Mind Games

Author : David Burkhart

Where the hell is she? Joel searched everywhere for her. The cargo hatch was still securely sealed so she couldn’t be in the cargo bay. She couldn’t have opened the forward hatch or they would have been sucked out into space. It was only a small forward cabin on a space cargo ship – there was not anyplace for her to hide. He looked behind every panel, in every cupboard, under every floor tile, and inside each piece of equipment but she simply wasn’t there. Ellen couldn’t have just vanished like that.

Maybe I’m finally going space crazy, thought Joel. Maybe Ellen never really existed. He tried to remember the training and advice he had received to prevent going space crazy. But he couldn’t recall the shrinks mentioning anything about how to deal with a situation like this. In particular, he remembered Dr. Johnson, who had spent a considerable amount of time talking with him and coaching him. Ellen looked very similar to Dr. Johnson and the thought of the two of them made Joel even more desperate to find Ellen.

He checked the instrument panel. The clocks showed that they had left Earth 836 days ago and would reach their destination after another 283 days in space. Unloading the mining equipment from the cargo bay would take about 2 weeks and then they would begin the long journey back to Earth. He noticed one instrument with a red light on. The corresponding screen said ‘Error 45920. Rebooting from backup 36G’. Joel knew every screw and bolt, every instrument, every knob, every panel, every circuit, and every wire on the ship. He could take the whole ship apart and reassemble it by himself. But for some reason he couldn’t remember ever seeing the instrument with the red error light. I’m really going space crazy mad, Joel thought.

Suddenly the red light went off and the error screen went blank. Confused, Joel stared at the screen wondering what to do. Suddenly he felt her presence. He sensed her standing behind him.

“Where have you been? I’ve looked everywhere for you!” Joel asked.

“I was ill. I feel fine now.” smiled Ellen.

“Don’t ever disappear again. I‘ll go crazy without you.”

“I’ll always be with you, Joel. Trust me.”

The God of No One

Author : Michael Jagunic

There was an asteroid belt made of bones on the other side of the quasar. I saw it, long ago. It is all that I remember of the last place.
Of the place that came before that, I remember nothing except that I was there, long long ago.
Sometimes I stop among the stars, briefly, but long enough for the light to touch me, to catch me. This new place is white with stars. There are so many worlds here, civilizations mighty and sprawling. A place of near limitless possibility.
But possibility leads to actuality. Actuality leads to decay. And decay leads back to the old places. This white place will soon rot black. These civilizations will become bone and dust like the last.
I resume. The light falls away from me, too slow.
*
For a time, I linger here. I think this is what I always do, but I cannot be certain. The eons erode my memories. Soon the recollection of the asteroid belt of bones will slip from me forever.
But I enjoy the lingering, so I think that I am likely to have done it before, in the last place, and the places before that.
There are places here, worlds, that glow and warm and invite. The creatures of these worlds cannot perceive me as I move between the slow plodding light of this place. But they call out to me, nonetheless.
In one green place, I touch the creatures with my hand, I caress them with winds and rains. They are born and die within a moment. It is a marvel to behold.
They do not know the way I know. They do not see, or sense, or treanitivate, or derundicale. But watching them gives me the illusions of these things. They swarm together, they blossom together, they die together.
I see in them the possibility of treanitivation, of derundicality. But possibility leads to actuality. Actuality leads to decay.
They will grow, they will ungrow. This white place will soon rot black.
*
I resume. I take some of them with me. Perhaps this, too, is what I always do. I do not remember, but this time feels different.
I spread these creatures across this place, leaving them to grow and ungrow in beautiful flurries of illusory meaning. As I leave them in my wake, I know that they will call out to me. But I will not hear them.
The light cannot touch me here, and neither can the sound of their voices.
This place is aging. Soon it will be like the last places, the ones I have long forgotten.
*
There was a planet full of two-legged creatures on the other side of the quasar. I created it. It is all that I remember of the last place.
Of the place that came before that, I remember nothing except that I was there, long long ago.

First Contact

Author : Steven Carver

One last tremor ran through the pod as it passed into the atmosphere of the small blue planet. The heat shield retracted from the viewport and the pilot got his first view of a real ocean. His home planet had dried into an uninhabitable barren husk long before he had been born. None of the old pictures could have prepared him for the real thing. Deep blue unbroken from horizon to horizon, lines of white marked the top of waves, where the light of their star reflected off the surface, blinding. The sight so enthralled him it was several moments before he registered the descent warning; his entry angle was too steep. With great reluctance, he tore his eyes away and adjusted his trajectory. As his course corrected, it brought into view his targets. Two grey vessels came into view far below him, cutting proudly through the waves.

Others had tried to persuade him, convince him to stay. Too violent, they had said, too shortsighted. He couldn’t deny their arguments, but he had studied them long after others had given them up as incompatible. He had a good feeling about them. For a species so good at violence, they also had a penchant for beauty rarely seen in the galaxy. Paintings, sculptures, poems, music, games, movies, stories, dance, their creativity was endless.

Destroyers, his research had revealed, they were called. Arleigh Burke-class. Powerful warships belonging to a powerful nation. His best chance to for an audience. By now he was low enough to start maneuvering into position to land. He could see the symbols painted on the front of the ships, 97 on the left one, 88 on the right. His control panel indicated they were tracking his flight with high power beams of microwave radiation. RADAR they called it, and he laughed to himself, remembering reading about when his people used before they had abandoned their home world.

For such a small planet, they were certainly noisy. Broadcasting audio and 2-D video into space without even trying to hide where they were. They didn’t even know there was anyone that could be listening. He had listened though. They were a young species, but curious. They could grow replacement organs in labs, they were cloning livestock and launching probes into deeper and deeper space. They were ready.

His gamble paid off, they were more curious than cautious today. He guided his pod to a gentle landing on the flat portion of the rear of the ship marked 97. As the engines shut down he could already see them coming out of the interior. Wearing protective armor and pointing their projectile weapons at his ship, they almost would have been intimidating if they could pierce his survival suit, let alone the hull. Placing the clear helmet over his head with trembling hands, he took a deep breath of the canned atmosphere he would be breathing for the foreseeable future and tried to contain his excitement. The pod slowly slid open and he stepped out into the sun. He slowly lifted his hands to show them to be empty. He moved his face into the unfamiliar expression they would recognize as a smile, and hopefully interpret as friendly, and took a breath.

“Take me to your leader.”

Program incomplete

Author : Elle B Sullivan

“I’d like to file a complaint.”

The teller looks back over the counter at me, and sighs audibly. “You will have to fill out form 3C,” he replies in a monotone voice.

He hands the form over to me and I take it to the seating area behind me, grabbing a pen on the way.

I look down at the form and fill in the fields I already know without hesitation. However when the complaint form asks what the complaint is about – there is a subsection for the subject or name of the item I am complaining about.

“Roxanne,” I mumble. I write down “Program vixen vacation: Roxanne” and the correct program number.

“What is your complaint?” The prompt asks me and I stare back at it.

Where do I begin?

Do I start with my initial experience and explain how pleased I was?
Do I talk about the program’s ending and my expectations which – were not met?
Or do I talk about the dreams… and her voice… and all of the memories still haunting me?

“Program did not sufficiently end.” I write and look back over the form. “Program was enjoyable at first, left a euphoric feeling once completed as expected. However the expected feeling has not subsided, I am still feeling euphoric and-”

Sad… Distraught… Inconsolable…

Heartbroken.

“- the program has not ended. I have restarted the system, cleaned out the cache, and re-integrated all visualization elements.” But all I see is her face… I miss her. “And I would like the program to be fully terminated.” I finish the form and look over the completed form before handing it over to the teller.

As I walk home, a couple walks past me and I swear it’s her voice I hear. Every passing face on the sidewalk looks like hers… Every curve of the passing woman’s hips feels so familiar. I see her bouncing hair, her big eyes, and her full lips, and every face – it’s her face. I love Roxanne. I miss Roxanne.

Once I get home, I put on my visualization device and enter into a new program. It’s one I purchased that is meant to calm anxiety and instill a mental calm. As soon as it begins, I think about how much she would love it. How much she would enjoy doing it with me.

Where is she now? Who is she with now? Does she think of me?

No.

She can’t.

She can’t think of me. I am but the flavor of the week for her, just her client for that day.

Two days later I received a message back about my complaint. It reads:

“Dear Sir or Madam,

We are sorry the “Program Vixen Vacation: Roxanne” did not end well for you. We are not sure what could be causing the issue of recurrence, as the effects of the program should terminate once the program has been removed from the device. However we are happy to set up a service date for your device, and we will resolve this issue as soon as possible.”

But they can never get rid of Roxanne.

Roxanne is not in the visualization device. Nor is she in any program I own. She is real.

The time we spent together will stay with me forever, my heart belongs to Roxanne. And I will never forget her.

Red Squirrels

Author : Robert Lafosse

She was on her way to the Kyiv National University of Construction. It was a glorious May morning, the sun beating down from a crystal blue sky. A light breeze ruffled her skirt a bit as she walked.

Olga hummed along to a tune on her iPod. Something by U2.

In the field off the path she noticed a group of squirrels milling about under a hornbeam tree. It was a fairly large pack, about 10 or 12, and they were hopping around and chasing each other.

They were red squirrels, of the genus Sciurus. Cute because of their tufted ears.

As Olga came closer, they stopped as a group and turned towards her. People didn’t bother them. They didn’t flee or poise themselves for flight. They just watched her.

She noticed that one of the squirrels was larger than the rest. Not much, maybe a few centimeters, but enough to make it stand out. As she watched, the larger squirrel started coming towards her, in that half hopping, half running way that squirrels have. This is odd, Olga thought, and slowed down to watch. The squirrel was coming directly towards her, seemingly immune to fear.

When it was about 5 meters away, it stopped and sat on its haunches. When it was closer Olga noticed that its eyes were abnormally large for a squirrel. They looked like lemurs eyes, big, round like marbles. And they were staring at her.

This made her feel uncomfortable. The pack of squirrels that the big one had abandoned had edged closer to the path as Olga was watching the larger one.

Turning on her heel, she started walking again towards the University. Only after a few dozen steps did she glance over her shoulder and notice that the larger squirrel was following her down the path. When she stopped to look at it, the squirrel stopped as well.

She started walking again, this time faster. A few quick peeks confirmed that the large red squirrel was following, and the pack of ‘normal’ squirrels were a few meters behind it.

Something akin to panic set in. The path was deserted, the park was dead quiet and she was being tailed by a scurry of squirrels.

Awash in fear, she bounded up the tree. The branches and leaves scratching at her face as she scampered up as fast as she could. The notion that squirrels were designed for climbing trees seemed to have escaped her.

The dray of squirrels rummaged about at the bottom of the tree. The big one was climbing.

It slowly pulled itself up, all the while staring at Olga as she was perched dangerously on the uppermost branch she could reach. But her path was not blocked. She could not go any higher, she could not descend without passing the big squirrel.

Unlike the scampering that squirrels usually do when climbing, its movements were slow and deliberate. All the while its large eyes fixed on Olga.

About 1 meter from Olga, it sat down. Her breath came in great gasps and she could hear her heart thundering in her chest.

After a few minutes, with the squirrel sitting still, Olga started to calm down.

“Have you calmed down young lady”, the voice was high pitched and had a slight Moscow accent. “My friends and I”, and it gestured down to the group at the bottom of the tree, “could not help but notice you have some peanut butter sandwiches. Would it be an imposition for you to share them with us?”

She could have sworn it smiled.