I am an explorer

Author: Richard Jordan

The truth is you can’t tell much about a world from orbit. You can scan as much as you like, you can send out probes and even scouts – and we do all these things – but unless you set foot on the surface yourself, you can never really understand a world. I am an explorer. I want to know what makes worlds tick, what makes them unique. That is what drives me through space, searching for new frontiers and strange planets. There is always something different and wonderful about a world – an organism, a quirk of the weather, maybe a geological formation. Some planets heave with life, some are desiccated husks, but they all have their own…style. Their own beauty. Take Earth, for example.

Billions upon billions of organisms, crammed onto a tiny blue-brown speck orbiting an unremarkable star. Unique cultures, a vivid history, bizarre creatures. My kind of world, bustling and confusing and so very alive. And the mineral wealth? Don’t even get me started. Huge concentrations of everything a civilisation needs. This is a wonderful planet. From orbit you can look into the eye of a hurricane as it sweeps silently across a vast ocean. You can track the migratory patterns of millions of animals, or focus on a single human struggling through a city crowd. Of course, none of the organisms below have any idea of how to use the planet properly. The dominant life-form (bipedal, close-minded, prone to violence,) spends much of its time engaged in bickering, politics and war, or in pointless ephemera – wasting the planet’s resources and their own time. Their defences are painfully inadequate. They are so concerned with killing one another that they have not considered any other threats. Their satellite system looks mostly in rather than out – a fitting metaphor for this myopia. I have been here for years, cruising amongst the orbital detritus and observing without their knowledge. I know them well, and I have even visited the surface. This isn’t strictly in line with protocol, of course, but I couldn’t help myself. The planet is so rich that I had to experience it for myself. I am an explorer, but I am just the first. The others are, shall we say, differently motivated. I have catalogued and collected. I have preserved what I can.

To my regret, my time is up.

My work is so often bittersweet. I come to love the places I discover – their creatures and their quirks – but this planet is too ripe a fruit to sit unmolested for long. I must depart ahead of their arrival. I cannot bear to watch.

I am an explorer, but my brothers and sisters are hungry. The Hive must feed.

The Broken Fishbowl

Author: Alzo David-West

The day had been long and busy. I was on the Marsport Metro on my way home. The pilotless shuttle shook and rattled and made its usual stops.

The time was late, and not many people were on board. At one of the stops, a woman of thirty-eight or thirty-nine entered. She dressed like a twentieth-century factory worker. She wore a blue headscarf, a very plain grey dress, and dusky vinylon shoes. She was carrying a fishbowl.

The woman sat by the shuttle door. We were across from each other. The doors closed, and the shuttle started.

I saw the fishbowl was cracked. There was nothing inside. I wondered where she was taking it. The shuttle made a few stops. The few other passengers disembarked each time. After a while, the woman and I were the only ones left.

She sat still the whole time, looking at the fishbowl, and she started to cry. I thought she was afraid to be alone with me.

“Sister, it’s okay,” I said gently. “I’m a father, with a wife and a three-year-old daughter.”

The woman did not respond. The shuttle made another stop, but she took no opportunity to get off. She was still crying. The shuttle resumed its course and was shaking.

“Sister, are you okay?” I asked. She stopped crying. The tears dried and stained her cheeks.

“You must be assured,” she muttered downwardly. “You must be assured with your daughter and your wife.”

I felt I should speak honestly. “I’ve had my share of hard times and worries,” I said. “They’ve affected me over the years, and my health is not very good, but I love my wife and my daughter.”

She was quiet. A faint twist passed on the left side of her face. Maybe I said too much, I considered. She began to caress the fishbowl.

“What’s your work?” she asked indistinctly.

“I’m a mineral trader operating from Albor Tholus,” I answered. “I buy and sell to various habitable satellites.”

“I’m a sewing factory worker from Terra Sirenum,” she volunteered briefly.

She was not afraid of me, I could tell, but she still seemed troubled. The fishbowl sat on her lap. The shuttle was swaying. I asked as before, “Sister, are you okay?”

“There were two goldfish inside,” she said slowly, “but I dropped it, and now, the goldfish are gone.”

Was that all it was? I thought to myself. Why should she be so sad? Could she not buy another fishbowl and get two other fish? So I said in some uplift, “Oh, sister, don’t worry. It’s such a little thing.” I reached into my shirt pocket, and I offered her a renewable credit voucher, assuming she was in need.

The woman looked at the smart card in my hand, and for the first time on the ride, she turned her gaze at me. Her face was worn with anguish, and her eyes were like an empty sea. She looked down, into the bowl. I felt a turn in my stomach.

“I’m sorry,” I said.

She did not say anything, and I did not know if I should speak again. The shuttle shook and rattled and made its usual stops. The lights flickered. We came to a stop near Alba Patera, and the shuttle doors opened. The woman got up from her seat, holding the fishbowl.

Fish Is Good For The Heart

Author: John Albertson

The doctor is sat trimming his nails with a scalpel when I float into the surgery. He glances up and grunts, nodding his head towards a bed covered in a white sheet. The entire surgery is white, sterile, except for one wall which is glass. And behind the glass, water.

I nudge my levchair over to the bed and push myself out. My arms tremble at the physical activity, but only for a moment, and then I’m laid on the bed, the gel contouring to my body. I glance over at the doctor again, wondering when he is going to start.

He reaches over and flicks a small switch, not even looking up at me. In the water behind the glass, something shudders to life.

“You want to pick one?” The doctor asks, still only looking down at his nails.

“Pick?”

“Yeah,” the doctor glances up. “Oh, your last transplant was a few years ago, right? Custom? Yeah, they’re off-the-shelf now. Non-immunogenic, guaranteed. So you can pick. If you want.”

The glass of the aquarium wall tracks my eyes and magnifies. I see them swimming through the water, which surely can’t just be water. Fists of blind muscle pulsing this way and that, long veiny fins trailing behind them. As my eyes settle on one, a silvery mechanical spider detaches itself from the wall of the aquarium and slinks through the liquid. It snares one of the swimming fish with two of its legs and uses the others to clamber to a small porthole in the glass.

The doctor flicks another switch and the porthole opens, the spider pushing through with the fish in its grasp. The spider click-clacks across the floor, dripping fluid behind it. It crawls up the side of the bed and sits above me.

“You don’t mind the machine doing it?” The doctor asks. He’s picking at a hangnail on his thumb.

“Umm, no…” I say.

“Good. You like bacon? Might not want to eat it for a few days.”

“Oh right,” I say. Maybe because of the salt?

A long, glinting knife flicks out of one of the spider’s forelimbs. It uses the blade to slice off the fins of the fish. It trims around long, white, fatty deposits along the underside of the fish, cores out a few orifices and holds it up, as if inspecting it.

A heart. My new heart.

A small pinprick as the spider numbs the skin of my chest. Almost instantly, I can no longer feel it sat there. It’s legs move, tapping on my skin, and I feel them only as a dull pressure. A razor flicks out and shaves a long smooth stripe above my sternum.

The spider rears up and a small eye opens in its underbelly. As the laser jets out, slicing open my skin and the bone of my ribs, I catch a smell. I realise what the doctor ment, and my stomach rolls.

The smell of my cauterised flesh is just like bacon.

Out of the Loop

Author: John Teets

The gentle rumble of truck engines filled the museum backlot, accompanied by the soft crunch of gravel beneath tires, and the occasional rustling of pale, haphazard fields of grass in the wind. The warehouses and loading bays painted a dull light gray to match the driveway gravel and the back wall of the museum, a stark contrast to the rest of its bright and inviting presentation. The warehouses were piled high with creations of art and culture, being preserved and admired by the resident roaches, cobwebs, and mothballs. Now, over two dozen workers moved about, filling their convoy with unmarked, tightly secured crates. For all the noise they made, they spoke not a word.
Anthony’s fingers tapped his chin as if it were a piano with a goatee. He narrowed his eyes at the whole scene. The workers all passed nervous glances at the museum’s backdoor at one point or another. One of them, a scrawny woman, nearly dropped a handheld crate.
Dresner also caught the woman’s slip up and shot her a glare as she scurried for the nearest truck. Miles’ expression turned neutral as he turned to Anthony, holding out a suitcase. “A pleasure working with you as usual, Mr. Dunfrey. Thank you for the intel,” he said, eyeing the man’s digits dancing on his chin. “Beethoven?”
Anthony shook his head, his fingers never losing their stride as his other hand reached for the suitcase. “Liszt.”
Dresner raised his eyebrows in shock. “Really? Well, look at you, Mr. Cultured. Didn’t expect you to know a pianist except for Beethoven.” Dresner struggled with the suitcase, as Anthony’s hand grasped blindly for it. “Might do you some good to pay attention to the other hand, though.”
“Hm?” Anthony said, looking over. “Oh, sorry.” He grabbed the suitcase handle and plopped it down beside himself. “I’m just surprised your first guess was Beethoven,” Anthony said, smiling. “You’re German, aren’t all the greatest pianists from your people or something?”
“Ah, there’s the culturally insensitive conman bastard I know.” The German American smiled wide, turning toward his truck. “Unless there’s anything else, auf wiedersehen.”
“I do have one other question, Miles,” said Anthony, pulling his hand away from the suitcase and holding it up. “What’re these?”
Miles Dresner turned pale. Between Anthony’s index and middle fingers, there was his badge. Hanging from his pinky was his gun. Though shaped like any other handgun, the barrel was open-air, and inside all sorts of odd metal components orbited about the barrel. Veins of lavender light pulsed across its silvery form.
Anthony smiled a full toothed smile. “Might’ve done you some good to pay attention to the other hand.” He took a second look at his recent steals. “This doesn’t look like any government department I know, and this-“He said, lifting the gun higher for emphasis. “Doesn’t look like anything I know. And judging by the bullets you’re sweating; these are things I’m not supposed to know.” Anthony held the gun and badge out for Miles.
Miles grabbed them, speaking as he pocketed them. “What do you want?”
“I want in, Miles,” Anthony said, motioning to the backlot. “Over two dozen G-men, carting away crates on an unmarked truck convoy for what? Some Rembrandts? This reeks of something bigger, so I want a bigger piece of this pie.”
Miles screwed his eyes, pursed his lips, and exhaled loudly. “Get in.”
Anthony skipped on his way to the passenger’s seat.

The Titania Exhibition

Author: Glenn Leung

This happened so long ago, so I’ll understand if you doubt this story’s authenticity. Nevertheless, I swear on my honour, whatever that’s worth, that everything I’m about to describe, really happened.

I don’t think I need to tell you about the Titania. I’m sure you’ve seen those century-old photos of that magnificent space cruiser, including the ones of it blowing up after colliding with Comet P187. I grew up fascinated with those stories; about how it was the first Faster-Than-Light liner, about how it had artificial gravity equivalent to that of Earth’s. So when the Titania exhibition came to our space city, I begged my parents to take me. I was eight at the time, and my parents were baffled as to why I would engage in what they considered a morbid subject. Nevertheless, they relented after I agreed to do chores for a week.

The Titania exhibition was a showcase of the artefacts recovered over the past century. There was a section in which the technology used to comb the million square miles of space was displayed, but I had no interest in that. Instead, I rushed over to see the pieces of the great ship itself. I remember gaping at the smashed-up ion engine, splayed in two jagged parts. I remember the Graviton Generator and how it was still leaking to this day. You could feel those Gravitons tugging at your knees like unseen phantoms!

But I digress, those were amusements from a simpler time.

I remember it happened in a smaller part of the hall, where they showcased recovered personal effects. There were some 1500 people who lost their lives that day, and while their atoms had been scattered to the solar wind, some of their possessions miraculously survived. This part of the hall also had a small viewing window. You couldn’t really see much from here, since we were near the Kuiper belt and the sun’s rather far. Occasionally though, the city’s lights would reveal some space debris. It was usually tiny and boring, which was good. If you could see something big, it meant that our comet alarm had failed and we were all about to die. That day though, I did see something big.

The viewing window was beside this display of salvaged perfumes, still pungent. I remember distinctly, that century-old scent as I peered outside and saw another window, back-illuminated by musky light. I was frozen, a deer-in-the-headlights moment, trying to process why another space city was looming near us. I saw a woman appear at this window, eyes wide in terror. I took a step back, and the extra window began moving away as well. I then saw it was part of a whole row of windows pasted on dark steel. Behind each one was a person, their faces drained of colour and loaded with defeated panic. As it backed away even farther, I saw the tip of a huge letter ‘T’ below that cursed array. Then, as suddenly as it had appeared, that ghastly vision vanished into the darkness of space.

If you had guessed that our city was located not far from the Titania’s crash site, you’d be right. However, even at eight, I was quite a rational kid. I don’t believe in ghosts. I’ve spent the last twenty or so years investigating, but sadly, I had been the only witness. Perhaps the old perfumes were messing with my head. Or perhaps a wormhole had opened to the past. Sadly, I’m not sure I’ll be able to find a satisfactory answer.