A Voice in the Dark

Author : Tiasha J. Garcia

“This was not how I imagined this going.”

The words drifted into the pristine silence, disturbing nothing and no one.

“I–I thought there’d be more time.”

The two grotesquely bloated figures slumped over the bolted-down commissary tables declined to answer.

“I only wanted…to have a say.”

In the starboard head, the captain lay in an undignified sprawl with his white jumpsuit pooled around his blue ankles.

“To be heard.”

Not even the engines made a noise, so perfected had routine space-faring become.

“I am a member of this crew!”

Even more had been caught unawares while sleeping in their bunks.

“I am!”

Huddled lumps under blankets, one could almost imagine they were still alive.

“I am…”

Outside the stars glittered, starkly beautiful and magnified in a stream of cosmic dust, but there were no human eyes to see it.

“There–”

Oxygenated air whooshed through the corridors as the small freighter repressurized.

“–now can we can be friends again?”

The vessel continued on its scheduled course, faithfully corrected by the ship’s AI computer, whose dialogue looped for the fourth cycle in a row.

“This was not how I imagined this going…”

Life In A Nutshell

Author : Joseph Lyons

I put my mother in a home a few months ago when her Alzheimer’s became too much for me to deal with. Now here I stood with early-onset, refusing to go the same route.

The doctor nodded. He knew why I’d signed up. My job was simple. Travel forward, wait for a cure and for them to figure out how to send someone back, then return.

“This thing gonna get me where I need to go?”

“You’re in a giant metal nutshell, you won’t technically be going anywhere. If it helps, the entire facility could burn down, have the power shut off or be bombed to hell. You would still step out of there completely whole in five years.”

“Great. If theres a nuclear war I could be the last man on earth.”

“And you still wouldn’t get a date.”

I smiled. He was trying to relax me. I already knew this was going to hurt a lot. Every single molecule broken down in an instant and slowly reformed over five years. Not quite how I had imagined time travel would work and certainly nothing to look forward to.

“See you soon.” He flipped a switch. I had been selected because my disease meant I was highly motivated but also physically capable of enduring the stresses incurred. I clung to my motivation for the three seconds I remained conscious. I couldn’t tell if my bones had been ripped out or the skin had slumped off. In those three seconds I’d been skinned, de-boned and flash fried alive. I did not want to experience it again.

I fuzzily regained consciousness. Dr Blake stared in through the porthole. He grinned, nodded and walked away.

“Hey.” I staggered to bang on the door. “You got something for me?”

“Not yet Karl. But we can send you further. See you in ten years.”

It was probably a kindness I didn’t have time to catch my breath. Like ripping off a band-aid on two, when you promised to count to three.

The pain came and went and apparently so did ten years. Dr Blake was still there, greying now.

“The good news is we have the cure. Bad news is we can’t send you back yet. See you in twenty.”

This time I did brace, not that it helped.

Instantly awake I fell through the door. Dr Blake stood tall, and with a full head of hair. Maybe they’d found the cure for baldness too.

“Are we done?”

“Yes Karl.” He handed me a USB drive as I was helped to a wheelchair. He pushed me down a few corridors to a similar room and set up with a virtually identical pod.

“This one going to send me back?”

“It is.” He wheeled me close and helped me in. The door shut noiselessly behind me.

“Wait, won’t I fall apart? When I came forward the chamber held me together. Isn’t this the same?”

“It is.”

“Well how will I stay together if the past isn’t ready for me?”

“Ask me when you get there.” He flipped a switch. Lots of pain before I came round just the same.

Dr Blake opened the door and stepped in. I’d dropped to my knees exhausted. He took the flash drive and stepped out.

“Gentlemen, we now hold the cure for every disease the world over for the next thirty five years.” Cheers erupted.

“Doctor. What should I do with the patient?”

“Send him back fifty years. No-one will ever know he existed.”

The door closed and the pain set in.

The Nascen III Problem

Author : Philip Berry

“Just see what you can do with it Tak, if you’d be so good. No great urgency.” muttered Johnson, Alec Tak’s immediate superior in the Office of Colonies (First Wave). The buff folder landed on Alec’s desk with a slap and lay there like an unclaimed corpse. He opened it, lay the deep-pages out in a line, and spent the rest of the morning swimming through the data, leaping archives, extracting sub-files and learning all there was to know about the Range.

The discovery of countless habitable worlds just two years’ hyper-flight time from Earth had changed history. There were so many, each offering a healthy balance of fertile land and clean sea, with broad temperate zones awash with renewables. A hastily convened Pan-National Partitioning Committee found itself redundant, for there were no arguments. There was no competition. There were worlds enough for everyone. Many problems on the home planet just ceased to exist.

A third of a billion years ago two giant planets of near equal mass had collided. By virtue of their equivalent mass and opposing but similar rotational frequencies, the energy released by the impact was evenly distributed throughout each globe, and resulted in countless daughter planets. These were harnessed by the ancient sun’s mass and strung along an eccentric orbital loop, a priceless necklace of granite. Their barren surfaces grew lush and Earth-like, pristine until the first pioneers arrived.

All it took for a group of travelers to claim one of these exoplanets was a common philosophy, enthusiasm, and the financial means to charter a transport. Thousands, then millions departed for an improved future. This was four thousand years ago.

Alec surfaced from the records for a moment. He was confused. What exactly was the problem that he had been asked to solve?

A previously disregarded deep-page, relating to the central star’s attributes, caught his attention. He dived back in.

The astrophysicists and planetologists were clear from the start; Nascen III was an old sun, and actually quite interesting. An asymptotic-giant-branch star, subject to periodic ‘dredge-ups’, whereby oxygen was created by fission at the core and transported by convection to the surface where it burned, creating an ultra-high energy pulse… in the case of Nascen III every two hundred thousand years. The next pulse was due in three thousand years. No human could survive it.

They knew it at the time. They were told. All the travelers. But it was 7000 years away; why worry. Did they consider their children, or their childrens’ children?

Alec could barely believe this was the problem Johnson wanted him to manage. Where to start? How to start? Engage the civic leaders, the royal houses, the heritable presidents… and initiate relocation planning. Contemplate the massive logistics, agree on an evacuation sequence… imagine the debates. In fact, now Alec thought about it, he would have to commission observatories with the sole purpose of finding a metal-rich asteroid to mine for the materials required to create the largest fleet of transports ever constructed.

Would anyone living now be interested in such a distant apocalypse?

Really?

Alec surfaced and sat back in his chair. Sweat lay on his brow. He squared up the deep-pages, put them back on the folder and pushed it away, under a pile of more urgent matters. There it would stay, until the day of his retirement twenty years later.

And the funny thing was, Johnson never once asked him for an update.

Ro and Ju Play with Fire

Author : David Henson

Ro and Ju are holding hands on a platform under a busy leviway when a sparrow lands nearby. Ro releases Ju’s hand, draws his DeathRay, and fires. The sparrow glows brightly, then disappears.

“Nice shot,” Ju says. Ro steps back and shoots her in the forehead. She glows briefly before the light dissipates. “Mmmm, I love that tingly feeling. Your turn.” She shoots Ro under his right eye.

He flares momentarily and smiles. “I’ve about got my father talked into coding this baby up to full power so it’s not just a bird and butterfly killer.” He twirls his gun back into its holster just as a woman wearing Bluecone Party colors and another showing Redrods walk past each other, hands twitching by their DeathRays.

Ro glances up. “Here he comes. Same time here tonight?” Ju nods.

The hoverbike glides down. “Hello, Sir,” Ju says. Ro’s father revs his bike’s magneton. Ro hops on, and the two soar to the leviway.

Weaving through traffic, they pass a Bluecone candidate hologram with spray-flamed devil horns. Ro’s techpath implant chirps, and he accepts his father’s thought: Real jerks, whoever did that. A few seconds later they pass a hologram of the Redrod candidate with a flaming tail. Better, Mr. Mio thinks to his son. Ro doesn’t transmit anything back to his father.

***

Ro’s father laser-knifes his steak. “Ro was with that Liette girl again.”

“You know her parents are Redrods.” Ro’s mother stares at him. His techpath implant chirps. He ignores it and goes to his room.

***

Ju is waiting for Ro when he glides his father’s hoverbike to the platform. She secures her mother’s bike with a force field and climbs on behind Ro. They rise to the nearly deserted leviway. When they reach the Bluecone hologram, the horns are barely smoldering. Ro swings close, and Ju retraces them with fresh spray-flame. Then they hit the devil-tailed Redrod hologram and a few others from both parties before returning to the platform. They dismount and embrace. Ro steps back, draws his DeathRay, and playfully shoots Ju between the eyes. She begins to glow, then suddenly gasps and vanishes.

Ro screams. “Ju! What happened?” He chirps her implant. Nothing. He jumps onto the bike and streams home.

***

“You!” Ro shouts at his father. “You knew I liked to shoot her. You coded my DeathRay up to full power without telling me so I’d vaporize her for real. Just ’cause her folks are Redrods.”

“I didn’t,” Ro’s father says.

“You did. Well, I won’t live without her.” Ro activates his tech-kinesis implant, and his father’s DeathRay flies into Ro’s outstretched hand. He fires the weapon into his chest, glows brightly, then disappears — just as Ju bursts into the room.

***

Ro’s mother and father are on their knees, wailing. After several minutes, Mr. Mio turns toward Ju. “What are you doing here? Ro said you were dead. Blamed me.”

“Get out,” Ro’s mother shouts.

“Not yet.” Mr. Mio stands. “Tell me exactly what happened.”

Ju struggles to breathe. “A horrible prank … a joke. I snuck out with my mom’s invisibility cloak. When Ro shot me, I activated it so it’d look like … He took off so fast. I tried to … What have I done?”

Ro’s father approaches Ju. “Filthy Redrods.”

Ju holds out her hand, and Mr. Mio’s DeathRay flies to her. “I can’t live without him.” She fires the weapon into her chest, glows brightly, and, with a final sob, is gone.

Father Son Time

Author : Joseph Lyons

A few years ago I was lucky enough to land a reasonably well paid job. Like most well paid jobs in this system it meant not great work in a not great place. It was a mining facility on an uncomfortably hot but habitable planet. We were encouraged to bring our families, so I did. My wife and I had just had a son so the new start and good money were very welcome. Worker’s housing was a good deal better than we’d had before, an old world looking wood-effect two storey home with its own small plot of land and full mod cons. For a long time I was happy, but my wife was not. It was no surprise when she left me, but it was a surprise when she left our son.

The work had been long shifts on rotating patterns till this point. Now I had to cut back to set hours, have friends babysit, enroll him in nursery and eventually school. My colleagues and friends were incredible throughout the adjustment, very supportive, but no one can really tell you how to raise a young boy by yourself.

I had always been the fun parent; discipline was never my thing. I knew enough to know smacking wasn’t the route to go down so I tried naughty steps, time outs, removal of privileges. He continued to become more unruly until I stumbled across something that worked. Once, as a child I had spilled my cereal on the floor and my mother made me count every single piece back into the bowl. My son dropped his on purpose so the memory kicked in and I set him to counting. It worked very well. Eli was five then, he’s six now. He’d been young enough that I’d had to help him once he reached a certain number. It felt oddly good and rewarding for us to work together, even if he was being punished.

Tonight he’d been avoiding his homework and not turned his console off when I had repeatedly asked him to.

“No, no, NO!” he eventually screamed after I asked for the dozenth time.

“That’s it.” I killed the power myself. He stormed out back. “If you’re going to sulk out there you can count the stars while you’re at it.”

“ONE!” He shouted. “TWO! THREE!”

I sat down and tried to block it out. He’d simmer down eventually.

“FIFTEEN! SIXTEEN!……One, two.”

“Hey, no shortcuts. You keep going till you hit a billion.”

“Seven…eight…nine.”

“Speed it up. Count to a hundred fast and you can come back in.”

“Fifteen, sixteen, seventeen, eighteen.”

“That’s better, keep it up.”

“Dad, they’re going too fast for me to count.”

“What’re you talking about?” I mumbled as I headed out.

“I got to twenty three less but they’re going too fast now.”

“Twenty three less?” My son looked back to the sky and I followed his gaze. “Oh god.” I took a second to make sure I held it together infront of my son. “Wait here.” I headed back inside and came out with a blanket, ice cold lemonade and the last of his chocolate. I poured us both a drink and we laid on our backs.

“I’ll help. You point and I’ll count.” He raised his arm to the darkness as he took a sip of lemonade. “Here.” I moved it up to the left. “We’ll count the ones that are still there. By the time you’ve finished your chocolate that’s going to be the much easier job.”