Tunnel Rats

Author : Rick Tobin

“You speak English, Mario? I don’t know German and you don’t speak French.” Emil put the phosphorescent torch down by the other resting miner. They took their break secretly, amid the dust and constant reverberation from other slaves mining the deep caverns.

“Some. Little bit. We speak here. So deep few come and they don’t burn us.” Mario coughed, looking at the dark blood splattering his tattered sleeve.

“You have it. You know it is bad.” Emil pointed at the glowing spurts reflecting the yellow glow of their lights. “They will put you in the surface if they see this. Here.” Emil rubbed the gray dust over Emil’s sleeve until the grime no longer shone under the torchlight.

“So long. These many years. So many faces in my head lost in these caves. I have tried to stay alive since the War, when they took us from the battlefield. You were there. I almost long for the smell of the trenches. At least there was water, even in the bombardments. There was horror, but no torture. None of these monsters driving us like cattle; only the madness of men, Earth men, to destroy us.”

“I heard from a crew in the cross tunnels that someone was on the surface and saw a flash on the Earth. Somewhere in the orient. Maybe a volcano, but it was bright as day. Maybe another war. We saw some new faces in the haulers. They had the new stare. Remember that, when we first were captured?”

Mario nodded, still catching his breath in his shattered lungs. The cloying humidity and high oxygen content pumped through the diggings ate away his stamina. The dizziness would return before the end of his shift. He would only think about lifting his pick against the walls, not knowing if he was actually lifting anything. That was all that was left…just imagining the movement to prevent the burning prods from the overseers.

“Mario, someday they will know.”

“Who?” Mario whispered.

“Us…those left behind. They will come here someday and find out the Moon is a slave market and that this horrible place is hollow. They will feel the blasting. They will see the lights in the craters and the ships bringing fresh workers here. Someday.”

The tattered men pushed up as the hum of an overseer patrol cart came near, pushing them to continued until they would be jettisoned on the dark side.

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A New Beginning

Author : Nick Sousa

My senses returned to me slowly as I took stock of my surroundings.

“We’ve been watching, and waiting for quite some time. Your last day on earth has come and passed. You’re safe now, and you will never have to return to earth ever again. Take some time to familiarize yourself with your living quarters. We will return later.”

My body began to fill with warmth, and a collage of information appeared before me. This was a bit startling, but over time it became obvious that the room I existed within was modeling itself based on my own thought patterns.

After a bit of introspection, I set my sights on deepening my understanding of where I existed in relation to planet earth. Instantly, the borders of the room became transparent and a stunning array of galaxies appeared. The heads up display embedded within my body immediately outfitted each star system with a layered view of the relevant data available to me.

The focal point of my observation became magnified multiple times over until my scope of vision was assaulted with a bird’s eye view of planet earth. As my disgust registered itself, the apparition disassembled itself into a scattered array of billions of individual pieces. As the image faded away, a precise feeling of euphoria washed over me; planet earth was no more.

It was at that moment that I realized I was able to adjust the extent to which gravity kept my body tethered to the surface of the room. The feeling of escaping the bonds of gravity added an excellent complement to the joy that one naturally experiences after being freed from imprisonment. Earth’s influence was rapidly diminishing, and what replaced it was immeasurable.

I folded by body into a traditional lotus posture and began to silently reflect. The stress started to melt away, and what remained was a boundless sense of appreciation. Meditating in zero gravity was infinitely more pleasing than expected. I lost all sense of time, enveloped in the awareness that I would never be forced to interact with a human being ever again.

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Help Wanted

Author : Suzanne Borchers

“Hey, Cuz, why are you sitting on that refuse pile?” George5 glided by snickering. “Thought you were high end, not dead end!”

Eddie kicked at the garbage beneath him. He couldn’t be obsolete! He could still warm and cool his skin with just a thought.

He should have had two more years before the luxury spa was renovated. He had enjoyed regulating the restoration/whirlpool. He had enjoyed the soothing waves of the water mixed with the smiles of the bathers. He had been necessary. An Edward450 bot needed to be of service.

Eddie wasn’t ready to be recycled. He’d have to find something new. Eddie called, “Hear about any good jobs?” Even though Georgi5 was already down the alley at the corner, Eddie could hear his derisive laugh.

“My hands can still massage human muscles into relaxation,” Eddie mused. “I’m going back to my job at the Yoga to Go Studio.” After all, they knew he was hardworking. Then he remembered that it had been razed for a fast food chicklet joint.

Eddie wished he could frown. He kicked the pile beneath him.

It was then Eddie noticed an old ragged man writing on a cloth. The man slowly limped past shivering. His clothes were of light material, and he wore no hat or gloves in the freezing air. Eddie didn’t take his orb from the shaky form until a piece of rag drifted toward him on the wind. He pulled it off his stained metallic leg to read its handwritten words.

There once was a bot in my alley
Who certainly needed a pally
So join with me bot
You’re in a poor spot
The garbage ship’s here so don’t dally.

Eddie looked at the man who had turned to stare back at him. He heard the recycle ship rumbling behind him, the sound getting louder.

“You coming?” The ragged fellow turned and began to shuffle away.

“Wait!” Eddie was an intelligent bot and knew he only had seconds. He jumped from the pile and landed on his feet.

Later that evening, Eddie and Charles sat together inside a rickety box of piled metallic pieces tied together with strips of rags. Eddie emitted warmth and light into the space. Charles scribbled on another cloth, occasionally stopping to gnaw on a chicklet bone and take a swig from an ancient flask.

Charles sniffed then showed the cloth to Eddie.

There once was a ragged old man
Who prayed to his god for a plan
To keep him alive
And help him survive
So he sent a fantastic tin can.

Eddie wished he could smile.

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Alternates

Author : Bob Newbell

“Another ten billion dollars a year?!” said the Senator incredulously. “And that on top of the billions already spent annually? And for a scientific toy that only worked one time for a few minutes? And that had some kind of radiation leak or something right after you switched it on? You better have one hell of a sales pitch.”

The quantum physicist nodded. “I realize we’re asking for a lot, Senator. And I’m not insensitive to the fact that the country has lots of other expenses. But the safety of not just the nation but the world depends on the SuperString Collider getting more funding.”

“I’m inclined to doubt that, doctor. You scientists already played the world safety card when you convinced Congress and the administration to write you a check sufficient to fund a major war just so you could build that giant dome over your white elephant.” The cantankerous legislator pointed at the kilometer-wide geodesic hemisphere that dominated the landscape. “And you’ve had four years to get it up and running again.”

“It will never be turned on again. In fact, the collider no longer exists. But we need our budget increased just the same.”

The Senator looked at the scientist with utter disbelief.

“Four years ago when we did a trial run of the SSC,” continued the physicist, “the machine worked perfectly. For the briefest of moments the collider’s detectors confirmed the presence of a ten-dimensional hyperspace just as was theoretically predicted. Exactly 17 hours, 21 minutes, and 11.3 seconds after the SSC was shut down, an area around the machine roughly three-quarters of a kilometer in diameter changed.”

“Changed? How?”

“The land on which the SSC had stood and the area around it had transformed into a desert. We detected low-level radioactivity in the soil. We thought the machine had created some kind of chain reaction that caused it and its surrounding to disintegrate. But 17 hours, 21 minutes, and 11.3 seconds after the facility’s security camera telemetry ceased, the area changed again, this time into a swamp.”

The Senator shook his head incredulously. “A swamp?”

“But like no swamp ever seen on Earth,” said the scientist. “We were able to retrieve several plant and animal specimens before the next transformation cycle occurred. Not one of them fit anywhere in the taxonomy of life on this planet. The military quickly took command of the situation. I and my colleagues had to sign nondisclosure agreements if we wanted to continue working on the project. A couple of acquaintances who refused have been ‘missing’ for some time.”

The car pulled itself up to the dome and automatically opened its doors. After going through a security checkpoint, the physicist and the Senator entered the dome. Steel and glass partitions reached from the floor to the inward-sloping interior wall of the dome. The partitions extended around the interior circumference of the structure hermetically sealing the area.

The contained land, at the moment, was covered in ice. A large, white, frog-like creature slid on the ice on its belly, its hind legs beating furiously to propel it across the tundra.

“What…what is that thing? An alien?”

“No, Senator, that creature is as much an Earthling as you or I. But it’s from an alternate Earth, an Earth with a radically different history and evolution. Sometimes it’s like the surface of the Moon. Other times, ‘people’ show up. Not human, but intelligent and bewildered. For a little over 17 hours, anyway.”

“Are you sure,” asked the Senator, “ten billion more a year will be enough?”

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Scale

Author : Beck Dacus

For most the difference between being stranded on an island and being stranded on a distant planet is merely numerical. But while stranded on the planet Ergingad, I could feel it.

Probes had been there before, so it had been explored. We knew about the atmosphere, gravity, composition and anything else that there was to know. We also knew it was uninhabitable; there was no life, and terraforming it would be a waste. My crew and I went to establish an automated mining base. But when the ships boron-proton reaction chamber ruptured, nearly killing all of us, I didn’t think, “I’m stuck here.” I thought, “I’m stuck 2 quadrillion kilometers from civilization.”

You start to get the feeling that the galaxy isn’t that big, because anywhere you go, you can fly back from. But the instant that’s not true anymore, you realize that the scales you’re talking about are too big for any human mind to comprehend. But if you can comprehend it, you are utterly terrified.

I can see it in the others now. We’re all jumpy, depressed, irritable, and mistrustful. I don’t know if we’ll ever get rescued. I don’t know if we’ll let each other live long enough to find out.

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