Author : Larry Hinkle
The ship had brought her out of stasis three hours ago, which meant the A.I. had finally found something worth checking out. Nothing could override its programming.
Vanessa checked the log and found she’d been in cryo-sleep for almost 87 years, making her roughly 122 years old, give or take a few weeks. Except for a slight stiffness in her neck and an unexpectedly full bladder, she didn’t feel a day over 30. “You’re only as old as you feel,” she heard her father say. She wished she could talk to him, but according to some quick calculations in her head, he’d been dead for well over 90 years now.
She turned on the monitors to look outside. Nothing. A quick test told her the camera and monitor were fine, but something had to be malfunctioning. She’d figure it out later.
Scanners said the air was breathable. That was a plus.
She turned the speakers up, hoping for some hint of what was out there on the other side of the hatch.
# # #
Four hours and a full diagnostics later, she still couldn’t figure out why nothing was showing up on the monitors. There’d been no noise from outside, either.
No sense waiting around for an invitation, Vanessa thought. She took a deep breath, opened the hatch door and looked outside.
There was nothing there.
No sky. No clouds. No moon. No stars. No mountains. No plains. No forests. No oceans. No people. No animals. No light. No shade. No… anything.
In a word, nothing.
She looked up, then down, to the left, to the right.
Everywhere she looked, there was nothing.
Vanessa stood perfectly still and listened. Listened to the emptiness.
“Hello?” she whispered into the dark.
Author : Craig Finlay
Stella was watching the blue plastic ice cube fall from her hand to the glass at quarter-G, about 2.25 meters per second. D-deck in the outer rings had the most gravity. And the emergency hatches on d-deck, recessed a further 5 feet out, actually delivered a little more than quarter G. Sometimes she laid flat on her back there, tried feeling the extra ounces she weighed.
A shadow fell across the glass on the floor in front of her. She looked up and saw Andrew peeking over the side of the hatch wall.
“Why are you drinking alone in an emergency hatch?” He asked.
“I like watching how it splashes at highest-G.”
Andrew looked around. No one else in the deck. The floors sloping up and away a hundred yards either side.
“You’re an odd duck, Stella.”
Stella laughed. “You’ve never seen a duck.”
“Sure I have.”
“Not a real one.”
“No,” he admitted.
They were silent a minute.
“This is the closest we can ever get to being in a gravity well,” she said.
“That’s probably best,” Andrew said. “I don’t think our knees would much appreciate it if we suddenly made them carry four times as much weight.”
Stella stirred her drink with her finger. Watched the light in the brown liquid sluggishly recover. “Our bodies,” she said. “So much taller and skinnier than our parents. There’s no place else we could live.”
“Well there’s no place else we’re gonna live, so that works out, too.”
She laid flat on her stomach and pressed her nose to the small circular porthole. All stars faint and equal, slowly arcing.
“Is it?” she said.
Andrew sighed. “You okay, Stel?”
Stella rolled over. “They never asked us, Andy. We were born here and we’ll die here. We’ll do the same to our kids. We won’t ask them if they want it either.”
“That’s why they call it a generational ship, Stel.”
“And it never occurred to them that that meant several generations of slaves?”
Andrew’s mouth worked a bit. Through the porthole behind her he could see the windows of Main Section, soft and blue and always. They had the illusion of rising as the ring continued its eternal 32 minute-long rotation.
“We’re not slaves, Stel.”
“We might as well be. We can’t leave.”
“People on Earth used to couldn’t leave, either.”
“Earth had a hell of a lot more room, though.”
Andrew laughed. “You’ve never seen room.”
“Exactly,” and Stella stretched long, and Andrew watched her shirt pull up over her stomach, which fell away between her hip bones.
“Besides,” he said. “You tested out engineering. I tested out sanitation. Count your blessings. In a year we finish school and you’ll be learning how to run this place. I’ll be scrubbing it.”
Stella fixed her eyes on the boy. “It’s all the same, ship, Andy. We’re all going the same way.”
“Exactly!” Andrew slapped both hands on the rim of the hatch, and hopped upright. “Now come on, you. Zero-G soccer.”
She looked at him a while, backlit by the track lights. His knees the widest part of his legs, his mop of hair and high cheeks.
“No,” she said. “I’ll stay here a while. Find me later,” and rolled back onto her stomach.
Andrew sighed. “Fine.” He turned to leave, then caught himself.
“No one ever got asked. Remember that movie about the slums? People got born there, too. They didn’t ask to be, but they were, and had to deal with it. So we live here. We keep this place going so in a few hundred years it gets somewhere. Just the way it is.”
Stella lay there alone for some time, watching the lights of Main Section leave her sightline.
“Yeah,” she said aloud. “That doesn’t make it right, though.”
Author : Philip Ryburn
“600 words?! I’m expected to create an entire universe, complete with believable characters that the reader can relate to and care about in a mere 600 words? Are you outta your ever-lovin’ mind?”, Christina Hoffman was exasperated. Clearly, this was not going to do.
“I’m afraid you have it correct, Christina. It’s just the way things are. Create a believable universe, populate it with a character or two who are believable and then wrap it all up nice and neat in 600 words.” The Editor was nothing if not blunt. He’d been through this a billion times before and knew he’d go through it a billion times again. It was tedious but that was the price he had to pay to get that one Story, that one Universe, that would save his own universe from plunging into a black hole. Literally.
“You don’t understand,” Christina was trying to stall and The Editor knew it. He understood. He let her continue: “I’m just a hack writer. I do one-offs for fluff magazines. I don’t DO entire universes!!”
The Editor was unmoved. As mentioned, he’d been through this many, many times before. It’s always the same: attract a writer into this wormhole and explain the reality of the situation- that the universe they believe they exist in is actually fake. A hologram. Or something like that- they can’t really grasp Q-dimensional tesseracts at this point in their quantum holo-evolution- and tell them that they must produce a believable universe in under 600 words of code or they go *poof* and everything they ever thought they “knew” would disappear in a quantum cloud of nano waves and quark-strings as if they had never existed. Which, of course, they don’t. But that’s besides the point.
The Editor, as powerful as he was, had his own problem: namely, that his own universe was slipping away into the bowels of a black hole at the center of the universe. The only way out was to create another universe to slip into. One that was complete and whole and believable… but required a brevity that was almost impossible to match. 600 words. No more. No less. It’s all the Universal Computational Tesseract would handle within the confines of Q-dimensional holo-physics.
“Well, Christina, if you aren’t even going to try…”, The Editor said with a sad and tired voice. “No!”, Christina balked. “I can do this. I’m a writer. I can do this.” The Editor always felt a small shimmer of something akin to love whenever they did this. It’s almost as if they they could… “Then get to it, Christina. I haven’t got all day.”
Christina wrote. Furiously. Pounding the keyboard. Sweat pouring down her face. 150 words. 370 words. 465 words!!! The Editor leaned in with anticipation, reading over her shoulder. Not bad, he thought. Could it be? Perhaps this one is the One….
A shudder interrupted his thoughts. The Editor looked up and noticed the walls were beginning to dissolve. “I’m sorry,” The Voice said “but I thought I made it clear. A story was to be delivered by 16quaStriations or you go. Sorry. Times up.” The Voice. The Voice of infinity. The Voice from beyond the Q-dimensional tesseract of Ultimate Reality.
“No! Wait! I almost have it!!!” The Editor pleaded. Christina, oblivious to Q-dimensional tesseracts, continued to pour everything she had into her story. 550 words! 585! 590!!! “It’s all right here!! I swear!!”, The Editor screamed into the Void of Being.
”Sorry,” said The Voice.
“They don’t call it a deadline for nothing.” *poof*
Author : Elijah Goering
Henry Jockt listened to the low hiss of life support as the last of the oxygen was used up. He tried to force himself to run over the possibilities once again, to hold on to hope for some miraculous rescue, but his despair resisted his best efforts and he soon gave up. He became aware of the roar of his ship’s engines only as it faded away and the last reserves of fuel were spent. He had no fuel, little air, and no emergency reserve of either. The bizarre sensation as his weight gave way to free fall felt like a slap to the face. He should have been comfortable in the gravity of the moon by now.
And there was no hope of rescue. Henry couldn’t fool himself into thinking there was. He was drifting out of the solar system at 143 kilometers per second. There was nobody ahead to help him and if there had been it wouldn’t have mattered. It would take hours for anyone to catch him and match his speed and the air was already getting hard to breathe.
Henry wondered what he was supposed to think about in his last moments. His family and friends? He loved them but they didn’t really seem to matter now. He could try to pray, but he had never really decided whether he believed in God. He had always thought he would think about it later; there had been so much time…
Wasn’t his life supposed to flash before his eyes? Henry thought of his dearest memories, but it only filled him with the dread of realization that his life was ending. How was he supposed to come to terms with death in just a few minutes? People were supposed to get days or weeks to deal with it, and even then it was hard. He couldn’t comprehend that the continuous fabric of his life would be cut short.
No, all he could think about was the mistake. A quick trip to the moon, accelerate at 1g for 104 minutes, flip, and decelerate for 104 minutes. Easy, especially with enough fuel to accelerate for up to 6 hours at 1g. Only he had typed in 1044 minutes and taken a nap, waking 5 hours later to find the moon far behind and not enough fuel to stop.
The silence was deafening in his ears and after a moment he realized why. The hiss was gone. Henry began to feel tired and relaxed every muscle in zero gravity. He closed his eyes. It had been such a small mistake.
Author : James Anderson
They called us handicapped. Our bodies didn’t develop the way other people’s did. We were weaker than them, we tired more easily. Some of us thought it was God, others just thought it was genetics. We didn’t know we were being prepared.
Decades after the war ended, humanity thought they had finally gotten it right. There was plenty of space for the survivors, food was plenty. For the first time anyone could remember, there was hope.
But the war had an effect no one foresaw. The scientists called it subnucleonic atmospheric degradation, whatever that is. All we know is that the weapons which had finally ended the war, had also poisoned the air. It didn’t manifest itself immediately, but by the time we noticed the effects, it was too late.
We needed a new home, somewhere out in the stars. Our scientists had already solved several of the most difficult problems posed by interstellar travel. Nuclear propulsion came from advances in missile technology. The hardened shield to protect travelers from cosmic radiation came from a need for protection from those same missiles. But mankind had not yet solved the debilitating issues associated with prolonged weightlessness on the human body. That’s where we came in.
Those of us in the Exploration Corps have all been diagnosed with various muscle diseases when we were young. Muscular dystrophy, fibromyalgia, even soft tissue sarcoma. Experiments showed that our health actually improved in space. We had been dealing with atrophying muscles all our lives, and in the weightlessness of space, what hindered the young, strapping astronauts of yesteryear was daily life to us.
So we will leave, and we will search the cosmos. There isn’t much time, but there will be enough for our small group of explorers to find a new home.
They called us handicapped, but now they call us the future.