Men Below

Author : Callum Wallace

“You haven’t heard? Soul is cheap.”

Raised eyebrow. “Souls are cheap?”

The director shakes his head. “Not souls, plural. The soul. Each soul, if you will, individually, is worth pittance. Hardly more than their task. No, the soul is cheap, because there will always be more. Replaceable.”

We walk on, moving through massive technical areas housing amazing automatons driving our
species. Bilious plumes of sulphur and nastiness rend, dissecting skies of charcoal and soft rose with blackness and tainted earth.

Clack.

He turns to me as we walk deeper. “It is necessary, you see, to keep these maelstroms of industry aloft. Spinning, as it were.” He smiles at me, sickness and dead promise. “They must turn, or nothing.”

We walk in silence; clamouring tolls of metal, cacophony of screeching steel, tortured iron; rubber and plastic crying in their death throes to be replaced.

Clack.

“What is a soul, Director?”

Kindly face, wizened, serene. Grey. “My friend, what is drive? Purpose, fulfilment of role. The ancients called it ergon. A virtue in of itself to follow, in pursuit of eudaimonia. The good life.” He smiles at me. “A goal. And, if nothing else, what do machines pursue?
Fulfilment. A goal.” A gentle chuckle.
“Happiness.”

Clack. Clack.

“Director, these machines have no family, no children. Their struggles are mechanic. Broken parts, worn out components.”

He laughs, gently. “No family? You, my friend. Their broken parts? Your strife. Their worn out components? Your exhaustion. We are not so different from them.”

Clack.

“So we are the machine family?”

Another chuckle. “As was the atomic family to the generator, we are to the machine the vital lifeline. Without us, the machine dies. Without the machine, we die. How is it so different?”

I quieten, aware of my diminishing as we go deeper. “So what difference in the old stories, of the Man Above?”

Director grows quiet. We move on, through the busy machines; spewing charcoal, dusty, rusted hulks, fragrant in their decay, ready in their stillness.

He speaks. “The Man Above was of thought. Incurred only when things went awry, when judgment was necessary, and only ready to give when it suited.” He pauses his gait, looking up, eyes closed, dead steel, vacant, open above him. “The man now is always needing, always giving. He takes. Look.” He indicates with desiccated hand.

Four young boys pull chains of steel, sweat streaking filth across their bare flesh. Tired eyes implore for fresh relief as already tired bodies pull physically on, and on, and on.

Clack.

I nod. I know. “Indeed. But for what end?”

Director turns, eyes glowing in gloom dimness. Grey. A smile. Grabs my flesh hand. “What end? What end be there from end in itself? What is a soul for?”

“End in itself?”

Flash of tired eyes, another nod. “In itself. For what reason, apart from reason itself, is there reason for?”

Fervent in re-established belief, I nod. Man above. No. Man below. Machine above.

We.

We are the men below.

Clack.

Discuss the Future: The 365 Tomorrows Forums
The 365 Tomorrows Free Podcast: Voices of Tomorrow
This is your future: Submit your stories to 365 Tomorrows

When the Clocks Go Forward

Author : Kevlin Henney

Morning light, autumn flickering a shadowplay across the curtains. Bright and windy out there, perfect for a walk — perhaps the woods? No need to rush, but it would be good to get out of the house. The kids will drag their heels to the door, to the car and all the way there. I’ll be telling them to hurry up, but at the first sight of sticks and mud they’ll be off.

Last week was busy. And the week before. And…

Yesterday rebalanced the scales a little, a slow day, all of us glued to screens and couches. We need more days like that, days where we can slow down, repace life, disconnect from a flow that has become a torrent.

I look to the empty half of the bed. Clocks went back last night. This Sunday lie-in has cost me nothing, but you’ve cashed in the extra hour. The household buzz suggests kids, TV, Xbox and dishwasher are all on.

But it feels like too much of the day has passed already. Perhaps my lie-in is not for free? I reach for my clock. Damn. The automatic hour change has messed it up — the minutes are flickering and the hour is way off. Reaching for my glasses, I hold my finger down on the reset button.

Yours too? Purring not ticking, hands race round the face like a track. Not sure I know how to fix that on your clock.

On your manually set clock.

Now through glasses I look again at the curtains. The light is more shadowplay than autumn. Everything has become sharper. Not sharper in focus — which seems to elude me — but sharper in colour. Colours are glowing, vibrant, effervescent. Wrong. Sounds are sharper. Higher. That’s more wavering high-pitched whistle than household buzz.

As I rise the covers fall back with surprising suddenness. I pull back the curtains. They resist and shudder, then sway and tremor with a flourish I don’t intend. But it’s not me. It’s not my intention, not my action, not me that’s at fault. It’s everything — everything else.

Fluorescent clouds race across a cobalt sky, a green-rinsed sun volleys behind them, blurs of colour and long-exposure trails along the street, impressions of cars, auras of people, shimmering trees with pools of blue-tinged leaves lapping at their trunks.

Beautiful. But I don’t understand.

Then a buzz. An insect? No, a whistling cry. I turn. You are standing, off-colour and coffee in hand. In your hand one moment. On the floor, spilt, cup broken the next. You are sketched and retraced, your detail and outline a blur, your mouth flickering, but your face one of constant fear.

You point. Not at the time-lapse world playing through the window but at me.

You point. It’s a question.

“What’s happening? I don’t understand,” I answer.

But you are gone. Between moments, one frame and the next, you disappear, a lingering impression of wide eyes and an open mouth. I miss what must have been the scream.

Discuss the Future: The 365 Tomorrows Forums
The 365 Tomorrows Free Podcast: Voices of Tomorrow
This is your future: Submit your stories to 365 Tomorrows

Cancer

Author : Tanmaya Dabral

The Earth was dying. And all the genius of human beings couldn’t do anything about it. They had terraformed even the most uninhabitable regions of Earth: the Antarctic enjoyed lush green forests and loam covered the entire Sahara. And yet, it was not enough for a population of 38 billion. More Earths were needed.

Shay looked to the heavens for the millionth time that morning: clouds, birds, planes, drones, the Sun, and of course, the Arc. And for the millionth time that morning, the sight filled her with motherly pride. It still seemed a bit unreal to her. It had taken an immeasurable amount of human genius distilled over seven centuries and several generations to birth that colossal structure.

In 1994, when Miguel Alcubierre had first suggested the possibility of faster-than-light travel without violating General Relativity, the world had laughed at him. The absurdity of the proposal aside, the logistics had made it utterly unthinkable. A dozen solar masses worth of energy was required to set up the warp. But the humans found a way, like they always do. Seven centuries of tweaking the shape of the warp bubble had finally brought the required energy down to a few thousand kilograms. Compared to her predecessors, Shay herself had played a relatively minor role in it. And yet, it was under her leadership that the physical construction of the Arc took place. It was her secret guilt. But she knew that it couldn’t have happened at a better time. Terraforming of Kepler-186f and Tau ceti B had to be started now, if the human race was to have any chance of survival. She cursed the fragile human body when she realized that she would be dead millennia before the terraforming completes.

Hearing her name called out from the numerous floating loudspeakers broke her out of her reverie: “… only be fair to welcome the director of RAM, Dr. Shay Snow, to say a few words on this momentous occasion and initiate the launch sequence…” She sighed inwardly as uncountable cameras targeted her. This is not what she signed up for. She stole a glance at the Arc for the million and first time that morning, then shifted her gaze to the terra-pods, ready for launch, before finally settling it on the biggest camera she could find. “Thank you, Dr. Greyjoy”, she started. “My fellow humans, as we all know…”

From the other side of the event horizon of V404 Cygni, the Watchers observed their favorite universe. Their countenance twisted into what a mortal could only decipher as lament. The cancer had metastasized.

Discuss the Future: The 365 Tomorrows Forums
The 365 Tomorrows Free Podcast: Voices of Tomorrow
This is your future: Submit your stories to 365 Tomorrows

Intaglio

Author : Rick Tobin

“Everyone back from Charon?” Captain Swanson paced about the control center of Abraxas. His bullish voice rattled younger officers as Swanson towered above at seven feet, his glimmering blue eyes set against his callow Cajun skin.

“Sir,” replied Ensign Pallute, fresh from the Saturn Academy. “All present. Doctor Reynolds requests an immediate conference, sir.”

“Does she? Tell her to meet me in sickbay after she’s been decontaminated.”

“Aye,” replied the timid ensign. Her hair shimmered in twists of colored bands specific to her tribe. Her extra fingers slid over the control panel lights, sensing hundreds of ship conditions.

“Transfer control to my visor, Pallute. I’ll be with Reynolds.”

Swanson stepped into the transfer tube, proceeding to rendezvous while commanding remotely. He entered sickbay with disregard for isolation protocols.

“Thank God,” Reynolds said, sweeping her raven hair away from her face as the cleansing fans blew used decon virals off her suit. “We’ve got to turn back. I witnessed those holographic eyes while translating the carvings. The ruin’s messages penetrated me with a flush of electrical charge…and knowing.”

“Edith,” Swanson interrupted, “This is science, not religious fervor. I only want to know if mountains of processed rare earths are there, as our probes showed. Then we’re on our way, outside the system. I just heard the Charon Message Protesters on Mars are so insane that some jumped from the Face yesterday, claiming disaster if we proceed. Surely you aren’t supporting that hysteria?”

“Yes, the priceless minerals are all there, waiting like cheese for us, but that wasn’t a warning someone left on Charon—it was a threat. We must not go deeper into the Kuiper Belt.”

Swanson felt her terror but shook it off as simply her symptoms after visiting the flashing vistas first discovered in 2032, emanating from the Kubrick Mons. Charon hallucinations affected anyone studying the light show, even from video recordings. The phenomenon was studied for years before the decision to send Abraxas into deep space.

“What threat?”

“The exact translation? Do not go past this ring. You are impure. The punishment is relinquishment.”

“Hogwash, Reynolds. Those are myths for the mindless, not us. That feeds those mobs on Mars chanting their ring-pass-not pabulum. We’re better than that. I don’t scare easy. Maybe those carvings are ancient…but most likely, they are the work of the Moon cartels that want to control mineral rights out here through intimidation. You know the Moonies are famous for head games. I could care less. I appreciate your report, but we’ll make way. This is one captain that is not going to relinquish an inch.”

Swanson pressed pads on his control belt, alerting his command ensign. “Pallute, go to full power and chart a path through the Belt. Increase the magnetic shields in case we encounter one of those pockets the probes detected two years ago.”

“Aye,” Pallute replied—the last word she would ever speak. Threads of violet sparkles rose from Charon, penetrating the ship’s hull, touching each crew member. At each infiltration sizzling spittles of light shot back from the Abraxas, back to the origins of the crew’s DNA. The ship disappeared, then colonies throughout the planets, and then human life on Earth as the history of the human species was erased for all time.

A crew of reptilians was next to hover over Charon, waiting for their crew’s archaeologists and miners to return and report before their first attempt at penetrating the expanse of the Kuiper Belt, beyond the flashing lights coming from Pluto’s largest moon.

Discuss the Future: The 365 Tomorrows Forums
The 365 Tomorrows Free Podcast: Voices of Tomorrow
This is your future: Submit your stories to 365 Tomorrows

Whispers In The Box

Author : MD Parker

The sound of clinking dishes dominated the air as he sat across from the old man. Jason placed his digital recorder on the table.

“I told you that won’t work.” The old man stared with apathy.

“Why not? Could you explain that again?” Jason rolled his eyes.

“What I have to tell you can only be heard. You cannot record it. It cannot be written. It won’t allow itself to take form in any place other than the memories of the soul.”

“Just humor me? You asked me here, I’m humoring you. A little quid-pro-quo? Give and take?”

“Fine.” The old man stifled a laugh as Jason pressed the red button.

“Let’s start with your name?”

“My name hasn’t relevance, your mind is still not open…”

“…Quid-pro-quo.”

“Of course.” Another chuckle. “My name is De…”

He gave his name and place of birth, but no dates. He set a box, with small wooden slats held together by age-encrusted iron bands, onto the table. A tarnished golden buckle inlaid on a leather fastener held the lid.

The man spoke for ten minutes, but the story seemed to come from the box. Each minute, each word, the sound grew louder and louder. Jason’s head rang with the sound of a thousand voices whispering all at once.

“So, you see…” The old man turned the box and pulled the lid, its contents facing Jason. A blue-green light emanated from the box, lighting Jason’s slack-jawed expression.

The old man continued, “… I saved the world once. You know why we’re here now, don’t you?”

Jason sat speechless staring into the box.
A single tear fell from his eye.

Discuss the Future: The 365 Tomorrows Forums
The 365 Tomorrows Free Podcast: Voices of Tomorrow
This is your future: Submit your stories to 365 Tomorrows