Author: David Barber
Like lots of people in the months since the Signal arrived, Alistair ran the SETI app on his phone – not the SETI@Home data program – just feed from one of the new radio searches.
He’d got into the habit of laying his phone on the pillow next to him at night, the screen lit with a field of dishes, tilted to the heavens, inching round the sky, so brave and lonely. He would drift off to sleep listening to the hiss of stars.
A couple of times a year, he and his ex met up for lunch. He was telling Eloise about a dream he’d had and she studied his face while seeming to listen.
When they first met, he was just starting out in astronomy, but now it was all neutrino telescopes and gravity waves; postgrad students went elsewhere, and so did the grant money. She felt a brief pang of pity because his best years were behind him.
“So in the dream, I’m there when Green Bank picks up the Signal, and it’s obvious it’s repeating the first thousand primes…”
She toyed with her empty wine glass, knowing another drink would be too much. Though she wouldn’t admit it, she arranged these meetings to confirm leaving Alistair was the right move.
He wasn’t wearing well; hair thinning, paunchier, more careless with his appearance, whereas she’d shed a few pounds, taken to wearing younger clothes, and had her hair expensively cut, though he hadn’t noticed.
“…comes from the direction of Cygnus, only there’s nothing out there,” he was saying.
“You do know other people’s dreams aren’t that interesting?”
There hadn’t been a good moment to tell him she was getting married again. And moving to the States. It would mean cutting him adrift, just when his career sank into admin and retirement.
“Alistair,” she began.
He interrupted, like he always did. “No, wait, I’m getting to the interesting bit, because I said, in the dream I said, it marks the millennial anniversary of Project Ozma, the first SETI search in the 1960s.”
She smiled, but he was perfectly serious.
“I was up at five next morning doing the calculation, and it’s true, the point of origin of the Signal is where the sun will be in a thousand years’ time.”
He shrugged. “Some sort of Einstein-Rosen wormhole for radio signals into the past, who knows?”
She was no scientist, but a thousand primes, a thousand years, telling us where to look, it all sounded flaky.
“I think the Signal itself is the message,” he added, enthusiastic as a salesman. “Perhaps we let SETI run down otherwise. What if there’s a signal coming from somewhere else, and we aren’t listening? What if…”
She was suddenly weary. What did it matter? “Or perhaps they’re saying we’re on our own, we always were.”
He faltered. “What? Why would they do that?”
“What if they heard nothing in all that time, and it means we’ve only got ourselves. Perhaps they’re saying that.”
She glanced at her watch. Impossible to talk to him now. Always was. She’d phone him from the States. Or text him.
Being on his own. She wondered how he’d cope.
Author: David Henson
Loretta Saunders tapped her father’s kitchen table. “Imagine this is our universe, Dad, and these five oranges represent all the particles in it.” She laid the fruits in a row.
Whenever Jacob’s physics professor daughter summarized one of her lectures, he radiated pride as a star does light. She explained stellar fusion to him once. He kind of understood that one and knew his daughter was the hydrogen at his core — or something like that. But today’s lesson about a finite number of oranges and an infinity of universes was sounding like it might be beyond him — a galaxy far, far beyond him.
“Now pretend we have another table, a second universe.” She moved the oranges. “Now another table, a third universe.” She repositioned the oranges again. “See where this is headed, Dad?”
“Sure, Sweetie.” Not in a million years, Honey.
“There are a finite number of oranges — particles — in each universe. But, if, as some of us believe, there are an infinite number of tables— universes — at some point, the arrangement of oranges will create every possibility. It has to.”
“Orange juice for everyone?”
“Dad, if you’re not going to take this seriously.”
“Everything in the universe … this table, the house, you, me … is an arrangement of particles. So in an infinity of universes, you and I will have duplicates, but we’ll have alternate lives, too. In some universes, I’ll be a fighter pilot, a ballet dancer, the president, a plumber. Some universes will be almost like this one but not quite. Maybe I’ll be a physics professor, but instead of riding my bike to school, I’ll take the bus. In some, we won’t even know each other. And on and on. Anything that can be, will be. Pretty cool, isn’t it?”
“I always knew you could be anything you wanted to be, Loretta.”
“That’s sweet, Dad, but not what I’m getting at.” She looked at her watch. “I’ve got a class. You’re going to your meeting this evening, right?”
“Haven’t missed in weeks. I get my red chip tonight.”
Loretta squeezed her father’s hand. “I’m proud of you, Dad. I know it hasn’t been easy since Mom died.”
“He’s been staying with us for a couple of months now,” Dr. Roberts said as they entered Jacob’s room. “Jacob Saunders, this is Dr. Loretta Schmitt. She’ll be looking after you while I’m on vacation.” Jacob ignored the two psychologists.
“You said he has PTSD?” Dr. Schmitt whispered. “What happened?”
“You heard about the physics professor killed biking to school by a drunk driver? Jacob was the father and—”
“That’s horrible, but in and of itself shouldn’t trigger such strange behavior. What’s with the oranges?”
“You didn’t let me finish. Jacob was the drunk driver. He killed his own son.”
“Apparently he’d been sober 20 years but started drinking again when his wife died… The oranges seem to pacify him. He sits there repositioning them over and over on his little table. I can’t imagine how horrible he must feel. I lost my father unexpectedly not long ago, and that was bad enough… Are your folks still alive, Loretta?”
“My adoptive moms are. I never knew my biological mother and father.” Loretta knelt and squeezed Jacob’s hand. “We’re here for you, Mr. Saunders.”
Jacob froze and stared at the woman. “You,” he said, “you.”
“Yes,” Loretta said. “What is it, Jacob?”
“I need more tables.”
Author: Katlina Sommerberg
“Not a golden goose, but almost as good as one,” Mabel said. “And you’ve got twenty.” She had her doubts, but her skepticism melted after seeing my living prototypes.
The spring rain drizzled down, and all my hens came out to frolic in the wet grass. Two wandered close, Pam and Jam, but stopped at the electromagnetic barrier. Most modified chickens knew better than to cross ultraviolet fences, and mine were no exception.
“In this age, drugs are better than gold. This is a continuation of the OpenPenicillinProject.” I’d worked in Counter Culture Labs, where the OpenPenicillinProject wrecked the Big Pharma monopoly on antibiotics in the early 2020’s. I aimed to pick up where they left off, fifty years later, in spite of the government’s crackdown.
“Your technical documentation is good, but I marked spots in your tutorial. If you want the general population involved, you can’t teach at the university level.”
“What about the chemicals I already reverse engineered? Should any be scrapped?”
“The cannabinoids are an odd choice. But why did you remove penicillin?”
We walked to my cottage, past the chicken coops housing failed prototypes. The chickens became my life after retirement; only Mabel knew about their real purpose. I intended to stay anonymous.
“The dosage is tricky. The eggs aren’t consistent in dosage, so I left it off. Who knew it’d be the trickiest one?” I laughed, running my hand through my greying hair.
I unlocked the front door and walked in after Mabel. With a forlorn look at my lab space, which hadn’t been used since I finished the lab work last week. Mabel pulled out her devices from her backpack. I always admired her work ethic, ever since we met in Berkley’s master’s program.
Without looking up, she asked, “Larissa, any documentation you need me to focus on?”
“Make sure the male birth control option is up to par; I know I neglected that section.”
She gave me a thumbs up.
I folded myself into a pretzel at my desk. I had yet to review the videos I commissioned, meant to attract viral attention. Looking at them would make the looming launch real, and I wasn’t ready for the world to blow up over my research. Worse, I wasn’t ready for my work to receive zero attention, with only comments written by bots.
After Mabel sent me a reminder, I finally played one video. Then another, and another, until I watched them all.
I logged into the Golden Chicken social media accounts, instantly floored by the amount of notifications across each one. However, only other biohackers followed me now. As my favorite commissioned video loaded, I finished editing the announcement. Once everything looked presentable enough, I threw it into the internet and immediately logged out of the accounts. I couldn’t bear to watch the views count.
Mabel glanced over while I paced around the room, running over possible consequences of my research. I intended for my chickens to herald the way for affordable drugs, many of which were discovered over thirty years ago, yet only increased in price as time went on. But the backlash against the research could lead to another crackdown, like the OpenPenicillinProject.
My success story could spell disaster for the biohacking community as a whole, but how could any argument stand against the unethical practice of doing nothing while people died from treatable conditions?
“Larissa. Larissa!” Mabel called, snapping her fingers in front of my face, interrupting my spiraling fears. “You’re brooding again.”
I sighed, reaching for my coat. “I know. I’m going out to pet my chickens.”
Author: Glenn Leung
Since its accidental discovery two decades ago, the phenomenon referred to as the Veil has been a heavily discussed topic. For five years, nearly every University in the world sent their best researchers billions of lightyears away from home to study it. Yet, despite strong evidence pointing to the existence of a seemingly infinite, yet invisible barrier, irreproducibility in testing has kept the Veil from becoming an established scientific phenomenon. Only a few research teams persisted in their work when it became clear that nothing useful could be learned. To this day, there is no agreed-upon theory on the nature of the wall that many are calling ‘the edge of the Universe’.
Aside from the lack of reproducibility, the Veil also exhibits properties that violate fundamental physical principles. Light directed towards the Veil has been found to scatter at aberrant angles and wavelengths. Instruments detect large emissions in the ultraviolet range, although no object in its vicinity has shown signs of UV exposure. Given the regular media updates of inconclusive experiments, public opinion has largely been in favor of terminating all further studies to focus on more fruitful projects closer to home.
Despite the pessimism, scientists still on the project believe that finding a way around the Veil is only a matter of time. The existence of the Veil at different longitudes of the Celestial Sphere has also not been confirmed. Yet an increasing number of renowned thinkers are cautioning against such ambition. Such dissidents point to the unpredictability of the Veil’s properties as evidence that our laws of science cannot be applied to the boundaries of the known. A notable futurist has said that intelligent beings have built the Veil there to “keep us from encroaching into their territory while toying with our instruments”. A philosopher has stated that “the Universe itself is telling us to know our place”.
Another obstacle to further scientific work comes from the psychological effects on observers after prolonged viewing. Celestial objects seen on the opposite side of the Veil are believed to be reflections of those in the known Universe, although the anomalous reflective properties of the Veil distort them into nearly unrecognizable forms. After twenty minutes of observation, observers report these forms transforming into disturbing visions, causing heightened levels of anxiety and distress. Such effects only dissipate an hour after observation is ceased. The longest recorded viewing was done by a graduate student who looked at the reflections for forty minutes (as recorded in her notebook) while taking measurements. She was found unconscious by her advisor and hospitalized for two days. When she awoke, she reported having dreams of deformed humanoid entities chanting in a language “so horrific and fantastic that you are drawn to listen while feeling so unsettled [sic]”. However, she could not recall taking measurements, or that she even reported for work that day. Her advisor was investigated for coercion to work under dangerous conditions, but the case was dropped due to a lack of evidence.
With large budget cuts and poor public opinion, scientists have turned to Defense agencies for funding with the hope that they see the Veil as a potential threat. No further statements have been made regarding this request.
Author: Tomas Marcantonio
You’re not supposed to fall in love with an alien. The first time our lips touched I knew my spirit was being ripped down the centre, never to be whole again. I was forever doomed to live as a fragment of myself. Part of me here in this foreign land, the other part left to rot on the other side.
My family are waiting. I visit when I can, of course, but I never come back whole. I wonder if they see it when I step back on home soil: me as a decaying monster, different parts missing with each visit. A leg this time, a few fingers the next. A leper dropping limbs.
We pay the toll and take the bridge. We’re well-stocked for the journey; last time we crossed it took four days. Most couples make it in three, but my partner walks slowly. She can’t help looking down, watching the recesses between the wooden boards, glimpses of the red sea hundreds of feet below. There’s no fear in her eyes; in fact, all expression seems to drain from them, as if the fiery waves are swallowing particles of her soul. The closer we get to the other side – my homeland – the more her eyes glaze over, the slower her movements become, the less she speaks.
We’re like a pair of tortoises, slipping in and out of different shells, all of them ill-fitting. When we walk the bridge, we’re both shell-less, naked. Without shells tortoises should scamper like slick geckos, unburdened and gloriously light-footed. They don’t. They drag their clumsy feet across the ground, withered and half-formed, like slugs being peppered by bullets of salt.
Perhaps I should have run when I could, turned tail before her eyes bewitched me. I should have journeyed homeward as soon as our souls began to connect, our alien wires intertwining of their own accord. That way, I might have kept my soul in one piece.
But we leapt. Together. We joined hands, stoked the fires that burned in our shared furnace. We looked at the bridge and laughed. It’s not so far, we thought. We’d toss our shells and watch them melt away in the red sea. Then as the tears streamed down our cheeks, we’d kiss. Many on both sides tell us it’s wrong; they’ll never know how tears taste the same no matter where you come from.
I see my homeland growing out of the horizon. My family are a minuscule silhouette of open arms waiting on the shore, ready to lovingly reattach the pieces I’ve lost. My partner glances at me and in that moment her eyes sharpen; two glistening galaxies alive with sweet sensation. She smiles with such startling beauty that all doubt is sucked out of being.
My soul is torn in two. It is the most wonderful sensation.