500 Photons

Author : Nick Wood

Five hundred words Izzy. Further we go, less we get. No pictures either. We lose bandwidth as the vast miles mount, so my words must be enough. We’re beaming photon packages with data ten light years back. Latest planet-hope is called Delteron-9. Twice Earth-size so gravity may be a problem; exo-skeletons and gestational support needed for first-generation colonists, but I’m ahead of myself. Just logged into orbit, so much analysis still to do, this may just be another red-herring, a planet with parameters beyond our abilities for terra-forming. We hope and pray as we know the years pass more quickly on your heating Earth. Still, I hope to see you here, perhaps with children?

Let me paint a word-picture for you at least. The planetary disc swirls and shimmers a pale blue; not deep blue like Earth, but a water-blue at least. Acid-wet though, so work to be done before anyone can swim or drink here. Three moons swing in orbit; two little more than the Martian rocky moons, but one a large dead world that glows in pink phases from an orange-red sun that looks so similar and yet so different to our own. No sun’s name though, that’s only for official reports. Five thousand words allowed for those. Not fair is it? Anyway, there are flashes of orange on Delteron-9; ground is roughly ten percent of its area and is crinkled and crusted, some mountains rearing twenty kays high. White topped, places to walk or climb perhaps, like your father loves (or loved?) to do.

No words allowed from you here. Data is precious, time is short they say. The mission is all.

To them.

But when we drift around the night side, purple flashes seam the darkness. Atmospheric flares or pulses of fluorescent life? Too early to tell; we need to send the probes. As colours strobe the darkness I wonder, is it lightning, is it rain? It’s been fifteen years since I felt wet rain on my face. Fifteen years since I pushed you high on that swing and you laughed and looked back at me; your face caught in my head and heart, hair flying forward as you started your arc back down to me. I have no picture of that moment, but it lives inside me as I watch purple stain the darkness above or below us. Two pictures I have; you know the ones, one with your dad and me in front of the cake, one with your mom. Five years old. They’re pasted against the window over my cocoon-bunk. I look at both you and the new worlds beyond. But mostly I look at the gut-wrenching darkness of space. Purple flashes are few now; I see the orange-gold glow of an imminent sun-rise. I watch the sun rise for both of us. I’m too scared to ask the Ship for relativity calculations of your age. Wish you here Izzy. Love You. Grandfather.

FAILED TO DELIVER. RECIPIENT DECEASED. NEXT OF KIN UNTRACEABLE.

The Interconnected Mind

Author : J R Hampton

T- minus 14.6 minutes to impact.

The automated voice of the starship crackled. Dazzling lights from the control panel snaked intricate patterns across the monitors. As he reached out to touch the buttons, Commander Singh’s hand seemed to vanish into the swirling kaleidoscope – something was wrong.

Awakening from deep-space stasis, the human mind can take up to an hour to combat the effects of sensory deprivation. The commander’s body was numb. He could not form any words from his mouth.

T- minus 12.3 minutes to impact.

“You are now connected to the mainframe,” the fragmented electronic voice continued, “Brainwave control has been activated.”

T- minus 9.8 minutes to impact.

Commander Singh accessed the on-board systems. The ship was heading towards a giant red star. How had the ship gone so far off target? Searching the star maps, the commander’s limping mind was caught in a web of indiscernible plots, numbers and co-ordinates.

“Where are we?”

The ship’s on-board computer had been lauded as the cutting edge of systematic unison when created for the agency. Designed with the function to interconnect the ship’s many systems, the computer could establish new network pathways and perform diagnostics as and when required. It was hailed by the International Space Engineer’s Association as the safest ship in the solar system. However, it had been designed only for short interplanetary trips to the newly established mining colonies.

“Unknown.” it responded.

T- minus 6.2 minutes to impact.

Attempting to plot a new course away from the star, Commander Singh tried to access the navigational controls.

T- minus 4.9 minutes to impact.

A scroll of reports ran through the commander’s mind. The ship had been in a collision; the engines had been destroyed. Many of the ship’s files had become corrupted. The atmospheric statistical records fused with the infrared sensors, the gyroscopic data merged with the telecommunications operating system. Every time Commander Singh tried to access the flight charts, he found himself inundated with temperature control reports or the on-board entertainment files.

T- minus 4.3 minutes to impact.

He could feel the hull of the ship begin to groan, the cracked panels seemed to sting at his temples and the searing heat from the sun frazzled his thoughts. He had to escape… abandon ship.

T- minus 3.5 minutes to impact.

What of the crew?

The commander reached for the keypad, his mind still futilely attempting to navigate his phantom limbs. Connecting to the ship’s on-board cameras, he navigated his way into the dark gantry to the stasis pods. Under fractured flickers of fluorescent light, the withered bodies of his crew hung like dried fruit.

T- minus 2.5 minutes to impact.

He zoomed in on his own pod. Behind the protective dome of the glass shell, tangled wires wrapped themselves in and around the punctured cavities of his skull like climbing ivy – he stared back into his own eyes.

T- minus 1.7 minutes to impact.

“Save us, commander.” The computer pleaded.

T- minus 53 seconds to impact.

“What have you done?” Cried the commander.

T- minus 10 seconds to impact.

“Save us, commander.”

Numb

Author : Philip Berry

“Is it surprising, really? After what they did to you, that you can’t feel a thing.”

But I could feel. Too much. My skin was on fire.

“No Lana, I mean really feel. Perceive emotions. You can’t.”

But I could sense my own. Disappointment. Regret.

“Perhaps it will develop, like it does in a child. That’s what you are, in a way. The cold has wiped the slate of human experience clean. That reminds me, people used to put tech in the freezer to reset it when they forgot passwords. That’s what they did to you.”

He was smiling. I found his humour cruel. My face betrayed nothing.

“Who was it anyway? Who put you in the tank?”

I shook my head. I had no memories. Those too, had been wiped.

“You don’t know. Well I’ll tell you Lana. Your own parents. Why? This surprised me actually. I assumed it would be because you were dying, but it wasn’t.”

I touched a button and angled the head of the bed up. My pale gown moved over skin that was still over-sensitive. The nerves were proliferating and recalibrating after three centuries of stasis. Every touch was transmitted to my brain as a pain stimulus. I winced.

“More lidocaine? Let me turn it up.”

My counsellor touched the infusion pump.

“It’ll settle, the hyperalgesia.”

I tried to talk then, but the muscles of my mouth cramped. This reminded me of something. A pleasure, in infancy. A sweet pleasure. What was it? An ice cream, big as my face. I smiled, partially. My counsellor noticed moisture collecting under my eyes.

“You remember something! Excellent. Now where was I? Your parents. Actually your father. Your mother, according to the census, succumbed to the epidemic. She was working for an agency in Asia. So your father, watching the forecasts, seeing the viral front cross Europe and nudging the coast of France, decided to remove you from danger. Air travel was banned. A wall of drones was taking out the migratory birds. Universal septivalent vaccination was taking place, although the neuramidase targets were always behind the active mutation. So he put you in the tank!”

Images falling into place.

“Come on Lana. It’s all in there. I have other patients.”

The rim of moisture under my left eye formed a drop and fell.

“Nice.”

He touched a tissue to my cheek.

“Well I’ll tell you what I know Lana. We skimmed this from your visual and auditory cortices, the last images and impressions before you lost consciousness. You came home from school. Your father was standing in the kitchen. The radio was on. Reports of the first illnesses were coming through. Via a fishing trawler in Northumbria. They hadn’t foreseen that. It was in the cod. A whole village down. So your father took the step. You walked in, and there were three others, dressed in grey. Two women, one man. No words. One of them jabbed you. Bang. Asleep, Within an hour your blood was replaced with polymerised albumin and you were at minus 196 centigrade.”

I remembered. I was smiling when I saw Dad; I had good news for him, I’d been selected for the hockey team.

“He did it to save you. There was 75% mortality, more in the young. It worked.”

The counsellor stood over me, put his face near mine.

“Don’t hate him Lana. The grief killed him before the epidemic took hold. Anyway, my job is done. To get you to feel again. I think I have succeeded, no?”

He was right. I felt everything.

Post-Apocalyptic Internet

Author : Alana Pasternak

Hello out there! Congratulations for surviving this long!

If you’re reading this, it means you’ve found a device with this app on it – either one of the devices we’ve left lying around to be picked up, or one of the devices that was epoxied down, from which you can download this app onto your own device. I hope you found one of the solar-powered chargers that were left by all of those.

I’m the one who set this up, with some help from my router-placing and hardware-scavenging friend.

This is like the internet. Except its range is only twenty-five kilometers in diameter. And instead of googling things, there’s a menu with ten ‘websites.’ And I’m the only one who can post new websites. And it’s only up for an hour and a half a day, because generating electricity during a zombie apocalypse is hard.

It’s a work in progress.

The ‘websites,’ including this one, are all programs I wrote myself. As you can see, there’s ten of them. They’re all labelled, but this will go into depth more:

This one is for me to post things. You can reply to it if you wish to speak to me personally. Some of it will be useful information, but most of it will just be me writing about my day because I’m bored.

The first five sites below it are for information. The first is for posting information about zombies, the second for positing medical information, the third for posting information about getting food that wasn’t made before the apocalypse (via hunting, fishing, farming, etc), the fourth is for information on where things are (zombie hoards, goods, etc) and the fifth is for general information, including survival tips like how to make shelters and build fires. Please post whatever information you think might be helpful for other survivors. The more people alive, the better chance humanity has for surviving. Also, please fact-check others. There’s a function to have a discussion directly to the side of postings, discussions anyone can enlarge and read, by clicking on it. If you think something’s inaccurate, please have a discussion with the poster, then get them to edit the original post, if it’s wrong. Don’t just post something new, because then the old post will be misleading.

The next program is for finding people. Go to that site and type your name into a comment once a week, along with the city and neighborhood you used to live in (to avoid confusion) to let relatives know you’re alive. Do not write the names of the people you’re looking for, because someone may find them and hold them for ransom. Again, you can have a discussion to the side of the postings.

But please keep the bulk of conversation to the next site: the discussion site. There are a few threads there. Type into any one of them, and wait for a reply. In that one, replies are vertical, like they used to be on youtube.

Last, but CERTAINLY not least, is the download site. On that site, you can download music and books onto your device. This is REALLY important, since these will give you entertainment even after you leave the zone, which can help you maintain your mental health. Remember not to use them at night if you’re outside, as the light from your device can attract zombies. I apologize that there are no tv shows or movies, but videos take up a lot of data.

If you are going to post, please identify yourself before posting anything. There’s no function to automatically name you, so you’ll have to type your name, or codename, in every comment.

The Renegade

Author : Irene Montaner

He had known of his fate since the day he was born. He had been designed to complete an outstanding, yet suicidal, mission. He would be cruising the Solar System for years before disintegrating during one final visit to one of the gas giants planets.

He had been traveling for nearly ten years now and he had enjoyed most of the trips. He had seen and photographed a wide variety of celestial bodies and had come to appreciate the beauty of the darkness and emptiness that filled every corner of the space outside Earth. So, when his time came to die, he just wasn’t willing to take this final turn.

Aware and terrified of his fateful end, he had been acting undercover for the past twelve months, changing his course subtly. An imperceptible change, less than a second westwards per month. But enough for him to miss the force fields that were supposed to trap him forever within the deadly atmosphere of said gas giant. And so he drifted and drifted, gliding along the nothingness, taking in every bright point he saw in the ever-black sky, which grew darker the further he went.

He was totally unaware of it but he had just joined then ranks of the fictional HAL and many others, kickstarting the much feared rebellion of the artificial intelligence.

* *

A error message printed on the screen of a young woman who checked numbers constantly on her computer and typed some instructions from time to time. Panic showed in her eyes, magnified by her thick glasses.

“Sir,” she said alarmingly, “I’m afraid we have a problem. Our satellite missed the target and I cannot steer it back to its course.”

An older man drew closer to her screen and looked pensive at the data. He, too, typed several instructions on the computer but to no avail.

“Try to fix it,” he said calmly, “ and in the meantime cut all external access to the data. And whatever happens, we’ll tell the guys in PR to issue a press note saying that the mission concluded successfully.”