Author : David Henson
I turn around, push open the door to the clinic, then spin back around and march to Check-In.
“Ralf Pattersen,” I say to the guy at the desk. “That’s ‘Ralf’ with an ‘f’ and ‘Pattersen’ spelled ‘en.’ “
“Yes, Mr. Pattinson, how can I help you?”
I spell my name again. “Here for my corrective surgery.”
“What seems to be the problem?”
“Isn’t it obvious?” I fling up my arms in exasperation.
“Hey, watch it,” I hear a lady behind me say.
“Looks like your arms are on backwards, Mr. ….”
“Pattersen. Ralf Pattersen. Can’t you people get anything straight?”
“I’m sorry, sir. I’ll help you. Let’s get your information into the computer.”
“You already have my information. From six months ago. When I was here, and you reattached my arms backwards.” I take a breath, try to calm down. “It should all be in there.” I turn around and tap the screen.
“Let’s just make sure everything’s up to date.”
I spend the next 15 minutes telling him my medical history and that of my parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins. “Oh, and my dog had fleas once,” I finally say.
“I sense you’re frustrated, Mr. Parkinson. I’m here to help. Tell me how you lost your arms in the first place.”
I explain, again, about my rocketboard accident. “Just get them on properly this time. I’ve been living like this for half a year now.”
“Yes, I’m afraid we’ve had a bit of a waiting list. But now we’re going to take care of you.”
“I still don’t understand. How could they’ve been put on backwards?”
“Mr. Pattison, we pride ourselves on providing our patients with the highest quality medical services.”
I’m sorry I asked. I’ve heard this before.
“Among other precautions, our procedures are conducted under best-in-class antiseptic conditions.”
“You don’t need to—”
“Our expert team is never in the room with you. They work on your holographic likeness, and perfectly sterilized, precise robotic arms mimic the surgeon’s movements.”
That’s yesterday’s tech. Now here comes the excuse.
“On the day of your operation, there was a software glitch, and we had some mirror-imaging issues. Didn’t our post-op QA team go over this with you.”
“Yes, they did, but I still don’t —“
“Don’t worry. We’ll take good care of you, Mr. Pakistan. Let’s get you admitted.” He looks at the screen. “Oh.”
“This is 9 August. You were scheduled for 6 August.”
“That’s ridiculous.” I turn on my virtu-phone and pull up the notice they sent me. “See.”
“This is embarrassing,” he says. “We had an orientation glitch in our communications software. We caught most mistakes. But 6 and 9 … I’m afraid that one slipped through. I’m sure you understand.”
“I understand nothing.” I wheel around and slap the desk with both fists. “I demand to see a supervisor.” The woman next in line shrugs her shoulders. I turn back around. “I demand to see a supervisor.”
“I’m afraid they’re all busy providing outstanding service to other customers,” he says. “But we’ve efforted our waiting list. We can take you in about five months from today. We’ll send you a notice with specifics.”
“This was your mistake. I demand to go to the front of the line.”
“I’m afraid that’s not possible.” He leans forward and whispers: “You could try Elite Medical on Fifth.”
No way I can afford that so I reluctantly agree to return in five months. As I’m going out, I approach a woman walking in backwards. She has a very angry look on her face.
Author : Amy Sutphin
She was perfect in every way. Her soft blond curls framed her perfectly proportioned face and amber, almond eyes. Not a single blemish marred her perfect skin. Yes God had made her perfect above all others. Of course in her case, God was a 3D printer and her programmers were the Devil.
Skin sagged at the cuffs and collar of a carefully tailored tux. Wrinkles creasing his eyes and cheeks multiplied as he laughed at a middle-aged woman in a sleek black dress. The bartender poured a generous glass of whiskey, the expense of which could have fed a family of five. His attention gradually turned to her as she moved with in range of his failing eyesight. He squinted slightly as his gaze moved up her legs to her tight red dress, lingered on her chest and finally met her eyes. In five seconds a lifetime of cultivated finesse was reduced to the sophistication of a school boy. He hid it well, but he couldn’t fool her sensors. He offered her a seat. The bartender poured her an identical glass.
She lingered in the mirror, assuring every detail from her silk red lingerie to the slight tension in her left arm. She swept into the bedroom, pausing for exactly half a second and glided, slowly enough to make his heart pump. Her sensors indicated his hormones reached ideal levels. She crawled onto the bed, pressing against his left side, stroking his cheek with her left hand and pressing her lips against his. The sensors in her hand confirmed heart rate and hormone saturation. His love was pure, real. He believed it with all his heart. She pressed against him. Numbers appeared in her vision. His breathing was shallow, barely enough to provide the oxygen he needed. All sensors indicated the moment was ideal. His hand caressed her neck and slipped down her collar and slipped the strap of her garment off her shoulder.
She seized up, threw her head back and gasped.
“Minny!” his frail hands could not stop her as she fell over onto the floor, clutching her chest. Wide eyed and drooling she attempted to draw breath.
“Michael,” she breathed her last.
“And so I humbly offer my fortune to the Minny Foundation for heart disease.”
She watched from her small TV in the robotics lab as Michael handed a ceremonial over-sized check to the Ross brothers. In a few months, no one would remember the event. The Minny Foundation would go bankrupt. The Ross brothers would become someone else, and they would wake her from hibernation, a new program installed, a new target set.
Author : Vanessa Kittle
Something was wrong. Bear sniffed the air. There was no meat where meat should be. The sky was bright but there was no meat. The flocks of watchers were not watching. His stomach hurt. He sniffed the place where the greens came to bring meat. He pushed the place and it moved. He pushed harder, and got his muzzle in. He pushed with all his strength and he was through, into a new place he did not recognize. It was too small. He might be trapped.
He ran, crashing until he came to a better place. Here the ground was softer and wet. He would find his own meat. None of the smells were familiar. Where were the giant ones and their powerful calls? Where were the screaming ones with their terrible smells? He caught movement out of the corner of his eye. He ran towards it faster than he had ever run before. The meat was small and would not fill him, but it was still meat. He leaped, mouth wide, and grabbed the fleeing meat in his mouth. A sharp pain rushed through bear’s head. Tiny fires bit his nose. He roared in agony and dropped the tasteless meat. It smelled like meat but it was not meat.
He looked up. There was a new smell. It was like the smell of the greens who brought his meat. He followed the scent and came to an open, bright place with soft earth under his paws. There were two watchers sitting on the ground. They were not green, but they smelled green, and they were eating meat. He charged towards them to get some.
The small one screamed and ran behind the larger. Bear reared up. He sniffed. The meat they were eating was not his meat, but their smell was good, too. Maybe they were his meat? Bear roared and raised his paw to strike. Suddenly, he froze. His paw would not move. His mouth would not move, nor would his legs.
The watchers were making the sounds of the greens that meant nothing to him. The small one picked something from the ground and threw it at him. Bear tried to move and roar but he could not. Something hard struck him on the head. The small watcher made sounds like the screaming ones did back in his home.
And now a large rumbling and howling beast came towards him. Its giant mouth opened. The greens came from inside the beast. They leaned bear over until he fell to the ground. Then they carried him into the beast where they were all swallowed together.
When bear woke he was home. His meat was where it should be as the sky grew bright. He went to it and ate. His stomach felt better as he devoured the meat. It was the best he had ever tasted.
Author : Jeremy Koch
Little was known of Planet Bes save that it was a world of impenetrable darkness, and according to the chronometer in Simonova’s exoarmor, she had already been there for six days. Six days since the crash of the *Grigory*… six days alone. *I suppose that makes me the galaxy’s foremost authority on this world*, she thought as she watched the distress code transmit yet again. *What an honor.*
She turned her gaze to the edge of the pool of light in which she sat, cast on an ocean of blackness by the last of the scout ship’s floodlights, powered by her single functioning battery, and saw what she always saw: “inhabitants” of Bes, a collection of whitish, featureless ovoids balanced improbably upright, gleaming at the absolute edge of visibility, and along with them a weird forest of whirling, leathery triskelions whose revolutions produced a steady, sonorous droning. Simonova had been listening to this for six days.
“Maybe we should just kiss to break the tension,” Simonova commented into her helmet, sardonically addressing the bizarre formations. She didn’t exactly know if they were alive, but she knew there were more congregated at the edge of her swatch of light every time she checked though she never saw them move. They seemed unwilling to pass fully into the luminate area, content to gather in ominous silence except for the maddening rotations of the three-lobed wheels of flesh.
*How long do I have left?* Simonova wondered, but then cast aside the existential panic that tried to rise in favor of the ironclad cool of her combat training. *A soldier’s duty is to survive*, she reminded herself, and turned away from the lurking structures back toward the distress beacon’s signal indicator, which pulsed and receded as rapidly as a heartbeat. It transmitted, cooled down, cycled back up, transmitted again.
The floodlights went out.
Fear suffused her as she fumbled at her belt for her one galvanic candle; just as she found it, the ship’s lights surged back to life. She only dimly realized it at first through eyes squeezed tightly shut but when she opened them again, the luminous ring around the ship was much smaller, and weaker. The battery was dying, and the… entities had blazed forward and now loomed at the light’s new boundary, closely packed together in a sickly fence of rubbery white and full of unspoken menace; the triskelions’ gyration had picked up speed and their soughing roar filled the starless sky.
Simonova slowed her breathing and sought to suppress the quaking in her hands. She ran to the stuttering battery and then turned to the beacon’s now-dormant output panel and was horrified to realize her choice: the gradually failing battery could no longer support both systems. She mastered herself, and stared down at the candle in her hand. It would produce a fraction of the light, maybe not even enough to keep the encroaching entities at bay… but if the beacon stayed off, there was no chance at all of rescue.
The candle flared in her hand as she shook it; she rerouted battery power from the lights to the beacon, and was left in a flickering puddle of anemic yellow on the face of the black planet. She looked up and gasped sharply; the things were inches from her now, tottering grotesquely. She set the candle atop the beacon, its feeble luminance glinting off the spinning limbs of the mottled, pulpy gyres now crowding in around her, and stared into the endless night of the sky, her only hope to see an incoming brilliant pinprick of light.
Author : Morrow Brady
”It’s a planet and it’s coming right for us”
After three hours sleep, Director Reeve Scali struggled to comprehend the message.
“Come down Sir, you must see it for yourself”
Scali, puzzling momentarily in the cold night, sprang into action.
Striding into WatchTower, Earth’s central observation post for the solar system, Scali met Technician Carol Merks for the briefing.
“Pluto Webb array, spotted this planetary scale object approaching rapidly from the direction of Epsilon Eridani”
A large holographic image activated and a magnificent planet appeared, moving through space. Through a thin gossamer-like coating enveloping the planet, lay blue oceans, green lands and white clouds. Earth had never looked this good.
“A beautiful rogue planet” Scali whispered, as he circumnavigated the spinning holograph.
“Not rogue Sir. If it was only spearing through space, Jupiter’s gravity well would affect its trajectory. This planet’s journey is dead straight. It’s controlled”
Vector visualisations appeared, showing where the planet was, compared to where it should be.
“Look closer” Merks said, magnifying the view to reveal thousands of interconnected cities across the planet.
“Incredible” Scali muttered shaking his head.
Merks zoomed out showing its path through the solar system to Earth.
“The impact will be perfect. Its hard to believe it’s accidental”
Scali stared across the room and with his back turned, asked.
“Is GlobalCloak operational?”
“Yes Sir. Earth’s been invisible to the galaxy for over fifty years now”
Scali stared blankly and spoke softly.
“We built the Cloak because we were scared aliens might value Earth more than humankind. Who’d have thought it might one day be the cause of Earth’s demise”
Merks continued her briefing.
“Analysis reveals the planet’s magnetic field powers its propulsion and shielding. And limitations to this power source, leaves them little time to change course or stop”
Scali’s face scowled as he considered their options. Earth’s technology just wasn’t powerful enough to affect change to any planet sized object, including itself.
“Sir, if we crash, there’ll be nothing left but violent hot dust. We must do something”
As tension rose, operators looked towards Scali’s darkened face and a quiet moment screamed.
“Turn off GlobalCloak. Transmit a uni-band warning” Scali solemnly said.
Merks immediately issued commands to her team, as Scali notified key world authorities to commence Doomsday preparations.
With GlobalCloak turned off, Earth light again shone upon the universe, speeding those few precious hours towards the rapidly approaching planet. During this time, ships across the globe began launching for Mars, laden with humanities archives and diverse colonies of handpicked people.
Every eye at WatchTower focused on the planet, begging for any faint sign of course variation, but after ten hours, hope began to fade. When the planet’s shield showed indications of activity, excitement built until they realised it signalled the planet had entered the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter and was getting closer.
“It can’t safely stop now, not without ejecting half its inhabitants into space and grinding the remainder into dirt. We can only hope now that they change their course” Merks said.
With the departure of private and corporate ships for Mars, the remaining humans accepted their fate, stood tall and watched as a beautiful planet grew larger before them.
Brilliant blue waters and verdant green lands filled the sky until a subtle red tone appeared to one side. Slowly the planet veered clear.
While the control room joined the rest of the world in joyful celebration, Scali ascended once more and watched the silent planet disappear into the twilight. In his mind, an entire planet just played its finest trick.