Phantom Limb Syndrome

Author : Joshua Reynolds

My brain burns with electric fire. Numbers cascade across the surface of my mind, one after the other. Geometric progression, X+Y=XY.

Numbers are the language of heaven, or so they tell me.

They replaced my gray matter with plastic parts and curling, multi-colored wires, tossing organic muscle in favor of synthetic. I am a difference engine sheathed in limp meat, my only joy to theorize, calculate, and process. To spit numbers out of chapped and bleeding lips in a pitch too high for the meat-men who control me, who made me, to hear.

I do it to spite them, I think. I’m not sure actually. I can’t remember what spite feels like. Or any feeling for that matter. Do I still have them? Feelings?

They told me I don’t. But is that an opinion…or a command?

Sometimes, amidst the cool rush of numbers, there is something that cuts through the datastream, a burning sensation that reminds me of something I used to know. When I look down at them from my web of cables and conduits, when I look at the gray little men with their clipboards and the number hunger in their bland little eyes, I think I catch the ghost of a memory of a feeling.

I think it’s called hate.

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The Griffin Maneuver

Author : Patricia Stewart

“It’s called the Griffin Maneuver, and it’s going to make me famous,” said Stacy Griffin, a third year Earth Force Cadet. Her classmate at Jupiter Station, Marcus Rider, looked at her with dubious eyes, and a smirk that he knew would irritate her to no end.

“Look,” she said, “say you’re in a dogfight with a Kraken fighter. It’s hot on your tail, and you’re out of aft torpedoes. What do you do?”

“I can’t say I like my odds in that situation. I guess I’d make my peace with God.”

“You give up too easily. You need to think outside the warp core. You make a bee-line for a planetoid or large moon, and execute a steep surface grazing parabolic orbit at full throttle. At periapsis, you cut the main thrusters, tap the port lateral jets, and turn the fighter around so you’re facing backward. When the Kraken arcs into view, you blow it out of the sky. Then, you leisurely fly back to the barn to paint one of those little black Kraken stencils on the side of your fighter.”

“Are you nuts? A surface grazing parabolic orbit at full throttle? How many gees are you going to pull? You know you’ll black out at 10. It’s tough to shoot anything when you’re unconscious.”

“At closest approach I’d be pulling about 15 gees. But I’ve got that figured out too. You know the artificial gravity plates on the floor of our fighters. They’re there as a countermeasure to help us maintain our vestibular orientation during inversion maneuvers. Well, I reversed the polarity of the plates so they repel, rather than attract. I also boosted the gain by 800%. Therefore, instead of 15 gees, I’m only pulling 7. It’s so simple.”

“The commander will never approve this stunt.”

“He’s not going to know about it until after I do it. He can watch it on holotape. I’m on my way to try it now. Want to ride shotgun?”

“No way. I’ll watch you from the observation room.”

Stacy positioned her fighter 100,000 klicks from Callisto. She punched in the ignition sequence, and began accelerating toward Callisto’s southern pole. As she raced under the moon, the gee-meter crossed 9. She activated the gravity plates, and instantly felt the pressing gee-weight disappear. At periapsis, she cut the main thrusters, and activated the lateral jets. The fighter shook violently for a few seconds, and then exploded into a mini-nova nearly a bright as the sun. In the vacuum of space, there was no sound, only a plethora of expanding sparks that eventually winked out as they cooled.

Stacy sat motionless until the tapping noise broke her repose. She opened the simulator hatch to see the Marcus’ smiling face. “Not a word,” she ordered. “I think I know what went wrong. The reversed gravity field must have destabilized the plasma containment chamber. If I can strengthen the shielding, I’ll be able to…”

Marcus helped her out of the cockpit. “Come on,” he said, “we’ll talk about it over lunch.” As they exited the simulation room, Marcus paused.

“What now,” snapped Stacy?

“I was just wondering. In that virtual universe, is there a virtual Kraken painting one of those little black Earth Force Fighter stencils on the side of his virtual ship?”

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Failsafe

Author : TJMoore

Ron relaxed and watched the drifting stars.

The Do’s and Don’ts of Deep Space Hyper-drive Repair, that’s what he would call his book. Maybe he should record it into his suit for posterity. He’d already gone through the checklist and found the step that killed him. It was that last airlock hatch. If only he’d left that one open, he’d be warm and happy and having a bulb of McGurtry’s finest down at the crew’s lounge.

At the mouth of the anomaly (officially known as Hyper Fold Anomaly Alpha Epsilon Fie, or, unofficially known as Wormhole 27) the Hyper-Drive controller had indicated a grid failure. Being the tech on duty, Ron had gone through all the diagnostics and determined that the problem was most likely a broken or loose connector on the grid itself, outside the hull.

Do: Put the Hyper-Drive controller in stand-by.

The controller had actually done that when it signaled a failure. He’d checked the status personally.

Do: Disconnect the power coupler to the external grid.

Done that one too. But that was a soft switch, not a physical disconnect. The controller must open and close that switch electronically, as part of its diagnostic. Bummer.

Ron had gone through the safety checklist with the casual ease of a man who’d done that task a hundred times a week as part of his normal duties. Maybe he’d skipped a step? Not likely.

He’d donned his suit and his tool bag and gone extra-vehicular to repair the grid connector with the confidence of a well-trained and experienced tech. No shortcuts, no surprises. Extra-vehicular activity was always serious business.

Don’t: Exit the ship without proper notification to the officer of the deck.

He’d done that too, all by the book.

Wally Zimmerman had second watch and he’d given Ron the green light after carefully reviewing his sheet. Wally was a good man and not likely to overlook something or hurry through a procedure.

Ron had navigated up to the grid coupler and located the corroded fitting in just a few minutes. It was a routine replacement and Ron had it fixed in a record twenty minutes. That was when it happened.

Ron wondered how many people in the history of mankind had said “Okay, try it now” as their last words. Ron had spoken those very words. What should have happened was that Wally would have run the Hyper-Drive controller diagnostic and come up with a green board. Ron would have returned to the hatch, logged in and the U.F.S. Gemini would have warped through the wormhole, instantaneously arriving on the outer edge of the Sombrero Galaxy, three weeks out from Hyper Fold Anomaly Beta Epsilon Gamma, which it had done.

The problem was, Ron was still hanging in space, holding his pliers, exactly where he was when he’d given his last command, his very last command.

Do: Leave at least one hatch interlock open while on EVA.

Well, that one was the kicker. Evidently, the controller had initiated its test, passed, checked the interlocks and safeties, powered up and, continuing with its previous instructions, processed the next step, which initiated the warp through the wormhole.

That last “Do” wasn’t in the checklist. Ron supposed there would be an edit to the procedure following this little mishap. He’d already logged his observations into his suit.

Unfortunately for Ron, wormholes were one-way streets. The Gemini couldn’t just warp back through this anomaly. Technically, it didn’t even exist on their end. Known wormholes were weeks or months apart and they would have to jump through at least three to get back here. Communications between ships was only possible when the ships where relatively close. It could be months before another ship used this wormhole. Ron had about twelve hours of air in his suit. Bummer.

He relaxed and watched the stars as he drifted.

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Unconventional Warfare

Author : Sarah Klein

General Elias Knox sat staring at the paperwork at his desk, utterly confounded. “Would you care to explain what happened, lieutenant?”

The lieutenant swallowed nervously, trying not to tremble noticeably. “Sir, we dropped the conventional bombs yesterday at 2100 hours. There was noticeable destruction of building structures, but we saw no casualties – not even wounds. No bodies. They didn’t even seem to be frightened.”

“This is ridiculous,” Knox snarled. “Damn aliens won’t die. We don’t even know enough about them to try to starve them out.”

The lieutenant swallowed again and kicked dust off the floor. “What do you propose we do, sir?”

General Knox had never been defeated. He was Earth’s best weapon – an absolute mastermind of military manners. He’d been in every type of climate, participated in every type of warfare, and used every weapon. But now that he was up against nonhuman enemies, he wasn’t as successful. In Earth’s first battle amongst the stars, the humans were losing. Badly.

He sat lost in thought for a moment, and then started angrily. “Drop the atomic,” he growled, spinning around in his seat. The lieutenant’s eyes popped wide open.

“Are you sure, sir? You do know-“

“I said drop the atomic! That’s an order! 0500 tomorrow morning.”

“Yes sir.”

The lieutenant nervously paced the floor. It was 0505 the next morning, and the atomic bomb had just been dropped on the planet’s busiest city. He tried to calm himself down before checking the monitoring screens. The other day’s bombing had still shaken him – not the destruction it had unleashed, but the absence of it. He may have been young, but he was used to seeing bodies sprawled across pavement and pools of blood. The unaffected bodies of the aliens scared him more than any blood-caked, distorted human corpse ever had.

At 0510 Knox sat down in one of the seats facing several of the monitoring screens. The lieutenant saw him out of the corner of his eye and watched him carefully, but he did nothing. A couple minutes later, he steeled himself and walked to look over the silent general’s shoulder. What he saw pushed him far past the brink of panic.

“My God. We’re doomed.”

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Calling All Volunteers

Author : J. S. Kachelries

I couldn’t get to NASA’s Office of Human Capital Management fast enough. The e-flyer said they were looking for 1000 healthy individuals, between the ages of 21 and 32, that would be willing to participate in the first manned colonization mission to a planet in the Scorpii system. According to the flyer, they didn’t need trained astronauts for this mission; they were looking for a variety of skilled artisans to “provide the underlying foundation for a permanent autonomous human habitation.” Hell, I was a certified Class 6, Grade IX Senior Maintenance Technician. You can’t colonize a new planet without somebody who can keep things runnin’.

I found a vacant “Employment Opportunity” kiosk and tapped in my Citizen ID number, then entered the job classification code from the e-flyer. “Greetings, mister Swartz,” said the sultry female voice of the Mark-III human-friendly interface. “Please enter the required information into Sections A1 through E22, and then proceed to the Ames Advanced Medical Laboratory for astrobiological DNA screening, psych evaluation, and a fertility testing.”

“Roger that,” I replied, as I enthusiastically opened Section A (Personal Information). It was an easy enough start. First name, middle initial, last name, etc., etc. Then I got to question A31, “Enter your financial assets, liabilities, and list of your dependents.” I glanced down at the kiosk ID tag; JANE-3261956. “Excuse me, ah, Jane. Why is this information needed?”

“Sir, you are applying for a one-way mission to a distant solar system. We need to make sure that you’re not attempting to avoid your financial obligations on Earth. There will also be questions concerning any outstanding warrants and subpoenas. You can’t flee the law either. In addition, you must answer questions about your family’s mental and physical history, drug/alcohol usage, sexual orientation, etc.”

“Well, that all makes sense, I guess. “ Two hours later I completed Section A and opened Section B. “Say Jane, how am I supposed to know if I am allergic to ethyl-something-or-other? I don’t even know what that stuff is.”

“Ethylene-trisodium-glycol-phosphate. It’s a biological stabilizer. We use it to replace all of the freezable liquids in your body. For example, your blood, cerebrospinal fluids, pleural effusion, semen…”

“Whoa. What was that?”

“Sir, you are traveling to a system that is 45.75 light years away. At maximum velocity, it will take the ship 587 years to arrive. You do know that this is a ‘Sleeper Starship’? Your body will be frozen in liquid helium in suspended animation for the duration of the trip. If you have any water in your body, it will expand when it freezes, and you’ll split open like a hotdog in a microwave.”

“Oh, I thought you had warp drive, or something. Is this freezing thing safe?”

“Relatively speaking. It’s safer than most other life extension protocols.”

“’Relatively speaking,’ huh. What does that mean?”

“Well, to be perfectly frank, you have about a 50% probability of viable revival. That’s why NASA is requesting 1000 volunteers. In order to maintain the overall genetic variability of the colony, a minimum of 250 mating pairs is required.”

“Fifty percent? That sucks. Forget it.” I quickly pressed ‘Exit application, do not save.’

“Listen, Jane, can I go anywhere else without becoming a Popsicle?”

“Yes, sir. I recommend the tropics.”

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