Author : David Henson
I was working in the lab late one night. My assistant Igorbot had left, but there was nothing for me to go home to since Loretta had moved out.
Left alone, I’d poured myself into my work even more than usual. We were on the verge of a breakthrough in transference. Tomorrow, Igorbot and I would conduct a frog-hamster mind swap. I should’ve been excited, but without Loretta it didn’t seem to matter. I had a shot of Adrastean Absinthe from the bottle I kept in my desk. Then I had a couple more. Then I had a bright idea.
My memory is a bit hazy — did I mention I’d had four or six shots of AdAb? — but for some reason I decided to get a jump on tomorrow’s experiment. I put the electrodes on the frog and the hamster. Then I had a couple or four more shots of AdAb. Then I thought — what the hell, the quantum implants provide more than enough capacity — and took the electrodes off the hamster. I started to attach them to my own temples, but I apparently had another idea. At least I have no other explanation for how the window got open. I do remember thinking — who wants to be a frog cooped up in a laboratory. The next thing I knew, I was hopping around my human body, which was crouched in the corner and drunkenly poking out its tongue. And I had an irresistible urge to get to the pond in Marsha’s Marsh on the other side of Konami Highway.
It’s a busy road. Traffic all night. The first time I tried to cross, I was nearly squashed by a lory, but I still felt I had to get to that pond. There was an opening, and I made it halfway across the eastbound lanes. Then I saw lights bearing down on me, backtracked, and froze as tires passed on both sides. There was another break, and off I hopped. I finally made it to the other side in fits and starts.
The pond was heaven. A symphony of frogs and crickets. The gentle splashes of surfacing fish — trout, I think. The water reflected a full moon, and a soft breeze rustled through the reeds. I just sat there on a lily pad and took it all in. I could’ve stayed all night, but knew I should get back in my own body.
At the road, there were flashing red lights everywhere, and traffic was at a standstill. As I was crossing, I heard a guy tell a police officer “I saw him bent down beside the road. Then he just … hopped.” I got a sinking feeling and looked at the mangled body on the pavement. Sure enough.
I started jumping up and down frantically, but nobody paid any attention till one of the cops kicked at me. I weighed my options. I could’ve gone back to the lab and waited for Igorbot, possibly got him to connect the dots. But then what? Put my mind in cyberspace or even a bot? Somehow that didn’t feel right. I was just so drawn to the pond in Marsha’s Marsh.
So here I am, croaking away on my favorite lily pad, happier than I’ve been in years. I especially love the fireflies — my own universe of twinkling stars. And they taste just like chicken.
Author : Samuel Stapleton
Classified Hearing AF:145-34a C3
Interviewer: Charles Witcomb
“If you could go back commander, would you alter your decision?”
“I’m going to note for the record that you didn’t even seem to reconsider…”
“I don’t need too. If I hadn’t swallowed that planet, they would’ve swallowed us.”
“How can you be sure?”
“Did you study much history in schoolnet?”
“As much as is normal I suppose, why?”
“How much do you remember about the Cold War between America and the USSR?”
“I recall that it wasn’t much of a war.”
“Correct. Because of MAD.”
“Mutually assured destruction?”
“Precisely. Both sides had a nuclear stockpile capable of taking out the other in a retaliatory attack. Therefore launching an offensive would inevitably lead to self destruction.”
“I don’t understand what this has to do with this hearing commander?”
“I’ve been court martialed based on my decision to wipe out an entire alien species. I’m explaining my reasoning behind.”
I motioned for him to continue.
“If we continue my historical comparison we must admit that nuclear arms and the power they represent is now an infinitesimal speck in terms of the military capability that humans and other alien species hold. Worm-black-holes mean that MAD is no longer an option. If you’re attacked, there is no chance to retaliate. Destruction is complete and instantaneous and your species is ended. If humanity is to survive the inevitable encounters we are going to have in the future, we must change our military strategy to match these facts. We must seek in order to find before we ourselves are found, and we must attack immediately with the intention to fully obliterate all life besides ourselves. We no longer have the luxury of holding onto hope of any kind. One wrong decision and humanity ends. Personally I think it would be a tragedy for our species to have survived millions of years on Earth only to be wiped out by our own kindness once we began reaching into the cosmos.”
“And this is how you justify specicide?”
“I didn’t say it was justified, I only said it was necessary….”
I had no words for the monster who sat across from me. Or the monster within myself that was quietly agreeing with him.
“That we spent our few last centuries on Earth desperately trying to preserve the biosphere and save the species we had been wiping out. And now that we have left our solar system we will be desperately trying to wipe out every species we come across to preserve the galaxies for ourselves.”
“No one said we were adopting your military strategy commander.”
“No one has to. That’s the great thing about humanity corporal, we are so very good at looking the other way when we need too. And since we can’t look back, we’ll look forward to all that…empty space.”
Author : George R. Shirer
The alien wore a red flower in her hair. It was vibrant against her pale hair.
“What do you think of her?” asked Jon.
“I don’t know.”
Jon gave me an incredulous look. “What do you mean? You don’t know?”
“Honestly. I don’t know. I mean, I’ve heard the stories, but the reality is so . . .”
Jon laughed, patted my shoulder. “You just need to get closer.”
“You’ll see,” said Jon.
With a gentle shove, he propelled me toward the alien woman. She had been standing near the entry, scanning the room with crystal blue eyes. I noticed the crowd swirl around her, people glancing at her. Some seemed curious, while others appeared envious or agitated. The alien, for her part, seemed completely at ease.
As I drew near, I noticed something peculiar. A subtle scent, impossible to describe with any accuracy. It was pleasant, but like nothing I’d ever smelt before. My pulse quickened, my breath caught in my throat.
The alien turned to me and smiled. Her teeth were small and blunt, evenly spaced inside the chasm of her mouth. She had painted her lips an electric blue. As far as I could tell that was her one concession to cosmetics.
I was about to speak to her when our host, Jakk, appeared. He slid up to the alien and lay his arm, possessively, across her bare shoulders.
“Mica! So good to see you! I wasn’t sure you would make it!” Jakk’s voice was loud and high.
“How could I stay away, Jakk? Your parties are legendary.”
“You flatter me,” said Jakk, but did not bother denying it. He turned his smile to the alien woman. “Have you met Venus?”
“I was about to introduce myself.”
“Well, allow me to do it for you. Venus, this is my friend, Mica. Mica, this is Venus.”
“It’s a pleasure to meet you,” I said, formally inclining my head.
“The pleasure is all mine,” said Venus. Her accent was a little strange, but she spoke our language very well.
This close, I realized that the beguiling scent I’d detected earlier was rising from the alien’s skin. I fancied I could almost see it, a faint cloud of luminous particles.
Jakk made some excuse and gently led Venus into the party’s whirl. I watched the crowd, noting the subtle jockeying of the men to move closer to the alien. As she passed by, I observed that many people were taking deep breaths, men and women.
“Well?” said Jon. He’d sidled up behind me with a pair of drinks.
I plucked one from his hand and took a tentative sip. “She’s very . . .”
“I know,” said Jon. “Her entire species is like that.”
“I heard the effect from the males is stronger.”
“How do they get anything done?” I wondered.
“It doesn’t affect them, just everyone else they meet,” said Jon.
I shook my head in wonder. “Humans.”
Jon just grinned and nodded his understanding.
Author : Anamarija Slatinec
An oppressive light is shining into my face and it jolts me out of my sleep. A thought hits me hard before my eyes are even open.
“It’s Inspection Day” I say aloud. Every month it feels like it has come around sooner than the last. You start working your assigned field and everything just gets heavier, blurrier around the edges, like someone’s taken a squeegee to your entire life. Every month since my 18th birthday I’ve taken the test. That was 5 years ago. Today marks Inspection Day 61.
I’m a Reader for the Information Defenses Department. Since the worldwide terrorist information hack of 2021 it was established that all information would be monitored by the government for the purpose of preventing any future attacks and eliminating crime. Giving up our privacy seemed a small price to pay. My job as a Reader is to evaluate every piece of information that crosses my desk and flag anything outside of the authorised government outlines.
I shake the sleep off and realise that I’m not in my room. I try to sit up but I’m held in place. My arms are strapped down to a foreign bed. It’s hard to tell with this blinding light in my face. I try to look around but the rest of the room is encased in darkness. Why can’t I remember how I got here?
A deadbolt clicks on a metal door a short distance away and footsteps echo towards me.
“Identify yourself!” I feel the panic rising inside me.
I realise I’ve been biting my lip when I taste the metallic tang of blood. My head is throbbing and I’m racking my brain for some shred of memory before this dark room. All that swirls around my head is Inspection Day.
I keep repeating it, turning it over, hoping it will tell me something.
The footsteps have reached me and they are accompanied by a pair of slate grey eyes. A cold washes over me.
“State your name for the record” the voice says.
“And why were you chosen as a Reader Wanda?” He says it in a way that’s clear he already knows the answer.
“I tested with a high aptitude in English sir.” My grandmother used to say that I have a creative soul, which now means I’m skilled in dealing with the ambiguity of the truth for the rest of my life.
“What do you remember from today Wanda?”
“I was hoping you would be able to tell me, sir.”
“What is something you are certain of?”
“Today is Inspection Day.” When I say it this time the memory hits me like a bullet.
“The Hull…” I remember walking into the colossal dome-like structure of The Hull where all Inspection Day tests are carried out. I remember thinking, as I always do, how much darker it is inside than you would expect from a structure made almost entirely out of glass.
“I was at The Hull for my Inspection Day appointment. But that means…”
I feel the familiar cold sensation of the probes on my head before I see them.
Keeping your pulse steady is tough but not unbearable.
Not dilating your pupils during a lie is difficult but not impossible.
Not knowing your fate until your results are back is excruciating.
“I can see that by now you have figured out that your test results from today came back… unsatisfactory.”
This is the part where my blood turns to ice. This is no prison. This is something far worse.
“Welcome to Cognitive Recalibration.
Author : Charles Paul Wallace
The microscope sat on Lena’s desk exactly where she’d found it.
It had been there when she got home from school. Her mother just looked at her blankly when asked where it had come from. It was grey, a clunky thing with an adjustable dial on the side. Beside the dial was a diagram of a finger, pressed onto the glass plate beneath the lens.
Apart from that it looked like any old microscope. Puzzled, Lena placed her finger onto the plate as instructed and peered into the eye piece. All she could see was a hazy, indistinct cloud of colours. She turned the wheel on the side. Suddenly an image swam into focus: her fingernail, she guessed, the hard carapace a pearly grey.
She adjusted the focus. Now her nail was a solid shell, lined with cracks and fissures. Ugh, she thought. How ugly.
She zoomed in further. The image didn’t look anything like her nail now. It had shifted colour to a darker hue, a cryptic pigment she couldn’t put a name to. This is what happens when you accept mysterious gifts, she muttered to herself. Weird things happen.
She found herself mesmerised, unable to look away. Now the picture resembled vast boulders, tumbling end over end across a landscape of reddened sand. I never knew Mars was in my finger, she thought idly, and paused. Why WAS Mars in here? It made no sense. She’d studied astronomy at school, briefly. Ms Elwyn had allowed her to take a look through the telescope she kept on the roof of the science block. Through it she’d seen stars and the moon and the distant, yet recognisable, form of Saturn and its rings.
But nothing like this. She zoomed; and forms of light flashed past, precious stones refracting the stars hanging cold overhead. Black shimmered at the limits of the frame now, a darkness that seemed to suck her towards it. She couldn’t stop – she was hurtling through the void, whirling around galactic clusters, vast nebulae of baby stars thrusting outwards from their gravitational cradles. She gazed upon black holes that crackled with latent fury. She saw streaks of radiance spattered across plasmic photospheres, giant spheres of reddened gases, light curves arcing into near-infinity.
She turned the wheel one last time, and felt it catch. She was looking at what seemed a formless nothing, a white stretch of absolute void.
And then she saw. A dot, expanding toward her with infinite slowness. She realised it was huge; huger than her mind could envisage, an all-encompassing immensity that sucked her consciousness into a bottomless well of non-matter, of un-being.
It filled the lens now, a searching, consuming hunger, gobbling the emptiness set before it with an eternal want, a ceaseless yearning.
This, she somehow knew, is us. The universe. Everything that ever was and ever will be was contained within that form. And it was all inside her, and inside everyone; and now she’d seen it she would never be the same Lena, never be able to un-see the absolute truth of creation.
With a quiet click the microscope went dead. She straightened, rubbing her eyes. The device was dead now, an inert lump of metal, never to be used again. Better to throw it away, she decided. Better just to remember.
“Lena? Dinner’s ready!”
Her mother’s voice sounded from downstairs. Lena pushed the microscope underneath her bed. Later, she thought. I’ll get rid of it later.
That night she ate rice and curry, and watched the stars till she dozed off and her mother tucked her in to bed.