Author: Don Nigroni
I was an orphan, never adopted, perhaps because I wasn’t ever cute or special in any way. But, when I was nineteen, I was fortunate enough to become a live-in housekeeper to Professor David Knežević. He was a polymath, most renowned for the Knežević equation.
That was over ten years ago. Martha, his wife, had died six years before I arrived and I knew he was still haunted by her death. When someone mentioned her, a cloud descended over his normally calm facial expression. Regardless, my main job was to never ever erase his blackboard.
I called him Uncle Dave and he never objected. He was the closest thing I ever had to family. A year before he passed away, he had confided in me that, since he was getting up there in years, he wanted to keep a promise made to his wife that they’d be reunited after he died.
He told me, “The lack of everything, namely, nothing, can’t produce something yet things do exist. But if there was always something in time then getting to yesterday would take forever. There could never be today.
Hence, there has to be something eternal, without beginning or end, outside of time that’s responsible for something existing in time. And the language of that creative principle is mathematics.
But, to unlock the secrets of the transcendental formula, you have to know the quotient of the highest number divided by the smallest number greater than zero. In other words, what infinity divided by infinitesimal equals.”
Less than a month before my uncle passed away, I walked into his study when he was scribbling on his blackboard. As he continued writing, he told me, “The original copy of the transcendental formula subsists in the noosphere. It’s accessible to the demiurge who inserts various values for different variables into the formula in order to create numerous alternative realities. Unlike the creative principle outside time, the demiurge is a personal god within time who makes the amorphous primary something into specific things in many distinct worlds.”
Then he replaced a symbol with Ω in a certain bracketed section of the transcendental formula on his blackboard and some of the chalk transformed into the English words, “What do you want?”
My uncle could see the horror in my eyes and said, “Fear not. The demiurge means us no harm.”
He wrote on the blackboard, “To be reunited with my wife after I die.”
Whereupon what he had written was rearranged to read, “Only if you keep my secrets.”
He then ordered me to erase and clean his blackboard every day thereafter. And, after he passed away, I learned he left his house to me and realized he had destroyed all his mathematical papers before he died.
Even if I could have, though I surely couldn’t have, duplicated his feat, I wouldn’t have. I hope he’s somewhere nice with his beloved Martha but, personally, I prefer to have a more prosaic finale. I’m perfectly fine with ending up wherever the demiurge deems appropriate.
But, you see, I have no one waiting for me.
Author: JC Hammer
Everyone hears new and they think different or better. That’s not always true. Humans on Mars? Sure that’s new. There’s nothing different about us, though. Nothing better.
They didn’t exactly take the best of us with them. Sure, we’ve got a couple of scientists, a few doctors, but they’re all here to serve the greater purpose, the Cause. We think we’re so feckin’ righteous, with our plan to bring peace to the universe with buckets of bombs and a brigade of adolescent Marines. I don’t know if you’ve seen Marines at the bar or on shore leave, but there’s nothing peaceful about that circus. And I know you haven’t seen them at their business end, because you wouldn’t be alive to read this if you had.
It’s kind of ironic, though. The same organization that wasted Earth is the same organization that helped me escape from it. I commissioned in the Marine Corps fresh out of college—one of only two women in my class—thinking it would help get me out of the neighborhood I grew up in. Turns out joining the Marine Corps is the wrong thing to do if you want to avoid violent neighborhoods. Who would have guessed? But, it was the military that gave me my ticket off Earth, though all I’ve done is bring the fight with me. We took the same nukes that made quick work of everything living on Earth and used them to power the ships that are shuttling the rest of humanity to Mars. Now, it’s my job—our job—to make sure that the resources on our new home are secured for the “friends of freedom”, using the Marine Corps’ trademark democratic persuasion to encourage the rest of Earth’s survivors to agree.
So, now I’m here, staring through my inch-wide slit of a window at a cloud of red dust swirling feebly in a tenuously thin atmosphere. There’s a persistent buzz pecking at my attention, slowly eroding my sanity—of course, they put the LT next to the compound’s generator. If the Eastern Alliance doesn’t kill me, I’m sure this noise will, or maybe cancer. But it’s all the same to me. Everyone dies one way or another.
At first, I felt lucky to be one of the few to survive the flaming outhouse called Earth, but it’s been a week now since arriving, and I’m starting to realize that the ones left behind were the lucky ones. Food and water are rationed, the air is recycled and barely breathable, and my travel options—for the rest of my life—are limited to the ping-pong room and the mess hall. My bulletproof options, that is. But I’m itching to get out of this bunker inside of a bunker inside of a barracks. It’s too safe. Marines weren’t meant to be caged like a pet.
The klaxon alarm suddenly screams out across the barracks, accompanied by the frantic, flashing red lights lining the walls of my platoon’s hallway. It could be a drill, like the countless others this week, but something about the timing of it all suggests otherwise. I leap enthusiastically off of my rack and zip myself into my form-fitting EVA suit, then grab my rifle and head out the door. My platoon is already gathering by the airlocks that lead to the pressurized troop crawlers, organized into fire teams and squads. It’s a sight that never fails to send shivers running up my back.
Time to bring liberty to the Red Planet.
“What’s the matter? I’m busy.”
“He’s dead,” my ex-wife gulped through her sobs. She didn’t have to continue. I knew who she was talking about. “Are you still there?”
“Yes,” I take a second to brace myself like a dam against the news I knew was coming.
“Come to the desk.” The order flung me to the present and then my eyes are fixated on the woman in the sharp white suit. The whole room was so white. I felt like a giant piece of dust that would be devoured if I dared step farther in. “You have given up all your worldly possessions?”
“I have not a penny on me.”
“You are wearing a watch. You can’t have it.”
It’s a cheap digital watch my youngest son gave to me when he was a kid. The same one I practically threw in his face for wasting his money. I found it after his death. I haven’t taken it off since. “You said I can give a gift,” I explained while caressing the watch. “I choose this.”
I give her the watch as she inspects it by the millimeter. She approves and gives it back to me. “Did you bring any other items?”
“No, just a letter,” which I wave. Without warning, she grabs the envelope and guts it and spills the continents no one but my own eyes should see. As she reads it my anger, shame, and discomfort forces my mind back in time.
“Sorry about your son,” my aide Fremont said. “When is the funeral?”
“I have no idea. My ex and my other kids don’t want me there. My youngest dies because he drops out of college and joins a cult and I’m the bad guy.”
“Sorry, but maybe you should find out and go anyway. It won’t look good in the press if you don’t.”
“Here, you now have seventy-two hours,” the woman in white again forces me back to the here and now. She gives me back my letter with a fresh envelope and the money I will need that has the correct series date on them.
As she is shoving me out the door, she asks me one more time if I truly understand what I’m doing. Of course I do. Go back in time and with a letter and one gift for my younger self to change my future for the better.
“Your path can fracture into a thousand roads. No one can predict the consequences,” she warns again.
She unceremoniously dumps me outside an abandoned industrial center like a stray amongst the gravel and garbage. As I walk to the nearest bus or gas station, an odor rises and attacks my senses. It must be from the old factories but I don’t remember it when I first came here. It was ominous, a dreadful warning but ineffective to one who no longer wants to remember the pain.
After a week, I’m back here in the same white office. The woman in white was getting ready for her next transaction when I walked in. She stares at me but says nothing. After a few seconds, I stammered, “It worked perfectly. I got everything I wanted.” After some painful seconds of silence. “ there’s another better me out there. I don’t know where else to go.”
She eyed me up and down. “Level three-point five…no… point four anomaly. You exist on another plane of reality. Welcome, to the realm of the immortals.”
Author: Phil Gagnon
The prairie stretches before me in an endless expanse under the million blue hues of a sublimely beautiful sky. The camp is busy with the preparations for serving the evening meal and then later to bed down for the night. A freshly downed buffalo has supplied the cooks suitable forage for a veritable feast even while the smells of roasting meats and stews are denied to me.
Enervated movement in their evening chores conveys the weariness of the prospective settlers in the long journey they have made so far, and for the thousand miles remaining. I do not feel that same fatigue that is imparted over the twenty miles of walking and riding that the convoy made today and the same many days before.
I fish the harmonica from my pocket, pleased by the cold steel in my hands. The instrument is a family relic. It traveled these trails with my ancestors as professional captains of the wagon trains that crossed to and fro over the wild continent that is now before my eyes. This artifact conveys a feeling like it knows this place better than I ever will, even though I am a captain of emigrants in my own right.
The switchgrass moves in endless waves and I can hear the sharp snap of the canvas enveloping the prairie schooners, the winds that cross this land unchallenged have come to lap around the first abrupt obstacle in their paths. While I cannot feel the stir of this air, I have known the ebb and flow of far greater winds. I raise the battered harmonica to my lips and play the tune of the atmospheric tides. The small fire I have near me imparts no warmth, but its crackle is the percussive accompaniment to the melody.
Lost in the moment, I watch as the sun begins its fiery descent into sunset. The lurid reds and oranges are stark against the indolent violets and black. I pause to observe the encampment again. Even though one in ten will not make the end of the trail the respite leads them to laughter and recreation and the sounds of a people awakening from a long day’s drudgery with unbridled excitement for being one step closer to the end of their journey. I smile at their prospect, even though they will not speak to me directly.
Twilight has blanketed the camp in the inky pitch of night. I play a gentler tune that corresponds to the rhythmic dance of the shadows across the camp. My aria is just beginning its last wordless verse when in the blink of an eye the life of the camp is frozen, the shadows held fast to whatever surface they cling to. I instinctively turn to the west knowing an ethereal message hangs waiting in the air. It glows in soft artificial green:
Virtual Recreation Allotment Has Been Reached
I go through the command sequence to shut down the VR emulation. I am going to be needed on the bridge shortly, as a captain’s duty is never done. We will be making our final approach burn for TRAPPIST-1e this evening to deliver the yearly allotment of twenty-thousand colonists aboard CV Prairie Echo. I slip the harmonica back into its protective case. The 400 year old instrument has accompanied the safe movement of hundreds of thousands of people in its time, and I have no intentions of breaking its streak.
Author: Kafi Desir-Lorde
It took nine long seconds for my cells to transform. The dryness was unbearable. My innards felt charred and empty, especially my head; this was intensified by the vibration of my breathing chambers. I felt undulating friction between all of my exposed bodily fibres, the substances passing over and between them, fluid, but not in any way relieving this overwhelming inner drought.
The limited colour spectrum made my new vision challenging and I found it difficult to recognise the quarters I was in. I now had six eyes and my comprehension was under the sudden stress of three-hundred-and-sixty degree vision. There was a reflective surface I now wished to look in but I could only see a shiny absence of colour. I moved thinking I would see myself but I just didn’t. I could see every infinitesimal molecule that made up every piece of matter, my world was now a structured blur.
I was still trying to find the controlled use of my limbs; I felt the backs of my hands touching the floor, felt the huge shoulders they hung from. My centre of gravity was different, bigger, but I still had four limbs, strong hind legs bent like an animal that walks on all fours; large and agile. I had general control over the direction I wanted to move towards but practically no fine motor function. I used this time before the summit, getting acquainted with my new body. I arrived at the meeting on time and took my seat at a resting bay with the other Camakadāra diplomats.
Tu’aah took precedence over the meeting. Our language does not have words sufficient to describe the communicative processes of the Camakadāra. Their language is harsh, rasping, very loud and they use their entire bodies as vocal chords but they also transmit messages as energy. The projection of Tu’aah’s voice vibrated the air in the room.
‘Camkadā have water from VLSP371. All life there finish. One hundred years, no movement. We honour their dead, take and share water, honour our living.’ There was a tangible wave of warmth from Tu’aah melting towards us all, of jubilance and humility. Such a gift had not been found for many hundreds of years in our quadrant. ‘Water is life. Life belongs to all balanced worlds. We owe each other.’
Then he said something like ‘we have hiders, we fill building with bïïja, inside colour hiders.’ The feeling this time was intense: fear, distrust, rage. Tu’aah had not long began his proposal when I began to feel something attaching itself to my exterior from the air. I didn’t intend to make any noise but now, a kind of dusty sizzling turned all gazes towards me and when I spoke, it was with my human voice.
There was uproar, all Camakadāra shouting, gesturing their great limbs towards me. I did another varîua, all I could think to do was become a flea. I leapt from my bay onto the next; the Camkadā howled and shook as I ran through his hot body. I broke through flesh. I searched for the delicate spot between the jaw and ear of the two Camkadā between Tu’aah and I and heard their bodies fall once I’d made contact.
Tu’aah wasn’t ready. I found his lower right eye in one jump and pushed myself in. With this varîua I returned to my human form. Transforming within a body was unpleasant; my middle legs merged, my feet cracked through breathing apparatus, my fingers broke threads of tissue, my numb exoskeleton gave way to hyper sensation. I became a monster. Again.