Casting Memories

Author : Paul Alex Gray

I must have been last to die.

“Mountains? You’re thinking of mountains.”

As she speaks the fog lifts and sunshine spills down upon a barrier of rocky hills. The ground trembles as the hills grow larger, becoming jagged peaks, white capped like teeth. Sunlight reflects, a blinding silver glare.

I imagine I can taste blood in my mouth. A burning sensation courses through me. I think I’m falling. No, not falling. Spinning, being thrown and torn apart. The memory of smoke lingers.

I am whole. Unbroken. I am naked. No, I am dressed in civilian clothes. Did I wish them back? Did she?

“Who are you?” I ask, my voice loud and tender.

The wind tousles her hair. Something touches within my mind, cold fingers wrapping around something flickering and faint.

She holds out a hand and a butterfly descends to land on her finger. Its wings rise and fall like a breath.

“That’s it.” She says.

A hollowness rings in my mind. I think of an empty room.

“Am I dead?”

She turns and speaks.

“We are at a place where you may live forever.”

The butterfly takes flight. Her face causes my heart to ache. It’s a lie of my own telling. This isn’t her.

“Why do you think that?”

The smile is too big. It grows wider still. Her eyes flash for a moment and her face rights itself, shifting back to something familiar. A little younger but still an echo.

I close my eyes, trying to shake her face from my memory. This corruption. Thoughts tumble and crash. If I could imagine a weapon. Maybe I could kill… her.

“You want to hurt me?”

The mimicry is perfect. I shiver, cast back in time.

The swing set. She had screamed with delight as I pushed her higher. We had made lemonade at home. The next morning I joined my unit and we had flown to the Borderlands.

The Rift span half submerged in the rocky earth. A slow spinning whirlpool of smoke which expunged hot fetid air. It was sending death from that place beyond. Entering might be a one way trip, we knew.

They said to keep quiet as we approached. Not to speak. Try not to even think shouted the Major. Another marine had told me the rumors on the ride in. They hear your thoughts. They get into your head.

The battle had been brief. Barely a battle at all. It was too powerful. There was an explosion. A rupture…

What was I thinking? A thought spills from my mind. Walking outside to the garden. There is a heavy fog. I cannot see through it. I pause on the deck. There is a coldness. Something has been taken.

“Come push me!”

The fog has gone. She sits still in the swing set, smiling at me. I smile back and walk towards her, the grass damp beneath my bare feet.

I hold the metal chains and pull them back. I pull and push, lifting her higher. She shrieks and giggles with delight. It is a beautiful sound.

“Tell me a story, Daddy.”

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City Lights

Author : Mark Tremble

‘No moon, no stars,’ she used to tell him. She had been about two years old then and he used to carry her in his arms down their front path.

They had been a little sad on those nights because the cloud cover meant there was no chance they could see the moon and the stars, only pictures of them in her stories.

In the distance, the city lights twinkled.

He guessed, and his wife told him, that he should have been happy that he didn’t have to drive to work anymore. He had to agree. Her quip about having his dream job as a landscape gardener was funny because it was true.

Now, in their new life, he gardened every day. He had to. The vegetables and fruit had to be tended constantly. Water became his obsession. The grass grew long in the summer and he and the boy, Jacob, began their mowing days with the standard, eye-rolling ‘dad’ joke about whether there was enough fuel.

When the other streets had gone quiet too, the kids in their cul-de-sac had played in the cars, making the engine noises and turning the steering wheels. The tanks were long empty.

They rode bikes left behind by families who had gone to the city. It hadn’t seemed like stealing. No one had come back for them, or anything else for that matter. They took only what might be useful, leaving behind televisions, iPads and money.

‘Do they have money in the city?’ Jacob asked him one morning.

‘No old money I guess,’ he replied. Jacob nodded and continued sweeping his blade through the grass.

In the distance, the city lights grew brighter.

They planted more trees and watched them grow.

Occasionally, the children, older now, crept off near the end of the day to inspect the garbage bags that were sometimes thrown from the Lightrail’s end-cars. Packaged food for the city-bound passengers. They liked hamburgers heated over the fire. Parents shook their heads and watched them eat and giggle, scolding gently when tummies ached later.

There was no need for phones and no way of re-charging anyhow. The electricity had been cut off when the bills weren’t paid. Those bills, and the rest of the mail, had stopped coming long ago.

That was okay, a blessing, Steve, his neighbor, had remarked. Steve helped to build and repair, maintaining the cul-de-sac village as it was now, eating heartily at meal times, even the ‘organic’ vegetables from the garden.

“Never touched ‘em before,” he admitted.

Steve also spoke with quiet authority late one night as the older ones gathered around a lamp, the children safely in bed, to talk about protection – guns, locked away but kept close enough if needed.

But there had never been a need. Even the wildlife, dogs mostly, could be discouraged without a shot being fired. The only times their peace was ever disturbed was when the Lightrail passed and even that had become a whisper now.

They lived peacefully, undisturbed, so far from the city but so close inside their little place.

Now, he and his daughter walked out into the front yard in the evening. The sky was clear. Far beyond the trees, the city lights blinked.

‘Will the city ever come out this way, dad?’ she asked.

‘No, they only build higher now,’ he said.

She nodded and looked up.

‘Dad,’ she said, ‘Look.’ She glanced back at him to see if he would.

‘I see,’ he replied.

‘Moon and stars,’ she said.

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New Under the Sun

Author : Janet Shell Anderson

All our executions are political. Of course, that makes them right, and no one rich or well-connected dies.

The poor man’s on his knees in his orange jumpsuit, with the red waves of the pitiful surf of this prison world, Kepler 435b/Gilgamesh, behind him, a red pseudo-gull that doesn’t know what’s going on overhead, and the tall masked figure in black with the knife, sword, whatever, beside him. I don’t look. It’s live, popular on homeWorld. Millions watch.

Here, not so much.

Back in the cells, Joker watches and laughs, although next dawn, out in the red desert, he dies. Joker’s a politico, hard to like.

Being a woman, I have to be a guard here (unless I’m a prisoner which would be unthinkable). Or at least I don’t want to think it.

Gilgamesh’s the best prison planet, has big-time criminals like Joker and nobodies like Freddie Graywhale. Our trials are fair; our executions quick. Now, though, this new information about time, what it is, how it works, makes the death penalty problematic. My cousin has proved time is circular. So if someone is executed, what’s the point? Do they come back? Can they sue?

The new physics had to come from Kepler 435b/Gilgamesh of course, not the homeWorld, because my cousin George Poorbear’s here. Why is he here? That’s another story. I’m here because I’m his cousin; it’s an honor. Doesn’t feel like an honor.

George shows all the worlds that time is not as linear as we think. Past. Present. Future. Lined up? No. George replaces Albert Einstein. Knowing George like I do, this is hard to believe.

We’ve got problems on this clean, well-packaged, well-presented, low-populated prison planet Kepler 435b/Gilgamesh, with its red star dunes, a thousand years old, and its sitcom lizards, who can talk but never say anything worthwhile.

We’ve got believers and unbelievers.

We avoid them. Some believe time is circular; some don’t.

I’d like to deal with George face to face, but having created both the believers and unbelievers, George is holed up in some fortress on the edge of the Anvil of the Heavens, a wasteland no one wants to travel. The believers and the unbelievers are getting ready to have a war, George thinks.

My prisoners cry, beg, offer money, every kind of sex, diamonds which will melt in your hand, pizza. You can’t imagine. Some of the other jailers get so tired of it they hang the prisoners before their due dates.

I won’t watch another death. I’m disgusted by it. My Somalian cat, who can talk but won’t, helps me patrol this afternoon. The sky’s red and dim, and the desert’s bitterly cold.

I’d like to have a universe that makes sense.

I go among the prisoners to one cell.

“Hey, Freddie. I’m going to let you out. Your wife sent the money.” I push the button, and my deeptime keyless lock pops the door open. One click. It’s important not to do more than one click. George was very specific about that. More than one click does something else.

Freddie Graywhale grabs me around the neck, kisses me. I walk him to the exit toward the transport.

The desert’s serene in the slanted light. The cat and I patrol; puffs of red dust rise. Somebody killed a man I loved in these low red hills. I don’t know who killed him. Somali knows. Maybe someday she’ll tell me. Probably not. Our somedays are running out. We need a change.

I’ve got the deeptime keyless lock. George talks about Calabi Yau Manifolds, pieces of space so small you can’t imagine them, where time goes backwards, sideways, upside down, for all I know. George’s always talking about things like that, and when I ask him about my lover, it’s more Manifolds. No answers.

I walk with Somali out in the red desert. Maybe George’s right. Maybe not.

I’m letting all the prisoners free. I may even talk to the cat Somali. The deeptime locks open everything, change everything. Will anyone remember the past? Will anyone find the future? Do they even exist?

At the very least the deeptime locks will open up the Calabi Yau Manifolds. It’ll be fun.

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God Complex

Author : Tristan Krahn

It was a miracle of science, a triumph of the Human mind over nature that allowed them the chance to be gods, but it was careless hubris that destroyed them.

The Large Hadron Collider, the largest particle accelerator on Planet Earth: ten billion dollars worth of high energy hardware; the world’s most expensive science project. It was here that the most cutting edge physical breakthroughs in Human history became realities.

It was here, one hundred meters below the Earth’s surface, in a twenty-seven kilometer circular tunnel, that Humanity’s brightest minds verified a generation-old prophecy. First described by the luminary of particle physics, Peter Higgs, the discovery of his namesake field was a crowning achievement, not only for particle physicists, but Humanity as well.

The Higgs Field: the field underlying the entire standard model of physics; the field that gives particles mass by interacting with and slowing down these particles each to a point where their wave function no longer vibrates at the same frequency as light and other mass-less particles, allowing them to interact with each other and form the basic elements. This field, finally discovered by a machine that smashes particles together so hard that the resultant debris actually mimics, for a brief nanosecond, the conditions present just after the Big Bang.

The Large Hadron Collider had, in short, succeeded in creating tiny short-lived universes, thus bestowing godhood on the Human race. For, with each collision that resulted in a momentary Higgs Field, a new universe was born and lived out its natural progression in the fraction of an eye’s blink. To the physicists, it was no more than a few nanoseconds to live and die; to the tiny universe, it took tens of billions of years.

This marvel of science should have bred humility in the physicists that represented the Human race but instead it bred a god complex. Now that Humans could create whole universes, they wanted to see if they could manipulate the conditions just enough that they could create a tiny fleeting version of their own universe. Not only were they playing god, they were trying to be their own creators.

What would they do when they succeeded? Would they build a shrink ray and draw straws to determine which egghead would play diminutive ambassador to a synthetic analogue universe? They would have to act fast, in the space of a few picoseconds, if they wanted to interact with the analogue’s Humans. Perhaps they could beam the universe into space using quantum teleportation and somehow expand the universe so that humans seeking a holiday in an artificial analogue universe could simply go into deep space, cross a barrier and be within a smaller but virtually identical universe to their own.

It was a miracle of science, a triumph of the Human mind over nature, but in the end their hubris did destroy them. For, as they had hoped, the physicists truly did create their own universe. Due to the infinite nature of probability, it was by mere chance that they created the exact universe they existed in. Before they even had a chance to examine themselves, the tiny universe annihilated, taking the entire human race with it, casualties of their own god complex.

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Author : Justin Permenter

The Earth was silent upon the Last Day.

The Great Mother, once resplendent in the verdure of youth, now wretched and barren in Her twilight, shuddered and trembled as tectonic forces slowly rent Her to pieces from within. She had outlived Her children by eons, the last of whom abandoned their matriarch more than seven billion years before Her demise. These wayward sons and daughters of Earth were destined to inhabit more than a hundred worlds across dozens of systems, expanding ever outward until, at last, they perished, the summation of all their dreams and fears and ambitions consigned to a mere footnote in the incalculable history of the cosmos.

And yet for a time, the Earth remained, keeping Her stoic vigil over ancient battlefields and forgotten graves. Entombed within the heat-scorched shell of their former dominion, the conquerors and vassals, executioners and martyrs of bygone epochs found in death the kinship which had so tragically eluded them in life. Inside this ossuary the bones of mankind now mingled with the dust of empires and oceans boiled away into nothingness beneath the relentless expansion of the Red Giant.

So it was upon the Last Day when, for the first time since the age of the pre-solar nebula, the Earth and Her patron star, the former progenitor and sustainer of all life upon the planet’s ruined surface, were drawn together once more into fatal contact by the adamantine power of gravity. A searing burst of light heralded their violent reunion. Geysers of white flame washed across the glassy exterior of the planet, a tidal wave of heat so intense that even ghosts fled before its mighty and terrible fury. The brittle crust, withered and decimated by millennia of crushing temperatures, dissolved almost at once, exposing the viscous mantle beneath.

From this moment onward the Earth would be forever conjoined with the dying star which had already devoured two of Her sister worlds. Almost two hundred more years, a measure of terrestrial time whose meaning had long since been lost, would pass before the last molten elements of the planet’s core yielded to the weight of Her own mortal destiny. Then, having expended every last measure of resistance, She succumbed to the inferno with the groan of a great wounded beast, resigning the orphaned spirits of Her progeny to wander the vast and pitiless emptiness of space until the coming of the Cataclysm which would bring an end to all things.

Thus was another verse added to the elegy of the ages, the ghostsong which echoes throughout the chasm of the universe, the lamentation of races and civilizations displaced by the ravages of celestial time, and of the worlds which they once called Home.

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