It Must Be A Wonderful Place

Author : Sharon Molloy

Every night, a man would look up at the moon and stars.

Astronomy had been his boyhood hobby. He knew about the ice volcanoes on Neptune, and Saturn’s diamond rain. Even more amazing worlds surely existed in outer space. “It must be a wonderful place,” he would say to himself.

All too early, he would have to go to bed, for he had to go to work the next morning.

One night, he awoke to a strange light in his room. Carefully he opened his back door. In his back yard, he saw something like a round plane with no wings, and a strange creature that could only be an alien. The man didn’t know what it was saying to him, but it sounded friendly enough.

The man and the alien spent the next few hours learning how to communicate. The alien cooed in amazement at all the ordinary things in the man’s house. They could have happily done this forever, but the man said he had to go to work.

The alien begged to go with him. If he stopped doing something as interesting as this to go to work, “It must be a wonderful place.”

The man told the alien to hide in his briefcase; they got in the man’s car and off they went.

When the man’s car slowed down, the alien asked, “Why are you driving so slowly now? What’s that noise?”

“The roads are full of other cars. Everyone else is going to work too.”

“Everyone?” Again the alien thought, “It MUST be a wonderful place!”

Was work wonderful? After a long, boring meeting, the alien still had to hide. People kept interrupting the man as he did hours of paperwork. The alien could travel in space far longer than any plane flight, but it had never before been this bored.

Finally, the man picked up his briefcase. “I’m glad this day is finished!” Driving home, he asked, “What work do you do on your planet?”

“If that was work,” said the alien, “we don’t do it.”

The man was so surprised, he nearly drove off the road. “You must get bored!”

“You were pretty bored today!”

“So you do nothing?”

“’Nothing’?” Now the alien was surprised. “It’s because we don’t work that we can do things!”

“What do you do?”

The alien laughed. “It’s more like, what *don’t* we do…”

On their home planet they didn’t do just one thing all day; they did many things. Mostly, they learned everything they could. That was how they had conquered space travel and why none of them ever got sick. “Why do you work?” the alien asked.

“I need money. For my car, to drive to work in; for my house, where I sleep, so I can work the next day; and for food, so I can work.”

“You just go around in circles!” The alien felt sorry for him.

“Do you work when you finally finish learning?”

“We never finish learning.”

The man was even more puzzled. “How do you get your money?”

“We don’t need money. Intelligent beings exchange learning for learning; learning *is* our currency. “You taught me this morning, like I am teaching you now.”

When the man got home, he sat looking at the spaceship for a long time. Finally, he turned to face the alien. “When you go home, please, take me with you, to your world.

“It must be a wonderful place.”

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Can’t Live With ‘Em

Author : Callum Wallace

“They’re disgusting.”

“Nah. I think they’re kind of cute.” Loden scratched her nose. “Besides, they’re useful.”

Donaal sniffed. “As a resource.”

One approached them now. Soft and pink in the bulky atmos-suit, thick lips spread over stained ivory in the mockery of a smile.

“Wuaay doo as Spak-Part?”

Donaal shook his head. Taking the jobs, trampling over everything, couldn’t even speak the language. He leant down, raised his voice, enunciating as though talking to an idiot.

“Follow the road. Blue signs. Blue.” A blank stare. Donaal sighed, pointed to the blue of his badge. “Bluuue. Follow bluuue,” he pointed down the busy road to the signs, clearly visible above the heads crowd, glowing a very clear blue in the gloom.

White eyes widened, the soft face thickened, revealing more of those ridiculous teeth. It waggled its head back and forth eagerly and waddled away.

“You shouldn’t get so upset. You know they can’t help it.” She pointed, laughing again at the ridiculous little shape as it strolled into the mass ahead.

He grunted, sparking a light and taking a deep drag of his smoke.

A sudden noise caused them to turn; two of the little bastards were fighting, one trying fervently to crack the protective dome of the other, slamming the plexi-glass against the floor.

They cocked their rifles and dashed over, easily shouldering the gawping onlookers aside. Donaal drew his leg back and kicked the assailant as hard as he could. He heard the air leave its lungs, saw the spray splash onto the inside of the little chap’s helmet.

Loden had easily hoisted the other to his feet and, for some reason, seemed to be trying to calm it down, speaking to it in fractured bursts of their language.

He clicked his earpiece. “Migrant assault, thoroughfare 2-B. Advise.”

Hiss of static. “Dispatch advises. Pacify and arrest. Hold in stasis, await jury squad.”

Donaal scowled, exhaling green smoke. He turned to Loden, who had released the chattering alien to scamper away. “I miss just giving them a proper kicking. Used to work in my day.”

She shrugged, stooping to check on the crumpled figure at her feet. She scooped him up easily, depositing him in a wide shoulder plate. “Can’t do that no more Don. ‘Hearts and minds’, y’know? Planetary says they’ll be citizens soon. And besides, they are useful. Cheap labour, too stupid to want more. Most of ’em are just pleased to be here.” She looked up at him, “Remember, before we came along they hadn’t even gotten out of their own star system.”

Donaal frowned, flicking his sulphurstick away. “Still don’t like ’em.”

“You don’t gotta like ’em Don. You just gotta not kill ’em”

“Might be best; you’ve seen what they can do. Petty, violent little shits.”

She smiled at him then, a proper smile. Her cheek horns split, spreading and lowering. “That’s where we come in.” She patted the badge on his chest plate. “Come on.”

They made their way towards the stasis cell, pushing through the stunted aliens masses.

One day they’ll realise, he thought. They’ll realise and they’ll rise up, and they’ll destroy us and everything we’ve built. Then they’ll turn on each other, like always, and they’ll destroy that too.

Humans.

Can’t live with ’em, and they can’t live without buggering things up for everyone else.

Donaal took another stick and lit it, taking a sackfull of sulphur smoke. Worried for the state of the galaxy he pushed through the crowds, crowds that seemed to get a little bigger, a little more foreign, a little more human, everyday.

Fuckin’ humans.

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The Social Integer

Author : Phil Berry

Fen Larsen entered the office of the Colonial Governor. He was too nervous to take a chair.

“A disaster, Larsen! The first outright social implosion to occur in the colonies for three hundred years. I want an explanation.”

“I can explain.”

“Proceed, please.”

“You assigned me a barren planet, Bailyn, four light years beyond our current inhabited zone. The bio-sculpting division vivified the oceans and fertilized the largest continent – this took three standard years. A central conurbation was designed and constructed, Karna. During this development period I searched for a population. I chose a distant, relatively overpopulated planet in the spiral arm, 27000 light years from the galactic centre. Previously, as you know, our practise was to identify the healthiest genetic material across a chosen donor planet, using traditional demographic tools together with invasive genome scanning technology.”

“You’re drifting into jargon…“

“But, as you know Sir, the colonies populated through these selection methods have not thrived.”

“Why didn’t they thrive, the old ones, in your opinion?” asked the Governor.

“After taking into account the emotionally destructive effect of mass, involuntary transportation, well… a failure of connection, a social failure, not a physical one. So I found a new way.”

“This… Social Integer?”

“Precisely. The donor planet I had in mind for Bailyn was notable for the rapid development of a new pattern of communication. Simple radio transmission, but channelled through compact units, handheld mostly. The inhabitants of the donor world recorded their impressions, their thoughts, reactions, every whim… they took pictures of their environment, their children, their parents, even their food, and sent the data all around the globe. We collected those data packets and applied statistical modelling. Some of the software developed on the planet did the work for us. Attached to the message data were various counts, the number of iterations, the number of interconnected individuals – friends, followers, contacts… the degree of interconnectedness.”

“They all did this? Was it mandatory?”

“No, but a large proportion. During the first seasonal cycle we recorded 1.4 billion users, almost a quarter of the whole population. Within that self-selected fraction I set a threshold – based on the Social Integer – contacts multiplied by total messages – to identify the most active cohort.”

“So what happened when they arrived?”

“The usual chaos. Early bonding, shelter seeking behaviour, group formation.”

“Then?”

“A misinterpretation. I equated activity on the social networks with the potential to build communities and innovate, the characteristics so lacking in our previous colonial experiments. I was wrong. They floundered, way beyond the usual settling-in period.”

“So what went wrong?”

“It was the substrate. The population. They couldn’t cross-germinate their ideas. The SI threshold had unwittingly resulted in a much younger cohort. Average age 25 – local years – compared to 39 in previous colonies. They didn’t synthesise information, didn’t reflect on it… no persistence. My conclusion – they were consumers of ideas rather than producers of ideas. It was all surface. Then the first famine swept the Eastern seaboard…”

“I know. We’ve spent 25% of our colonial budget on rescue flights and food drops!”

The Governor took something from a folder. A black rectangle, it’s surface as smooth and reflective as the table itself.

“This is a perfect recreation of one of the handheld units they carry on the donor planet. You will take it with you to the donor planet… and connect. You will attract followers and friends. You will learn the social value of this behaviour, tailor it to our needs, and bring it back to Bailyn. We will be monitoring your ‘account’ – as they say. Best of luck.”

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Plasma Roulette

Author : Joseph S. Pete

The detective demanded to know why Kyle’s friend offed himself with the plasma blaster.

“He was playing Russian roulette,” Kyle stammered. “We had just seen it, in a movie.”

“What kind of movie?”

“An analogue movie, that he was streaming from some vintage hipster site.”

“What’s the difference between a plasma blaster and a revolver?”

Kyle clenched his jaw and stared hard. He opened his mouth, then judiciously closed it.

“What’s the difference between a plasma blaster and a revolver?”

Kyle stared vacantly at the opposite end of the table in the fluorescent-lit interrogation room.

“What’s the difference between low-tech and high-tech? What’s the difference between a revolver with a six-round cylinder that must be manually loaded with metal bullets and a plasma blaster that’s powered by an unending electrical channel of superheated, ionized gas? What’s the difference between an antique peashooter and a death pulse?”

“I.. I… “

“What’s the difference between an ancient dinosaur revolver with a spinning chamber that could hold six bullets or four or three or two or none, and a raygun you never need to reload?”

“We had just seen it, in the movie ‘The Deer Hunter.’ He wanted to try it out.”

“He wanted to try it out? He wanted to try it out? When would a raygun have an empty chamber? How dumb is your friend?”

The detective looked like his neck would explode in a rage aneurysm, that his temple would protrude like a balloon and then burst.

“You can’t play Russian roulette with a plasma blaster you stupid cretin dunce. Your friend is dead. He’s dead. Dead. I hope you’re happy. I hope you can live with this.”

The detective stormed out.

He had dismissed Kyle, written off his intelligence. Kyle made a dangerous gamble by playing dumb but it paid off. It paid off in spades. He had never felt such a shimmering thrill, never felt so alive.

He was there, he was alive.

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Paralysis

Author : Beck Dacus

“I assume you already know why the planet is called Trigger.” The tour guide had put too much faith in me.

“No, actually. I’ve been wondering.”

He let out a strained sigh. He then began to recite something scripted. At least I assume it was.

“From orbit you wouldn’t think that the planet had any animal life on it. Nothing appears to move on the surface. That was what our telescopes thought until we sent down a rover. It was immediately destroyed.”

This was a lot more fascinating that he was making it sound. “Really? It was because of some hidden animal life, wasn’t it?”

The guide was relieved someone could actually anticipate some of his mantra. “Yes, in fact. We discovered that later when we saw relentless movement all over the planet. It moved like a wave of activity across the whole surface of the planet. After several months, it calmed down.”

“Months!?”

“Yes. Many other people were surprised that such an energetic reaction could be sustained that long, too. It’s more surprising when you hear what it was.” He was allowing himself to get excited.

“They sent down another rover, this time monitoring what happened to it from orbit. The second it touched the ground, it triggered the sensors of several different animals (hence the name) which proceeded to destroy it. The movement of these animals set off the trigger of more animals nearby, and so on.”

“And so on?”

“Yes,” he said, reclaiming his annoyance.

“Across the whole planet?”

“Yes. It appears that all the world’s animals evolved the ambush strategy to hunting, and waited patiently for just one thing to move before pouncing. Then some began pouncing on each other, and so on. Except on rare occasions, the animal life on Trigger is paralyzed, waiting for one of the other animals to make the mistake of moving. It is hypothesized that stimulating this reaction too often could actually overwork the entire planet, even causing a mass extinction.”

“Wow! That was amazing. Thank you so much.” The guide could barely hide his enthusiasm to get away. I didn’t care. I thought about Trigger. About how a little, mischievous part of me just wanted to put one toe on the surface…

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