Author: David Barber
An old spacer complaint is that home is never where you left it.
Spacers end up in bars like this. Relationships don’t survive years out in the dark, but that doesn’t matter here, one loner recognised another.
Perry listened to them arguing about racing. They dismissed the sport because it was playing at something that had been their lives.
“The Worlds’ Cup,” grumbled someone at the bar. “Ion drives and gravity slingshots. It’s just trundling round the planets.”
“At least there’s some skill in light sails,” declared another. The Inner System Classic had just finished.
But they kept their real gripes for fusion torch racing. The Voyager Trophy was coming up again, all the way out to Voyager 2 and back. Billed as the toughest race.
Perry kept quiet, but the spacer with the prosthetic eye remembered something.
Hadn’t Perry been involved with the Trophy a couple of years back? Conversations faltered and heads turned.
She’d signed up the Ada Swann as a safety ship. Already far out in the Kuiper, she was well positioned for Voyager, and if the race went to plan, all she had to do was sit and monitor the comms traffic.
Racers were going slowest as they rounded Voyager, before plummeting sunwards again. That gave the Ada Swann, built for endurance rather than speed, a chance to intercept.
But the lead ships had turned and gone when there came a distress call from the Estrada Silva, a singleship competitor with a runaway burn.
Over the years, every spacer in that bar had heard radio voices calling for help. Sometimes a rescue was possible. Sometimes you could only listen.
As Perry understood it, António Esteves Ferreira had been out of his seat when some fault ramped up the torch, dropping him the length of his cabin and breaking bones, a high-g burn that emptied his fuel tank.
Perry had nightmares after that, full of alarms and red lights, trying to climb back to her own seat with limbs too heavy to lift.
“Don’t see the point of safety ships,” the spacer accused Perry, his lens gleaming.
Others spoke up. In their time perhaps they’d plucked someone from the dark, or a ship had matched orbits to help them. The alternative was doing nothing. Surely some chance was better than none?
But the singleship had flashed past the Ada Swann, and around the bar they thought that was the melancholy end of it. They started arguing about what they would have done. The dark did not forgive. Still, they railed against it.
Perry waited to tell the last part.
A badly injured pilot, on painkillers. Just hang on, she told him, though they both knew help wasn’t coming.
Then she saw an actinic spark in her telescope. Ferreira had lit his torch again, burning the last dregs of fuel, not to slow down, but accelerating onwards.
Perry looked round at these spacers who had made the unforgiving dark their home. Didn’t they feel something had been lost? Once people chased down game or fled from predators. These days it was just running in circles against the clock. You only played at things when they didn’t matter.
“Civilisation caught up,” someone shrugged. ” I remember when Vesta Port was just some tunnels. Now people have jobs.”
There was a resentful air. “Go tell cruise ship captains.”
But Perry had heard the faint voice from the Estrada Silva. At least he would beat Voyager to the stars, Ferreira had whispered. None of those racers would catch him now.
“A challenge for you. First to the worlds of Centauri.”
Author: David Henson
After work, I stop by to check on my father and find him carrying a flashlight around the well-lit house.
“Is everything OK, Dad.”
“It’s your mother.”
“I miss her too, Dad.”
“No, Son. This is your mother.” He holds up the flashlight.
His answer jolts me. “Dad, you don’t believe that’s Mom, do you?”
“Not the torch, Son, the light. Look, don’t you see her?” I squint as he aims the beam at my eyes.
Speechless, I suggest we take a walk, hope the cool evening will clear his mind.
As we make our way around the neighborhood, I can hardly edge in a word as Dad jabbers to the spot jiggling jauntily beside him. It’s an older area where tree roots have heaved the concrete, so when gathering darkness fills in the dappling of shadows on the sidewalk, Dad asks Mom to lead the way and aims the flashlight ahead of us.
As we head for home, Dad’s conversation with Mom becomes animated. “The night air makes me feel spry again, Dear. How about you?” He cocks his head, says “Sounds good to me,” and picks up the pace.
Back at the house, I go to the kitchen for a drink of water. When I return to the living room, Dad is in the recliner, his pants undone, flashlight between his legs. I gasp and clamp my hand over my eyes until I hear his zipper.
“Sorry, Son. In my defense, it was your mother’s idea.”
Over the next week or so, I try to reason with Dad, but the light of Mom blinds him to logic. I think about sneaking out the batteries, but that seems cruel. I decide to go softly, confident Dad will come to his senses. In the meantime, he isn’t hurting anyone. He’s keeping the house tidy. His hygiene seems OK.
One evening, I get to my father’s place after nightfall. When I discover the house empty, I’m concerned till I hear murmuring and find Dad on the patio, the flashlight shining into the sky.
“Your mother said it was time to let go.” He slides the switch. Mom disappears. I feel a chill.
I stare up at the Milky Way and imagine Mom. After a few moments, a shooting star streaks overhead. When I turn to ask Dad if he saw it, he isn’t there.
Author: Lorna McGinnis
Dear Valued Employees,
As you may know, the world will be destroyed next Wednesday. A massive asteroid will strike the earth at approximately 4:00pm PST, and that will be the end of humanity.
Unfortunately, additional requests for paid time off (PTO) in the interim cannot be accommodated as this would violate our two months’ notice scheduling policy. We expect you to show up for work promptly at 8am and remain in the office until at least 5pm.
Employees who violate this rule will be written up by their immediate supervisor, and repeated write ups will result in termination.
Any employee calling in sick must provide a doctor’s note.
However, we are able to honor any PTO requests made before the imminent obliteration of the planet became known as those are in accordance with our policy.
If you are deceased after 4pm on Wednesday and cannot work a full day, you will not be issued a write up. The company regards this as an extenuating circumstance. No doctor’s note will be needed in this case.
Best wishes to all of you during this trying time.
Jane T. Marshall
Chief Human Resources Officer
Author: Brian Etta
“Breath through the nose and out through the mouth” Justin let that instruction carry him. Sitting in half lotus he resisted the urge to itch as he scanned his body for sensations and in so doing produced and amplified them. There had to be something to that he thought, then he thought, ”Damn…another thought”. He was chasing a dragon. That one time the one sweet, sweet time that everything had aligned just so… sleep cycles, nootropics, caffeine, temperature maybe even the price of beans and the exchange rate with China, who’s to say what? But in that soft almost dream he saw her. There’d been something about the frequency, the high end that caused his brain to synthesise something like a small and gentle fountain, like in a public park. By letting go, not trying to hold onto it, his brain rewarded him with a show. The imagery was red against red, like what you see when you give your eyes a good rub. Coupled with that still feeling that only comes when the mind is zeroed out and can undergo a phase transition to something more solid but yet easier. The fountain morphed into a hibiscus, stamen and all but in a way did not…like the mind is able to do. Riding the wave, looking inwards but more like letting go, Justin was treated to a further transformation. The hibiscus was now a dancing woman undulating her dress in a manner reminiscent of Carmen Miranda. She seemed to smile at him then vanished as a car outside his window announced its passing via doppler effect. Damn, so cool he thought. He was hooked on meditation and was going to figure out how to replicate the effect and conditions to see “Carmen” again.
This day he took micro doses of various and sundry things given him by his naturopath, volume up and on the same track, “Icelandic Wilderness” or “Trail of the Caribou”…who knows? He found his mind quieted and emptied itself with ease and rapidity, he was ecstatic. He felt himself drifting like in shallow water and allowed himself to be carried further still. He was in the center of the universe embedded in tangible and inky darkness. He was the center of the universe. He felt out of depth and tried to rewind his state but couldn’t. He became aware of a slight but growing sensation, somewhat like soft but insistent tendrils that wouldn’t let him up. He wasn’t going anywhere…looking around he saw silhouettes, other forms in various configurations that all seemed trapped and resigned. The universe wasn’t his dream but rather he was merely one of many dreams of the universe…and the universe was about to wake up.
Her eyes were oceans of possibility. Blue and depthless.
And I was shipwrecked.
A fallen eyelash crushed the sails and within moments my ship foundered in the shoals of the iris. When I climbed, half drowned, upon the pupil, I was looking straight down into her optic nerve.
I almost puked.
Which is not a good thing when wearing the Radiculous 3000, a very expensive haptic suit. No, puking in gear that virtually amplified all your senses would be uber foul, not to mention costly to clean. So, I choked back my vertigo and lunch and tried to figure out how I was going to get off Marilyn Monroe.
I’m sure I wasn’t the only one trapped on the miles-long icon that some hackstar had mic-dropped into the waters off New South Seoul last night. That kind of thing was happening all over the metaverse. Coders trying to make or keep their fame, à la Warhol and Banksy, with ever crazier creations. A lot more ancient mythical creatures made sense to me now. A Hydra or Medusa doesn’t seem so outlandish next to a pop icon whose hair is now its own Sargasso Sea.
Yup. Things were getting tangled, and I was certainly part of the problem. I’d taken the clickbait, wanting to be the first to stare into metaMarilyn’s acre-wide eyes. You never knew what portal or pitfalls awaited. It felt like old-time exploring, where-no-one-has-gone-before adventuring, because-it’s-there questing. But, without ever having to leave your comfy couch.
A brave new world, or a cowardly old refuge? Constructing alternate realities, cutting the ultimate umbilical cord, and, literally, living the dream.
Were there boundaries anymore?
Evidently, not on Manhattan-sized Marilyn. I climbed to the tip of her nose and gazed toward her stardust painted toenails bobbing just above the ocean swell. More virts were already landing and starting to claim their pound of digital flesh. Soon metaMarilyn would be colonized and the rush would be on to find the next big thing. The next unspoiled dream.
Was there such a thing?
Where was the magic in wanting, having, in being, everything?
I leapt from Marilyn’s nose, hoping to be kissed by inspiration before I was swallowed into the belly of our beast.