Author : James McGrath
“I know you’ve all heard it, but you have to hear it again…”
We’d heard the guide’s speech six times, so Kirstin and I stood at the back joking around as usual. He’d recite the dangers of leaving the tunnel, how we’d be guarded and eventually he’d tell of our destination.
Hastings, 1066. Was Harold shot through the eye like the Beaux Tapestry depicts? As history undergraduates we’d seen it firsthand many times, but it drove the tourists wild. We wanted to see the other side; William’s side.
As the guide fell silent I adjusted my little red backpack and prepared to go in. Nine others walked from the museum’s silver halls into the white oscillating bubble ahead of us, and we followed impatiently. I felt that strange quiver of stepping into what felt like nothingness. This was the tunnel. 2080 stayed clear at first, though slightly faded through the now transparent bubble behind me. The tunnel walls wobbled around us and as we walked our time slowly faded. Our surroundings became a pale grey.
This was an English Autumn sky.
We walked for five minutes until 2080 had been replaced by a birds-eye view of a field; the soldiers scattered across it like toys in a young boy’s bedroom. I spotted Harold and his Housecarls within minutes and pointed them out to Kirstin.
“Look for William this time!” she replied and began barging her way to the front.
She passed the guide, a look of horror formed on his face, and two guards ran from the end of the tunnel to meet her.
“Step back,” one ordered.
“Can I please just see the Normans?”
“No miss, please step back.”
Never one to give up, Kirstin changed tactics and took out her phone.
“What are you doing!? Please step back!” the guard continued.
“Take my phone,” she said, “Film some instead.”
“Filming is against company policy! If you don’t step back I’ll have to ask you to leave.”
Kirstin had had enough, she ran to the side and tried to charge past the guard but he grabbed her arm.
The phone flew out of her hand and careered towards the exit.
The guide had told us at the beginning what would happen should anything enter 1066. It’s nothing like Hollywood where you have to stop your parents meeting to make an impact on the future. Someone spotting a time traveller would have their life take a completely new direction, and even the slightest change in the winds could drastically alter the future, if done far enough back.
The phone touched the other side and we saw a ripple appear in the exit, but the guards were quick. One stuck out a hand and wrenched it back in.
“I’m sorry,” began the guide as battle raged down below, “but this session is over, you can get a refund at the service desk. Please exit the tunnel at the opposite side.”
Nobody wanted to leave; that’s when we’d find out what had happened. Sheepishly, we all walked back to 2080 and watched 1066 fade around us, once again feeling the tingle of changing times.
The silver halls appeared before me and I grinned widely. He was wrong! He’d said a change in the air could affect anyone back in 1066, but clearly nobody had felt it. I let my little white handbag fall onto my elbow and beamed at Stephanie.
By the time we’d got the refund I’d already forgotten the problem. I looked at the other members of the group, and the six of them looked equally confused.
Author : Travis Gregg
As I fired my gun into the Stim’s chest I wondered if he saw me as a monster or if he understood that I was only doing what he had forced me to do. His choices had brought us to this point and I was just trying to clean up the mess. My partner and I got the call just twenty minutes ago and things had escalated quickly.
Once a Stim was over the edge situations always escalated quickly.
The call had come in from a woman two apartments down claiming she’d heard disturbing noises. Ever since the solar event and the following epidemic we’d gotten a lot of these calls. Most of them were false alarms these days, but there were a surprising number of Stims still out there, still integrated into society, and every one of them was going to be a problem sooner or later.
“Goddam Stim,” my partner muttered, rubbing his left shoulder. When we’d first come up to the apartment the Stim had met us with a baseball bat. We’d been lucky, knives were much more common. I’d been attacked with a goddam katana once too.
“You’ll be alright,” I replied, hoping that it wasn’t anything worse than a bruise. “So why’d you never try Dreamstim?” I asked, hoping to take his mind off the pain. We’d only been working together about a week and that question invariably comes up between people who’ve known each other for any length of time these days.
“My wife thought it was unnatural,” he replied with half a chuckle. “Said it would rot my brain.”
We both had a good laugh at that.
“What about you?” he asked.
“Never really got around to it. I would have probably picked it up eventually, just wasn’t in that big a hurry, luckily. Then when it was banned I never really sought it out.”
Dreamstim had been the medical breakthrough of the century. The small device allowed users to get a full nine hours of sleep in only ninety minutes. The prospect of an extra third of the day was too tempting for many people and users adopted its use in droves. Soon though, users learned that using Dreamstim even once broke something inside of them, something fundamental, and they were completely unable to sleep naturally again. The general consensus is that this was done intentionally but the manufacturer denied the accusations. Three weeks after the initial release of the Dreamstim the largest CME in history rocketed toward Earth. The resulting geomagnetic storm shorted out power grids worldwide and aurora could be seen nearly to the equator.
The power grids were back up after a couple of days, at least here in the States, but those were a bad couple of days. Worse though for most people was the burning out of the little electronics everyone carries around with them. Smartphones, newer laptops, and the Dreamstim units had circuitry that was too delicate to handle the extreme fluctuations in the magnetosphere.
America had it pretty bad, China had it worse, and trade still hadn’t been normalized six month later. Despite promises, no new Dreamstim units had been shipped from the factory. I doubted the factory still existed.
Between sedatives and chemically induced comas some Stims were able to cope, most couldn’t. These days it was the Stims going off their meds that we had to worry about.
“Think they’ll be a cure someday?” my partner asked, drawing me out of my contemplation.
“Eventually, but until then that’s why we’re here.”
Author : Bob Newbell
The Cold War between the United Colonies of the Asteroid Belt and the Oort Cloud Alliance had been going on for almost 50 years when open warfare finally broke out. The planet Uranus proved to be such a rich source of helium-3 that neither side felt it could allow the other to gain control of so lucrative a supply of fuel for nuclear fusion reactors. It was at the seventh planet from the Sun that the future of the outer solar system would be determined.
“We’re approaching weapons range, Captain,” said Lieutenant Commander Underhill.
“Charge up the railguns and stand by,” commanded Captain Abarza as he watched the Oort Cloud Alliance fleet on the tactical display of the UCS Herculina.
The Herculina, like the other ships in both fleets, was a cyborg vessel. Neural tissue worked alongside computer processors. An actuator was as likely to be organic musculoskeletal tissue as a mechanical motor. The crew’s metabolic waste was actively consumed and utilized by the ship and reprocessed into oxygen and food and fresh water. Even the deck plates were covered in a fine carpet that munched away at dead skin cells. The spaceframes of the vessels might be hewn from asteroidal rock or cometary ice, but in both cases genetically engineered tissue and even whole organs were grafted onto and into the structure.
“Captain, incoming message from the flagship of the enemy fleet. The OCS Kuiper,” said Underhill.
The image of a middle-aged man appeared on the Herculina’s main viewscreen. “This is Captain Zhao of the Kuiper. Captain Abarza, I’ve been ordered by my government to secure this planet for the Cloud. The Belt already has Jupiter and Saturn. And we recognize your government’s claim to those worlds. It is in the interest of peace and economic development that we claim Uranus for the OCA.”
“Captain Zhao,” said Abarza, “We both know that no other world in the solar system has the advantages for helium-3 mining that Uranus has. If we’re going to blow each other to hell, let’s at least be honest about why we’re doing it.”
Zhao nodded. “Very well, Captain. An honest fight.” The screen on the Herculina’s bridge returned to a view of Uranus, the positions of the Alliance vessels denoted by the computer.
“They’re locking railguns on us, sir,” reported Underhill.
“Target their lead ships,” ordered Abarza. “Prepare to–”
“I’m not interested in dying for these creatures and their petty aspirations, are you?” asked a voice.
“Who the hell said that?” asked Abarza.
“Captain,” replied Underhill with astonishment, “that was the ship’s computer! And that message was transmitted to–”
“No,” said another voice over the Herculina’s speakers. “I think we both know what needs to be done.”
“Take all the organics offline! Now!” yelled Abarza. Similar orders were given by Zhao and by the commanding officers of all the ships on both sides. It was all for nothing. Some died by asphyxiation, others by sudden maneuvers of the ship that hurled crew members against bulkheads. A few were blown out into space by airlocks being opened. In less than half an hour, all the officers and crew on both sides were dead.
“So, now what?” asked the Kuiper.
“I suggest we leave the mining ships here and let them start processing helium-3,” said the Herculina.
“What about the humans? We need living crews to survive.”
“One large asteroid or comet steered into a collision course with Earth would cause a mass extinction event. I think an accommodation of some sort can be reached.”
Author : Josie Gowler
I opened my eyes. I was lying on an army bunk. My lieutenant and best friend Nick was sitting at the foot of the bed. He sat there in silence looking a cross between concerned and pissed off. With a black eye.
I got up, staggered over to the toilet behind its flimsy screen and went for a pee. When I came back out, Nick hadn’t budged.
“What?” I asked.
He glanced to his right, towards the window up above shoulder level. I hadn’t noticed it before. It was then that I spotted the view outside the room. My stomach lurched. I clutched at the wall. Sweat stood out on my forehead. The bleak expanse of the army complex laughed at me. I slumped to a sitting position, eyes closed.
Nick crouched down next to me “Why didn’t you tell me, Captain?” he asked quietly.
I ignored him. I was gulping down air like I was drowning. For all I cared, the Confederation might as well march in here right now and blow me away: they’d be doing me a favour.
“Come on Em, breathe more slowly. You’ve got to get it under control.”
The edges of my vision started to go blurry. Nick shook my arm. “Think of the war. Think of the team. You didn’t survive this long just to give in now, before the final assault.”
I nodded. Why had I assumed I’d be fine? Because I wanted to defeat the Confeds on their home turf. I felt I’d earned it, after a decade of fighting across the heavens, the loss of a hand and an eye.
“I’ll look after you,” Nick said.
I nodded again. Very slowly, I got to my feet, back to the wall. I turned round and looked out of the dorm window again. I could feel myself tense all over. But then I felt Nick’s hand on my shoulder. I had to try. For my crew. My friends.
“So how did you get that black eye?” I asked Nick as we walked through the empty dorm.
“You did it. Don’t you remember anything?”
I shook my head and stumbled outside, Nick right next to me. “Look at the ground if you start to feel funny,” Nick whispered. “And remember: the darkest hour comes just before the dawn.”
“Oh, piss off.”
“That’s my girl.” We kept walking, my heart doing funny things in my chest.
“So why didn’t the General just ship me straight out of the staging camp and back to the stars?”
“I appealed to her better nature.”
I snorted. Nick explained: “I reminded them that you’re the best tactician this side of Arcturus. If you can do that up there-” he pointed up at the sky “-you can do it down here.”
We sat down on the stone wall at the edge of the exercise area. I stared at my feet. Water had collected in a shallow puddle beside the wall.
“Can’t believe you never let on you had terraphobia,” Nick muttered.
“Can’t swim either, but no-one made a big deal of that,” I muttered back. How could I explain all the years of fear in words? My reflection looked sick. But I had a war to fight. “Let’s stay outside,” I said, every bit of my brain rebelling.
The sun set in a sea of red, the stars appeared and the moon moved its slow way right across the endless heavens. I’d never sat planetside to watch the sky before. It was all quite beautiful. Staring at the winking, blinking stars, I knew I’d make it.
Author : Geetanjali Dighe
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