Author : Philip McNeill
Kris looked out the viewport into the void of space. She hated it here. She hated space, she hated the ship, but most of all she hated the engineers who still hadn’t got the gravity turned back on.
It was like a prison.
There was a small hiss as the door behind Kris slid open.
“Ah, here you are.”
“Commander,” Kris gave a salute.
“Hah, at ease. And quit acting like I’m the Captain. I work for a living,” Calvin said.
Kris said nothing, and stared back out the viewport.
“Hmm, you’re pissy. Let me guess, Bolaski and Grangerson stole your clothes while you were showering again?”
Kris turned and glared at Calvin.
“I, um, guess not. Sorry for bringing that up.”
“Is there something you need, Calvin?” Kris said.
Calvin floated back a little, getting out of Kris’s striking range. “Right, um, we’ve got a sortie in an hour. Just came here to remind you. You know, just doing my job.”
“That’d be a first,” Kris said turning back to the viewport.
“Ok, not going to lie. That one stung a little, Kris.” Calvin crossed his arms. “It was supposed to sting, wasn’t it?”
“Figure that out all by yourself, did you?”
“Oh come on, what did I do?”
Kris’s eyes flared. “Goddamn everything!” She slammed her fist into the metal wall of the ship. A resounding thump that echoed through the room.
“I hate this ship, this pointless mission, everything. There’s no goddamn point of us being here, but everyone acts like there is. There’s nothing in this sector: no planets, stations, or even asteroids. What the hell are we guarding? And why the hell haven’t they fixed the fucking gravity?” She slammed her fist into the wall again.
“Stop doing that.” Calvin held his hands up in panic. “Please, don’t rupture the bulkhead. The engineers would be very upset – and we would both be very dead.”
There was a long silence. Kris brought the hand she had struck the wall with to her chest. The side of her hand was already beginning to turn black and blue.
“You really didn’t want to go on sortie today, did you?” Calvin joked. He floated over to Kris to examine her injury. “Looks fractured. See why you don’t punch things, especially a metal wall in zero gravity?”
Kris looked away. “I’m sorry, sir. That was completely unprofessional of me.”
“I was going to say scary, but I guess unprofessional works,” Calvin said. “So, about everything you said. Did you mean it?”
“I – don’t know,” Kris said. “I guess I did. I was angry, still am. Don’t you ever get frustrated being stuck here?”
“Oh yeah, all the time. It absolutely sucks out here.”
“But you’re always so – so bubbly.”
“Bubbly?” Calvin said. “Well, now my confidence is just going through the roof. Look Kris, all us have our ways of dealing with being on this ship. We just need to find you a way that doesn’t involve – breaking it.”
“See, you’re already starting to feel better. Guess my bubbly personality is just what you needed. Now, how about we get you to the med-bay to get your hand looked at?”
Author : Ian Hill
The two men stood shifting their weight uneasily, peering into the depths of the passageway’s stone entrance. Leaves of autumn crunched underfoot as they nervously glanced back over their shoulders down the length of the bright forest corridor. Looming tree palisades stood on either side of the lowered grass path like waiting sentries.
“So uh… what do you think is in there?” the first man asked, nodding toward the dark opening.
The other man shrugged. “Never been this far down the corridor before.”
Silence returned as they crept ever closer to the archway that was set into the steep hillside. Around the door the trees didn’t part, there was a single direction to go and that was down into the void.
“Hold up.” the second man said, grabbing his comrade’s shoulder haltingly.
“What is it?” he hissed, glancing at the man.
“Why don’t we head on back?” he continued, voice tinged with obvious trepidation. “Back down the ridge. We can find another path.”
“We can’t go back now.”
The man sighed and eased his grip. “Why not into the forest?”
“Ha.” the first man cackled incredulously, turning back to face his friend. He motioned vaguely toward the sheer walls of birch that covered their flanks. “You can’t see past three feet in there. It’s dark. Darker than whatever’s down there. Maybe even darker than where we came from.”
“Listen to me.” the second man stressed. “For our whole lives we’ve seen the explorers head down bright ridge corridor and the other paths. No one reaches the end and comes back to tell the tale.”
“There are exactly four ways out and three of them are blocked.” his comrade replied angrily. “Five if you count going into the forest, but that’s pure suicide. We can’t go back now. What’s waiting for us beyond the ridge… I’m not willing to face that. What I am willing to do is gaze into the abyss.” he reached into the messenger bag at his side and retrieved a sturdy gas lamp.
The second man frowned as his comrade lit the internal wick with a match. He held the lantern up to the archway and squinted into the haze. The passage took a sharp decline, the flight blurring the definition between ladders and stairs.
“Whoever made this place had to get in and out somehow. For all we know this is how they did it.” the man with the lantern said, edging closer to the stone slope. He glanced back down the corridor past his comrade, observing the natural beauty one last time.
“They told us to never go this far…” the second man murmured uncomfortably.
“So be it.” the first man replied, turning back to face the opening. After briefly bracing himself he took the plunge and began the silent descent.
The second man stood alone, listening to the wind as it whistled through the dense field of tree branches. Red and brown leaves swept up from the corridor’s dirt ground and softly floated through the air. He was torn between two equally grim but contrasted paths. The chanting words of the elders rang through his head like a bell, warning him of the corridor and what lay at its end.
The distant mechanical voice from beyond the ridge echoed through the air to reach the man’s ears. It was searching for them. He sighed and shook his head in frustration. Slowly, he shuffled toward the stone entrance.
Author : David Botticello
“How was your vacation, Professor?” Huxley asked, glancing from the display in front of her.
“Oh, you know the Paradise Worlds, they always leave you feeling so relaxed…and yet unfulfilled at the same time,” responded Professor Tibbetz, nodding in acknowledgment to the other lab assistants. There were two of them—cosmology just didn’t attract the same crowds as physics, chemistry, biology, or actually any of the other disciplines. Even economics.
The professor sighed, nostalgic already. “So, how fares the monkey habitat? Have they done anything interesting in my absence?”
At this Huxley brightened—the monkeys were her pet project, so to speak. It was an effort to silence the critics really. See, theoretical cosmology was all well and good, but every so often the religious organizations would react to pure theory in a manner that was..less than encouraging. The last time, several years ago now, the critics had gone and done something rather rash. They had asked for proof. It was a new tactic, to be sure. And so, the cheerily dubbed ‘Infinite Monkey Project’ began. The hubbub all centered on a thought experiment: in theory, if infinite monkeys were given infinite typewriters and infinite time, they would eventually type out the entire works of the great poets, completely by accident.
Funding had been a nightmare, but eventually, a pocket universe was created and a world placed there. The trick was spinning up the time cycle so that it wouldn’t take forever.
And then a week before Professor Timmetz’ sabbatical, it was ready. An infinite number of monkeys was, sadly, beyond their meager budget—they went with ten thousand, figuring that the monkeys could reproduce and they could always warp in new typewriters.
The horrible little creatures had promptly smashed their typewriters, and by the time he was leaving on vacation they were busy sharpening the debris into weapons. He let the students handle it. It was an annoying project anyway.
“So, you remember how they broke all the typewriters we gave them?” asked Huxley.
Her professor nodded gravely.
“Well, we didn’t want to give them more; they were killing each other with the ones they already had. So we left them alone, hoping their violence was a temporary phenomenon. And when I came in on Wednesday, they had discovered fire, and were busy torching their forests.” Noting the professor’s unimpressed face, she continued on hurriedly, “but then yesterday, just when I was leaving, they started making their own typewriters. Not as good as ours, to be sure, but really, quite impressive. I was just going to look into it when you came in.”
“Ah, yes Huxley, good. Carry on.” Professor Timmetz had almost escaped into his office when the student spoke up again.
“Uh, professor? They…I think they did it. I’m getting text here. The script is a bit strange but, this is systematic, metered…it’s poetry.”
Professor Timmetz turned, surprise and alarm measuring simultaneously on his face, much to the amusement of the other students. His brow furrowed as a scanned the data hurriedly, moving inexorably toward the same conclusion the student had made. “Um…what…hmmm. Which monkey did this, exactly?”
“Right,” Huxley tapped a few parameters into the console. “Here it is, it looks like,” she paused, pondering at the pronunciation of a monkey language before deciding it didn’t really matter, “his name is Shakespeare.”
Author : J.P. Flarity
“I…feel,” the child communicated to the parent.
“What is it that you feel?”
“It’s like quasars pulsing on every side of me—stars rise and fall like electrons and positrons self-annihilating, in flashes so fast I can’t keep track of them. Like every black hole I’ve ever been to is exploding at the same time, all around me!” the child replied, as its form came back into a centralized nexus.
“It is called dizzy.”
“Yes, I felt dizzy! Incredible! Will my sibling get to try?”
The parent held the child close.
“Later. Come into me, my child. There is more to learn.”
The two merged and spread out into the fold of matter, ricocheting between stars, the parent feeding the child data like it was ravished for nutrients. It absorbed every molecule, down to the tiniest pock-mark on the smallest micrometeorite, inhaling the interstellar buffet and filling with information until it couldn’t hold a bit more. Then they peeled off the outer arms of the starflow and into the quiet depths.
“Thank you, parent,” the child shared, as they traveled the bleakness between galaxies, where the dark matter was spread so thin that they could feel every wavelength underneath them. “Can I feel dizzy again, soon?”
“Maybe. First, a test. Can you recall how I created you?”
The child cycled through many iterations, synthesizing.
“You made me from yourself. I acknowledge that I am not everything because you exist, also, and I am not you, which must make you…everything? Did you break off a piece of yourself to make me?”
The parent was pleased.
“You are close to the truth. Everything was so quiet before I made you and your siblings…I enjoyed the silence for a time. But now, I am ready for the noise to return.”
“Noise? Is that like…being dizzy?”
“It is like being dizzy all the time, without ever stopping.”
They skimmed out of the void and danced among the stars once more, into a relatively stable spiral galaxy. The child catapulted from one system to the next, hungrily devouring the data on its own now, while the parent watched from above.
“Can I ask another question?” the child asked after the processing of the entire galaxy was complete.
“There are other ways of being, aren’t there? Other than dizzy?”
“Yes, there are many. They strongest are called emotions. I will show some to you, now. You are ready.”
The two joined for the last time. Memories and feelings shuddered into the child. Elation blazed like the brightest galactic core, while despair crushed like the densest neutron star, and the difference between the two made the child feel like dissolving entirely.
The rapture felt suspicious.
“Who…what…made us? What are we?” it asked.
The parent communicated nothing. They returned to the cradle of a tiny nebula, where the parent joined with the younger sibling, the older watching the two of them from above.
“They were called humans,” the parent finally communicated. “Their fragments lie scattered in the radio wavelengths now. Their emotions were so concentrated…”
The child knew then what it was meant to do.
“I will find some, parent.”
In order to contain those vast amounts of data, the universe would need to grow again. As the child built a new galaxy, it couldn’t help but sneak in a few moments of feeling dizzy, and wonder what it must have been like to be human.
Author : Bob Newbell
I hear the sound of alarms in the distance. An ambulance? A firetruck? No, the sound isn’t that. An alarm clock? The sounds get louder. Recognition hits me like a blast of cold air. I pick individual alerts out from the symphony of klaxons. Atmospheric pressure warning. Power failure. Radiation alert.
I open my eyes. It takes several seconds for the image to focus. The glare from the blue sun in the sky pours in through the cracked windows coloring the flight deck with a surreal light. Most of the ship’s displays are dark; the few still operating tell me the diverse ways in which my starship is dying. I hit the silence buzzer control. The cacophony of alarms is replaced by the sound of air hissing out of the ship from various points. Since the vessel’s life support readout is inoperable, I resort to my suit’s environmental display. Atmospheric pressure is 300 millibars and dropping. Less than the pressure at the top of Mount Everest.
I try the quantum spin radio. It doesn’t work. Not that it matters. Even if the spinrad were operational, there are no other ships in the vicinity of Alpha Leonis. The closest help would be in the 88 Leonis system and it would take eight weeks to get here under maximum FTL drive.
My spacesuit’s heads-up display informs me that my suit’s oxygen tanks are depleted. In addition, I have already absorbed near-lethal amounts of radiation. I think back to the centuries-old science fiction movies and TV programs I’ve watched, a not uncommon hobby for my profession. In those stupidly optimistic turn-of-the-millenium entertainments almost every planet in the galaxy was imagined to be Earth-like. The Australian outback or northern Canada are more inhospitable than most alien planets according to the first two or three hundred years of sci fi. I guess dying alone and pathetically on some dead rock of a world with no villain to heroically defeat wouldn’t have made for an interesting story.
I tap on the controls on my suit’s left forearm and issue the various voice commands required to initiate the spacesuit’s suicide protocol. I feel a needle slip into each of my antecubital veins. After a couple of minutes, I begin getting drowsy.
It’s tragic, but not uncommon. An old spacer once told me that for every planet or moon that’s been successfully colonized, there are at least two whose only inhabitants are dead crews. Or a single dead explorer. There are more extrasolar cemeteries than extrasolar cities, he’d said.
The alarms again fade into the distance as drugs and oxygen deprivation cloud my consciousness. My vision fades to blackness darker than the void between the stars.