On the Fragility of Man and Woman

Author: Thomas Fitzgerald McCarthy

— An excerpt taken from Pioteer Gigan Trilorgh’s Anthropology on Extinct Pathologies

Two Anecdotes On the Fragility of the Human Mind

In the 24th century, a human biotech engineer designated Angeline Mateo was heralded by the Earth press as the new saint of protection. After years of research, she’d finally solved the Static Bubble Equation and created the first interstellar shield that protected against rogue particles of dark matter. Fatalities from collisions during interstellar journeys dropped by ninety-four percent. All remaining accidents were classified as technical failures or intentional sabotage. No casualties. Human entities from her home territory of New Zealand created holographic representations of her in their windows to serve as charms of protection.
On the cycle marking her fifty-eighth solar rotation, when a monetary payment failed to process during a planet-wide plasma storm that obstructed the banking networks, subject Mateo’s previous polar-gendered mate confronted her at her work quarters at Biotech Laboratories, accusing her of deliberately withholding compensation from him. When she turned away to call for security, he struck her in the back of her skull with a figurine composed of quartz and bronze metals. Her biological functions ceased immediately and she was dissolved.
Despite all of her technological achievements, the human body remained as it was five-hundred thousand solar cycles earlier — nothing more than soft, vulnerable tissue encumbering a consciousness that could connect star systems.

Ninety solar rotations before Mateo’s termination, one of her biological predecessors, twice removed from direct biogenesis, was killed in transit to Alpha Centauri in an incident which inspired her life’s research. A stagnant asteroid, trapped for centuries in a mini nebula by the twin stars’ gravitational pull, was abruptly thrust out into space by a massive solar flare. It collided headlong with the Artomis, the flagship of the human race’s luxury cruise fleet. Mateo’s ancestor was eliminated almost instantly, along with nearly a thousand others.
A rear admiral named Gesius Magellan, a biological relation to one of the dematerialized humans, commandeered a military warship and pursued the rogue asteroid. This decision was made in full knowledge that the asteroid was headed out of the system, into extrasolar darkness. Before it could be intercepted, it passed into a subspace slipstream and accelerated beyond his reach. Magellan took his ship into the slipstream and across the quadrant—a journey spanning more than seven thousand light-years and eighteen solar rotations.
During this trek, Magellan’s ship experienced numerous problems that quickly turned fatal. Seven human crew members and two semi-conscious androids perished during an attack by a hostile race of anthropoids from the Caleos System. Nine more were killed when one of the engines imploded due to structural fatigue. Three more terminated their own biological functions due to psychological degradation resulting from their longterm isolation.
At the end of his journey, Admiral Magellan finally reached the asteroid when it encountered a pocket of interstellar gases that slowed its inertia. Despite threats of mutiny from his remaining officers for depleting the ship’s energy reserves, Magellan destroyed the asteroid and deployed a message buoy to alert Earth’s central command that his mission was complete.
Never having returned to port, with no further communications, the ship was assumed lost by historians.

Human languages are quite complex in their subtleties. A recurring issue in my research is the differences between the brain and the mind. In my research, I have found that one represents the physical, and the other, the metaphysical. Yet, both are extraordinarily vulnerable in their condition, and with it, the human condition itself, capable of magnificent feats and inexplicable obsessions.

Rush Hour

Author: David Updike

A shadow slid along the crowded sidewalk, and we instinctively stepped aside and opened a path for it to pass. Looking up, we saw that it was a Mini, the kind they dispatched for someone who wasn’t going to mount much of a fight. A sleek, white wafer the size and shape of a manta ray, it cut its way through the rush-hour crush of bodies until there was just one man standing alone, back pressed against the side of a building, clutching a black briefcase to his chest. The drone zoomed in and hovered above his head. The man opened his mouth as if to say something, but then the beam hit him squarely between the eyes and he fell face down on the pavement. The drone lingered, monitoring his vitals to make sure its task was complete. Satisfied, it swooped down, extended a slim metal arm, and picked up the briefcase in its pincers, then rose straight into the sky and was gone. Scavenger bots would be along soon enough to pick the body clean of organs, prosthetics, and other recyclables. No need to multiply the tragedy through senseless waste. And was it a tragedy, really? Who knew what that guy was up to? Maybe he had a bomb in the briefcase. Perhaps the Laserdrone had just saved all our lives. Though if he’d had a bomb, wouldn’t he have. . . . Ah well, no sense in speculating. Whatever the situation, it was resolved. Scattered applause broke out among the bystanders, and then we all resumed our different trajectories, feeling a new sense of urgency about getting where we were going.

The Comet Problem

Author: Glenn Leung

The wail of sirens grew louder as I ran towards the control room. We had drilled for this at least a hundred times in the past year, and I had hoped this was yet another drill. The image on the Heads-Up Display said otherwise.

‘Comet inbound for Artemis One’ were the large green words on the screen. Marty was already there, typing in the activation code for the Gravitational Wave Amplifier.

“Help me turn on the graviton supply,” he shouted over the noise. I scrambled over to the controls and started flipping the switches. As I began keying in the access codes, I heard Marty say the first cuss word I have ever heard him say.

“This is bad. Today’s Harmony Day.”

I felt my heart and mind mash together in a panicked frenzy. Harmony Day was the day the two flagship space cities, Artemis One of the Earth Empire, and Galaxis Suprema of the Kuiper Federation, came in close proximity to celebrate the end of the Fifty Year War. Citizens from both cities would visit each other and partake in joint festivities. This also meant that activating the Amplifier would push the comet towards Galaxis Suprema. Even with today’s technology, we do not have fine control over the amplification process.

Marty and I looked at each other in joined paralysis, scared of our next move. The implications were pretty clear. If we did nothing, we would be sacrificing our Empire’s flagship city, along with a large part of the Ministry of Space Colonization and bureaucrats visiting from the home planet. On the other hand, pushing the comet towards the Federation’s city would not sit well in this fragile peace. It was certain to start another war.

“We have less than a minute to act, no time to ask for orders,” I did my best to steady my voice. “I say we sacrifice Artemis One. We will lose our jobs, there’ll be some political vacuum, but at least there’ll be no war.”

Marty’s look was one of disbelief and hardly suppressed irritation.

“We would lose more than just our jobs! The Emperor would have our heads! Besides, a comet like this wouldn’t just appear out of nowhere. This has to be an attack by factions in the Federation unhappy with the peace. It’ll be war either way.”

The decision should have been clear from that statement alone, but none of us wanted to go down in history as the one who pushed the button. Even if we absolved ourselves of murder, the Federation would not spin it that way. I imagined nasty books written about us, parents telling children horror stories about monsters in our likeness, our tombstones desecrated with unflattering graffiti, our kids living in a shadow of hate.

“Hey, Tim the maintenance guy doesn’t have kids, right?”

I looked at Marty with confusion before realizing what he was intending. I saw him take out a miniature welding torch from the toolbox, walk over to the Amplifier’s chiller control, and fired at the wires inside. The Heads-Up Display went dead.

“I’ll doctor the evidence further. I’ve seen blown-out circuits before.”

I did not want to question the moral grounds of the action. Marty had been the faster thinker, and he had decided that selfishness was justified here and now, that we should let historical forces bury this moment in the sands of time. I gave him a thankful nod as silent fireworks erupted in the darkness of space.

Trick or Treat

Author: Ken Carlson

Maxx was puttering away with various adhesives and synthetics in the attic of his government-issued pod, one of the perks of being among the few humans on the Gliese 163 c mining colony. Encased in a series of domes and tubes, the inhabitants lived a rugged existence. Maxx’s family enjoyed many luxuries local citizens and visiting aliens could only dream of.
“Is Janica done with her studies?” Maxx asked.
“Yes,” said Ariana, his wife. “The comm-link with Earth should be closing down soon. She’s 13. She knows she has to complete her assignments by then.”
“Then bring her in. I’m almost done.”
Ariana sighed. She thought marrying a diplomat from Earth would be exciting. Instead, they were shuttled from one space station or rock to the next, with his attempts at forming local community bonds and rewriting war-torn history considered failed exercises.
“You wanted to see me, father?” Janica and her mother entered his room.
“Yes,” Maxx said, revealing the product of his work. “What do you think of this?”
“AAAAAGGHH!” Janica screamed and recoiled in fear into her mother’s arms.
“Maxx, have you lost your mind?” Ariana yelled.
“Hold on!” Maxx shouted. “It’s just a mask, see!” He held the rubberized image of a Genesian, a lizard creature that feasted many of this planet’s early inhabitants.
“I sculpted it from images I found in the historical medical data banks.”
“What are you doing with it?” Ariana asked.
“I thought Janica would like to wear it,” Maxx responded. His wife and daughter stared at him, then the mask.
“Back on Earth,” he said, “they used to celebrate a holiday, Halloween.” Maxx was an amateur historian, ever eager to spread the story of Earth. Janica and Ariana thought the overall embarrassment of his last effort, one involving the hiding of sweets throughout their pod under the guise of some enormous rabbit, would be the end of it.
“On that night,” he continued, “children would dress up in costumes representing fears and legends, then enter other people’s homes in search of food.”
“You want me to dress up like a giant gecko and beg for nutrition tablets?” Janica asked.
“You ask for a treat, playfully threatening to play a trick on the residents if they don’t provide one. We can try it with the Sundorffs. They’re human and older. I’m sure they’ve heard of it. They’ll probably think it’s funny.”
Ariana & Janica thought it was a horrible idea. Lars and Leiloni Sundorff were retired military attachés, more interested in credit from warding off nonexistent rebels than sharing pleasantries with their milquetoast neighbors.
Janica walked up to the Sundorff’s door in full Genesian costume. Maxx stood back on his property, beaming at his creation, as Ariana rolled her eyes.
Leiloni Sundorff opened their door. She screamed and ran inside. Janica took a few steps in tried to explain herself but was unable to be heard through the mask. She tried to take it off and couldn’t.
Leiloni returned with her husband and several incendiary laser blasts. A general alarm rang out as Janica ran out the door. Security shields closed down, cutting off Janica from returning to her home. Janica yelled for help as her parents cried as they tried to override the forcefield.
Sundorff slowly stalked his prey, steadying his hand for one final shot. Janica had nowhere to hide. She ran toward Sundorff, yelling through the muffling mask. Sundorff realized this wasn’t what he thought it was, but it wasn’t until after he squeezed the trigger for one more shot.

Whipping Girl

Author: R. J. Erbacher

Power reigns supreme.

“Come, Bia. Your Master summons you.”

The man who came to get her was a slob, big-bellied and slovenly. His mouth drooled as he barked his order and stared at her.

She dressed in a simple sparse tunic, her feet were bare, and she knotted her hair atop her head to keep it out of the way. The lackey took her up the stone crest to the small arena with the hard, wooden post in the center. Circling the dirt field stood the masses of the village, murmuring and ready to explode. Her Master was there trying to hide the whip behind his back as if she didn’t know what was coming…again. Bia let her shelf be led to her Master; huge, muscular and formidable, still, even after what she’d taken from him. A single swipe of his hand grabbed the robe and tore it from her body leaving her naked. The crowd cheered. He pushed her face up to the pole and bound her hands stretched over her head, her breasts divided by the shaft.

Stepping back and uncoiling the whip the crowd began to thrum in anticipation. He heaved his arm back cracking the cruel skein behind him and let it snake into the dust, holding it there and drawing out the moment. Then with all his might he propelled his force forward and ripped the leather strap across her back, the tip curling around and catching the side of her breast. Bia’s head jerked with the pain and she bit back the scream. Every other voice erupted in shouts of ecstatic glee. Her Master pulled back the lash, held it and repeated the stroke harder, striking a fresh section of skin. The cord split her flesh and she felt the power of his energy as the braid slid along the flayed muscle, her blood soaking up the impact. Again, and again, each blow investing evermore force against her accepting body. It went on until her Master had exhausted his strength and he dropped the now red-stained leather cable onto the ground and padded away.

The throngs of people scurried off into nooks and niches to pleasure each other with the buildup of lust that had spiked in their loins from the event. Attendants untied Bia’s hands, bundled her onto a travois, covered her with a tarp and dragged her back to her room where she was dumped onto her cot. The pain was real, and Bia felt each stinging lash as it throbbed in her flesh but by tomorrow, they would be healed. Not into puckered raw scars but back to her alabaster smooth skin.

Her beautiful skin that had been the cause of so much of her troubles, had caught the attention of many of the Beings, men and women, who wanted to ravish her. But she’d shunned their advances until finally they’d collectively had enough and banished her to this rock. In this distinguishable appearance, yet still beautiful, for her continuous punishment, thinking they had ruined her. Made her pay for her audacity.

What they hadn’t realized was that each penetrating strike allowed her to absorb the energy from her Master and store it and expand it until she now could crush boulders at a distance, bend the air and manipulate the sea. Soon she would be so strong that she would blow this puny village away with a single breath.

And then it would be the Beings turn. And then they would all understand that beneath her beautiful skin was a Being who was dreadful. And Powerful.

Because power reigns supreme.