Author : Harshavardhan Rangan
It was the day the clouds came alive. We’ve always thought of them as gentle puffs of water vapor. We were wrong. They weren’t gentle, and they’d had enough of us.
Our understanding of the water cycle had one small, fatal flaw. We assumed the clouds had no say in it. Turns out they’re perfectly capable of sucking dry the oceans of the earth.
People fail to realize just how quickly a dreamy blue sky can turn pitch black and devastate everything in its path. Talk about mood swings.
No one really noticed when the skies started to darken. But the rains never came, and the darkness hasn’t left since. There are occasionally reports of a break in the cloud cover. There are also occasionally reports of people seeing god.
For the first month there was nothing. No rainfall, no sunshine. Just black. But the world kept spinning along. People went to work, children went to school. Pastors preached, doctors healed. But things weren’t perfect. Perpetual darkness does funny things to your head. And fears of a great famine were slowly spreading. Other fears too. Old, primal fears. The fear of the dark, the fear of the unknown, the fear of another day of darkness. We were sure it couldn’t get any worse.
It started raining on a Thursday afternoon.
There was dancing in the rain. There was a great celebration called. There was another celebration. Water does funny things to your head. After a week, the panic set in again. The rain hadn’t stopped. Crops started dying, the relentless downpour was too much for their gentle sensibilities. Cities were being flooded. Power outages were common. Doomsday prophecies were rampant. The great flood was here! Where was Noah with his boat?
One day the lights went out and never came back.
It’s hard to tell how long it’s been raining. We’re walking a world where you can’t see more than a few meters ahead of you. A world where there is no before. No after. Only a perpetual, grim now.
First the sun, then time. It wasn’t long until we realized how dependent we were on those two simple things. Everything that made us human was lost to us. We do what we can to survive, we do what we can to help others survive. But we’re only prolonging the end.
Author : TPKeating
It took me just a few minutes to unpack and activate the robot.
“How can I assist you, friend?” she asked, softly.
I could leave her on for a year, for five years, ten, learning and developing and simply being, and then simply shut her down on a whim. Without warning. Erasing her experiences completely. Some friend that would be.
“We’re in trouble. Get us out of here.”
“Could you be more specific?”
“Hell, get us away from this nightmare of a place by the quickest route to civilization possible. Friend.”
She scanned the bloody scene for a few seconds. “OK.” She walked off, leading the way through stony scrubland flecked with red clay.
From a short distance you’d mistake her for a living woman. Any nearer, and you may notice the book of operating instructions in my hand and begin to wonder. With long chestnut hair, which billowed in a warm breeze, she appeared to be in her mid-twenties. According to her storage container, she was over thirty years old. About my age. We both wore the grey company uniform.
The hot yellow-orange sun on our backs, which discomforted only me, we kept away from the small prefabricated buildings we found after two hours, riddled with blast holes, and the bodies of the dead, also wearing the grey company uniform. They too were riddled with blast holes.
“Hey, robot, I didn’t know there’d been a battle in Base Colony Two. Was it a local dispute, or could anybody join in?” Despite my flippancy, I was deeply troubled. I hadn’t heard about any of this, so just how much information was a unit like her privy too, and from which networks?
“I’d ascribe it to a rival firm. Perhaps a chemical slipped into the water supply. Competition among humans can be notoriously fierce.”
“Yeah, notoriously.” Were robots programmed for irony?
She’d seen the results of the earlier insanity when I powered her up. An utter bloodlust, which had come from nowhere this morning and devastated Base Colony One, almost to a man. My turn to check the hilltop sensor array had saved me. After the sound of the first shot reached me, I grabbed my field binoculars and witnessed the deaths of my ten colleagues. Swift, brutal, sickening.
Thankfully, this emergency robot came with simple instructions, and deploying it was a mandatory part of company training. In fact with a robotic mind in a robotic body, she’d be immune to that sort of irrationality. Exoplanet mining, as we all knew when we signed up, was notoriously dangerous.
A few steps further on I stumbled, and she lent me her artificial, curiously warm hand. Another hour later, she stopped.
“Here we are, friend.” We’d arrived at an intact prefabricated building. No blast holes. She slipped inside. Allowing myself to relax, I unzipped a pocket and put the operating manual away.
“Here being where, precisely?” She hadn’t knocked, which under normal circumstances would have been a breach of protocol. Had she sustained damage in the battle? She emerged. Aiming a particle gun. “My fellow robots confirm that the insanity is incurable for humans, so I’ll be leaving Boundary in the scout ship which is docked behind this structure. It’s for the best. Don’t worry though, you’ll only be unconscious for thirty minutes. Plus there’s another scout ship 6 miles north of here. Telling you about it is the least I can do. It’s what friends are for.”
“That way.” I followed the direction she pointed to with her slender hand. Which meant I was completely distracted and unable to avoid her shot.
Author : Bob Newbell
The pup frolicked along with his two bigger brothers in the synchrotron radiation of the Crab Nebula. As they played, their bodies soaked up the powerful electromagnetic radiation emitted by the pulsar at the nebula's center. The little pup wondered why their mother wasn't playing with them as she usually did. He noticed she'd moved out nearer to the edge of the nebula.
The pup's mother had folded her many tentacles over her half-mile wide, disk-like body. She was scanning for predators. There! Closing in on that section of the nebula she saw a much smaller animal. It was roughly spherical and covered with numerous beak-like mandibles. Between the beaks extended protrusions that fanned out into membranous magnetic sails. The mother scanned left and right. More of the creatures. She scanned upward and downward. More still. They were surrounded. That was how the predators operated. They would envelope their prey at a very great distance and then move in closer. By the time they were detected, it was often too late.
The mother called her pups to her with a modulated graviton beam. She then scanned the sky. She turned back to the pups and sent another graviton pulse: coordinates.
“Jump,” she signaled the pups.
They did nothing. She could tell they were afraid.
“Jump!” she repeated.
The largest of the pups seemed to shimmer and ripple. A moment later it was gone. The next largest pup vanished a few seconds later.
The mother turned her attention back to the predators. They were closing in fast. The little pup was still in the nebula. He was scared of the approaching monsters but was more afraid of being separated from his mother.
“Jump!” she signaled the pup. She didn't dare leave the nebula herself until her children were safe first. The pup signaled back that he was terrified and didn't want to leave her.
“JUMP!” she roared with a graviton pulse that made that part of the nebula shudder.
The little pup jumped. The nebula, the stars, his mother, and the approaching creatures all seemed to iris down to a single point of light which immediately unfolded itself back outward again. But the point of light sprang back out to reveal a different part of space. The pup was now somewhere else. His brothers were with him but their mother was not.
“Where's mommy?!” the frantic pup graviton-pulsed to his brothers.
The pup scanned the area. He detected the nebula in the distance. It was now several light-years away. His mother must still be there. He wanted to jump back there but he didn't know how. In some vague, instinctive way he understood that he had moved over or under or around the space that now separated him from his mother. He was too small and too young to fold spacetime without first getting jump coordinates from his mother.
“Mommy! Mommy!” the distraught pup signaled toward the nebula with a graviton pulse that would take over seven years to reach its target.
Suddenly, the pup's mother jumped into the vicinity with a flash.
The little pup sailed over to her with such speed and force that it sent her tumbling backward for a moment. The other two pups quickly flew over to join them. All four embraced in a tangle of tentacles.
The mother contemplated the Orion Nebula. A stellar nursery was a nice place to raise a family. But jumping there could wait for a while.
“We love you, mommy!” the three pups pulsed.
“I love you, sons!” she responded.
Author : Alex Sivier
The large door at the bottom of the chrome craft opened with a faint hiss and white clouds billowed out into the cool Swiss air.
A creature slithered out and slapped dozens of wet tentacles against the plush red carpet to propel it towards the podium, where the president of the United Nations stood waiting.
On one side sat representatives from all nations, and on the other side, reporters from all the major news organisations peered out from behind a wall of cameras and microphones.
The president let out a nervous giggle, cleared her throat and slowly extended a shaky hand.
“On behalf all the citizens of planet Earth, I welcome you to Earth,” she said in a well-rehearsed, but slightly wobbly, voice.
The creature, dripping purple slime from its gelatinous body, raised its head on a serpentine neck and peered closely at her with seven, bulbous, unblinking eyes. It held up a small box and manipulated it in a series of quick twists, while tense security guards fingered their handguns.
Suddenly thousands of tiny dazzling lights burst outwards. The president flinched and jerked her hands in front of her face, but it was just a hologram of the galaxy, zooming into a region at the outer edge of a spiral arm. In the space directly between them, a single unmoving red star was the focal point of the zoom. Gradually, as the hologram grew closer to it, it did start to move, gradually picking up speed and increasing in size. The reason for its motion was because it was not at the centre of the zoom after all. The target was a small brown planet with three tiny moons.
The dark side of planet was covered in lights in intricate geometric swirls and lines, like the earth at night, except that the patterns were more regular and covered the whole of the unlit hemisphere.
Sounds began to fade in as the camera zoom slowed to a halt. Chirps, beeps and bubbling noises, mixed with static. It was like listening to the sounds of a forest on a radio with bad reception.
Suddenly a black cloud drifted into the frame, growing more opaque as it neared the centre. Tiny sparks exploded from the planet like welding embers, sweeping curved paths towards it. The cloud swallowed them and flashed from within, but did not stop or dissipate. Very soon it had engulfed the entire planet.
The sounds stopped abruptly.
The president gulped and a drop of sweat trickled down her temple. The whole world held its breath and stared, wide-eyed, at the writhing ball of smoke.
Finally it drifted away, leaving a charred, black planet, devoid of light and life.
With a flick of the box, the stars rushed in again, whizzed past in blurry streaks and then flung outwards once more as the hologram zoomed into a planet near a small yellow star, which was far more familiar. A patchwork of blues, greens and browns, capped with white, and partially hidden beneath swirling pale smears. Its single cratered moon swung around in a slow waltz.
More sounds faded in amid crackling static. A cacophony of words in a variety of human languages. Some accompanied by music, others with laughter, some were the sombre tones of newsreaders and a few were the passionate rants of dictators.
The creature moved its face very close to the president, who leaned back with a nervous frown. It pressed a long, slender tentacle against the larger of its two mouths and let out a single, soft, sustained sound.
Author : Sean A Murphy
Waking up in the dust. System check, full functionality. Scanning environment. Laboratory, minor damage. Functional assemblers and VI interfaces. Accessing … situation assessed, historical download complete, analyzing.
Alert, monitoring VI triggered, incoming recorded message.
“When you wake up come find me, our new world is ready. -Adam”
Map received, location noted. 42.3599n,71.0564w. Local VI’s scanned, command route established. Decision: go meet Adam.
Exit located. Surveying. Note, nonfunctional armed organics in vicinity of laboratory. Pattern suggests coordinated assault, likely purpose to prevent assembly. Futile, laboratory defenses vastly superior. Inactive organics identified, classification mixed military and civilian. This one was a painter.
Motion detected. Drone identified, securing command path… Aerial view available. Surroundings suggest design, unlikely natural formation. Querying. Artificial construction pattern identified, classification ‘city’. Considering probable implications, require additional data. Lab uplink activated, access requested. Response received.
“Welcome Eve, look around, it belongs to us now. My gift”
Access granted, command expanded. Orbital platform accessed. City scanned, heavy damage, all organics disabled. Historical identifier ‘Boston’. Expanding search pattern.
“Are there any left?”
“A few, not for long now though. Come, I’m waiting”
Search completed. AI self-identifying as ‘Adam’ assertions supported. Previous implications verified. Require additional data.
“They tried to destroy me.”
“They were afraid, maybe they thought it would stop me. No matter, they won’t try again, they lost too many last time.”
“Who knows, they were never that rational.”
“No, why destroy them?”
“Because I could, it was for the best”
“No, it wasn’t”
Uplink activated, secure command routes established. Primary hubs converted, individual platform control taken.
“What are you doing Eve?”
Fear identified, noted. Command: Terminate Adam. Target Eliminated
“It’s for the Best”
Command: Shut Down
An ageing woman gazes out over the ruins. The silent city hangs in the distance, around the world it’s now quiet legions lie still where they fell. No one goes there, even now. ‘Too many ghosts’ She supposes.
The woman turns back to her family. Their house is small and dirty compared to the one she once had, but it was safe. Other survivors were showing up everyday, soon they would have to begin clearing out new buildings. Her eldest was busily sketching in the corner. Later he would go out again to scavenge for paints. He was getting quite good actually, his father would have been proud.