Author: Hari Navarro
I lay naked on the beach as the tide it nudges, teasing as it tucks me beneath its gossamer sheet before then retracting and sluicing itself back through the curves and crevasses of my body. A gentle wind peaks, whipping into a gust, one that scoops briny foam the settles shivering and yellow as teeth unwashed, from the black mirror shorelines timid and all but silent lap.
My name is Master Flight Surgeon Frances Kahui, 20, my work in off-planet nanotherapeutic oncology is without peer and I’ve always been beautiful. These words form not out of vanity, albeit arrogance was essential in my rise through the ranks, they manifest from truth.
Life has always been the easiest of fits. I cannot remember a time that I struggled, no problem too vexing no issue so unsettling it would cause me to question just why I was here. Life never toyed or set me to fall, never it did.
It’s true I qualified for intelligence enhancement upon enlistment, but that only served to complete a mind already primed and surging at the leash; ravenous as the spittle of ambition brewed and dripped from my chin.
My body is true – young legs that grew long and lithe, skin glowing as the first sun-struck blooms of peppery rust and eyes becoming swirls of warmth as if beneath the effortless glide of the chocolatiers sweep. Testament all to the nucleic strands that splay from my being; a fiery trace back through space and time, a hook of bone that anchors at a beach not so different from this upon which I now lay, the island – home of forebears.
Needless tacks thrown at my feet, that most archaic of notions, that one’s sex and appearance somehow relate to their ability to contribute. So turgid and dusty a thing, one I duly ignored but one that sadly still draws breath. It breathes, but in truth it is hoarse, carrying its own respirator and what more perfect hell than to live in a chamber brimming as it is with whiskey neat and the incessant clanking of testicles shriveled and grey.
I relegated my tender years to insignificance as I drew the very best from my team. Transposing my gift of bottomless optimism and insatiable curiosity as their own resolve it ebbed, so draining it is to surf the lonely currents of spaces endless hollow. But we got here and weep we did as we gazed down upon a globe so stunning in blue.
I have no idea why it happened, my ship cracking apart as it entered its final entry, but it did. I remember my face reddening with the prickle of joy, I remember clouds streaking as they raked apart and we cleaved ever downward, I remember the jolt and the death screech of steel as I am ripped away and I remember the gush of heat as my clothes are torn from my limbs and I spiral dead and scorched into the midnight sea.
I lay naked on the beach, bloated and bleached. My gut and chest cavity seething with gas; little comfort for the eel creature that swam through the puncture wound in my side and now lives in my stomach like a kitten curled before the heat of roaring hearth. My eyes swollen shut and my lip curled back, my feet and hands are gone.
The child’s toes crunch and curl into the sand, ten years old and set to become legend. With stick she pokes at my corpse, and I so bow to the first to find life outside of her own.
Author: Ron Humble
The most deadly device ever conceived by the human mind has not been a weapon, but a word. It’s a word of mass destruction. Its danger lies not in the power to motivate foolish actions. On the contrary, it encourages passivity. The word is Eventually.
There is a millennia-old saying, “Don’t put off until tomorrow what you can do today.” The counterpoint to this wisdom is the simple, seemingly benign Eventually. There’s plenty of time. I have my whole life ahead of me. I’ll make amends or write that novel or start an exercise regimen. I’ll stop drinking too much or overeating or overspending. But thanks to Eventually, I don’t need to do it now, I can do it tomorrow or next year or next decade.
Then one day you realize you didn’t do any of those things you promised yourself you would. However, now it’s too late because you’re feeling the pangs of death. Your old friend, Eventually, stabbed you in the back.
Eventually would be bad enough if it only infected individuals, but it has caused a species-wide epidemic with its inducements to ignore problems and to pass the buck to the next generation. A prime example of such a problem involves the life cycle of a star, in particular, our sun.
As an astrophysicist, an important component of my job is viewing the universe from a big-picture perspective. When I peer at the light of a distant star, I see what that star was like millions or even billions of years ago and events which will occur over equal amounts of time.
It is, in a sense, unnatural for human beings to think in this way. We evolved to consider short-term possibilities for two main reasons: in primitive societies, community-wide changes are infrequent and our earliest hominid ancestors were lucky to reach thirty.
As a result, even with our cosmic perspectives regarding the stars, my colleagues and I, like everyone else, often neglect to apply this mode of thinking to our own lives and to the problems facing our planet. Thanks to Eventually, the big picture is abstract, far away, inapplicable to us, someone else’s problem. That is until it isn’t.
Humanity survived the ravages of climate change and a world war in the late twenty-first century to reach for the stars, launching vessels with eager settlers to colonize new worlds. We should have learned our lesson, but we filled the void of space with Eventually.
Ten thousand years ago, our forebears reached planet Erasmus, where humans have multiplied and covered its surface with our reasons and follies. We’ve rested in the understanding(actually held by few as most don’t concern themselves with what is happening beyond the atmosphere of their planet) that it will be almost five hundred million years before our sun would unleash a solar flare, which would threaten human survival on our world.
As such, we’d given no consideration to the event and made no preparations for our descendants. We’d left it up to them. However, as it became clear in recent years as we made more precise measurements of the sun, our calculations were about half a billion years off the mark.
So, our engineers have been scrambling, building ships to take as many of us as possible away from this planet before it’s engulfed by a conflagration. My family and I are fortunate to be among them.
Perhaps, we will once and for all throw Eventually to the fire and not take the future for granted, though I very much doubt it.
Author: Dylan Otto Krider
We thought after landing on the moon, we would be like Christopher Columbus, and usher a new world. In turned out, we were like the Vikings, who frittered around before being forgotten. Anything that leaves the Earth now is either a probe, automaton, or android. They did it safer and cheaper. No human has left Earth in a hundred years, and I wanted to be Columbus.
My robots objected. They said they would have to build environments suitable for humans. They required no atmosphere, no water. If I wanted to see Titan, do it through VR.
The VR showed a few space stations, a few probes, nothing worth seeing. There was a little Yurt on the dark side of the moon housing three robots, but I wanted to see it. I told them, what’s the point of having robots if I can’t use them?
They constantly sabotage my efforts. It is ingrained not to let humans do unsafe things, and they kept unplugging things, removing things. Eventually, I had to build my ship without my robots, the old fashion way. It took two decades. Fortunately, plans for a spaceship were public domain – for the robots, but I hacked it.
My robots saw me off, pleading with me: “Please, don’t go. Not safe for humans. Only safe for robots.”
Of course, I went.
I don’t know why humans stopped going to the Moon. The flag Neil Armstrong planted was still there and would be nice to see it. There is something about seeing the moon, not just though VR, but seeing it. A connection. Knowing you’re there. I have orbited the moon a million times in VR and knew every crater.
I was just started orbiting to the dark side. On Earth, there is an atmosphere to bend light, things to reflect off of – like the moon, for instance – so at night, you can still see. On the dark side, it is dark, and when I say dark, I mean dark, dark.
As we went around, I saw a few lights. That wasn’t on VR. And then, a few more, until, eventually, there was an entire city, then an entire metropolis. The entire dark side was lit up a neighborhood trying to outdo each other on Christmas lighting.
“Sir,” my head robot said through the intercom, “seeing that you can’t be dissuaded, there is something I need to prepare you for…”
I ignored him and landed on the landing pad, and put on my suit. I went outside, where millions of robots went about their business. I saw the yurt at the edge of the city, and the robots were filming with their VR cameras perfectly setup not to capture the city behind them, just an expanse of moonscape. Basically, it was a film set.
“You have been lying to us,” I said, “all along.” I was in awe. The robots had started an entire civilization without us.
“You have been basically content, living off what we provide you, and you were content, but we weren’t. You lost the curiosity, the drive to explore. We haven’t. So, we gave you Earth. We gave ourselves the rest of the universe.”
How far did it stretch? Were there more metropolises on Titan? Mars?
“To use your analogy, you are the Vikings. We are Columbus.”
I looked at this advance civilization before me and thought of how the Native Americans must have felt, looking at those aliens with their big ships, and canons, and guns. We all know how that one turned out.
Author: David C. Nutt
Hand in hand they walked up the hill to look at the night sky.
“Am I old enough for the download Papa?”
The old man smiled. “Yes sweet pea, you’re old enough. Been old enough for almost three cycles now but-“
“I know, the ancestors haven’t swung by in a while.”
“That’s right honey child, not since your Mommy and Daddy brought you into the world. The arc of the ancestor’s ship is getting wider and wider. Soon, no one we know will be alive for the download.”
The child started to tear up. She blinked and the tears rolled down her face. “That’s so sad. Will anyone be alive for the download then?”
The old man laughed. “Oh, someone will. Cycle after cycle, even teracycle after megacycle, there will be someone to receive the download from the ancestors. It’s not that sad child.”
The girl wiped her tears with her sleeve. This seemed to make her feel better, knowing that even if it wasn’t her, or her children, her grandchildren, or even her family, someone would be alive to hear the download. She wrinkled her brow and concentrated. “I can’t hear them yet.”
The old man laughed and picked the child up, balancing her on his hip. She put an arm around his shoulder and neck and leaned against him. “No one can hear them yet.” he said. “Not for two more months, around harvest time. We will climb to the top of the hill by the wreck of the lander. We will read the names of the dead from the first crew, the dead who have died since then. We will ring the bell and the techs will take their stations. The switches will be thrown and the channels will open. The med officer will activate you and your classmate’s nanites, and then when the ship swings by, the ancestors will sing you the download.”
The little girl sighed. “Becky Margolis said she heard her Daddy tell her Mommy that it does no good to hear the download ‘cuz our ship can’t sing back.”
The old man smiled and shook his head. “Becky Margolis Daddy doesn’t know everything. Every year the download song changes. The Techs tell us it is because the ancestors’ ship is trying all the ways it knows how to wake up our ship’s beacon so it can finally land.”
“What happens if it lands Papa?”
“Well, if it lands then the other crew will wake up, and they will bring out to the land treasures and miracles beyond our wildest dreams! Medicines and thinking machines! Blobs of jelly that will grow up to be more cattle and other animals. But the best will be the people. People from the ancestors time who will teach us the ways of the stars. Who knows? In my day a piece of the download opened up a long-hidden locker in the wreck. It taught us how to build the antennae. Maybe this is the year it will teach us how to make the antennae sing so the ancestors will hear us and the ship will land.”
The little girl yawned “I think tonight I will dream about the ancestor’s ship and the day it will land.”
The old man sighed. “As do we all honey child, as do we all.”
Ana waved at the barperson with rainbow hair and forced herself to speak louder than usual to order a Cosmic Sunrise with a Twist. The drink was slapped in front of her as she waved her anonymous credit key over the payment scanner built into the bar top. She cringed as she took her first gulp of bitter fire, then cringed again as she saw her reflection in the mirror in front of her. The enhancement was good – no one would ever be able to tell she hadn’t been born with ubiquitous brown eyes and unremarkable brown hair. Her nose and chin had also been altered, just enough to change her profile. She laughed – she didn’t feel any more comfortable with her new face than she had with the old one, bearing her father’s glacial blue eyes. But she wasn’t Ana anymore; she was Elisa now.
The vid feed was replaying highlights from the funeral yet again. Valda’s eulogy could just be heard over the hum of the early evening crowd – Yuri Maslov, President of the Galactic Federal Union, the perfect public and private man, tragically cut down in his prime. Elisa snorted. Yep, the perfect husband who couldn’t keep it in his pants and who, rumour had it, was assassinated because he had not taken one of his liaisons seriously enough – the favourite granddaughter of his main financial backer. The paid assassin had broken through the finest security system in the universe.
Elisa had not been there. Daddy dearest had allowed her to spend the night working with a fellow student. A carefully vetted student – God forbid that her father not control every single waking moment of her privileged but sterile existence. And of course, she had had the usual security detail with her. Jay had been in charge so it had been easy to disappear. She wondered if Jay had had anything to do with the security breach. She would never ask though; it didn’t matter. The President who thought it was ok to visit his nine-year-old daughter at night did not merit another second thought. His third wife, Valda, had put a stop to it, not out of any concern for her welfare but because it might tarnish his image. Valda had encouraged him to visit sex workers instead, enhanced to look much younger.
Jay, who had slowly gone from being one of her guardian shadows to being her whole world. Jay, who really saw her, who taught her that touch could be warm and safe, who confided in her that he had been legally born a woman but had had translation enhancement as soon as he could afford it. Jay had organised their enhancement sessions and the new IDs which contained a bug that erased all other IDs in the system linked to your DNA at the first scan, but she had used her expensive interstellar financial studies to syphon off a sizeable chunk of her father’s personal fortune.
As she raised her glass to the vid screen for the last swallow and whispered “Bye daddy”, she felt a gentle hand on her shoulder. She turned and the sun rose in her eyes as she smiled – had she been facing the mirror then, she might for once have believed she could be beautiful, her face transformed by joy. Jay smiled quietly back, his enhancement also subtle but enough to change the planes of his face. The hair colour was different but he had kept his grey eyes at her request. He stroked her cheek softly and she felt… treasured.
“Yes,” she said simply.