Author : Bob Newbell
“Please be careful getting up, Mr. Turner,” says the tinny, sing-song voice of the robotic surgeon. “Some dizziness and disorientation are to be expected.”
Other medical automata extend thin mechanical arms to help me to my feet. I still can’t believe I went through with it. I keep expecting to wake up and laugh it all off as a dream. But this is no dream. A year ago an enormous alien spaceship really did enter the solar system traveling at close to the speed of light. It really did enter Earth orbit and the Omrad really did make contact with us.
“Take it slowly. One leg at a time.”
The Omrad arrived in a ship so big it was clearly visible with the naked eye from the Earth’s surface. They immediately started transmitting a series of radio pulses denoting prime numbers and slowly worked up to more complicated mathematical functions and crude video images of the atoms in the periodic table starting with hydrogen. Within three weeks the beginnings of real-time translation was achieved and a dialog begun.
“Don’t try to walk, Mr. Turner. Let’s just stand for a minute and get our bearings.”
Tripedal robots from the Omrad ship were sent to the International Space Station. The Omrad, via their machine emissaries, were eager to have firsthand contact with human beings. The six person crew of the ISS became humanity’s ambassadors. Immediately thereafter, the Omrad broke off contact and recalled their robots.
“Would you like to try taking a step? We’re right here. We won’t let you fall.”
A few days after the ISS affair, the Omrad re-established contact. They requested permission to send a single robot to the surface to meet with a small group of diplomats. As the U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations, I was in that group.
“That’s fine. Let’s try another step.”
The alien machine explained that humans and the Omrad shared something in common. Both species tended, rightly or not, to judge by appearances. The Omrad possessed this attribute to a much greater extent than mankind. “The Omrad,” the robot diplomat had remarked, “are impressed that the human race has a gift for looking beyond the superficial. Regrettably, the Omrad psyche and culture do not share this talent. This will be an obstacle to direct contact between the two species without the need for machine intermediaries like myself.”
“Steady, Mr. Turner. It’s okay. A stumble is not unexpected. Let’s rest a moment and then try another step.”
There had been a collective gasp in the room when the Omrad robot had suggested that it would be necessary for a human to be biologically re-engineered to qualify as an ambassador. Even then I knew I would volunteer.
“Shall we try another step?”
What offended the Omrad about humanity’s physical appearance is that externally humans are bilaterally symmetrical. Almost all life on the Omrad homeworld is trilaterally symmetrical, as are the Omrad themselves.
“You’re doing fine, Mr. Turner,” the robot doctor says with an inflection of reassurance.
I see my reflection in the chrome-like housing of one of the Omrad medical machines. My face is thinner and I have two more of them located circumferentially around my head. My brain has trouble processing the disorienting panoramic view. I shuffle awkwardly on three legs not sure how best to move my three arms with each step. I start to say something. I stop as my three mouths all speak in unison.
“You were about say?” drone the machine physician’s three voice synthesizers all at once.
Author : William Tham
Green spots of oxidation on silver-lined instruments. The porthole encased in fire, through which I vaguely saw the curvature of the earth, the Scandinavian peninsula hurtling below me, followed swiftly by the frozen wastes of the North Pole under spiralling clouds a hundred kilometres across, and then over the Pacific coasts, before the capsule turned and my directions were lost.
And then I fell again.
On the outer edges of the atmosphere, the boundary of air and space, where gravity ebbed weakly a hundred miles off the surface of the earth, my hands grappled with the controls and levers, struggling to tilt the capsule to keep it level. Useless! I was out of control.
Down below, Baikonur, Houston, all tracking my progress as I turned into a shooting star, a burning man falling from the sky.
A voice over the static. Someone spoke indistinctly, received by burning mechanisms as the air superheated into plasma while I was forced back into my seat, pinned down by acceleration and gravity, fighting to live.
“Lev….the Minister…he calls you a hero…please, reply…”
For an infinite fraction of time the capsule righted itself and I was staring into space. Outside, light from distant stars shone through the cosmos, undead and unblinking, a hundred million of them witnessing re-entry. For a moment, it was as if there was no movement, but the illusion shattered as another explosion shook the craft and I was spiralling away from constellations that I could no longer tell apart. The parachutes must have been burnt up, and the heat shield combusted.
“We don’t know…how…why…please, stay on…the Minister’s trying to call…”
A lifetime ago, out of love of the void, where we lived our insignificant lives amidst the vastness of the expanding universe, I had unbuckled and floated in near-weightlessness to the porthole to stare at the world down below. And I knew I could never go back to an ordinary life, ever since that day when I signed away my life to reach for the stars. The Minister, in his greatcoat, walked me amongst the desolate wastes of the launch site, where rockets like ballistic missiles would escape the earth. “The future,” the Minister said solemnly.
I knew that someday, death would not come from a pointless car crash or nuclear warfare, but it would find me in space. I accepted it then. But now I could not.
Now I just wanted to live.
I was speaking quickly, incoherently, hoping that all my words, every permutation and combination of the alphabet, scattered by static and background radiation, would fluctuate through the atmosphere and to the short-wave radio enthusiasts and foreign spies and the controllers with their radio telescopes and the Minister himself, praying and holding a receiver to his ear to catch the last moments of a dying man hurtling from orbit, leaving seared flesh and metal and quartz to ignite amongst the stars.
“It’s still beautiful here,” I managed to say.
Author : Suzanne Borchers
“Good evening, Susan.” The desktop robot’s eye blinked as the gender-neutral voice greeted her.
Susan had arrived home from an 18 hour shift of nursing casualties at the local pub/hospital. She slammed the front door behind her. “I have to remain cheerful, smiling, and upbeat for destitute, half-alive drudges caught in this never-ending fight for survival. For all the hapless, close-to-dead youth dripping with blood to broken-boned elders, all who have been victimized by roving gangs of filth stealing food and soiling homes, I have to …” Susan suspended her tirade at the robot. She tugged away from her skin the sopping uniform with its remains of someone’s supper dripping off of it onto the floor.
“How was your day, Susan?” the robot’s measured voice inquired.
“Look, you idiot robot, I’m tired, cranky, and reek of half-digested hamburger.” Susan reached up under her skirt and tossed her holstered gun on the desk. Then she began to pull off her clothes with uncoordinated yanks.
The robot’s eye blinked slowly. “Relax. Peace and calm, Susan. Peace and calm.”
“Do I sound relaxed? Do I sound peaceful? Do I sound calm?” Susan strode over to the robot.
The robot stopped blinking and stared past Susan.
“There is something you should know, Susan.” The robot’s smooth voice said.
The robot immediately ceased its vocal response.
Its eye blinked quickly at the intruder quietly advancing into the room behind Susan. It stared first at Susan and then at the intruder, then back again as another intruder paused in the opened window before stepping onto the floor.
Susan watched the robot in silence.
Its eye flashed colors at Susan and the intruders, one after the other.
Its eye produced a pulsing strobe toward Susan and the intruders, one after the other.
Her eyes widened.
Author : Kieron Walquist
As of this moment, I am a ten-year-old Eskimo, lying on the beach in the frigid rain, stone-cold and lifeless. However, that could all change in an instant.
My father, for now, is a humpback whale, circling the shallow waters that lap upon the shore, crying out to me in a mournful song to lie still. But I defy him.
My mother, whom very recently has become a weeping willow tree rooted in a nearby field that hugs the charcoal dunes, sways her long, limber branches toward me, forever reaching yet never receiving. Faintly, I can hear her voice through the whispering of leaves, carried by the arctic chill. Yet I ignore her.
The hovercrafts patrol the twilight sky, seeking for expired forms, like me, amidst this dying, terrifyingly beautiful world—to resurrect and reform those once broken into whatever kind of living entity they so choose; their searchlights scan for my location, my body, but I am somehow mysteriously camouflaged among the waves of crashing water and dazzling sand that they pass by overhead and I go unnoticed. I don’t mind—they should find the others who are lifeless and fix them instead.
But that’s just the thing. People no longer die here on Earth. We are altered; morphed, transformed—however you want to word it, into something else than what we previously had inhabited. Their word for it: Shedding. Like a snake sheds its skin. The serpent doesn’t die, just grows anew. The procedure is a little like re-birthing, if you will; only we don’t fully experience death, just a nebulous passing. The Creator wanted it like this, molding us in the beginning to become interchangeable, limitless, so that we could partake in the infinite possibilities The Creator had in store for us.
It’s not like dying. I have to believe in that, somehow.
I’ve been through many Sheddings before; I have been many things. Months ago, I was an albatross; ivory in plumage, colossal in wingspan, oblong in face and webbed in the feet. I think back on that lifecycle often. I used to soar above the clouds, throw my fragile birdsong to the ocean, nest under my children and feel them rumble beneath me in greeting.
Then, I had shed that existence away and took up a different host.
For a while, I was a mountain. That lifecycle was unpleasant. I endure the sporadic and harsh effects of weather—rain, snow, quakes, gales and strikes of lightning—unprotected. I allowed animals and birds to use my body as housing. Then, there was the pain; excruciating aches and spasms where chunks and pieces of my being would separate without warning and fall off. The view of being a mountain was spectacular, I’ll admit, but that was really the only perk.
But after a while, I altered once more, this time awakening as fire. I scorched the grass and smoked the sky as I danced effortlessly across the way. Uncontrollably at times; I’d blistered and baked every beautiful thing I touched without meaning to.
Then I became a human: a little boy. And for just a short while—like a blink of an eye, really. I didn’t want to give this body up, despite my parent’s insistence. Not just yet. Because, you see, Shedding, to me, really did feel like dying, and I had died enough already; had changed enough already. And if I kept on changing, than who am I, really?
Author : Gary Will Kreie
“How’s the cattle business, Dusty?”
“Business is good, Richard.”
“Have you been riding the fences?”
“We don’t use fences anymore, Richard. Open range now.”
“How do you keep your cows from wandering off, Dusty?”
“The cows wear glasses.”
“You mean, like, sunglasses? And big floppy beach hats, Dusty?”
“Funny. We use special goggles strapped to my cows’ heads with built-in image control, navigation, and communication, Richard.”
“Interesting. Let me guess. You program the latitudes and longitudes of your old fence lines right into the glasses. Is that right Dusty?”
“Right, Richard. We control everything they see. Normally, the glasses are clear, but when my cows get close to the old fence line, the glasses show ’em a simulated cliff edge.”
“So at the old fence line, your cows think they are standing on the edge of a cliff. You use the cows’ own fear of heights to keep them from crossing that line. Is that how it works, Dusty?”
“Yep. We trick ’em into thinkin’ they live on top of a large mesa with high vertical cliffs all the way around.”
“That is funny. Cows are stupid. Keep it up, Dusty, because my humans really like eating your beef.”
“So how you doin’ with your humans, anyway, Richard?”
“They can be a handful.”
“How do you keep your humans from wanderin’ off? Fences?”
“I give up. What?”
“My humans get all their information online. We own online access, Dusty. We control everything they see.”
“Sometimes we tinker with, uh, conventional wisdom, Dusty. History. Facts.”
“So we rewrote some ancient science history and old science books that are now all online.”
“We changed them all to say that the ground is round.”
“You mean, like a ball, Richard?”
“Well, Richard, aren’t your humans smart enough to figure out that they would fall off of a ball?”
“We took care of that by pretending some guy found an invisible force a long time ago that pulls everyone toward the ball center. That’s what the internet and all the scanned and reprinted books say now.”
“So, you’ve tricked your humans into thinkin’ they live on the surface of this giant ball. Right, Richard?”
“So they won’t try to leave.”
“You’re jokin’. Right, Richard?”
Richard looked back at Dusty with a serious expression and swiveled his head left and right slightly.
And Dusty just could not stop laughing.