Something Out There

Author : Joe Essid

The bluish-gray haze in the western sky this morning is not the shadow of the Earth, rising up against the Dawn. No, there is something out there. It’s coming, already slipping over the sky like a thin curtain, the first of many curtains before it arrives in darkness and fury.

You will not learn much on CNN or Fox. They are all yelling past each other, just like the politicians did the last time it came here.

That time, just like today, we had enough warning for my husband to rush around with a checklist printed from a spreadsheet, filling water jugs, freezing block ice, moving aside or inside anything outdoors that might be used as a projectile.

It won’t care. It could crush the house like an eggshell, even though we trimmed the trees and paid a company $500 to cable the big maple so it won’t split. One neighbor already took down a hundred-year-old Oak that looked sound enough to me. He said it was hollow inside. I’m mourning. It spared the big tree twice, already.

Maybe it likes big things more than it likes us. We are so puny and soft.

I watch my husband pretend he can steer the course of events with a pencil and a clipboard. By tonight he’ll be oiling our guns and checking that we have enough ammunition handy. Last time, in the sudden calm after it roared out of town, motorcycles raced at 100 miles per hour on the boulevard not far from here. Guns barked and, for a few terrible seconds, a machinegun stuttered into the endless darkness. But guns cannot stop it. Prayers cannot stop it. For a time when it arrives, even the police cower off the streets in strong buildings, drinking coffee and staring at each other every time the building shakes.

My husband smiles at me. He’ll see that the flashlights all work. He will check the propane tanks and test-start the noisy little generator.

I will be freezing vegetable stew, so, if the propane does not last, stew can slowly thaw in the powerless freezer as we hunker down. We will watch the four walls, our pets clustered around us and making themselves very small, while it stomps and rips around outside. Then, in the awful quiet, if its errant eye misses seeing us, we will creep out into the ruined yard to just listen to the departing roar.

We will steal some glances into a sky free from the smut of city lights, maybe be brave enough to sit in lawn chairs as our bare feet rest on cool debris left in its wake.

We are not the religious kind, but we’ll thank God and clink glasses, grateful that we’ve been spared once more, and we will pretend that it will never come again, just as we have done every time so far.

After it leaves, for a few days until the street light returns, the Milky Way will climb the sky and the stars shine just for us, as they did for our ancestors.

No More Inspections

Author : Laila Amado

Marjorie began freaking out when we lost contact with Earth. I gather she thought she would still get to go home one day, though I can’t imagine the corporation ever paying for this trip. If you ask me, I think the bastards finally blasted themselves into oblivion and I am not terribly sorry about that.

They used to say in my school that Earth is a blue planet, but there it was just a phrase from a textbook one rarely opened. Here, on this world, the ocean is a tangible thing. Indigo, periwinkle, viridian, and all shades of azure, it enters your house without permission and permeates your skin. Day in, day out, lapping quietly beneath the floorboards, it listens to your words and movements, whistles when you fly the scooter over its languid waves, roars in the dark of the night when heavy clouds roll over the invisible horizon. If you choose so, you may never leave the water here at all, merging with its changeful body in perfect harmony. Wading into my laboratory knee deep in the swash, I contemplate the tidal range and the variations of aquatic flow.

Marjorie says no signal means no more ships. No more ships means no more music, no new books and no real chocolate. I think – no more inspections.

I remember when the last ship came, its heavy white bulk an alien intrusion in our world of ever shifting shapes. How they marched down the ramp, so competent, so fully in control, dressed in standard issue overalls and sturdy waterproof boots. Sure, they brought all of that stuff Marjorie pines for but they made such a fuss when they saw the babies. Neither my gills nor Marjorie’s budding wings have drawn their attention, but the young ones are unable to hide. Newborns are so trusting.

They said, “They are growing fins, how could you allow this? You did what? You introduced local DNA?”

They started talking of protocol breach and quarantine, and the doctor, the one with broad glassy nails on carefully tanned hands said they would have to be exterminated, the whole corrupt batch.

No, loss of contact is good. Loss of contact means no new ships and no need to explain to Marjorie what happened to the last one. What I did to that last ship. There are a lot of deep lagoons on this planet and, hopefully, she would never find the one where the good doctor’s white bones rest beneath the floating lilies.

A Million Idle Daydreams Come True

Author : Thomas Desrochers

Michael lit a hand-rolled cigarette, hands shaking.

“What fucking century are you from?” Jack opened his flask and took a long drink.

Michael exhaled smoke. “What millennia are you from?”

“The one where everything sucks.” Jack spat on the grass next to him.

“Well.” Another cherry flare. “I get that.”

The two watched the night sky for a while, Michael burning through two more cigarettes and Jack nursing his flask. The sun Regulus was particularly active, giving the night sky on Regulus V a permanent aurora so near and so restless that it sometimes cast shadows. Tonight it was a dancing glow over a nameless cityscape that stretched from horizon to horizon, a triumph of architecture that was home to five hundred.

“I just don’t get it,” Michael said. He lit a fourth cigarette.

“What’s so difficult?” Jack leaned his head against the crooked oak they were sitting under and closed his eyes. “He took his head and made sure that nobody was going to be able to put it back together ever again.”

“I get that, dillweed.” A few more puffs. “I don’t get why he did it.”

Jack snorted. “Have you always been this dense? He wanted to go from being to not being.”

“Yeah, but why? I mean, look!” Michael blew a cloud at the billow sky above. “How could you get tired of that? The stars beyond it? I mean, you can go literally anywhere. You can do nearly anything. Anything we want – we’ve got it! What’s wrong with it? Why trade it for a ride on the plasma express?”

Jack laughed, bit his tongue, his eyes dull in the green light. “You weren’t kidding, you really don’t get it. It was never about the world around him.” Another drink. “He could literally have taken up mountain sculpting for the hell of it, on a planet all his own. It doesn’t matter – nothing and nobody was about to keep him here. A million luxuries weren’t going to pluck him out of his own damn head.”

Michael sighed, grinding his cigarette out. “I still don’t get it. What was the problem?”

“Ha.” Jack shook his head. “That’s the stupidest part. He’d always been saying, ‘One day I’m gonna go ahead and get it done. It’ll happen eventually.’ It was a foregone conclusion to him. It wasn’t a way out, it wasn’t, ‘Man, this sucks.’ All he cared about was going the way he wanted to go. It was a fucking law of physics in his head, no stopping it.”

Michael pulled his knees in, resting his forehead on them. Tears fell off the end of his nose. “He was our friend.” He paused a second, swallowing hard. “I just don’t get it.”

Jack started to get angry, but stopped himself. He reached out and set his hand on Michael’s shoulders. “That’s ok.”

He felt like he should be crying, mourning, anything at all – but he just felt empty. There were a million people on Regulus V, and in seven days he hadn’t seen any except for twenty at the funeral; even then they had seemed uncomfortable being together. They put him in mind of children, children hiding in separate corners of a miracle workshop that could house ten billion.

A hundred heavenly spears lit up the sky like fireworks, quiet as the dead.

Jack shook his head. “I don’t get it either, Mikey. But he’s gone now, and we can’t do a damn thing about it.”

They sat together for the rest of the night, abandoned, not even the wind to keep them company.

Disrupt

Author : Philip Berry

Stan looks right through the innocent, who stand in pools of studio-bright light where the afternoon sun reflects from countless mirrored towers. Turn up the power and they’d boil on the spot. It is the last natural warmth he feels.

Carrying nothing, he enters the subway. The signs mean nothing to him, the chatter in the hall is incomprehensible. He is in a foreign land.

There are nine lines, serving the metropolis and five adjacent, smaller cities. They are coded by colour and symbol. Some split as they leave the station, some converge as they enter. Everybody knows where they need to be and where they want to go, except Stan.

He slaps the back of his hand onto a square pad, and breathes out with relief as the barrier parts. His tissue was recognized as that of a citizen, and was found to be filled with credit.

The human flow takes him forward and right, onto the southbound Xantha line. Stan has no destination; he was told to enter, and to stay.

He alights at the Xantha line’s south-eastern extremity, near the port. He knows that arms and explosives move above him, illegal caches in unmarked containers. For the cause.

But Stan is not a man of violence. He is not even a man.

He will live here, in the tunnels, hubs and interchanges, leaking confusion into the system. With every brush of his hand, viral particles will seep along the links and cascade into the algorithms. Only the older parts, the iron-piped wires, the capacitors and binary switches will be immune. The rest will degrade as it absorbs the malignant code carried in his genes.

He glimpses white, ceramic tiles under fluid boards, placed and grouted four hundred years ago by men with black lungs and teeth worn to the gum by grit thrown up by monstrous friction drills. They, too, lived half their lives underground.

As he passes a wall alive with routes, delays, diversions and times, Stan notices that a symbol carries a shadow. He stops. The symbol flickers and breaks down, then resumes its solid, dependable form. The shadow has gone. Stan’s small smile is just as transient.

His controller was honest. Stan was warned that the transfer of information would gradually reduce him. But Stan is not bothered. Already, they ignore him, these commuters, the city’s busy, focused, justified inhabitants. It will be no different when he becomes translucent. He will steal food from counters with ethereal hands, slip wallets from the pockets of the unsuspecting, sleep unseen in hot corners, and give himself to the cause… until the threshold of confusion is reached and the city’s hidden heart and all its arteries are paralysed.

The New Plagiarism

Author : Beck Dacus

Running down the hall to Solo’s dressing room, I could hear the security guards behind me. It didn’t matter; I only needed a second with Solo, and then I would be a legend in my neighborhood. I scanned the names on all the doors until I found his, then burst in, closing the door behind me and leaning against it.

“Solo, can I have an autograph–”

Just as I looked at him, I saw him throw a tarp over some big machine in the corner, turning and shouting, “What the hell!? I was sure I locked that door! Get out!”

“What is that thing?” I said, pointing to the mysterious object. When Solo didn’t answer, I shoved a chair under the doorknob and walked over to it. Solo stretched out his hand, blocking my passage.

The doorknob jiggled. A guard said, “If you don’t open this door in ten seconds, I’m breaking it down!”

“Don’t you dare, Robbins!” Solo hollered. “I had that imported from Iceland!” As he moved toward the door to remove the chair, I sprinted toward the object. I whipped off the tarp and found a strange, bulky machine underneath, with something written on the side. Before Solo shoved me away, I read the words “Chronospatial Shunt: Backtrackers Ltd.” I’d remembered enough of my latin prefixes in school to understand what was going on.

“No way. You’re… a time traveler?”

He started to deny it, then just sighed. “Damn. I thought you’d all be too stupid to figure it out. Oh well.”

“Oh God. Please don’t tell me you stole all of your songs. Please!”

“Why the hell else would I time travel?” he replied. “Some people choose the stock market. Some people choose industry. For me, the music business was the perfect thing to time scam.”

I turned away and leaned on his makeup table. “How many of you are there?”

He laughed. “How many billionaires do you know? The problem with you people is that you never crunch the numbers. When people get insanely rich, you just take it as a given and get on with your lives. You never consider the statistical likelihood of this many moneymakers living concurrently. Turns out, that likelihood goes way up when you allow for time travelers that steal people’s ideas. Honestly, what are the odds that Lady Gaga would get so many chart toppers? That Ray Kurzweil would make so many accurate predictions? That Elon Musk could start so many winning enterprises, and manage them so wisely?”

“You mean those people were all time thieves, like you?”

“The word we use is ‘Backtrackers.’ And yes. You know who else? Warren Buffet. George R. R. Martin. Stephen King. And– wait for it– Albert Einstein.”

“Wait, why are you telling me all this? Doesn’t this compromise your operation, giving a lowly savage all the details?”

Solo smiled. “Not if you dispose of him.” To the security guard in the hallway, he called, “Robbins, I changed my mind. Break it down.”

A second later, a burly man flew through the door, sprinted at me, and put my hands behind my back.

“No!” I cried. “He’s lying to you! He’s from the future, and he stole songs from an alternate universe–”

“Get rid of him,” Solo said over me. “And don’t be afraid to be less… orthodox with this one.” He strolled back into his dressing room as I was dragged down the corridor, screaming for them to believe me. In the alley behind the concert hall, they became screams for mercy.