was stark. Reverse psychology had worked!

When Jane turned to leave, she noticed a flyer announcing the opening of a gallery show featuring works by Jane Rutledge, an accomplished painter with an interest in physics and astronomy.

She returned to her study to finish preparing the grant application for her time machine and send a thank you note to her future self. But she’d misplaced the grant application, sending the note through time didn’t work.

The Wave

Author: Bill Cox

He walks into town just as everyone who could is walking out. Running seems pointless to him, but he can’t blame them for trying. People pass in ramshackle jalopies, their worldly goods piled precariously up, held steady by blank-faced children. Others leave on mules or bicycles, many just on foot. A military truck trundles past, leaving a trail of acrid, black smoke in its wake. In the back he sees four soldiers sitting, grinning, with two teenage girls sandwiched in-between, uncertain looks on their faces. In another time he might have been concerned enough to do something, thoughts of his own daughters on his mind. Now he just lets the truck disappear past the town boundary.

He sees the town’s cantina and walks towards it. It’s not a big town, just a paved main street puffed out with shanty housing and caravans. Funnily enough, it’s still big enough to have three churches. Out here, on the galactic rim, people need religion more than ever, to provide comfort against the dark, to reassure them that they are central to God’s creation despite all the evidence to the contrary. From each church he can hear the sound of singing, a desperate, last-minute show of faith that is unlikely to make any difference.

He walks into the cantina. There are a few other souls here, all drinking alone, hoping they can blot out the fear and hopelessness through some form of alcohol-induced nirvana. He’s no intention of getting drunk, he just fancies one last libation before the end.

Surprisingly, the bar-keeper, a weary-looking middle aged man, is still there, pouring drinks.

“What’ll it be?” the bar-keeper asks.

“Whisky,” he replies and the bar-keeper pours him a glass. He raises it to his nose and breathes in the scent, before drinking the amber liquid down in one go, savouring the warmth that flows down his throat and into his stomach. The bar-keeper pours him another without asking.

“So, you gonna wait for the Wave here too?” the bar-keep asks.

“Don’t see why not,” he replies. A sudden desire to explain arises within him, so he continues.

“I thought I was going to make my fortune here. Frontier mining planet, stake myself a claim, head back home a millionaire. Then the intergalactic economy collapses. No more spaceflight, we’re left here on this rock to fend for ourselves. Come to Providence, they said. Make a fortune, they said. What about the Wave, I asked? Oh, don’t worry about that. It only happens every five years. We ship everybody off-world when it happens. When they go back into hibernation then everybody comes back. What could go wrong?”

“So I took my family here. Wife and daughters. I lost them to the Wave in Saragossa. Barely made it out myself. I end up here, with nowhere else to go, as the Wave is everywhere else. It’ll be here as well before long, so why not enjoy a last drink?”

Suddenly weary and with nothing more to say, he takes his whisky outside and sits on the steps of the cantina. The town is quieter now, save for the muted singing coming from the churches. The twin suns are setting, casting an eerie, orange hue over the distant mountains. It seems somehow appropriate.

Soon the Wave will be here, a global migration of flesh-eating insects, trillions strong. They’re circling the globe, consuming everything in their wake, before eventually returning to dormancy. Then the twin suns will rise again, on a cleansed world.

It’ll be a fresh start for the planet.

He raises his glass to that.