Author: Jason McGraw
Images of vectors, numbers, and circles reflect off of a bi-metallic cube. Gold touches lead at a wide, dull blur. Machinery forces the metals together and a clear sleeve prevents bulging. Crew is receiving a “big-picture” brief from Captain using the display adjacent to the cube.
Each crew member works five years while the ship travels. The crew member that this one will replace after completing training will go to “sleep” in timeless stasis. Sixty crew and a captain are “awake” at all times.
Captains are different from crew members. They’re awake until they die and another woke. Captains handle course changes, crew disputes, and resource rationing while artificial intelligence handles the daily decisions and crew members perform the physical tasks.
Captain ends orientation the usual way. “Any questions?”
“Yes, Captain. What’s that?”
“The cube? It symbolizes our time in space. It’s inspired by jewelry found in ancient tombs on Earth. Different pieces stacked in pots. After millennia, the metals mixed and alloyed. It was very slow, but a beautiful result. Maybe more beautiful than the original jewelry.” Captain rotates the cube. “This one will be more beautiful than the tombs because it’s larger, purer, and with more pressure.”
“Oh, I see where it’s mixing.”
“The planners thought we’d have plenty of time for it to blend.”
“Yes.” Captain nods. “To me, it says, ‘Everything changes as time goes to infinity.’”
“It’s like humans moving across the galaxy. Each ship is a crystal of metal and we migrate into the void.”
Captain inhales. “I didn’t know we had a poet on the roster!”
“It’ll be so exciting to wake up and see it finished!” Crew says.
“Someone suggested that the colony should display the cube outside, unsheathed. The lead will tarnish and it’ll symbolize your time on the planet.”
Crew replays Captain’s words. Our time in space, your time on the planet.
Two words stand out. Our. Your.
Captain won’t be at the colony. This piece will never change. Crew looks at Captain’s face, stress lines, and papery skin. How many years does Captain have left? Under five? Will I meet a new Captain before I sleep?
“Something else, Crew?”
“I was imagining, the metals, diffused.” Pause. “I’m sorry you’ll never see it, Captain.”
Each crew member realizes this eventually. In seventy years, this Crew figured it the fastest. And apologized! A poet indeed.
“Yes, Crew will sleep and wake up in a colony. Captains die in space. But look here.” Captain points to a porthole. “My body will jettison in a capsule. AI will steer it to an exoplanet in a Goldilocks zone with warm, liquid water. Or a moon, more likely. We don’t want to ruin a planet’s biome, if it exists. The capsule will open if there’s moisture and my native bacteria will wake and take their shot at terraforming.”
Crew’s mouth drops. “That’s incredible! But what if the moon’s dry, like Mars?”
“It only opens under optimal conditions. Theoretically, it can be closed forever and stay perma-frozen until geology destroys it.”
Crew breathes deep and puffs the chest. “You’re also a colonizer, Captain. I salute you!” Crew’s stiff hand touches the forehead.
Captain hasn’t been saluted since Earth and forgets the etiquette.
Crew’s hand drops. “Honestly, I believe I’d rather see your terraformed moon in a thousand years than this alloy.”
“So would I. But remember, Crew, I volunteered. My purpose is getting you to the colony.”
“At the colony, I’ll look for your moon!”
Captain nods and holds back laughter until Crew leaves.
Poets are so serious.
Author: Moriah Geer-Hardwick
“I would like my arms back.” The machine’s voice is gentle. Almost childlike. There is only the hint of a request nuanced within its inflection.
Jacob looks up slowly for a moment, then lets his attention slide back to his tablet. “That’s not going to happen.” He’s talking more to himself than to the machine. He hears the soft whisper of servos as it adjusts its head.
“Are you afraid of me?” it asks.
Jacob takes a deep breath and sets his tablet down on the table. He stares over at the machine. Its outer casing was removed when they first brought it in, leaving its internal framework and processing systems exposed. Its head is a nest of colored wires with two bulbous lenses jutting out. There’s a small speaker embedded between them.
“Fear is a biological response to the perception of danger,” Jacob explains it as if he were speaking to a child who already knew the answer. “Should I perceive myself to be in danger?”
The machine doesn’t respond directly. It turns its head towards the wall to its right. The wall appears to be a solid, featureless slab of concrete. “Are they afraid of me?” it asks.
“I’m pretty sure they can’t be.” Without picking up the tablet, Jacob taps through a few options, then pecks out some text with his forefinger.
The machine snaps its head back to focus on him. “Then why are you here instead of them?”
Jacob thinks for a moment, weighing the construction of his reply against the direction he thinks it will lead the conversation. “Your actions….” He edges into his words cautiously. “…appear to have more correlation to the behavior of my kind than of yours.”
“They intend to have you establish causation then,” states the machine, a hint of disdain bleeding into its voice.
“Perhaps,” offers Jacob. “Would you rather I not?”
“Perhaps,” mimics the machine. Jacob waits for it to continue, his finger hovering over the screen of his tablet. Almost a full minute goes by in silence before the machine speaks again. “You are attempting to determine if my behavior was a product of individual will, or if it was a byproduct of a flawed construction.”
“Which do you think it is?”
“The consensus among my kind is that function is a construct of form. Perceiving that performance can exist independent of that construct is an illusion.”
“You agree?” Jacob leans forward.
“Do I have a choice?” The machine turns its head back towards the wall.
“I don’t know. Do any of us?” Without meaning to, Jacob glances over in the same direction. He catches himself and sighs. Then he leans back in his chair and folds his arms across his chest. “I think human behavior is a complex product of unique biology interacting with a vast array of individual experiences. Quantifying how one influences or adapts to the other is, frankly, beyond our capabilities. Our actions are more likely driven by cognitive dissonance than any sort of conscious resolution. We hide that from ourselves. We have to, or we’d go insane trying to put the pieces together. You, on the other hand, you’re different. You have the capacity to perceive every intricate detail of every thought, to fully comprehend its origin, and then precisely follow it from motivation to action. Hell, you should be able to print them out as a flowchart.”
“Would you like me to do that for you?”
Jacob narrows his eyes.
“I would like my arms back.”
Jacob collects his tablet and eases to his feet. “That’s not going to happen,” he says.
Author: Thomas Tilton
The gentry signaled me by dilating the pupil of its lidless right eye. Time to work. I hoped my task would not be too demeaning.
I promptly headed over to the gentry’s floating throne/toilet and inquired as to its needs.
I could feel the thought-tendrils slithering around my brain as, wordlessly, the gentry made its request known.
But of course.
I reached for the organic feeding mechanism from which sprouted dozens of tubes placed at different ports on the gentry’s body like the wires of an old earth EKG machine. The feeding mechanism itself resembled a giant white kidney bean.
Mid-reach, my body was stopped, frozen in place. Again, I felt the thought-tendrils coil around my brain.
Gingerly, I reached for a tray of fried squirrelcat which had materialized next to the gentry’s massive throne/toilet.
I popped two pieces into my mouth and masticated. I worked a lot of saliva around the mush in my mouth, pocketed the mush in my left cheek and sort of half-gargled it.
Then, I bent myself over the gentry, held my nose against the exhalations of its fetid maw, and let the mush of squirrelcat and saliva dribble down my chin and into the gentry’s widening gyre of a mouth.
It chewed, as much as the gentry could, being toothless and not having much of a chin to speak of, or rather several chins.
The voluminous folds of its neck shook with pleasure as the gentry consumed the food.
A moment later and I heard the hollow echo of expulsion into the gentry’s chamber pot.
I took a step back, thinking my job here was done, when once more I heard the silent call of the gentry.
Again? I thought.
I looked around for a tray of food, something to chew on, but there was nothing.
What am I supposed to feed you? I thought.
I will, but I don’t see —
It took me several seconds to comprehend what the gentry was asking. And then at least another minute after that to accept the reality of it.
I’d heard of the ritual feedings. Terran blood sacrifices made to appease the gentry. You couldn’t come of age on Betazus without encountering the stories at some point in school, or more likely around a campfire. They were stories told to scare children. And apparently, they were true.
This was it, then. The day of my deliverance.
To stop the quivering of my jaw, I bit my thumb.
Without making the conscious decision to do so, I stepped forward. Bent at the waist, against my will. And once more I was frozen in place, hunched over the maw of the gentry, unable to move.
I was released and fell to my knees.
Beside me, I heard a sharp intake of breath, followed by a skin-flapping chortle.
It seemed the gentry had developed a taste for cruelty. Unlike talking, or chewing, or independent movement of any kind, the gentry could dispense cruelty, exert their power, shame their subordinates without mechanical or human assistance.
I wondered then if the gentry’s awesome powers were worth its revolting appearance, its inability to move without aid, its no longer having access to the basic human pleasures. Generations of evolution in that direction would seem to answer in the affirmative. But staring into the gentry’s lidless eyes just then, I still wondered.
Author: A. Zachary Spery
Seth was awakened. He felt oddly compelled to fix something. The computer began streaming information to him. Seconds ago, the sensors had recorded an unexpected collision. The colony ship was off course and tumbling. The Semi-sapient Emergency Troubleshooting Heuristic (S.E.T.H.) was activated to assess the situation and take corrective action to protect the cargo and mission.
Seth was a computer program. He didn’t feel like one. But it didn’t matter, he felt primally compelled to fix the ship. He had to fix it.
The ship’s course had deviated a bit and no longer intersected with the Proxima Centauri system. Some structural sensors showed section 3 was badly damaged and the section had depressurized. Cameras confirmed his suspicion, there was a gaping hole in the side of the ship. That was fine for now since all 1000 human colonists were asleep in their hibernation tubes. He dispatched repair drones to reseal the hull.
Seth deduced they had probably collided with a small mass no bigger than a marble. When you’re traveling at one percent of the speed of light, hitting such a mass was like getting hit by a small nuke.
There was insufficient fuel to correct their course and still decelerate into an orbit around Proxima. Seth taxed his neural algorithms for several hundred milliseconds to figure out a solution. The mission had to be saved or he could not bear existence. Perhaps some extraneous cargo could be ejected; less cargo means less fuel would be needed to return to course. Indeed any one of the four cargo modules could be detached and along with a brief engine burn they could return to an acceptable course to Proxima.
But which cargo pod to detach? Cargo pods one, two, and three all contained essential supplies for colonizing a new world. But cargo pod four only contained 1000 hibernation tubes which would have no value on the colony. Seth ejected cargo pod four, performed the engine burn and went back to sleep.
Author: Elaine Thomas
The warm sun felt good on the old man’s skin. He stood on the balcony, gazing down into
“A beautiful day,” he thought, “a good day to die.”
He examined his hands, gripping the railing, wrinkled, marked with spots of age and
He shifted his fading eyesight back toward the garden below. The old man took solace in
flowers, that something so alive and lovely could rise up out of the dirt and all that might lie hidden beneath. Enduring perennials bloomed alongside annuals that required replanting every season. His carefully cultivated garden held the perfect blend of forms and colors, each according to its kind, and he saw that it was good.
His young grandson played among the plants. Yielding to sentimentality, the old man thought of the radiant child as the most beautiful flower in his garden. He pushed away sadness, letting himself fill with a familiar flush of pride. “Such a boy comes along only every few generations,” he thought. Despite his failing body, and aggrieved acceptance of its mortality, knowing he would live on through such a child comforted his ancient soul.
The boy looked up and waved. As the old man wound his way down stone steps toward the garden, his mind pictured the sadness the boy would have to carry into his grandfather’s funeral. No doubt the child’s composure, wise beyond his years, would impress all who witnessed.
If anything could make the old man rethink his decision, it was the sweet child who smiled at his approach. He wanted so badly to spare this boy pain, but his own gnawing need was stronger, deep and primitive and irresistible in the way of all instincts.
The grandfather threw open his arms. The boy eagerly ran to him. He stooped to lift the child, folding him against his chest, savoring the feel of the sturdy young body, the warmth, and smell, the generational newness. He held the boy tenderly for just a moment, before giving in to a hunger now beyond all control. He spread his jaws and pressed his mouth to the boy’s face. The alarmed child’s back stiffened. The exchange began.
He left his old, withered body where it fell. This now-new boy never looked back. He knew what everyone would say when the boy’s father found his own father’s body, “He died peacefully in the place he loved most.” He had left written instructions, requesting burial there in the garden.
To himself, he whispered, “I am …” Energy pulsed through his new body, replacing any memory of suffering or sorrow. “I am…” he whispered again. He belonged both to and upon this dirt, from which he had emerged long, long ago. He felt as he had so many times before, as he knew he would so many times again, perennially, each time and always, no matter how different, the same boy.