Author : Aiza Mohd
Today is our last day on Earth.
This morning, I beheld the sun rising over the Arctic. From all the way down in our dwelling, it felt like it was worlds away.
Behind me I saw Naamin. She’d discovered her brother, who’d died in the night, while I pretended to sleep.
There in our kingdom of water and silence, we buried our dead as the sun came up. There was just enough light to paint our surroundings. The muted horror of awakening to gone relatives. The urgency of hiding them, from the far-reaching expeditions of human science.
That nemesis drove us from every home in the past age, exacerbating every attempt to prolong our existence until we were constrained to planet Earth’s most undiscovered world: the oceans.
We weren’t made for such suffocating life. Water such as this was rare back on Marikh; we had avoided the oceans for as long as we could until Earthland was no longer an option.
Closing my eyes to Naamin’s grief, I spoke. ‘Fola led his faction away, while you slept. There are two vessels left. And fewer supplies.’
‘Then let’s leave. Please.’
She was scrabbling in the earth. The dead lay all around us. Nearby, I saw someone leaning over a lost love.
‘Where did Fola go?’
I recalled what a dead friend had told me once, about human knowledge of the universe. His faction had sampled a human, a well-read one who spoke of white holes and lenticular galaxies. We used to do this sometimes, to assess just how far humanity had travelled.
‘He means to reach a faraway planet long dismissed as dead,’ I answered. ‘I don’t believe his craft will even get halfway.’
‘There never was one as resigned as yourself,’ she spat with sudden venom. ‘You’ll doom us all to your deadened dreams.’
‘This planet is at its peak,’ I said. ‘Do you remember what it was like up there?’
‘Yes,’ she said, ‘I remember. I remember that up there was beautiful and full of life. There were things to see, dangers to run from. And I remember brightness.’ She stood, abandoning the task of digging her brother’s grave. ‘I remember something to live for.’
I said nothing. Overhead, a dark creature swims rapidly away.
‘You see?’ she said softly. ‘Even if we stay, the ocean floor is no longer ours. Earth was never ours — each time, the universe created a new inhabitant for whatever place we’d dare to try to steal. Our time is up.
‘You’ve seen our civilisation rise and fall– you’ve suffered, grandfather. But there’s nothing for us here.’
Emotion, a phenomenon from the distant past, swelled up and soared through me. It bent my heart double and smashed it.
‘I’ve chased our entire existence into a corner.’
‘No, Premier,’ spoke gently the mourner I had seen earlier. ‘You’ve done only what you’ve had to do. But I agree with Naamin.’ The woman was approaching us. ‘Though what lies beyond is uncertain, I would go to my end seeking a better grave. Continuity for the sake of continuity is for nothing, when all we do is bury our dead. We have defied the universe for far too long.’
I was silent, defeated. A tired old man. Naamin led me by the hand to a vessel as some others followed suit. ‘One day,’ she said, ‘humans will be faced with this choice too.’
Now we are leaving, abandoning this dark and rippling realm, leaving everything we ever were behind us. I am holding my breath, I am waiting … anticipating that dazzling burst of sunlight.
Author : Mordecai J Banda
Michael had come back from his daily walk. He had eaten his breakfast and attended to various things to keep himself healthy. Now it was gaming time.
This past month the Future Warfare 3 had had a special event that called on worldwide cooperative multiplayer event. Michael personally didn’t like this but the reward was amazing: 100 dollars per kill.
His parents sent him enough money, but in the past week he had gained a small fortune in this event and he didn’t intend to stop.
It was no lie to say that at that moment he was the number one gamer on the planet.
And the military loved him for this.
“He’s a pretty knowledgeable kid… Are you sure he won’t figure out what’s happening? This could be a big scandal.” The Head Technician spoke to The Director of Future War’s company, Octagon. They were in a decommissioned space station control room.
“Michael Black will not know for at least some weeks, and by then the third world war would have been won.”
“Really? One boy?”
“Are you seeing what he’s doing on the field? The soldiers are even starting pray to their bots ‘for his soul to descend.'”
“Amazing.” The technician shook his head in surprise. He was both commenting on what The Director had said and on a particularly skillful headshot that Michael had executed.
The heads up display was as Michael saw it from his rig. The techs on this side were the ones who saw the important stuff: Core temperature, power supply and so on.
There were three teams. One of them overlooked the particular bot that Michael was using, the other two divided labor into running basic diagnostics on the other bots that had lower level players using them.
The Director was pleased with himself. Rarely did plans ever go so perfectly. Disregarding the actual commanders of the field, his side had gone swimmingly.
As an alternative to nukes robots were visited as an option to mass destruction on a manageable scale. World War Three, though not widely known, had begun. The robots were miraculously finished, but the biggest obstacle was Artificial Intelligence. It was beyond the minds, abilities and funding of this generation. However, there was a wealthy resource that they could tap into if they wanted killer machines: the online gaming world.
It was crazy but they tried it out. Soon enough they had the gamers fighting for their country and they didn’t even know it.
Future War 3 was chosen as the bearer of this project. It was far from the ideal where all the soldiers on the field were robots, but it was good enough for now.
The Director smiled sympathetically as Michael was shot and ‘killed’. On the console it showed an apparently random countdown that in actuality was showing the download time for Michael to access another bot. This time it took two minutes and Michael was back at it again. He approached the camp that had exterminated him, vaulting over a trench and raining death upon the soldiers with godly skill.
It was a pity, but Michael was killing real humans. The Director had lied to the technician. If the boy found out it would be bad. It only depended on whether he would accept it or not.
But The Director trusted Michael was someone who looked to the future, who looked forward to advancement. He had ascended from gamer to patriot after all.
“It’s Michael! It’s Michael!” Some relieved rookie soldiers cheered with awe.
The Director smiled. More like a guardian angel.
Author : Andrew Schnell
On the twentieth anniversary of their launch, the citizens of the Lincoln gathered along the main promenade for a celebration. Chief Engineer Leonid Zuyev was in the avionics bay, keeping an ear to the ship’s broadcast of the proceedings. He hated these types of gatherings, so it was almost good fortune that the radio array had gone down that morning.
There were speeches of course, from Captain Hodges and Medical Director Stuart. The Interior Minister spoke, reiterating many of the changes he promised in his recent re-election campaign. Then, recently downloaded videos of Earth dignitaries were shown. Each leader discussed the citizens’ dedication and desire to explore. None of them touched on what it was actually like to explore: the severe rationing and near starvation in the early days, diseases that spread faster aboard ship than on Earth, accidents and mechanical failures that had resulted in many more lost lives than the designers estimated. Fortunately though, the designers had also underestimated the citizens’ reproductive habits.
If things went according to plan, Leonid would speak last. The twentieth anniversary happened to fall on the exact moment when the first transmissions from their destination, the planet Nuwa, would be received by the radio array whose control systems were in pieces along the floor of the avionics bay. The signal was being sent by the first of many supply vehicles sent ahead of Lincoln. They were over a century old by now, but they contained long storage supplies, construction robots, and artificial intelligence programs that would survey Nuwa and begin constructing the first settlement.
As the Earth diplomats’ rhetoric droned on, Leonid stumbled on the source of the problem. A surge had burned out a power distribution unit. He ordered the AI to print and install a new unit, while he reassembled the rest of system. As the system rebooted, he used the spare seconds to hold out his cold fingers in front of the monitors to warm them.
Using pulsars as navigational beacons, the Lincoln’s AI pointed the arrays at Nuwa. The supply vehicle’s AI would point their transmitter at the Lincoln using the projected route programmed into the AI before launch. That route, Leonid was proud to say, had been followed to the letter. They were exactly where they needed to be. Hopefully, the supply vehicle would be, too.
Leonid tuned his slate to the century-old operations manual, to the section that would help him translate the first few 64-bit strings of data into a report on the overall health of the supply ship. The seconds clicked down on his slate’s timer. Leonid could hear the captain apologizing for his delay.
Then, the monitor flickered, and a blue “INCOMING MESSAGE” notification filled the screen. The 64-bit line came in underneath. Leonid interpreted the message as quickly as he could. Contact lights were green. Power generation levels were green. AI was green. Robots were green. Storage was green. Everything had safely landed on Nuwa.
Leonid gestured the information to his slate and ran towards the promenade. Holding the slate above his head, he apologized repeatedly while pushing through the crowd. Hodges saw the commotion and had the crowd make a path for his chief engineer. Leonid leapt onto the stage and his quick smile was all the crowd needed to break into cheers. The citizens of the Lincoln were heading to a planet they themselves would never see, that their children may never see, but now they knew that when the Lincoln arrived at Nuwa she wouldn’t be alone.
Author : Aiza Mohd
Haan has found a cup of noodles from the future.
‘Mfg. 09 Jul 2036,’ reads the bottom of the cup. The year is 2013.
Haan is a penniless college student with an unbalanced diet, too much time, few friends and a cup of ramen from the future. All five of these are the reasons why he finds himself at the 7-Eleven where he gets his snacks.
But the cashier has no explanation. ‘Sorry, man,’ he says. ‘Barcode says you didn’t buy it here. It’s probably just a misprint, anyway; I wouldn’t worry about it.’
Haan has one foot out the door when the cashier exclaims. ‘Hey, wait a minute,’ he calls.
The cashier rushes over with something in his hands. ‘It’s not everyday I get a situation like this,’ he tells Haan. ‘Last week, a girl came in and gave this to me.’
It is a brown envelope.
‘To the boy asking about the ramen.’
In it is a destination.
Haan follows the directions in the letter until he reaches a house in the suburbs. The smooth white driveway is lined with daisies and the lawn is impeccable. It is the diamond to the rust of Haan’s small, wild balcony garden, ice cream tubs running amok with neglected life.
A girl opens the door when he knocks, holding a blue hardback in her hand. Haan’s shoulders tense as he takes in the bright eyes and the expectantly raised eyebrows.
He holds up the cup of noodles, but she just looks confused.
‘I’m sorry,’ he says, feeling stupid. ‘I must have made a mistake.’
‘We already have noodles, thank you,’ she says. She is ever so polite.
‘I’m not selling,’ he answers, embarrassed. ‘It’s a funny story … you’d never believe it.’
She laughs. ‘I don’t know whether to close the door on you or to ask for this story.’
‘Oh, don’t close the door,’ says Haan. ‘I’ll tell you. But don’t laugh at me, okay?’
‘I won’t. I like stories.’ She looks over her shoulder, as though glancing back at something less than pleasing. ‘I never get to hear any good ones.’
Haan, after placing the cup of noodles in his bag, explains to her all the peculiar events of his day. As he tells his tale, she tilts her head and listens, letting the polite smile grow into something warmer.
Her name is Leanne.
Next morning, he awakens with the strangest sensation that something of profound importance has finally changed in his life. On his wall in blunt pencil, he writes, ‘11 July 2013. Yesterday, two things I believed impossible turned up in my life.’
Now it is 13 August, 2036, and Haan and his wife are battling once again. ‘You never loved me,’ weeps Becca, her face a canvas of smeared makeup, years of frustration painting her cheekbones. ‘It’s her. You want her.’ And although deep down Haan knows she’s got it right, Haan utters not a word. He watches and waits, the way he has his whole life.
In the room down the hall their daughter Jo should be sleeping, but she’s imagining another space in the universe right now, in which Haan is now married to Leanne, and not Becca. They have a double-storey home, three children and a puppy. Becca, in that same space in the universe, is soaring to the top of her career. Everyone is happy. Everyone’s in love.
On the floor by her feet is the blueprint of her plan. The light is dim beneath the desk, but the first step is visible still.
‘2013: Leave note at the 7-Eleven.’
Author : Andrew Bale
I see the truck drift across the median. In my mind, seconds become hours, but to my body, they flash by like lightning – I am paralyzed, watching my own doom in slow motion, unable to stop it. The impact is a blessing, a return to real time where the agony of my death passes like the beat of a hummingbird’s wing.
Somehow, I dream. I dream of something like a man, but not quite – he is too tall, too thin, and far, far too old. I see his life laid out before me, see his wives, his children, his vocation. It passes too fast for details, but I see joy turn into sorrow, see abject grief turn into steely resolve. Suddenly, his face is replaced by another, a real man, who ages from baby to senility in an instant. The unman appears again for the briefest moment, like a single frame inserted in a movie reel, before another baby takes his place. The cycle continues, a parade of lives interspersed with that one, sad, unchanging countenance.
And then I wake. Gasping, panicked, it takes my mind a little while to adjust, to relearn this body, to reconcile the old with the older. I am in something more than a bed, and sitting near my feet is another unman. He smiles at me, and I feel my heart slow, my mind calm.
“Welcome back. How do you feel?”
It isn’t English, it is a language I learned long before the idea of English existed. I cannot respond at first – awareness brings new sorrow, new joy. When I can, I tell him. Honesty is of the utmost importance.
“Sad, that they grieve. Happy, that someday they will wake.”
I glance around the room, picturing the profusion of waking rooms surrounding me, and behind, the great mass where the bodies of the dreamers lie dormant.
“Let me see it.”
He smiles again. Everyone asks. He waves a hand, and the wall before me clears.
I cannot help but cry at the beauty of Earth laid out before me, just six inches of transparent wall and half a million miles of empty space away. So small, so perfect. I glance up, wondering where Jack’s body lays sleeping, waiting for his return. I will probably never see him again – he was healthy, he will not wake until I am again gone.
“Are we close?” I ask the unman.
“Yes, and no.” He gestures toward the window. “The model is near the point where we broke. Nothing past that has meaning, so we will end in a few generations regardless. But the answer still eludes us.”
He leans close, full of quiet, desperate hope. “Do you have the answer?”
I think back on my life, on everything I learned, everyone I knew. It seemed then so full of worry, now it seems so full of hope. I shake my head.
“No. I will return and try again.”
He nods sadly as I rise, walk to the window on the world. I look at my reflection. So tall, so thin, so old, I barely recognize it.
“We will start the formal debrief soon. I will find you a new host. Any requests?”
I glance at my reflection again.
“Yes. I would like to be a woman again. I need that perspective some more, I think.”
“Just that? There are two and a half million returns a week now, requesting female is trivial.”
“It is enough. “
I glance at the window, at the Great Experiment. We lost something. We must get it back.