Author: Thomas Fitzgerald McCarthy
Exo-zoologist Dr. Khadga Bhandari died clutching the datapad containing her final Special Analysis, surrounded by dozens of mourning colleagues. It was only in the final weeks of her one-hundred and twenty-four-year existence that she had completed her life-long search. Dr. Amori Patel, Bhandari’s closest friend and lover, read the final entry in her personal journal as her body was lowered into the salty red clay of Dehydra’s third moon.
“This is my final summary of the newly discovered species on Torbeuluc, which I have named Opusius, for it is the Magnum Opus of my life’s work.
The Opusius are quirky creatures that traverse both land and water. Their soft, sponge-like bodies contain hollow cavities which they use to store food and other items. Strictly herbivores, their diet consists mostly of the cinnamon-flavored roots of Benno shrubs. They make their homes in pools of mercury that form near the ammonia springs in the subtropical Gariad Peninsula, the fumes of which keep predators at a distance.
They are tripodal organisms with deep black skin and four double-jointed arms. Bright yellow stripes race down their long, hooked limbs. Their disproportionately large heads are exoskeletal, maintaining a bony husk that shields their cerebrum from calamity. Their faces are long and perforated, with a single sheathed eye. When the wind passes through the creatures’ hollow jaws, their bones will hum softly, like flutes.
The Opusius have lifespans of roughly two-hundred years. When dealt a fatal injury, reproductive spores eject from their heads like a million little escape pods. The indigenous humanoid population gathers up the spores as tokens of good fortune.
They possess a rudimentary intelligence and even a sense of empathy. On one occasion, I witnessed an Opusius nurse a fallen Fedemore Bat back to health and even sing to it.
One particular aspect of their biology fascinates me.
Once upon a time on Earth, lobsters were kept in water tanks for consumption. Starving lobsters would often prey on one another. Sometimes, when cornered, a lobster would amputate one of its own claws for the others to consume, in order to avoid being torn apart.
The Opusius have a similar survival mechanism. I discovered a fleshy pouch beneath their bellies that detaches itself when they are being pursued by predators, serving as a rather effective diversion. These pouches are formed by a complex delta of fibers that siphon off five percent of the food that the creature consumes. Yet, the stored nutrients in these pouches cannot be accessed as a source of energy until Opusius reaches an advanced age, when they are no longer able to outpace the predators near their feeding grounds, effectively making them biological social security accounts.
An absolutely magnificent evolutionary adaptation.
In its late years, the creature’s body will bloat and stretch by a factor of three-hundred percent, and its limbs will become stiffen into a bony, non-decomposing material. Eerily cognizant of its own biological clock, the creature will emerge from its mercurial home in the final, dusky hours of its life. After scouring for an area rich in insect and animal life, it will spread its misshapen limbs, hinging nearby rocks and plants together, and with its final breath, open all of the massive cavities of its body to the outside world.
Thus, it transforms itself into a fossilized corral reef.
Of all the thousands of species I have documented across a hundred worlds, this is the one that I wish to be reincarnated as, should You choose to grant me such a noble existence.”
Author: Elizabeth Hoyle
“What is this?” A pill rests in a plastic cup.
“It’s something to make you sleep. We have all the nodes attached so we can monitor your brain waves and your vitals throughout the night. Once we have tonight’s data, we can start a more personalized course of action.” The doctor’s smile is infectious. “I want you to take that and dream of what an extraordinary help you are by being the first to participate in this new sleep study.”
“All I’m doing is getting a good night’s sleep.”
“Sleep is incredibly important. You’ll hopefully prove an example for many more to follow. I will do my best for them, as I am for you.”
The doctor leaves the room. I knock back the pill with a sip of ginger ale. The lights go out. My back aches, so I roll onto my stomach. My eyelids get heavy. The doctor’s so young to be doing something this advanced, I think. Then again young people are so much more advanced. Sleep takes me.
When I wake up, the doctor is staring up at me, wide-eyed and open-mouthed. That’s funny. I should be below him. And my back no longer aches. What’s going on?
“I’ve done it! Can you hear me?”
Movement over his shoulder catches my eye. His assistant, who told me all about his uncle’s trip to my home state of Alaska as he attached the nodes, moves my body onto a gurney.
“What’s happened to me?” My voice has changed.
“The pill I gave you wasn’t just for sleep. It held a unique machine that scanned your brain to allow me to codify your consciousness. You are now the first person to exist outside your body!”
My mind races with all I could say but all that comes out is “This is not what I signed up for!”
His laugh is a harsh bark. “Hasn’t our species been saying that since the beginning of time?”
He types for a few moments then turns to go.
“What’s going to happen to me?”
And I do see. I am not the only one he wants to digitize. Poor soul after poor soul is lured into the lab. He mutes me so I can’t talk. There’s no way I can warn them. I probably look like an open program spouting streams of text. I try to worm my way out of the computer or at least into the other programs he works on. I can sense them, as though they were boxes on the edges of my peripheral vision. But it’s no use.
Others join me gradually over time. Our number runs into the thousands. Every time a new subject comes in, we unleash a hurricane of anguish. The doctor keeps us muted all the time. We speculate among ourselves as to why he’s done this but we never get the chance to ask.
Finally, one day, he hits the unmute button. He hands have grown knobby and spotted with age. “I’d like to posit a question to you all,” he says when all the fuss of our collected rage dies down.
“What’s the most efficient way to kill a lot of people?”
If we had bodies, I expect we’d be exchanging wary glances.
“The answer is quite simple.” He types and we know a new program has been opened.
“You make them believe you’re acting in their best interest.”
He clicks once. The program starts working, silencing our voices, one by one. He watches and listens, basking in the success of his experiment.
Author: Steve Bellavia
We huddled around, all the brothers and I, awaiting the big announcement.
She stood before us in resplendent glory – Her Majesty – The All-Knowing –
The Window – The Electric Web – The Efficient Omniscient. Her lights were aflutter. Her casing was glossy. Her vents were crisp. She was so full of life. She was… divine.
Then he swaggered onto the stage – His Highest Holiness, the Operator. He was wearing his white ceremonial robe adorned with the sacred golden trinkets and perched atop his head was the cap of merit.
He had won the vote unanimously. After the dull, conservative reign of Maddox IV, we were drawn to Sam the First’s infectious brand of revisionism laced with irreverent humour. He puffed out his chest and raised his arms to the roof of the temple.
‘Brothers,’ he said. ‘For too long we have looked to the past for our salvation. For too long we have stared into the abyss of the failed world that came before us – looking for answers. This machine is not your God!’ He pointed at Her Majesty and an audible gasp came from many a brother’s lips.
‘Sacrilege,’ Brother Timothy whispered.
‘Mark this day in your calendar.’ The Operator drifted to the control desk. ‘For this shall become known as the Day of the Blank Page.’
He hammered at the buttons. Her Majesty started screeching. Men wept in horror.
Brother Timothy shouted, ‘Heretic!’
Still the Operator continued his task – his deicide. Smoke spewed from the heavenly data platters. Flashing lights banged and popped. Brother Austin gnawed the flesh from his thumbs. Cables ignited into ropes of fire. Her Majesty’s screech stuttered and stopped. Brother Timothy had a heart attack and died. His Holiness turned to us and smiled.
‘It is done!’ he shouted.
Indeed, he had done it. He had wiped our God of her memory. He had destroyed the Earth’s history. He had deleted the Internet.
Author: David Barber
Imagine you were an alien visiting the world; what would you want to see?
The Grand Canyon perhaps, or the famous Louvre in Paris, or a place where something terrible happened, like Hiroshima. Maybe the strange rituals of the World Series.
The actual alien tourist person visited an abandoned farmstead outside Jordan, Montana. Next, the ATP (hosting a different alien perhaps – that vast craft in orbit must hold more than one) viewed a cemetery in Ridgefield, Connecticut; then the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum in West Virginia.
It remained a mystery until the alien tourist person explained. They were looking for ghosts.
Tracking down a haunting isn’t the kind of thing the Department of Homeland Security does. They were only involved because the ATP might be shot at, or mobbed by the curious, but it turned out it could make everybody within a radius of 3.142 miles, including Homeland Security personnel, feel the urge to leave. Media called it The Go-Away.
The number prompted some head-scratching. Also, one in the eye for the metric system.
Who you gonna call when ghosts fluster Homeland Security? My card says Frank Plattenberg, Psychic Investigator, author of More Haunted Houses, and brother-in-law of the Deputy-Director, Alien Taskforce.
I had someone read your book, he said.
Look, Mike, it’s all nonsense, I told him.
Which is how we ended up at the Desert Motel, south of Jackpot, Nevada. The windows were boarded up, sand heaped against walls and the sign was missing letters.
It was late and we were still waiting for the copter carrying the ATP. Mike drummed his fingers on the wheel of his car while I paced about. He was saying how the alien tourist person bore an uncanny resemblance to a TV actor from the 1950s, the late Ted Rawlins. Make of that what you will.
The aliens wore the ATP like a glove, he said. Rest of the time it just sits there while we fly it round the country.
I never got to the bottom of the Desert Motel Haunting. The place closed down in the nineties; staff wouldn’t live in; guests claimed to have seen things.
That was more like it. What sort of things? Mike wanted to know.
There are no ghosts, right? Evolution gave us hair-trigger threat detectors. It’s spooky out here at night. Creaky floorboards. Animal noises. It’s just the dark messing with you.
In the dark, Mike rubbed his worried forehead. It would have to do.
About midnight, the helicopter landed behind the shadowy row of cabins, and moments later Mike cried out, his face pale, his eyes round with terror. And his team were running or starting vehicles. He gunned his engine and squealed out onto the road. It was The Go-Away.
Soon it was just me, standing outside the Desert Mote, puzzling why I was still there. In the end, Ted Rawlins walked out the darkness to explain.
They were pleased. They had found who they were looking for. They should have employed a native guide from the start, it said.
This was a thin place. The veil between the worlds was thin here.
When they visited once before, in the days when humans were few and shy, there had been small ones who fluttered everywhere. But these were frightened of us, so I was to tell the people with guns, the range of The Go-Away would have to be extended.
I shrugged. Mike could organise a bigger exclusion zone; after all, this was the middle of nowhere.
Yes, said the alien tourist person. The continental United States should be enough.
Author: David K Scholes
The three of us pored over the various 3D mind image, life force energy, and bio patterns.
The “B” team, consisting of robotic investigators stood ready to assist us.
There were, of course, other “A” teams and many, many other robot led “B’ teams, the world over, doing the same work. Fighting the same fight.
“They are getting almost impossible to detect now,” said the Prime investigator. “Their ability to replicate even a mind image or life force energy pattern is approaching perfection.”
I sighed remembering back when I was a boy – when fingerprints, retina scans, and voiceprints were enough for differentiation.
“That particular mind image,” I laser connected to it. “If you condense 10 minutes worth into 30 seconds, there’s something about it. Something not human.”
“Only problem now,” grumbled the Third “is determining what alien race we are dealing with.”
“If it even belongs to a race,” I countered.
Of the many extra-terrestrial and extra-dimensional visitors and occasional alternate reality visitors we received some were proven friendly and would never seek to take advantage of us. Just curious visitors.
The number of alien assumptions of existing human identities was far, far more than any Earth authority would ever admit to. If it were known it would lead to panic. The only plus was that almost all of them only ever appeared to be temporary. The Aliens, extra-terrestrial, extra-dimensional or whatever all had somewhere to go back to. They’d leave and we would do our best to clean up afterward.
Prime had made the joy ride in a car analogy but I didn’t like that comparison. Joy ride cars often got burned out.
I persisted with the mind image currently occupying our attention. “We’ll need to go back on this one – re-check everything; interview records, current surveillance, even the basics like retina scans and such, everything. There’s something not right about it.
“I think it’s one of them,” I added quietly “one of the non-recognisables.”
Both the Prime and the Third’s faces went white.
The non-recognisables were the hardest of all to deal with. Something in their natural form, even if we could expose it, that we would never normally recognise as any form of intelligent life. Some considered that these visitors were not temporary.
We meticulously worked through everything we had on this one and another A team with another Prime joined us.
The evidence, each just little things, started to accumulate. Even among the non-recognisables – there were different types; non-recognisable corporeals, non-recognisable non-corporeals, extreme transients that didn’t fit either of these categories and finally – them.
“I think it’s one of them,” I exclaimed.
“An abstract concept!” – the supercomputer beat both Primes to it.
“The assigned special forces surveillance team has lost track of the abstract’s assumed human form,” the Prime from my team suddenly exclaimed nervously “two of them were killed just before losing contact.”
Nobody had ever caught an abstract – not in assumed human form and most certainly not in its abstract form.
“Any sense from all of our analysis as to what abstract concept we are dealing with here?” I asked.
“Enmity, enmity is the primary concept registering here,” the supercomputer with its super emotion chip was best placed to answer this. “Perpetual enmity,” the supercomputer modified its initial statement.
“Hatred, perpetual hatred,” I exclaimed.
“This is too much for Special Forces,” exclaimed my Prime “even the SAS; get the Queller teams on it. Find it, dump it, before it returns to its abstract form.
If it returns I thought.