Author : Bob Newbell
Jimmy Shindorf reclined on the hospital bed. A hollow filament as thin as a thread penetrated his neck over the right carotid artery. An IV dripped normal saline at a slow rate into his left antecubital vein. They had suggested placing a Foley catheter, but he’d talked them into allowing a couple of bathroom breaks per session. In just a few minutes they would introduce the nanomachines through the tiny tubule in his neck; a few hours after that, he would start to forget 60 years of his life.
“Mr. Shindorf, we’re ready,” said the doctor. “It’s not too late to back out.”
“I’m ready to do this,” said Jimmy. “Let’s begin.”
Jimmy felt nothing as the army of nanorobots swam through the tube, up into his right carotid artery, and then into his brain. He thought back to two years ago when his wife started noticing he was getting forgetful. His long-term memory had been more or less intact, but forming new memories had become increasingly problematic.
“Your brain’s full,” the doctor had told him then. And it made a lot of sense. Jimmy was almost 150 years old. After the advent of nanomedicine, people started living a really long time. The memory capacity of the human brain was never designed for storing two lifetimes worth of data. The doctor had told Jimmy about “defragging”.
Defragging was an informal term derived from the disk defragmentation, reorganization, and compaction that was once part of the routine maintenance of antique computers. Doing something similar to a living human brain was a delicate procedure. After taking up their positions within the cerebrum, the nanomachines would reside in a “standby” mode. For several hours a day over the course of several weeks, the subject would view images and videos and listen to audio recordings of episodes from his past under the supervision of a neuroengineering team while functional MRI machines and magnetoencephalography devices tracked down the precise neurons and their interconnections in which the memories were physically and neurochemically stored. When the computers had correlated enough data from the magnetic resonance imagers and the superconducting quantum interference devices and the spin exchange relaxation-free magnetometers, the nanomachines would be programmed to delete the memories deemed suitable and thus free up storage capacity in the brain.
“I hated high school,” Jimmy had told the neuropsychiatrists at several of his pre-op visits. The academic knowledge of his adolescent education could be retained while the recollection of despised teachers and disliked classmates could be consigned to oblivion. His failed first marriage he was advised to keep in his memory. The defragging industry had learned early on that removing certain bad experiences from a person’s mind strongly predisposed to making the same mistakes again.
He parted with a good bit of what had once been called “middle age”. A man could get by with the memory of a single decade of the dull, joyless grind of alarm clocks and traffic jams and work. His first retirement he chose to mostly delete. How much recall of gardening and golfing and vegetating in front of a television for years and years before the first somatic cell rejuvenation techniques became available did he really need? His encyclopedic knowledge of heavy metal bands he had acquired in his twenties? Gone.
He left his first defrag session feeling rested and refreshed. As the car drove Jimmy and his wife back home, he noticed something odd, something he couldn’t quite put into words. In some very subtle and ill-defined way, he didn’t quite feel like Jimmy anymore.
Author : Methias
He slumbered. He remembered. His recollections were filled with vague, half-things. Muted feelings, dulled senses, broken memories.
He remembered the last time he slumbered. He remembered the fall.
He remembered the fire and the death. He remembered a heat so intense that that the simulated pain cut out to a dull warning tingle, lest it distract him. He remembered the wiring under his hull screaming its protest as the unseen waves of power struck his hardware and caused it to stutter and die. He remembered sleeping then as his repair systems went to work, confident that he would wake to continue his mission. He was built to endure.
Time passed, how much time he could not say. When he slept, time lost its importance.
He remembered waking. The city was gone, a vast plain in its place. He remembered having to dig himself free of the clinging dirt in which he was buried. He remembered completing the journey that had been interrupted by the fall. He remembered seeing men on his way there. He remembered their fear at his sight. He remembered their cries as they fled into the plains. He did not pursue. He had orders.
When he reached the coordinates logged in his memory he found no trace of his destination, but a brief scan revealed a large metal lined mass below him. He dug.
He remembered guarding the room, as he had been instructed before his slumber, until exposure to the elements caused its reinforced thermocrete to crumble to dust.
He remembered slumbering again.
A vague sensation of loss pulled at him. He reached back into his drives, trying to pinpoint its origin.
He remembered back, back to the very beginning of his cored memory. He remembered awakening for the first time. He remembered his issued identifier and his designated role; adaptive autonomous combatant. He remembered his first battles fighting on the forefront of an invasion for his human masters. He remembered his standing orders; critical resource defense and denial. He remembered that his adaptive programming made him a valuable asset, and ensured his continued service through 183 years of active service and 38 refits. He was built to endure, and endure he did.
Still he could not locate the origin of the sense of loss, but there was nowhere left to search. He had examined his entire memory bank and found no source.
The feeling grew, and he began to dream. He dreamed of death, that of others and of his own.
He dreamed of fighting in a war, but not as he remembered. In his dream he was human. In his dream he was a soldier fighting in a war for his home against an army of dead men in machines. In his dream he was shot one night in an ambush, cut off from his friends. In his dream, he died.
His dreams became more and more clouded as he dreamt back, further and further.
He dreamt of children, playing on a swing behind a house. He dreamt of carrying them to bed after they fell asleep in the fort they had built out of the couch. He dreamt of a woman. He dreamt of loving her.
The sense of loss grew, and he remembered.
He had been so long from them, he had almost forgotten.
He examined his metallic frame. It was spotless, free of rust and corrosion, his innate repair systems flawless. He would see them again, but not yet, not for a long while. He was built to endure, and endure he did.
Author : Suzann Dodd
They were supposed to come for me in a hundred hours. That was the deal.
I was passing for a local, having done the course. I knew how to get over.
I’d been given enough currency to survive for two hundred hours; that was also part of the Contract. What I didn’t spend would be deducted from my bill so I was frugal.
But they didn’t come in a hundred hours, and after a hundred and twenty, I panicked.
I got a job after a hundred and thirty hours, not good pay by any means, but enough to off set my expenses so that I wouldn’t be stuck with a life’s mortgage.
After two hundred hours I had the feeling that ‘something had happened’ and they weren’t coming.
That meant I was stranded.
I moved from the Hotel to a Motel, then to a basement apartment. I changed jobs, and after three hundred hours I realised I might be here for the rest of my life.
I was violently ill. What cured me was that the technology was so primitive I couldn’t dare enter any facility. I had to protect my integrity at all costs and use my knowledge to prosper.
Of course it was a Breach of the Contract and I would be severely punished, but considering I was the victim here, I liked the odds.
I started small, betting on sporting events, investing in stock, using my winnings to purchase value which would double, treble, but staying just under radar.
I traveled to places that didn’t keep efficient records, and occasionally thought about interfering, but kept remembering the ‘Grandfather Principle.’
When I felt like it, I left messages to those from my time who would know that even here, I thought of them.
Author : Bob Newbell
I set the display to pan to the constellation of Canis Minor. The holographic celestial sphere rotates all around me until the Smaller Dog comes into view. I wave my hand over the controls. The display zooms in on Procyon A. The white main sequence star fills half the room. The image is a real-time picture, at least as real-time as 11.4 light-years of distance will allow. The Procyon system has no planets, but if it did I could zoom in on an object the size of a deck of cards on the surface of one.
All across the solar system telescopes of every variety continually search the sky. Sensors scrutinize gamma ray sources to determine if they are the product of an antimatter propulsion system. Detectors search the void for hints of Bremsstrahlung radiation that could come from the plasma confinement system of a fusion reactor. The possible visual signature of a photon rocket? Cyclotron radiation that might be a sign of an operating magnetic sail? A radio signal or modulated neutrino pulse of an extraterrestrial civilization? There are devices to detect all of them and more. And all of that data is sent to observation and early warning stations like this one.
We’ve been watching the skies for decades, watching for any telltale sign of an impending invasion. A second invasion, that is.
January 18, 2098. That was the day the human race finally made contact with an alien civilization. Much to everyone’s surprise, the signal came from Mars. To this day, we have no idea where they originated. We know it wasn’t Mars. They’d come from another star system and claimed Mars for themselves. In fact, they claimed the entire solar system. Earth was ours, their transmission said. And we could maintain satellites in orbit. But that was it. No manned missions and no more probes beyond Earth orbit. Even the Moon was off limits. The entire solar system outside of Earth was their territory. This ultimatum was the first, last, and only communication humanity ever had with the aliens.
The Chinese didn’t listen. Nine months later, they launched an instrumented probe to study Saturn. Three weeks after the launch, Beijing was annihilated. Antimatter weapon, the physicists who examined the aftermath said.
For six years after the destruction of Beijing, Mars was minutely studied by telescopes both on Earth and in Earth orbit. On July 9, 2106, the alien facilities on and in orbit around Mars were struck by 75 nuclear weapons. The Greater United States, China, the European Union, and the Russian Federation had developed stealthy vehicles that could approach the alien stronghold undetected. Each nuclear-armed probe had secretly gone up along with some other innocuous payload like a weather satellite and then surreptitiously proceeded to Mars. The aliens were obliterated.
For close to 50 years, humanity has studied the remnants of biology and technology left behind after the destruction of the invaders. As a result, we’ve advanced much faster than we otherwise would have. We’re all over the solar system now. There’s even serious discussion about a manned mission to Alpha Centauri before the end of the century. The dream of humanity exploring and colonizing space has finally come true. But it’s not the old science fiction vision of the human race evolving into something nobler and embracing its destiny among the stars. It’s a nervous necessity that drives mankind out into space. And we never stop watching the skies.
Author : Susan Nance Carhart
“There’s no way to program my time machine remotely. Not really,” Solberg told his friends. “I can’t perform a unmanned test. I can’t even use an animal for the passenger. But the modeling works. It all comes down to me.”
The friends caught each other’s eye and shook their heads. Solberg’s private laboratories were in a separate wing from the rest of his facility, and even more amazing. Cool blue light suffused the shining interior. Before them was the device that Solberg had dreamed of for thirty years.
“You tell him, Royce,” muttered Julia. “He won’t listen to me.”
Solberg stared back at them, and then put up his hands. “What? What is it?”
“You always think it comes down to you, Jack,” Royce grunted. “Real science can’t be done by one person these days. And it should never be done in secret. You have a team to vet your ideas. Bring them in on this! You need free discussion. I don’t care if you have more money than God. If you had to look for funding, you’d have the challenge of informed analysis and constructive criticism—”
“I might as well send my research to the Chinese,” Solberg sneered. “This is going to revolutionize human life. I’m getting all the credit this time. Do you want to see the test, or not?”
“Yes, we want to see the test,” Julia shot back. “We want to know what happens to you. I think this is insanely reckless, but there’s no way to stop you now. What’s the plan?”
“A short hop, really. I’m going to go back in time one month exactly. I know that no one was in this laboratory at that moment. To prove I’ve been moving in time, I’ll scribble a message on that wall.”
He pointed to the white and pristine tiles facing them. “You’ll be here, and as soon as I’m gone, those words should appear on the wall. Then I’ll come back. It shouldn’t take more than fifteen minutes in absolute time. Don’t move into the space occupied by the device… that could be bad.”
“You are completely crazy, Jack,” Royce sighed. “You know that, right?”
Julia took him in her arms and gave him a kiss on the cheek. “Good luck, you idiot.”
Solberg grinned at her, shook Royce’s hand, and climbed into his time machine. “I’m not going anywhere,” he said. “I’ll just be in this exact spot, one month ago.”
A crackle of light enveloped him, and he vanished.
They waited all day.
They waited until nightfall, with aching hearts and fading hopes. They called the Head of Research just after midnight. Doctor Philip Carmichael was at the facility in half an hour, and poking through his employer’s holy of holies in another ten minutes.
Balding and sardonic, he heard their story, and gave it some thought.
At length, he ventured, “You know what Galileo said to himself, when the Church forced him to swear that the Earth was the center of the universe?” He paused, and then told them.
“‘And yet, it moves.'”
Illumination. Each saw, in a mind’s eye of awe and terror, the time machine winking into empty space: in the exact position on the Earth’s orbit that the planet—and Solberg Laboratories— wouldn’t occupy until one month into that time’s future.