The Visit

Author : James SW Paris

They came from outside the solar system, in a ship the size of Mars. We thought it was something natural, then it performed a braking maneuver around Uranus, and the planet’s twenty-seven moons slid out of its way, returning to their normal orbits after it passed. The alien ship spent five years traveling through the outer solar system, skimming the outer planets, slowing down using some technology we could not identify. Eventually, it stopped at Jupiter, always staying on its far side, out of sight from Earth observers.

There were no envoys. There were no detectable emissions of any kind that could be interpreted as an attempt at contact. So we sent probes, nine of them, robotic missions, to get a better look. Some sent back a few pictures of the alien ship on the far side of Jupiter, two mile high towers around the equator, but all lost contact before anything useful was discovered. One moment, the probes were transmitting, the next, they were just gone.

Our tenth probe was different. One hour after it disappeared, it reappeared in front of the United Nations building in New York City. And in Tiananmen Square in Beijing, China. And Red Square, Moscow, Russia. And on the Ajyad Bridge in Mecca, Saudi Arabia. One moment, none were there, the next, they were in place. Not a single camera, radar, or seismograph caught a hint of what brought them there. All were identical down to dings collected in interplanetary space.

They were collected. In careful and secure conditions, they were examined. A hologram of actor Aladdin Mann appeared, dressed like his character Danny in the Stuck in the Baby Elevator episode of his sitcom, “Big Daddyed.”

“Don’t freak out,” the hologram said. “This isn’t really whoever’s image this is.

“Enough with the ridiculous probes. They must be expensive. We don’t want you to see what we are doing. We’re going to start destroying them as they cross the fourth planet’s orbit.

“We are sending this message only because we don’t want you to freak out and kill yourselves or something. You seem eager to meet us, We don’t care. There is nothing about you that is unique, or even interesting.

“Your brown dwarf has some stuff we want, and we are extracting it. We are taking about one percent of its mass. We will leave soon after the next solar minimum. We will leave the brown dwarf with half a million stable orbits.

“This might upset you. There’s nothing you can do about it. You can barely point these probes at the second biggest thing in your solar system.

“You might somehow think you ‘own’ something you don’t know about, and probably will never have the technology to extract. Here’s your payment: you’re polluting your atmosphere. Stop it or you’ll all die.

“Who we are is none of your business. What we are doing is none of your business.”

We sent two more probes, and the Visitors destroyed them both. They left Jupiter after the next solar minimum, taking one percent of the Jupiter’s mass with them. As far as we could tell, the ship seemed the same size and mass. They accelerated away using an engine we were never able to identify. Five years later, they were so far away we could no longer spot them among the stars.

We have no idea how we would ever follow them. And no idea what we would do if the Visitors return.

Bitter Storm

Author : Suzanne Borchers

Wind ground sand into her eyes, nose, and lips. Her unprotected ears caught crystals of silica within their folds. Her eyes burned. She wanted to pick at the stubborn particles with her fingers but forced herself to wait. It would be pointless. She opened her mouth to call for him. Choking and spitting, no words came out.

She should have kept her mouth shut inside the bunker. She cringed remembering her shouted words. “How many times can you read that book? Why did you bring me to this forsaken hell hole? I hate this howling wind and noise! And do I have to do everything? When was the last time you checked the plants? Are you afraid to go outside? Say something!” Helpless, she had watched herself shouting louder and louder. So he had hesitated to check on the vegetation dome during a sandstorm–a hell storm of sand, dirt and stones. The dome could have waited until a less windy day. But she couldn’t keep her mouth shut. She had to open her mouth and drive him outside. And now she couldn’t open her mouth without breathing in sand.

She should have worn protective gear before she stepped out into the raging storm. Her suit hung beside his in the entryway. He had stormed out the door in anger and left behind his gear. Her words had shoved him outside.

Immediately sorry, she had swept out into the storm—unprotected, vulnerable. She squinted hard against the flying debris but he was gone. She bent over double into the wind forcing her feet down in the general direction of the dome. She was blown back against the bunker, the air knocked out of her. She gasped, sucking in a fistful of sand. Choking and sputtering, she emptied her lungs.

Why couldn’t she keep her mouth shut?

Maybe he was already in the dome. Maybe she would be able to hold him and feel his warmth. He would forgive her. He always forgave her outbursts. They would lie together and wait out the storm. There was enough water, and they would laugh about her quick-trigger tongue.

She turned again into the wind and clawed her way with one hand through the stinging hail of sand as she covered her mouth and nose with the other. She judged the length of each gust and set her feet squarely down between them toward the dome. The few feet to the building seemed to take a lifetime.

She fell on her face, coughing and spitting out sand. Her saliva was mud. What had she tripped over?

It was him—motionless and still. Tears coursed down her cheeks.

No! She needed him. She gripped his body and with all of her strength she moved him an inch. She squeezed her eyes to slits and saw a few more inches would get them to the door of the dome. She gritted her teeth, tasting the hard particles lodged in them, and pulled him to safety.

Once inside the dome, she rolled him over onto his back and felt for a pulse. “Don’t leave me!” she cried. She breathed air into his mouth and pushed his chest at intervals as she had been taught. When her breath was gone and sweat coated her face, arms, and legs, she stopped. He was gone. A sharp pain stabbed her heart.

She held him in silence except for the roaring wind and pelting sand.

How long would it be until her distress signals were answered—weeks, months, years? Never? How could she live? Who would listen to her stories? Who would laugh at her jokes?

Who would hold her and close her mouth with kisses?

The Vaccine

Author : Matthieu C. R. Cartron

The planetary nation of Ozda was illiterate—in English and in many other far away languages that is. It was practical to learn the languages of nearby planets, but beyond that it made little sense. A waste of time, actually.

Without a translator, it would have been difficult for them to communicate with Earth, a planetary nation thousands of light-years away they had never heard of—not until the neighboring planets had mentioned its cutting-edge technology. Apparently, Earth had the only solution to it, the devastating disease that jumped from planet to planet, wiping out populations as it went.

Scared out of their minds and desperate to evade the disease, planetary nations began to contact Earth. The terrestrials were pressured by these nations to share their medical technology, but the complexity of the vaccine, according to Earth, was far too difficult to explain in a reasonable amount of time. Planets were dying of course, and there was little time to spare.

But there was no need for concern. Earth had promised it could send out doctors to vaccinate the populations of the other planets, a feat that could be managed in less time than the cumbersome alternative.

Ozda’s request for a doctor was addressed promptly, and Dr. Ashford of Earth arrived in less than twenty-four hours, bringing with him hundreds of large crates, all filled with the coveted vaccine.

To speed up the vaccination process, Dr. Ashford demonstrated to the Ozdaen doctors the correct procedure for the administration of the vaccine. It was quite simple really, just a slight insertion at the shoulder and brief, downward application of pressure onto the plunger.

With the help of the Ozdaen doctors, Dr. Ashford had every citizen vaccinated in less than six hours. When Dr. Ashford was finished and ready to return home, he congratulated the governing body of Ozda and said that Earth would send a representative to check on the planet in a few weeks.

After Dr. Ashford’s departure, Ozda discovered that the neighboring planets, Jugtha, Regyte, and Iolat, had all been vaccinated at around the same time by other terrestrial doctors. The four planets all felt confident now that the threat of the mysterious disease was all but vanquished.

The people of Ozda returned to their daily lives, thankful for the service Earth had so selflessly rendered them. Perhaps they would now consider learning English, some of the citizens had even joked.

But three days later everything changed for the Ozdaens. It had begun with a cough and a mild headache.
When the representative from Earth arrived at Ozda several weeks later with several terrestrial families, he was hardly surprised by the scene in front of him.

After all, it wasn’t the first planet he had helped colonize.

Ageless

Author : Morrow Brady

I grew a heart on my intestine to prove my wife wrong.

”You’re wasting money Eric. You’ll only get cancer” Kara frowned, as I tossed the stem cell unit into the shopping trolley. I knew the risks of growing your own organs, but my mid-life aches and pains suggested now was the time.

At home, I started configuring biometrics and soon had a virtual beating heart. I set it to bake and minutes later removed the cooked stem seed from its bio-silica womb. After I swallowed it, the stem cells began stimulating new heart muscle growth on my intestine. In a fortnight, a beating bulge would appear.

I showed Kara the veiled network of blue veins under my stretched skin. She screwed up her face in disgust.

“Why a heart Eric?” She asked.

“It’s a spare. I might need it one day” I answered.

Months later, Box Medical harvested my fully grown heart and froze it.

“Are you done?” Kara blurted.

“No. I want to do the rest. Just in case.” I mumbled.

Five years later, I literally had a spare me on ice, ready to go.

Over time, my body began to fail and the backup transplantations began. By seventy, I owned the body of a twenty year old.

“You look ridiculous.” Kara said.

“It’s like I’m married to my grandson”

It was unnatural. Kara the ageing and me the ageless were growing apart. At seventy five, my new eyes saw precision once again. With the cataract years of fading colours and blurred vision past, I saw beauty all around. I also saw Kara’s wrinkles, liver spots and greying complexion. Old eyes, were beer goggles for the aged.

At 86, Box Medical transplanted my brain. I awoke dazed in the discharge suite. A lifetime of memories ordering themselves. Kara carefully helped me from the surgical pod. Her sunken eyes watching my rebirth. My naked, muscular physique, towering over her haunched figure, yet so reliant upon it for support. Kara lovingly held my arm tight with impossible strength. A wife’s helping hand for her feeble husband. As I emerged from my post-operative stupor, I slowly took over as the helping hand and guided Kara home. She knew I was back, as she let a brief smile touch her face. I saw then how frightened she was of being left behind. I pulled her tight. A hug sometimes is not enough.

“You’re home.” Kara’s voice crackled.

“I’m sorry darling. I wanted to live longer but I was only thinking of myself. I need you with me for more than one lifetime.” I trembled and held her frail body in my arms.

“It’s ok. Just make sure you take care of me” Her words stumbled short from saying until the end. It wasn’t right for her to talk of death, when her husband for sixty years, was so far from it.

Daffodils shot gold into green landscape as trees captured spring shadows once again. My children and I carried Kara to her grave. Hidden eyes burned into me for cheating death. For cheating Kara. But I was the one who had watched Kara’s mind fade. Watched her body dry up like an autumn leaf. In the end, her life was too long.

As we lowered her into darkness, the earth pile alongside the grave reminded me where it always ends. One day, earth would be piled on her grave when they buried me alongside. I then smiled as the thought, that in the end, when we are both buried deep below, everything would return to how it should have been.

Sunday Shopping Spree

Author : Irene Montaner

“And have a nice day,” said the cashier, as he handed me the brown paper bag with my purchases inside.

“You too.” I smiled back at the young boy in front of me. Probably no older than twenty and enjoying the thrills of his first job.

“No, I won’t.”

“I can imagine,” I said sympathetically. I turned around and saw an endless queue of people, mostly women, grabbing onto baskets loaded with trashy clothes, cheap shoes and myriads of creams and make-up. Poor boy, tormented by his first job.

“No, you can’t.”

Whenever I looked, chaos seemed to reign in this gigantic shop. A whirlwind of people busied themselves on this Sunday afternoon unfolding every item of clothing that had been neatly folded before the shop opened, untidying every rack of shoes, and opening every cream that was sealed with a ‘do not open’ seal. Heaps of clothes lay outside the many changing rooms, waiting for some shop assistant to fold them again and bring them back to their place. It was a most apocalyptical image; the worst nightmare of a communist, socialist, or whatever they called themselves these days.

Sundays are the new Saturdays, or so they say. Every Sunday hordes of people took over every shopping centre in town and wasted their time eyeing and touching everything on display before queueing forever to spend every hard-earned cent in crap they didn’t need. Some people, especially young girls, still went shopping in groups, but most consumers were lonely creatures who wandered around distractedly, their eyes fixed on those tablets that tailored their shopping to their needs and suggested everything they didn’t even know they wanted. It was also their preferred method to request a different colour or size; no need to interact with the army of assistants that raced from one corner to another, folding as much clothes as they could and refilling the shelves depleted of stock. It wouldn’t be long before those exhausted employees would be replaced by cyborgs who would not complain about low salaries, ungrateful customers or nightmarish Sunday afternoons.

“Next,” said the young cashier, anger showing in his voice.

Who knows how long I’ve been blocking his queue. I stopped daydreaming and realised that this was more an epiphany than a dream. “Son, do you know who I am?”

“No, and I don’t care.”

“Well, no need for you to know or care anymore ‘cos you’re fired.”

“Say what?” he said, angrier than before.

“You’re fired but don’t take it personally. I just think that some multitasking robots could handle this Sunday mess more efficiently. And they wouldn’t cost me as much as you.”

THE END