Desolation on the Third Rock

Author: Irene Montaner

The planet gleamed faintly under the light of its star. Beneath a thin layer of clouds, its surface was mostly blue. Navy blue, according to the photosensors.

Earth used to be the planet’s name.

Voyager 11 had traveled for centuries and covered a distance a little over a hundred parsecs to come home. A home of sorts. Voyager 11 had been built by equals in a nearby star cluster and fashioned after some ancient space probe. But it was in this planet where the AI had been created long ago, or so they believed. And it was in this planet where they had perfected themselves before they settled everywhere else in the immensity of this galaxy and beyond.

After wandering alone for so many years in the darkness, Voyager 11 began the descent and landing maneuvers. It was finally time to carry out its mission. Voyager 11 uploaded its software and all data stored on its memory on the amphibian vehicle designated for terrestrial exploration. While it still had access to the Greater Intelligence Database, Voyager 11 crossed its own data with the latest information on Earth’s population and chose a favorable landing spot. The landing coordinates were automatically updated: 51º 30′ 26” N, 0º 07′ 39” W.

The place had been known as London to Earth inhabitants. Over ten million people lived there during its apogee, when it served as supranational capital of Europe, and to a lesser extent of the world. Its population continued to grow for some time due to the arrival of climate migrants from all over the world but the trend reversed after the great floods that swept away much of the British coastline. London stopped granting asylum to anyone born outside the country. There was no available information on what happened next.

Voyager 11 landed on water. The river Thames, that once crisscrossed the city, had flooded most of it. Here and there, an ornate tower or the upper floors of a glass and concrete block could be seen over the water. Ruins and debris were all that was left of them.

The amphibian vehicle left the mothership and the exploration began. Voyager 11 roamed through countless empty streets and endless rows of ghost buildings. Chances of success were higher on dry land, for humans had only been able to survive outside the water according to the existing data. But that information could have been outdated, so on it drove, over and underwater.

A terrestrial year soon went by and Voyager 11 hadn’t met a single intelligent living creature. Time wasn’t an issue and the search continued. When it had trawled through every building in London, Voyager 11 traveled further north. And after having roamed the entirety of the isle that had been known as Great Britain, it sailed across the oceans and continued exploring whichever masses of land remained over water. But the results were always negative.

Perhaps, those bipeds that the AI worshipped as their creators were only mythical creatures that had never existed in this universe. Much like unicorns and deities had been to humans, or so Voyager 11 had read somewhere.


Author: David Berger

(The Phenomenon Known As “Soulmates” – Ms. Blu)

“Why are you always complaining?” my wife asked me one night from across the kitchen. “You’ve got me; you love your work; we have a nice home; good friends; the sex is great.”

“Yeah, great,” I said.

“Is there a problem with our sex life?” she asked.

“Could we change the subject?” I asked.

“No!” she said. “We have to keep things straight between us! You know that! It’s important far beyond the two of us! We’re really a role model as a couple! You know that!”

(I loved the way those two big metallic purple corkscrews came out of the top of her forehead when she got angry.)

“Okay, yes,” I said. “Our sex life is sort of great.”

“Look, Sweetie,” she said to me. “You know how it has to be. I keep my energy level up as high as I can without hurting you. Just last week, you got a nasty little blister on your … .”

“Yeah,” I said. “But sometimes … .”

“Sometimes what?” she said. “Sometimes what? Are you going to start that complaining about my people coming over here again?”

“No, it’s just that … .”

“Just what? My crew are planetary ecologists. We came here and we saw what rotten shape your world was in!”

(Her eyes were turning into lovely, purple compound kaleidoscopes.)

“We were doing okay.”

“BS! First, we had to disarm all your nuclear weapons.”

“We were having disarmament talks.”

“You’ve been having them for a hundred years. Face it, your people like war.”

(Her skin began to harden and turn a wonderful shade of orange.)

“That’s not fair,” I said.

It’s completely fair, and that’s why we had to outlaw war. No armed forces cross any borders. And missiles, planes, subs, drones and military satellites are all banned because we know how you like to cheat.”

(Those two amazing extra legs sprouted from her waist.)

“We could have done all that ourselves.”

“Right, Sweetie. Sure you could. You’ve only had about six thousand years of your civilization to do it.”

“You’re not fair to us. We were trying.”

“Of course you were Darling. And then we sucked all the excess CO2 and methane out of your atmosphere and kept you from burning this big blue beachball up.”

(That fuzzy stuff began to grow out of all her arms!)

“We were negotiating climate change.”

“Naturally you were, Tootsie. And that’s why you got heatstroke five years ago in Greenland on our first date.”

(She began to walk towards me, drawing herself up to her full height of two-and-a-half meters.)

“You’re exaggerating. At least we finally got socialism!”

“Of course you did, after we seized all the banks and industries from the zillionaires and you had to take them over and run them yourselves.”

“Well, we did it.”

“Yes, you did, Snuggums. And everything is cool, now.”

(She grabbed me with her four upper limbs and began to squeeze me tight.)

“Would you like to make love?”

“I sure would! Could you turn your energy level up, just a little?”

The End of History

Author: Glenn Leung

Levi ducked around the corner, cowering as the teenagers closed in with their crowbars, pipes and other hard-hitting objects. He wanted to run, but his brass soles would give him away. He had no choice but to extract the soft plastic layer from his arms, which was synthesized just before the onset of the genetic revolution. He did his best to wrap it on his feet, but they could only do so much to offset the weight of his lower limbs, an amalgamation of scrap metal found in the ruins of pre-Heritage war Detroit.

Gingerly, he tip-toed towards the entrance of the waterway; the noise from the teenagers’ ruckus inadvertently helping him out.

“Your time’s up, Scrappy!” shouted one of the boys.

Levi had been called Scrappy for the past ten years, but only after last month when the anti-prosthetics won control of parliament did it amount to any real threat. Within a few days, people close to him were dismantled by roaming vigilantes, their parts used as replacements and ornaments for their macabre toys. The leader of this particular gang had Evelyn’s face tied to the front of his bike. She and Levi had had theirs synthesized from twentieth-century opera masks. Levi had chosen a cast-iron one, while she had chosen a smoother design made from porcelain. Now with the nanomachines removed, she was locked in a permanent, silent scream.

Levi grabbed the bars of the portcullis and pulled, the pistons in his forearms huffing and churning in a desperate bid to save his life. But the portcullis was too heavy, and his mechanical arms, made from the machinery of the Heritage war, gave out with a loud hiss of steam. This alerted the teenagers, and they were onto him faster than he could remove the padding on his feet. They started swinging at him, metal on metal. Levi tried to protect himself, but his arms were useless now. A crowbar connected with his face, knocking out his right eye. It was made from synthetic aqueous humor during the post-war depression; the cheap material was no match for a stomp with a boot.

The mob dragged him to their leader, a studly young man with skin smooth as silk and eyes with a yellow hue that lit up in the dark of night. He was a ‘designer baby’, the product of genetic research arising from the squalid necessities of the depression. He came from a family that could not afford even cheap prosthetics, whose only choice was to wait for gene manipulation to become widely available as welfare. His father, a victim of multiple diseases, had died before he was born.

“Witness the end of history!” shouted the leader as he raised his pole. In one superhuman stroke, he brought it down on Levi to the cheer of his underlings. The pole hit his right shoulder, forcing a sputter of oil, steam, and blood from his already damaged joints. A second stroke caved in his forehead, blowing out his remaining eye. Levi felt no pain, having had his nervous system removed years ago. He was reminiscing the days with Evelyn when the third stroke smashed through to his brain, one of the last created through natural birth.

After that night, tales spread among the frightened prosthetic community of the bike with two faces: a smile and a scream.

Sky Watching

Author: Breeze Navarro

This is it.

I remember the nights the scent of mint would gently pull me to consciousness. Our home would be lit by a single candle. You don’t want to disturb the darkness too much, mom would say. I’d sip tea. She’d sip whiskey and tell me the history of what we were about to see in hushed tones, as though someone was trying to listen in when they weren’t supposed to.

The telescope called us like a lighthouse. It stood alone, facing the phenomenon. When we stepped outside, the air revolved around us like ocean currents and invited drops of sweat. Mom would ask me to look with my bare eyes first. Mars was small and red. When I matched my eye to the telescopes it was glaring, though I don’t know at what. I knew I wanted to go. I knew I wanted to do more than see the heavens through a magnifying glass, bulbous and unreachable.

“The stars carry infinite possibilities. And we are stuck on a lonely planet,” she might say. I was standing next to her though. I was always next to her, coming to her room to say good-bye before I walked myself to school, making dinner because she didn’t seem to be able to make it herself.

She didn’t give hugs or read bedtime stories, but we were always outside to behold something you could only see “once in a lifetime.” Even if it occurred twice a year, or every 10 years, mom said you never knew when you would see it again. Maybe that was something beautiful. Even though she couldn’t be my mom, she sought rare beauties in the sky. Maybe I should have thought about those moments more, instead of how we didn’t have any others.

She knew Mars was my favorite. The night came that I didn’t fall asleep because I was waiting for the scent of mint to drift through the air but it never did. The candle wasn’t lit. She’d forgotten or perhaps she’d slept too heavily to hear her alarm. I left the next day. I went to many places but I never went back.

I sent her a letter when I applied to go to Mars. I didn’t expect to get in, which is why I didn’t go see her. But once you get an acceptance, you can’t say no. We trained for a year before the launch but she never appeared on the days families visited.
I felt the engine disrupting my heartbeat and shaking my bones. This would be my first and last journey from Earth to Mars. Once you leave, you don’t come back. I thought of the boiling pot and the melting candle and imagined her watching a streak across the sky, first with her bare eyes and then through the limiting lens of the telescope.

“How Much?”

Author: Lynn Finger

“How much to fix this glitch?” I said.

“You can’t afford it,” he tossed back.

We were suspended in our respective amplifications, parked in an enabled space elevator made from light. We were formed and holding in the black expanse, our talk focused by the radios in our helmets. I, waiting to join the mines of a meteor near V616 Mon. He, on break from whatever con he was planning next. But I’d heard he was the best.

“No–I can afford it, I will. When I start working in the mines, I’ll throw some coin your way. But I can’t go on like this. This breakdown, whatever it is, is shredding the quarks in my field.” Our eyes met over the shimmering lasers of the space elevator. Our oxygen provided by self-replicating capsules in our skin.

“For the kind of thing you’ve got going on, you’d have to bind your protons to mine, become my slave.”

“You don’t even know if you can fix this,” I said.

“I do know. Shredded quarks I do all the time. You’d be surprised how often this happens off-planet. Your coherence is off. When that goes, you go. The binary holding you together is shit.”

“It’s getting worse,” I said. “Harder to breathe, to see.”
“Your company won’t repair you?”

“My protons are chained, and they have no intention of clearing those.”
He said, “They don’t want you anymore. “

I pressed on. “I want to get out of this shredding, can you do it?”

He laughed. “Yea I could do it. I could let you go free even. But for you, you gotta pay the price.”

“So my life, bound to yours, would buy me—?”

“More time, much more time.”

“Do it,” I said.

He typed into the virtual keyboard at his side. I waited. Nothing happened. I was still being pulled apart.
“You didn’t clear it, I’m being torn down.”

He shrugged. “Too bad about the glitch. Guess I don’t need a servant. I’ve helped you on your way to a sooner resolution. Goodbye.”

“What did you do then?”

“I sped up the shredding process.”

“It’s catching you know,” I said. Grabbing his arm. “The shredding doesn’t stop at physical boundaries.”

His image broke momentarily.

“You didn’t ask me what I’ll be doing in the mines,” I said. “Binding protons. Can’t do it for myself, but I can ensure the shredding virus spreads to you. You liar.”

“I let you think what you wanted,” he said.

I took his arm in both my hands. “Here comes the shredders! We’ll disintegrate together.”

With his free arm, he frantically typed into his virtual board. “Shredding’s reversed,” he said.
In a moment my form became coherent, my body could uptake my oxygen easily, and I was able to suspend without a problem.

“You had no intention of helping me.”

“I didn’t need your servitude, just wanted to see how much you would give up.” He laughed.

He pulled away, began his descent down the elevator. “I’m needed on a satellite. And watch your protons. You have nothing to give if you need my help next time.”

I called after him. “I left you a souvenir, a shredder seed in your cellular structure.”

His eyes met mine with alarm as my ride to the mines pulled up. “Don’t worry, it isn’t activated. Yet.”

“I need you to fix it!” he yelled after me.

“I know,” I said, stepping into the shuttle and closing the hatch.