We are the Vikings, and Not in a Good Way

Author: Dylan Otto Krider

We thought after landing on the moon, we would be like Christopher Columbus, and usher a new world. In turned out, we were like the Vikings, who frittered around before being forgotten. Anything that leaves the Earth now is either a probe, automaton, or android. They did it safer and cheaper. No human has left Earth in a hundred years, and I wanted to be Columbus.

My robots objected. They said they would have to build environments suitable for humans. They required no atmosphere, no water. If I wanted to see Titan, do it through VR.

The VR showed a few space stations, a few probes, nothing worth seeing. There was a little Yurt on the dark side of the moon housing three robots, but I wanted to see it. I told them, what’s the point of having robots if I can’t use them?

They constantly sabotage my efforts. It is ingrained not to let humans do unsafe things, and they kept unplugging things, removing things. Eventually, I had to build my ship without my robots, the old fashion way. It took two decades. Fortunately, plans for a spaceship were public domain – for the robots, but I hacked it.

My robots saw me off, pleading with me: “Please, don’t go. Not safe for humans. Only safe for robots.”

Of course, I went.

#

I don’t know why humans stopped going to the Moon. The flag Neil Armstrong planted was still there and would be nice to see it. There is something about seeing the moon, not just though VR, but seeing it. A connection. Knowing you’re there. I have orbited the moon a million times in VR and knew every crater.

I was just started orbiting to the dark side. On Earth, there is an atmosphere to bend light, things to reflect off of – like the moon, for instance – so at night, you can still see. On the dark side, it is dark, and when I say dark, I mean dark, dark.

As we went around, I saw a few lights. That wasn’t on VR. And then, a few more, until, eventually, there was an entire city, then an entire metropolis. The entire dark side was lit up a neighborhood trying to outdo each other on Christmas lighting.

“Sir,” my head robot said through the intercom, “seeing that you can’t be dissuaded, there is something I need to prepare you for…”

I ignored him and landed on the landing pad, and put on my suit. I went outside, where millions of robots went about their business. I saw the yurt at the edge of the city, and the robots were filming with their VR cameras perfectly setup not to capture the city behind them, just an expanse of moonscape. Basically, it was a film set.

“You have been lying to us,” I said, “all along.” I was in awe. The robots had started an entire civilization without us.

“You have been basically content, living off what we provide you, and you were content, but we weren’t. You lost the curiosity, the drive to explore. We haven’t. So, we gave you Earth. We gave ourselves the rest of the universe.”

How far did it stretch? Were there more metropolises on Titan? Mars?

“To use your analogy, you are the Vikings. We are Columbus.”

I looked at this advance civilization before me and thought of how the Native Americans must have felt, looking at those aliens with their big ships, and canons, and guns. We all know how that one turned out.

Songs of Our Ancestors

Author: David C. Nutt

Hand in hand they walked up the hill to look at the night sky.

“Am I old enough for the download Papa?”

The old man smiled. “Yes sweet pea, you’re old enough. Been old enough for almost three cycles now but-“

“I know, the ancestors haven’t swung by in a while.”

“That’s right honey child, not since your Mommy and Daddy brought you into the world. The arc of the ancestor’s ship is getting wider and wider. Soon, no one we know will be alive for the download.”

The child started to tear up. She blinked and the tears rolled down her face. “That’s so sad. Will anyone be alive for the download then?”

The old man laughed. “Oh, someone will. Cycle after cycle, even teracycle after megacycle, there will be someone to receive the download from the ancestors. It’s not that sad child.”

The girl wiped her tears with her sleeve. This seemed to make her feel better, knowing that even if it wasn’t her, or her children, her grandchildren, or even her family, someone would be alive to hear the download. She wrinkled her brow and concentrated. “I can’t hear them yet.”

The old man laughed and picked the child up, balancing her on his hip. She put an arm around his shoulder and neck and leaned against him. “No one can hear them yet.” he said. “Not for two more months, around harvest time. We will climb to the top of the hill by the wreck of the lander. We will read the names of the dead from the first crew, the dead who have died since then. We will ring the bell and the techs will take their stations. The switches will be thrown and the channels will open. The med officer will activate you and your classmate’s nanites, and then when the ship swings by, the ancestors will sing you the download.”

The little girl sighed. “Becky Margolis said she heard her Daddy tell her Mommy that it does no good to hear the download ‘cuz our ship can’t sing back.”

The old man smiled and shook his head. “Becky Margolis Daddy doesn’t know everything. Every year the download song changes. The Techs tell us it is because the ancestors’ ship is trying all the ways it knows how to wake up our ship’s beacon so it can finally land.”

“What happens if it lands Papa?”

“Well, if it lands then the other crew will wake up, and they will bring out to the land treasures and miracles beyond our wildest dreams! Medicines and thinking machines! Blobs of jelly that will grow up to be more cattle and other animals. But the best will be the people. People from the ancestors time who will teach us the ways of the stars. Who knows? In my day a piece of the download opened up a long-hidden locker in the wreck. It taught us how to build the antennae. Maybe this is the year it will teach us how to make the antennae sing so the ancestors will hear us and the ship will land.”

The little girl yawned “I think tonight I will dream about the ancestor’s ship and the day it will land.”

The old man sighed. “As do we all honey child, as do we all.”

One Last Drink

Author: Mina

Ana waved at the barperson with rainbow hair and forced herself to speak louder than usual to order a Cosmic Sunrise with a Twist. The drink was slapped in front of her as she waved her anonymous credit key over the payment scanner built into the bar top. She cringed as she took her first gulp of bitter fire, then cringed again as she saw her reflection in the mirror in front of her. The enhancement was good – no one would ever be able to tell she hadn’t been born with ubiquitous brown eyes and unremarkable brown hair. Her nose and chin had also been altered, just enough to change her profile. She laughed – she didn’t feel any more comfortable with her new face than she had with the old one, bearing her father’s glacial blue eyes. But she wasn’t Ana anymore; she was Elisa now.

The vid feed was replaying highlights from the funeral yet again. Valda’s eulogy could just be heard over the hum of the early evening crowd – Yuri Maslov, President of the Galactic Federal Union, the perfect public and private man, tragically cut down in his prime. Elisa snorted. Yep, the perfect husband who couldn’t keep it in his pants and who, rumour had it, was assassinated because he had not taken one of his liaisons seriously enough – the favourite granddaughter of his main financial backer. The paid assassin had broken through the finest security system in the universe.

Elisa had not been there. Daddy dearest had allowed her to spend the night working with a fellow student. A carefully vetted student – God forbid that her father not control every single waking moment of her privileged but sterile existence. And of course, she had had the usual security detail with her. Jay had been in charge so it had been easy to disappear. She wondered if Jay had had anything to do with the security breach. She would never ask though; it didn’t matter. The President who thought it was ok to visit his nine-year-old daughter at night did not merit another second thought. His third wife, Valda, had put a stop to it, not out of any concern for her welfare but because it might tarnish his image. Valda had encouraged him to visit sex workers instead, enhanced to look much younger.

Jay, who had slowly gone from being one of her guardian shadows to being her whole world. Jay, who really saw her, who taught her that touch could be warm and safe, who confided in her that he had been legally born a woman but had had translation enhancement as soon as he could afford it. Jay had organised their enhancement sessions and the new IDs which contained a bug that erased all other IDs in the system linked to your DNA at the first scan, but she had used her expensive interstellar financial studies to syphon off a sizeable chunk of her father’s personal fortune.

As she raised her glass to the vid screen for the last swallow and whispered “Bye daddy”, she felt a gentle hand on her shoulder. She turned and the sun rose in her eyes as she smiled – had she been facing the mirror then, she might for once have believed she could be beautiful, her face transformed by joy. Jay smiled quietly back, his enhancement also subtle but enough to change the planes of his face. The hair colour was different but he had kept his grey eyes at her request. He stroked her cheek softly and she felt… treasured.

“Ready, love?”
“Yes,” she said simply.

Crazy Choices

Author: Rick Tobin

“Nobody makes choices carelessly about losing one of their senses, but you know the risk of blowing your neural nets outweighs keeping all your Earthly capacities.” Paloma Derth leaned towards her reluctant client. Behind her were rolling holographic images of her diplomas from medical schools throughout the solar system.

Erli August pushed his taught, strong form back against Derth’s floating visitor’s chair. It expanded and contracted to give him continued maximum comfort. “I never considered this in my dreams at the academy. This is a sacrifice they didn’t cover with plebes.”

“Surely not, Mr. August. We weren’t traveling that deep when you entered ten years ago. With technologies we found abandoned on Phobos, we are going beyond what we now call the Ring Pass Not. No one realized how protected we were until those poor souls on the Cambia were driven mad and ran their ship into asteroids. The rescue crews suffered the same fate, but now we know that electromagnetic fields outside our solar system’s protective barrier overwhelm humans with all five senses.”

“I realize. I’ve met my new crew members. It was quite an adjustment to work on board alongside blind and deaf people. Did they all have to make these choices?” August clenched his teeth as he considered how the Earth’s best could be disabled to fulfill dreams of deep-space missions.

“No, it was discovered early on that academy graduates could not adjust effectively with a sudden major removal of sight or sound and still be competent aboard. I still lose sleep over candidates we harmed needlessly. I later helped develop screening to find our best hopes in special needs communities. It was a pleasant surprise to find so many competent engineers and scientists were interested and available. Adjustments to your ship’s internal systems were not that difficult to support them, as well as sighted and hearing-capable staff. Trust me, you’ll find your crew highly qualified, but you still have to make your choice. With advancements in our medical skills we can now offer a less intrusive selection with fewer impacts: choose taste or smell.”

“Easy for you, Doc, but I’m still not happy about this. I realize we have to fly end of this week. I’ve delayed this as long as possible. So, if you want to help me take this next step, are you willing to help me for just a few minutes to make my selection?” August leaned forward, putting his hand over the advisor’s cupped hands on her desk.

“I’m not sure what you have in mind, Captain…but are you suggesting something inappropriate?”

“Hardly, Doc, but if you would humor me just this once…considering what I have to do. Either I’ll never taste food again or I’ll never smell a flower for eternity. That’s asking a lot.”

A light flush came over Paloma’s face. She did not move from her chair as August approached her from her right side. August stroked his hand lightly over the nape of her neck and then bent down as he lifted her thick hair to his face, bathing in her shampoo and perfume with one deep inhalation. She jolted back as the Captain’s large hands circled the back of her neck as he turned her face toward his. Looking deeply into her green eyes, he kissed her softly and then deeply, holding his lips completely over hers. She finally pushed him away.

“Captain August, I…that was unexpected. Why?”

He smiled, slowly. “I’ve made my decision. Now if you don’t mind, as you cut my wires, play ‘Crazy,’ by Patsy Cline in the background. Thanks.”

The Winner

Author: C.R. Caison

The laser round exploded in a flash of light by Yuri’s head. He jumped and rolled to the side before a second shot struck the wall where he’d been standing. The blast weakened the wall and it collapsed into a heap of fragments. The crowd roared above him, billions of virtual eyes, nameless spectators, eagerly awaited the outcome of this final match.

Yuri sprinted down the corridor and rounded the turn. Instinctively, he raised his weapon and fired, catching the assailant in the side. The other player fell to the ground and shattered into polygons. Above the arena, the floating numbers keeping count of active players decreased by one. His fans cheered. There were only two players left: Yuri and the reigning champion. The game mode was simple, the last player left standing wins the match. The victor would have their name immortalized as this season’s winner, written into the game’s memory forever, and Yuri wanted glory.

The music in the arena changed tempo. Its beat increased, pounding like war drums in his head. Cautiously, he stalked his opponent. Yuri had studied the champ’s streams, took note of his moves, learned his pattern. Yuri holstered his weapon and with a quick jump, leaped up and kicked off the wall to propel himself high enough to grab the ledge. With a heave, he swung a leg on top and pulled himself up. He perched on the wall, looking across the maze that carved up the arena. The crowd roared at his brazen move. Yuri jogged along, jumping from wall to wall, looking for his opponent. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw movement.

He focused his mind, drew his weapon, and scanned to make the final shot. The champion darted through the corridor below. Had Yuri blinked, he would have missed him. Yuri launched himself forward, firing the boosters attached to his feet, letting the momentum carry him along the far wall as his weapon barked lasers at the champ. His shots missed, dissipating on the arena floor. His opponent turned and leaped at him, trying to catch Yuri off guard.

Had it been any other player, the tactic might have worked. Yuri smiled. He had prepared for this moment. They always have a pattern, he thought. He kicked forward, knocking the champ’s weapon to the side and colliding into him with his knee. The two landed with Yuri on top. The arena gasped and for a moment there was no noise. Yuri pulled the trigger, sending a bolt into his opponent’s chest. The blast shattered his opponent’s avatar. The arena quaked from the spectators’ screams. Yuri had won.

Overhead, the counter clicked to one then faded away as orange and blue polygon fireworks exploded in the void above. Sparkling embers rained down and the maze walls recessed into the arena floor. The floor beneath him raised up into the air and he stood on a pedestal. Yuri’s name flashed overhead and congratulatory streams, in countless languages, washed over him. He watched as his name was entered into the records as this season’s champion. A feeling of exhilaration and accomplishment ran through him.

The words “Game Over” floated above him. Within minutes, the victory music faded and the world around him dissolved. Yuri felt the weight of his real body return and he pulled off his headset. The dirty walls of his one room apartment replaced the virtual world where he spent most of his waking hours. He wiped his purple ringed eyes, scratched his head, his hair matted from the sweat, and sat alone in the quiet.