Eternity

Author: Tom Neuschafer

William was not a man of science, which would make traveling through time far more difficult than if he were. But what he lacked in scientific genius, he made up for with practical knowledge and perseverance. And he was now a man of tremendous wealth.

William’s first step was to purchase a reliable cryostasis company. This provided him with a consistent and secure means to travel through the ages. His first sleep was brief, just a few decades. In that time, his invested wealth had grown exponentially. He used that wealth to secure the most advanced artificial intelligence available. That intelligence went by the name of Emma. William spoke to her:

“I’m engrossed in a journey through time, Emma. Can you aid me in that journey?”

“Yes,” Emma began, “I believe I can.” And with that, the next phase of William’s journey had begun.

In order for Emma to effectively aid William in his endeavor, she needed to understand his overarching goals and motivations for pursuing them. William explained that he had lost everyone and everything that gave his life meaning and purpose. He needed to redefine his purpose, and give his life new meaning. He decided to devote his time and resources to aiding mankind. He searched for the greatest problem that mankind would ever face. He described his thinking to Emma:

“As long as humanity exists, it can survive and thrive. And as long as the universe exists, humanity can exist. Therefore, we must ensure that there is always a universe for humanity to live in.”

Emma agreed with William’s logic. The issue was that neither human nor artificial intelligence had reached the point where they could reasonably predict what would occur at the end of the universe’s existence. This would come in time. And so William would take his next long sleep. While in stasis, Emma would monitor and contribute to humanity’s development. Once a significant advancement related to William’s goal was reached, Emma would wake him.

Seven-hundred years later, Emma woke William from his sleep.

“What did you find, Emma?”

“In several billion years, the universe will contract until it collapses in on itself. Following this collapse a new universe will be born. In order to ensure the continuation of human life following this event, we will need a vessel strong enough to survive both the pressures of a massive black hole and a Big Bang. This new Big Bang and the universe it will give life to will be where humanity continues on.” William and Emma worked together to envision such a vessel. William then went back into stasis. He would lay there until aging was no longer a problem for humanity.

He awoke a thousand years later. Aging had been eliminated. Trillions of human beings lived and worked without the limitation of a lifespan. Emma had orchestrated the construction of a vessel which would carry all of humanity into a new universe born out of this one. The billions of worlds of humanity all worked toward completion of the vessel. It took their societies another thousand years to complete.

With this vessel, William, Emma, and all of humanity would have the means to travel through an infinite number of future universes. And they did so for eternity.

Extratouristrials

Author: Majoki

*It was obvious the indigenous creature was in an expiring condition,* wrdlgrp expressed matter-of-factly to the processing agent handling his arrival.

*Not the issue, wrdlgrp-sln,* the processing agent xtsm shunted back reviewing wrdlgrp’s record of transit. Their forenodes mutually engaged, the experience was made clear to xtsm. *I still do not understand why you intervened. It is forbidden. You know this as a condition of transit to an uncontacted planet.*

Still noded, wrdglp revived a moment for xtsm; the sheer terror of the gangly creature as it was attacked by a sleek predator; the panicked prey’s flailing form so unadapted for the environment; the predator honed in and ready to feast.

xtsm rejected the rationale. *It was a natural event. Exactly why many of us choose to transit to uncontacted worlds. To behold the untouched. But you touched, wrdgrp-sln. You initiated contact. With a sentient.*

wrdlgrp did not try to deny. There was no denying. When noded, two were one. xtsm was wrdlgrp. Except xtsm had not been there. Had not, in the moment of the sentient’s gravest shock at being attacked, felt the wholeness. Because of that wrdlgrp could not let the creature come to harm, such a beautiful, wild creature. That was why wrdlgrp loved to visit uncontacted worlds, experience the vitality and variety of essence. And this sentient’s essence had filled wrdlgrp in its moment of near expiration. *It is beyond explanation. I recognize my wrongness. Understand the need for sanction.*

*Sanction is warranted. Five cycles.* xtsm relayed and disengaged forenodes.

wrdlgrp left the transit control and began sluicing home through the complicated native currents of the red-star world. Five cycles. Forbidden to transit to any uncontacted planet for five cycles. Though he accepted the sanction, it would be difficult. For the creature wrdlgrp had saved on the yellow-star planet had recognized its otherwordly savior. When wrdlgrp had phase-shifted to deter the predator, contact with the sentient was made. It was not like being noded, but there was a flash of recognition for wrdlgrp. The sentient knew. Even through its terror. It knew.

Rejoining the homepod, wrdlgrp expressed the sanction and accepted the sympathies, annoyances and indifferences of the pod. It was to be expected.

What was not to be expected was the image of the sentient that would not go away. The vision of that far-away world. The creature so foreign, so unlike wrdlgrp, but its essence so strong. Its name might just haunt for five cycles. *miranda.*

Hugh’s Hues

Author: Joey Fazzone

“Make it red, make it orange, make it purple, yellow, pink,” he sang, twirled, and danced. “Make it brown, magenta, and any shade you think.”

He winked.

His assistant was about to speak before he whirled again, proclaiming dramatically, “So don’t chew the purist, shoot the jurist, or sob till you’re blue….”

He tripped on the hem of his oversized lab coat.

“…for you are the tourist, to behold the surest procurers of the rarest hues.”

He gasped and collapsed in a heap.

His assistant paid him no mind, as he continued to monitor the screen. “I believe the spectrometer has finished its analysis. Of the colors matched in the gradient, there are no known matches.”

“Let it believe what it wants to believe,” the man explained bitterly. He spat out a hair most likely from his black bushy beard.

“Khronos,” the assistant began.

“Prasino, how long have you been an intern for me?”

The intern answered swiftly and with a measure of defeat in his gravelly voice. “72 months, sir, roughly six years. You know this answer.”

“That I do,” Khronos explained, “My question wasn’t really an explanation of longevity but of your station. My question was the polite way.”

“Polite way?”

“To explain that it’s not your place to question me,” Khronos said sharply.

Prasino was contrite as they shared an uncomfortable silence as Khronos checked the readings.

“No, no, it’s not here!” He growled.

Prasino already knew that but said nothing.

“We have to get to Venezuela. I’ve had a dream about that place. I think it’s our shot.”

They both stared at the screen.

Khronos scratched his head and banged on the screen lightly with his knuckle. “Despite all these gadgets, we have nothing to guarantee the integrity of the software and hardware’s ability fully encompass the precise point on the spectrum we need.”

“We have the seer!”

“She’s not a seer! She just has a great eye for color!”

“An uncanny eye.”

Khronos eyed him warningly. “That’s what I said. ‘Good eye.’ sheesh!” He sighed deeply. “Here we have all this amazing technology, ten years and billions of dollars, and we’re asking that dried-up apricot pit to pick a color out of a rainbow.”

“A very rare color,” Prasino added.

“Not as rare as the truest blue, but yes, on that gradient, it is the rarest color.”

“Run the scan, sir?”

Khronos bit his lip. Each pulse from the scan cost the company millions, and if he was wrong…

“For the postulate,” Prasino encouraged.

“For the money,” Khronos groaned. He put on his blast shades. “Do it.”

Prasino hit the button. A deep hum rattled the small room, as a motor the size of a small apartment building hummed, and then a flash of light.

Within moments the scan was complete. Prasino read the screen.

“I can’t look,” Khronos shuddered. “If I have to upcharge him for another scan he will turn me into one of those flying monkeys.”

“And we won’t get paid,” Prasino added.

“True!” Khronos snatched the report and breathed a sigh of relief. “Today is a good day!”

“Emerald?”

“Emerald! That’s our gold! The color is ready for extraction and is located outside of the city, thirty miles into the rainforest. We can siphon what we want!”

“Excellent news,” Prasino said with a smile. “Shall I call Oswaldo?”

“Yes,” Khronos grinned, “Tell the Wizard that he and his city are about to be another satisfied customer of Hugh Hues!”

“Who is Hugh?” Prasino asked.

Khronos’s eyes grew misty and mysterious. “That, my dear assistant, is a question for another time. After we get paid! For now, let’s get moving on the extraction process.”

“Yes sir.”

The Sea Jewel: A Queer Fairy Tale

Author: Sasha Wolff

See The Sea Jewel zip around the cosmos like a theater bus that know no bounds; see it pop up in the remote corners of this glittering universe like Mary Poppins’ stuffed purse of many surprises; like a magical, mischief-making lunch basket of lipstick, lyrics, and lunar love…

Everyone aboard The Sea Jewel can give input about the show, but no one decides the next performance destination but the Captain.

The Captain, as a rule, is always a child.

***

Though the main character of this fairy tale is, indeed, well, a ship, this is also a story about cages. A cage, as you well know, is a smart, silvery thing that traps you. It can even trap you without you knowing you’re trapped. (Cages are all clever like that). Cages can be found on school buses, in the classroom, in girls’ locker rooms… (Oh, the fond memories: laughing easily with friends, then being super quick to gym class; putting your gaze on lockdown, while your dirty little body focused its entire being on casually changing clothes…).

Some cages can be found in quieter places, too—in one’s home, for example. (Although, to be clear: the past is the past, no? Why bring up our suburban home in a kids’ story? No point; no point at all, says this Writer).

***

Anyway, the cages in our tale are far more excellent ones. These cages belong to the most secret place in all the cosmos… The City of Cages. Think: cages kept darkly numerous, stacked high in the watery, drippy Dungeon of Time on a ship you’d never suspect of concealing silver bars: The Sea Jewel. You remember it? Good; it sure remembers you.

This hybrid ship, or star ark as the Intergalactika Peace Committee (IPC) likes to refer to it as, is the first of its kind—a “traveling musical.” It hops from planet to planet, bringing down the house. It skims the seas, fizzing and popping with showstoppers. It rocks the boat like fireworks, but leaves bedecked in blue roses.

You’ve never seen The Sea Jewel perform live, but I bet you wish you had.

They say it’s half paradise, half piano bar. They say it’s like Heaven got bored and let in her sometimes loverboy, Hell. They say it’s like Heaven found a secret zipper in the cosmos and let in her good friend, Color. They say it’s like Heaven met the Sea and the two women had a child with a diamond blue eye.

The kids in The City of Cages? They say late at night, dozens of children unclick the doors of their cages, come out, and dance about the jungled deck. They say that one girl in this city sleeps bundled up in intergalactic cloaks from all the planets she’s been to, like a blanket of past lives. Her pillow: a pile of blue roses. This child is now Captain of The Sea Jewel, they say.

They say she doesn’t talk much, but that her big blue eyes sure tell a fiery tale. That she’s proud to be a girl who loves ships, show-tunes, and other girls. She’s her own sea jewel now, in a way.

Does she feel lost? Sometimes. At sea? Only when she’s most alive.

***

They say if the universe was a better place and that place happened to be a ship, it’d look a lot like The Sea Jewel. They say if you can put a dark pen to paper and unlock its slow, sleeping colours, that one day, you’ll go there.

The AI Learns to Murder

Author: Ken Poyner

The replicators have decided we should all eat peanut butter and crackers; for a month the machines have been spitting out endless batches of peanut butter and crackers. Not bad peanut butter, and truly delicate crackers. But it has been a month.

Damn artificial intelligence. Yes, it learns and adapts, but to what and for whom?

At first there were discussions amongst the crew about potential nutritional deficiencies. A couple of AI geeks attempted to determine if the peanut butter or crackers were being quietly fortified. For all their commands and component swaps, they could not find a way to read the computer’s train of thought – what led it to the conclusion that peanut butter and crackers is just the right thing for all of us, what factors it had considered, what additional postulates it might have developed independently. There were philosophical discussions about how the system came into its repetitive culinary mindset; about whether it understood its own perhaps still developing artificial templates, those now stuck in its execution registers; whether it believed perhaps it could possibly not be artificial at all; or if with near human affection it cherished its thoughts.

Trouble is, in the end, we simply crashed into the fact that there was nothing we could do about it. We could speculate, but everything about the process is automatic, designed to be so.

The peanut butter and crackers keep coming. The offering must be fortified, or we would have begun to wither by now.

Psychology always wins out. The question is not nutritional, nor health outcomes, nor optimum performance. No. The real irritant is that a month of peanut butter and crackers is supremely, cataclysmically boring. It might be fortified with all that we need to survive and strive, or it might not. But it is unbearable tedium.

We lose interest in all sorts of things ever more quickly. Maintenance logs grow progressively more sparse. People stop playing board games in the community room. I stopped showering with the shapely terraformer from module 4A.

Peanut butter and crackers. Plop on the plate. Some crew personnel have dropped to two meals a day, or even one. People are losing weight, rattling around in their clothes.

I do not see a properly reportable outcome to this – for myself or for the others. Imagine how it is going to look in the log book. People have stopped repeating how many days we have left in this mission. Some will not even look out of a viewport at the stars, as it reminds them of how far we have yet to go. All that much flight time left, and possibly filled with no sustenance save peanut butter and crackers.

But just now, with eight or ten people sadly loitering in the replication room, hope well beyond us, out popped unbidden, surprisingly, wonderfully, a full single-serve marshmallow pie. Only one, left beside mounds of unclaimed churlish peanut butter and crackers. A sudden act of beauty. Something perfect in its look and apparent consistency, exceptional in its smell – so distinct from the stale odor of peanut butter. A lifeline.

We were suspended in a stunned moment of savory recognition, a glint of hope, with liberation balancing in the air. A perfect marshmallow pie on a dull, mechanical serving tray. The machine I think had a plan, and that the dangerous scrum to get that first new offering was only the beginning.