Author: Bryant Benson
Ancient Records: Elder’s Account
From the deepest reaches of the endless abyss, he emerged. He descended on our world like a shining god, a gift of annihilation from the black heavens. His name was Nim. The oldest of the elders remembered the day of his arrival. He was marked by the splitting of the sky and there had been rain ever since.
It was debated amongst the greatest minds whether he was the cause or correlation of the onslaught that arrived shortly after his disappearance. Had the ancestors simply waited to learn instead of comparing their own limited perceptions with one another in futile effort to be the most correct before the imminent extinction of their species, they could have basked in the glory that was their unlikely and fleeting existence in the first place. A common regret of the dying. However, even the greatest minds are limited to the knowledge of their time. And in those last days, even the greatest minds prayed to Nim for another single day.
Nim, the essence of the void itself, was simply there to observe. He was no god as that concept was lost on him like the idea of flight would be lost on a worm. Grander most likely as even a worm interacts with something that can fly. Perhaps Nim was the worm and every aspect of human existence was a culmination of unconscious factors such as the sun. Nim’s purpose, like that of the worm, would never be understood by the sun or anything like it that appears grandiose yet lacks cognitive ability.
Nim’s Log: Arrival
I awoke upon entering Earth’s atmosphere. Having been briefed for the equal likelihood of both a suicide mission and an exploratory one, I was happy to learn that I had survived the portal jump and was on the latter of the two possible outcomes. However, my heart sank to see the vastly different landscape of the eerily familiar planet that I had just left. I know it was hypothesized that a parallel Earth would lie on the other side of my journey but I still feared that I had simply been regurgitated by the abysmal vortex and arrived sometime in a rather depressing future.
I found the most difficulty in landing as the surface was riddled with spiraling wind storms that wielded acidic rain. I collected samples from their oceans only to find them devoid of life and rife with toxic elements. It was undrinkable and burned the flesh. For a moment I considered that I had arrived at the planet’s birth but what I thought were caverns and jagged mountains were decaying cities in the process of being reclaimed by the soil they were formed from. As desolate as the strange Earth seemed however, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was being watched. Regardless, my Earth’s survival depended on my success with 23979 and my objective was clear.
Author: Katherine S Sanger
Do you know what it’s like when you’re at a hotel, and you’re already nervous because every hotel you’ve ever stayed at reminds you of The Shining, and then you get in the elevator in the lobby, and you see a man striding towards the elevator bank, and he’s mostly hidden in the shadows, but you can make out that he’s big, over six feet tall and muscled like the football player you dated in college, and he’s wearing a well-cut suit and there’s nothing wrong with him, and he’s not hurrying, but you worry that he’s hurrying, and you worry that something’s wrong, and so you press “5” and the “Close Doors” button, and you hold it, waiting to be sure they close, and just the thought of sharing the elevator with him makes you breathe more quickly, like he’s already sucking the oxygen and carbon dioxide from your lungs, and you stare at the “Emergency” button with its little note that says “Will flash when help responding,” and you wonder how long it would take for help to respond, but the door does finally close and you’re alone, and the elevator is gliding upwards, that small space that is comfortingly claustrophobic with its wood paneling and tile floor, heading up to your room and your sanctuary and your safety, but then you think he’s down there, watching where the elevator stops, and he’s going to follow you to your floor and somehow divine which room is yours, and so, as fast as you can, while the elevator is climbing, you also press the “4” and the “6,” and when the elevator lands at the “4,” you close the doors again, and then you’re at your floor (thank God!), and you can’t help but survey the long hallway (its ugly blue and red paisley carpeting, its lightly glowing sconces, its table with the lobby phone), but he’s not there, of course, and neither is anyone else, and the elevator is already closed and gone, and you make it to your room, and your room is empty but housekeeping has made the bed and left you more coffee and sugar and emptied your trashcans, and things are completely normal – normal! – and that’s when you throw the locks and you realize you need to go back down to the lobby to grab something to eat because you’re suddenly so hungry, and you open the door, and the man is there, somehow, and you look at him, and you know that’s it, it’s over, your life is going to end, there will be no flashing before your eyes because the world around you is already turning black as his suit, black as his eyes, black as a night that you could never see before because you used to have life and light in your eyes, and everything just stops, and you fall, and he catches you and takes a part of you while leaving the rest behind, sprawled out over the threshold like a bride dropped by her groom or a bird that flew into a sliding glass window – that! – do you know what that’s like?
Author: Frederick Charles Melancon
Only at night could we have the memorial service for Ben. Well, as long as, we kept it far enough out in the desert so that none of the locals could bother us.
The vat of still water in the center was a nice touch. Back on our home planet, all the chairs would’ve surrounded a fire pit, but that tradition doesn’t resonate like it once did. I don’t know if I could speak in front of the flames, and really, if this woman, Sandra, from the coast, not this one, hadn’t reached out five times, I wouldn’t be speaking at all.
But, after the fourth time I said no, she pleaded, “He spoke of you often.” I still don’t know what to do with that.
I’m all but sure that he didn’t. Just for some reason, Sandra decided to know what I knew of Ben. She sits next to me now with her hand on top of mine. Our star, once home, shines above us brighter than any of the ones the locals ever knew. They’ve even started calling it their New One.
I don’t pay attention to the others speaking because I don’t know any of them. At some point, Sandra’s hand lifting from mine lets me know that it’s time to speak. No one claps at these things and maybe that’s a blessing. My speech will end like every other, with silence. Of course, it still feels wrong to do nothing after each speaker.
I tell them how we met, playing with fire. Both of us doctors in the thermal consortium. These days, I’m a journalist. Luckier than Ben, janitor, because on arrival there was a need for a fresh perspective of our kind as long as it didn’t contradict theirs. That was Ben’s problem always too honest. I tell them about his daughter, but I don’t talk about the spaceship and the journey here where we realized that we were both the wrong type of doctor. In that way, three people who knew each other like family got on a spacecraft but only two strangers got off.
Instead of this, I speak of the nights back there, our wives and us playing games and pretending on the screens with his child. After every game, whether we’d win or lose, we’d cheer and applaud. Even in front of the water, it’s hard to talk about the last game. At that point, it was just Ben, his daughter, and me. We did so well that night. And despite the rest happening all around us, we roared and pounded hands until they stung.
One of his coworkers comes up next. He’s not one of us, but he has stories. He speaks of a collection they picked up after the local fair was over, a cat that Ben took care of. He talks about his daughter who contracted the GH virus. Choking up, he speaks of the support Ben gave when the local couldn’t pay all the doctor’s bills. Ben even waited up nights with the man, and the local’s girl lived.
When he steps away from the water, I begin to move my hands together but stop before I make a sound. Stepping around the vat on the way back to his chair, he bumps into it and grabs the rim. Apologizing too much, he thinks he’s committed some cultural insult. The water spills out over his hands, and inside, our star, the one that Ben named his daughter for, breaks into tiny fragments surrounded by black waves. And everyone, but me, gets up to lend a hand.
“Did you feel that?” Gilly asked.
A few steps ahead, Sampson sunk his ice axe into the crusty snow. “No. I didn’t feel anything.”
The couple was at nearly 9,000 feet resting on the edge of the glacier that corkscrewed precipitously to the top of Guth Peak, elevation 10,627. It was mid-morning, the early September sun bright and dangerous.
Gilly frowned, and he smiled serenely back, and she remembered why she was here. That smile. Sampson wasn’t all that memorable as a doctoral physics lab partner, but when he talked about climbing, he glowed like the Milky Way. Like she was staring into immense and mysterious power.
Gilly had wanted to experience that power first hand. Her work at the linear accelerator lab wasn’t enough anymore. It had opened the doors to mind-bending wonders of inflationary cosmology and the hidden realities of bubble universes.
When she had first been wrestling with the concept of cascading realities, Sampson had used the analogy of Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay standing atop Everest. Their potential energy, should it be tipped by a small quake or gust of wind, could send them hurtling five hard miles down. The potential energy released in such a calamitous fall would engender a slew of realities. Inflaton fields such as these existed everywhere waiting for a quantum jitter to form one or more pocket universes.
Gilly had wanted to stand atop a mountain and feel that potential energy. And, yet, a dozen times during their ascent this morning she had felt a tremor, a jitter, rushing up her spine and spreading out along her shoulders and arms. Each jolt had left her tingling with trepidation. When she told Sampson about the sensation, he’d merely chalked it up to nerves.
She was sure it was nerves, though there was more. Her vision had begun to waver. As Sampson started to probe the path ahead of them, she began to see two of him. Two Sampsons, poking at the snow with his ice axe. One finding the safe path, the other plunging down the steep mountainside. A strange double vision, a splitting probability wave. Gilly knew she was sliding to the edge of what was real.
And here she was on a literal edge. She wondered if she was suffering from altitude sickness. Was she oxygen deprived? She took a deep breath and let it out slowly. Thinking about Sampson’s cobalt blue eyes could leave her breathless. A strange sensation ran up her spine. She shivered and dug her fingers into the snow trying to steady her nerves.
“Remember, Professor Joiner’s lecture on the Inflationary Multiverse?” she asked suddenly. “Do you believe that stuff?”
Sampson stared back at her. “Stuff? We’re physicists. You want to be more specific?”
“Inflaton fields with enough potential energy, so that even a quantum nudge can bring a whole universe into being—birth a new reality.”
Sampson sighed. “Gilly, if we’re going to get into quantum jitters, I think we’re done for the day. You gotta focus on this reality if we’re going to make it safely to the top.”
“But don’t you wonder, if every step we take shakes a new reality into being, wouldn’t we feel it? Wouldn’t it somehow register?”
Sampson’s laugh boomed out over the glacier. “Not here. Mother Nature won’t suffer that kind of competition on a day like this.” He offered Gilly his hand. “Let’s go down. You’ve done amazing for a first ascent.”
Gilly felt an unexpected tingling in her neck that flowed down her shoulders to her fingertips. She squeezed Sampson’s hand firmly. “Let’s finish this.”
He eyed her carefully. “You sure? No jitters?”
“Plenty, but they’re not small enough yet.”
Sampson considered the enigma that was his girlfriend for a moment, then he went into mountain guide mode. He checked her gear and his, then their ropes and, once more, went through the plan before they stepped out onto the glacier.
Gilly, still tingling, followed.
They made the summit in an hour and a half. After taking a few pictures of the magnificent view, Gilly went to Sampson who was carving their names in the ancient snow with his ice axe. She put her arm around his waist. He pulled her close.
A universe jittered. Theirs, too.
Author: Jeremy Nathan Marks
There was a little boy in Jeanette’s care whom she called “my last hope.” She said he was unique because he would laugh and shower curiosity on the world. He was the only child who ever tried conversing with her.
She kept a bird feeder by her window that still attracted a bird here and there. She had a few sickly trees in her yard, a clutch of oaks that were the sole tree cover left in the neighborhood. At one time, Jeanette enjoyed seeing dozens of birds every hour. Now, she was lucky to see two birds every few hours.
Whenever a bird showed up at her feeder, the little boy would stop what he was doing and stare. He was mesmerized at how the few sparrows and an occasional finch pecked at the seeds and fat that formed a bell shape. He loved it when a sparrow would hang practically upside down to get the seeds on the bottom of the bell. It made him giggle with delight.
Jeanette told him about other birds of many colors she used to see. She showed him their pictures in a book: Cardinal, Nuthatch, Red-Headed Woodpecker, Oriole, Grosbeak, and Chickadee. He loved the photos, marveling at their brilliant plumage. Jeanette pointed to one of a Painted Bunting, a bird she once saw on a trip down south. The boy ran to the art table and immediately tried sketching one.
One winter afternoon, Jeanette took her troupe of children for a walk. She wanted to find birds and whatever remaining plants might house them. She did not have high hopes of finding either but enjoyed the optimism of the boy who screeched with delight every time something fluttered along the ground, even if that fluttering was a wrapper or synthetic paper. He would shout, “A bird! It’s a bird!” And Jeanette would say gently, “No, that’s not a bird. But you’re right. It is fluttering.”
When they were standing in the middle of a dull brown field, the boy thrust out his palm and asked, “What’s this?”
Jeanette looked at his hand and saw a tiny blue flower embedded in the middle of the palm. The flower, a blue aster, was nestled inside his skin. When she recovered from her initial shock, Jeanette asked, “How did that get there?”
“It show up!” the boy said with a big smile.
“Now!” he giggled.
Jeanette immediately called his parents and left each one of them a message explaining what she had seen. She said their son was doing fine, that he was happy, but that she would consult a doctor. When she called her personal physician, he dismissed what she said as lunacy. “Jeanette, you are too old to make crank calls,” and he hung up the phone.
“Does it hurt, your flower?” she asked the boy.
“No. The flower feels good.”
“It doesn’t hurt you?”
“Flowers can’t hurt me,” he said.
When Jeanette stopped to consider what to do next, she noticed that none of the other children had looked at the boy’s hand. They stood and stared off into space or kicked at rocks and other ground litter. Jeanette was surprised. She said to the boy, “Can you hold your hand up for the other children to see?”
When he did, the children looked but said nothing.
“Do you see the flower?” Jeanette asked them.
The children looked confused.
“Do you see the little flower in his hand?” she asked again.
They shook their heads. Jeanette was puzzled and upset.
Jeanette brought the group back to her house, and the boy stood in front of the window. He waited for the birds to come to the feeder. To her astonishment, they came immediately; many different birds she had not seen in years. There were cardinals, woodpeckers, nuthatches even blue jays. To Jeanette, this was a miracle, and it made her cry.
The boy with the aster in his palm came over to her and asked, “Why you cry?”
She took a deep breath and whispered, “The birds. I have not seen them in so long.”
“Now they come every day!” he said. “They come see my flower!” The boy raised his hand to the window where a female cardinal, brown and orange, stopped eating for a moment and looked at him. Then another cardinal, her mate in a brilliant red suit, fluttered beside her in the air.
All afternoon, more and more birds arrived. Jeanette went to the boy and asked, “Can I touch your flower?” To which he said, “Yes!”
When Jeanette dragged her index finger across the face of the flower, there was a sudden frenzy of activity at the window. A cacophony of squawks, chirps, and even some singing. She could not recall when she had heard more than an occasional chirp. As the noise grew louder, the boy shouted with delight, and so did Jeanette.
None of the other children noticed.