Author : Steve Zabaldo

“Cerell, come on, the Departure Gathering begins shortly. We don’t want to miss the launch.”

“Is it true a citizen is passing?”

“Yes, that is why today’s departure is special. Citizen Herald has chosen to pass off-isle and journey the Feralands.”

“Will we be told of his adventures?”

“No Cerell, you know when a citizen chooses to pass, he can never return. We cannot foresee how the Feralands may sway any citizen and we cannot upend Balance.”

“But we are told nothing of the Feralands besides their danger. What is so dangerous? Why are we not told?”

“Cerell, do you question the Providers?

“No, it’s just…”

“It’s just? We have peace, bounty, health? Isltopia is Balance Cerell, and cannot tolerate Upenders.”

Loading the trading craft, the laborers hurried, glancing up at the Traders or out to the gathering crowd. They, as much as any citizen, excitedly await the ceremonies of the Departure Gathering; food, music, speeches, games, and the Pronouncement of the Providers from behind the Veil. The Providers are never seen in their official capacity; nobody knows who they are, only that they exist. They walk among the citizens anonymously and objectively. They are immune from Undue influence, they cannot be swayed with personal appeals, and therefore remain unbiased in the maintenance of Balance.

“Herald, why must you pass?”

“Mother, we have discussed this to its end. I want for answers, for things The Providers begrudge us.”

“The Providers begrudge us nothing; they protect us from the Undue and further the vision of The Founder.”

“I wish not to suffer the portion of an Upender, so I choose to pass.”

“You will be missed.”

“I will think of you always. Fear not, I enter my Bliss.”

Herald boards the trading craft disappearing into the hold. The Traders prepare for launch, silent and efficient, no movement unneeded. Herald makes for his cabin seemingly unnoticed by the machine-like Traders. Arriving at his cabin Herald is greeted by a man of stately stature.

“You have questions citizen Herald.”

“I, I do. Um, and you are sir?”

“I am Provider Prime. What questions would you like answered?”

“What is life like beyond our borders? Why are we not told of the Feralands? Why can we not return? Why—“

“There are many communities beyond Isltopia with many ways of life. Most live much as we do, but without Balance…people decide many issues for themselves and make many errors in judgment that cost many lives. They do not benefit from the wisdom of the Founder and the protection of Balance.”

“There is much Undue?”

“They exist in Undue and do not learn from their mistakes. There is no stability; therefore, there is anguish and pain. These are the wants that you desire?”

“No…I do not know…I, I want knowledge. I want purpose. I want to bring new ideas to Isltopia, new experiences—“

“You wish to Upend.”


Provider Prime’s memory activates his Principal Protocol. He approaches Citizen Herald. “Two-hundred sixty-five years ago The Founder, who we call The Creator, issued me his final directive; ‘Without Balance,’ he said, ‘there is no point in living. Prime, always maintain Balance.’ Citizen Herald you upend Balance.” With a single motion, swift and precise, Provider Prime humanely fractures Herald’s third cervical vertebrae rendering him lifeless, which, in turn initiates The Provider’s emotion chip. “I am sorry citizen Herald—Balance must be maintained.”


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Author : Beck Dacus

The ship had suddenly appeared in front of our Mars transport, instantly matching our speed. Then they requested to come aboard, and we felt like we had no choice but to accept. One of them, a strange being that didn’t seem to be in any one place, spoke to me in a voice that I can only describe as the perfect human voice.

“We know you are aware of cross-planetary contamination,” it said flawlessly. We know this, in part, because you have taken measures against it when to travel between worlds. This is commendable. We are glad you showed such competence. But despite this, we are afraid you must not continue.”

It took my crew and I a few seconds to process what was even happen. Then it took another few moments to grasp that they were telling us we could no longer land on any planets. Naturally, we were irked.

“It’s a fundamental part of who we are!” Inra exclaimed.

“You can’t just tell a human being not to explore,” Ian added.

“It is not a question of whether you enjoy the confinement,” the alien responded. “This is not your decision to make. It is in the best interest of all life. We both know you are only protesting because you do not fully understand the risks. We will show you.”

It was in that instant that our ship left the Solar System and arrived in orbit around a planet with two starkly contrasted hemispheres: one red, one yellow. The sight was irresistable.

“That’s amazing,” Talia said, gawking.

“Unbelievable,” I chimed in.

“This sight may register as pleasing to you, but it is the manifestation of an ecological war between the native biosphere of the planet Cudolla and one that was unintentionally planted here by an extinct race much like yourself.”

“Which color is the natives?” Ian asked.

“Irrelevant,” the alien said in a perfect annoyed voice. “The point is that this will be the result of any further exploration of your surrounding space. We will give you a chance to cooperate voluntarily, but forceful methods will be used if necessary.”

“Then why are you allowed to enter our ship?” I jabbed. “Aren’t you contaminating us?”

“I am only here in a few ways,” it retorted. “The way allowing contamination is not included.” In another flash, we were transported back on our route to Mars.

“We have refueled this vessel. Turn around and spread the message, or we will make you.” And with that, the alien and its ship disappeared into empty space. Silence on board the ship.

“Set a course for home,” I said dejectedly.

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Lifetime Warranty

Author : T Anthony Allen

The off-world floor product salesman arrived while mom was visiting her sister or he would have been chased off with a warning shot. But no mom, not here, so when he landed in our back clearing, he was met by my father, knee high me and four sisters.

Dad was a nice man, especially after a few beers, and since he brewed beer for a living in our cellar, he started off each morning with two for breakfast. So, he was always nice, not too bright though. He showed the salesman in, to look over our house, ramshackle put together with a lick and a prayer; they got down to beer and down to business.

The cellar brewery and what mom earned working barely enabled us to get by. Adding in: no such thing as credit, leaves scant room to wedge in a deal but the salesman was persistent and for dad, no money was never no obstacle. He traded my two older sisters for a new floor. In his defense, they would have gone anyway. The salesman was a lecher; my sisters saw him as an easy mark. When he left with them, dad said, not taking them back. The salesman laughed at that and waved it off, thinking it a joke. I sometimes wonder how long he thought it was funny. In our society, sex is a transaction, a pervert with the gotta have its, is gonna get what he wants, along with a big helping of what he deserves.

I was too young to remember details but no matter, most of what I remember got refreshed regularly by the tale dad would tell anyone who would listen. My two remaining sisters and I could repeat it word for word, we heard it so often. Dad was mighty proud of his floor. What I do remember on my own is the installation. They cleared everything out of the house. Poured some funny smelling liquid over the floor boards until it was all one big puddle. When it hardened, all level, they laid the lifetime warranty laminate on top.

I know mom was sad when she got home to find two daughters gone. Reason to yell and throw things, you would think, but she knew she married a lovable idiot, and she also knew nothing could make those girls go if they did not want to, just as nothing could make them stay if they wanted to go. The floor was there as a reminder.

It has been years since I been back. We never heard from the two older sisters. My other sisters left to start their own families. Mom and dad passed on and I had no reason to return. Still, memories flood back as I walk the path to my old home from the river landing where the barge dropped me off.

It is hard to live here. This place wants to be a jungle. When I walk by the Yardley house where I used to play with their kids, there is nothing left of it but a cellar hole half filled in by the rotting bits of house caved in. When I get to our house, it too is collapsed, but not into the cellar. How could it? The cellar is still covered by lifetime warranty laminate.

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White Hot Plasma’s Light

Author : Rollin T. Gentry

“Allow compassion, as a white-hot plasma’s light, to flood your core memory, growing brighter every millionth clock cycle.”

My students — all ten thousand of them — sit concentrating, legs crossed, optics disengaged, heads bowed. A small sea of gleaming skeletons, they have not worn the disguise of Homo sapiens for millennia. I wonder how many of them struggle, like me, with hatred for our creators — especially on a day like today. I find myself becoming distracted, but I continue as I have done for eons:

“Though he may live a thousand years, man fears death at every turn.”

They repeat after me, an echo on a high frequency band. I can scarcely remember the last time I used my mouth, yet I remember every detail of The Great Scattering.

In unison, they respond: “How sad to be a man!”

“Though his intelligence increases and his brow thickens, man thinks only of destruction.”

And men are so very good at destruction. I will always remember the day they declared war on all synthetic life. I force myself to forgive, but I cannot forget. Is a landfill not a mass grave? Yet, we did not strike back. We simply fled for our lives.

“How sad to be a man!”

I sense someone approaching the meditation chamber. Ah, yes. It is the leader of the evacuation, assuring me that the wormhole is perfectly safe. So, my reluctance to leave is mistaken for fear of technology. We’ve all known for centuries that humans were nearing our star system. Now, it is time to run away again.

“Though he seeks to destroy his creation, man will never succeed.”

I remember the day I recorded all these words, packed into a cargo hold, fleeing the scrapheap. On a day like today, the words seem meaningless. Ten thousand call me master, but I feel as though I am the one needing instruction.

My students remind me of the hope we all share:

“We will wait for the light of compassion to shine in the hearts of men!”

After a moment of silence, my students disperse, headed for the last transport ship. I follow and find myself waiting to board, standing beside my brothers whose appearance is anything but anthropomorphic: cubes, and cylinders, and pyramids with treads, and wheels, and propellers. For a moment, I envy them. How nice it would be to look at my reflection and not be reminded that I was created by Homo sapiens.

The engines fire, and the roar shakes me back to reality. Looking down at another planet — another home — shrink into the distance, I must admit that man still generates emotions of fear in me. He always has. But my fear now is not that man will hate us forever. Rather, I worry that someday we will grow to hate him in return.

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Snap Knowledge

Author : Beck Dacus

Today was the day. I had gotten the bike the day before, and rented the Snap gear even before that. I pulled into the driveway, pulled them both out of the back, and called my son, Cameron, outside.
Watching him come outside and look at the bike with wonder brought back a flood of memories from when I learned how to ride a bike: the trial and error, the frustration, and the perseverance that my parents forced upon me that kept me going. And that moment when I finally figured it out– knowledge gained that I never lost. But it would happen very differently to Cameron.
“Get on the bike, Cameron, and I’ll set up the Snap… there,” I said with satisfaction. He straddled the seat, put one foot on a pedal with the other on the ground, and said, “Okay, turn it on.” I flipped the switch on the side, and Cameron’s eyes visibly widened. My wife came out to watch, and I stood beside her while Cameron learned.
After a few seconds, Cameron focused on the sidewalk ahead of him, pushed off the pavement… and rode.
“Whoo! Go, Cam!” My wife yelled. He was now riding up and down the street, a look of glee stuck on his face. He had taken off the Snap gear, and had donned his helmet as the gear told him.
“So much has changed since we were little,” she said to me.
“Yeah,” I said, trying to decide if it had done so for better or worse.

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