The Pedestal

Author: Morrow Brady

My fingers traced the fine etching of the gold Byzantine coin, lit by the moonlight flooding in through the large window. The etched scene depicted a perfectly carved stone pedestal against a rocky outcrop, overlooking a luscious wooded valley. I looked up from the coin into the cavernous room of the museum. The same pedestal sat before me and I wondered if the dark figure that stood at the centre of the coin’s pedestal would appear tonight.

We didn’t know who built the pedestal. We only knew it sat exposed, forever looking outward while the world transformed around it. The Watchers came to guard and preserve the pedestal. Each generation, reconsecrating the earth with secret ceremony.

In this solemn museum, its vista was now framed by a bullseye window which overlooked that same valley, now burdened by an industrial metropolis of glass and steel.

On watch, I edged forward and eased the coin into the recess. It sighed as a hidden mechanism withdrew it slowly like the last gasp in sinking sand. I stepped back behind a gold inlay border. Expectation prickling within.

The ominous, waist-high pedestal invited the Traveller. Its mirror-flat, dark stone surface reflecting the depths of space and time. I watched slow-moving dust motes give structure to moonbeams that spanned the pedestal like ghosts of dockside gantries. Suddenly they lit up red and my heart skipped. Redness faded, as the air-car sailed past the window.

I smirked at my blind faith. It had been ten generations since the last Traveller appeared. This, however, was good, as the Traveller only appeared when our path was lost. The acts of the last Traveller were testimony to that. Between their arrival and death, they had spirited in the Age of Enlightenment and triggered the French Revolution. Their absence meant we were ok.

To my shock, a deep hum sounded from the pedestal. Ancient mechanisms straining like some tectonic battle. I stood in awe as the pedestal shuddered and fell into a cloud of gold. Glittering steps appeared and after a silent pause, I began to descend. Below, sinewy gold mechanisms filled a chamber like a clockmaker’s soul.

Overflowing from a deep recess, were paper-thin gold discs with a familiar etched scene stretched to great proportions. The process of the pressed coins having long ago been interrupted by an angular tree root. I worked to clear the root and discs began to fall into a marked seam. Machinery instantly came to life. A golden hue irradiated throughout the chamber to form a starlit galaxy revealing peculiar geometries. I turned and from an anti-chamber a dark figure appeared, glowing from the core.

“Watcher! Well done!” its voice boomed, startling me.

“You reopened the long-closed door. I am deeply grateful”

“Welcome Traveller” I stammered, still shocked.

The Traveller continued.

“Seems things have gone astray. Your people are not prepared for the star stone and its cataclysmic arrival is imminent. By now, you should have colonised your solar system but instead, you make war as your planet burns. The final day is nigh”

“Final, Traveller?” I puzzled.

“Yes. Final! The pedestal no more serves a purpose. Your service as a Watcher is over. You are free. As the final Traveller, I bring forth the devolution of this sphere and all that dwells on it”

The Traveller started ascending the steps. Halfway up, the tree root smashed against his ankle and shortly after, its bloodied remnants were returned to the recess.

I am the last Watcher. I care for the pedestal to the end.

Execramentum

Author: Moriah Geer-Hardwick

Ghelvius 4.
A three-month crawl from the warp gate at Oberon Null.
Most of its surface is a relentless waste of brittle rock scabbed loosely over a seething ocean of noxious gas.
Most, but not all.
There is a place, a single place, nestled deep within a mountainous scar that cuts across the planet’s equator. A place that shimmers green and kind, even from orbit. Here, there is soil, willing and fertile. Water too, pristine and cool, that gushes up from deep inside the crust. Every night, a gentle breeze faithfully seeps in to sooth away the heat gathered during the day.
Those who have made this paradise their home call their settlement Able’s Promise. From a million and more light-years they have come, shedding their old lives like a tree discards its leaves in fall. Each hoping this strange oasis will somehow breathe spring again into their weary souls.
Faithfully, it does.
But not without a price.
In from the fields runs a boy, his chest heaving, his eyes wrenched open in terror. He stumbles into the common area of Able’s Promise, everything within him spent, save enough air left in his lungs to scream a single word.
“Behemoth!”
The chattering bustle of life lurches abruptly to silence. Women draw their children close. Men set their jaws and draw in a single, collective breath.
Behemoth. Gas giant. Hideous, overwhelming torment.
No words are spoken. With grim determination, they move to armored containers scattered throughout the settlement. With practiced severity, they remove the implements and machines necessary for the task ahead. They strap bulky, insectile masks over their faces. Then, they form a line and make their way to the fields.
Across the flowing waves of wheat and barley, they see it. First, the blossoming expanse of mottled flesh, stretched taut with hydrogen, holding it aloft, almost twelve meters in the air. Then, the globular head, studded with sixty or so ocular organs, black and wet. Underneath, a tangle of undulating tentacles drags along the ground.
“Hanging low,” mutters one of the old men, grimly. His words are muffled and lost inside his mask, but still, the men standing nearby shift nervously. They notice it too.
“Point five six four kilometers!” The voice squawks out over a series of loudspeakers, echoing throughout the settlement. Instinctively, they all look back and up to the central communications array, where a single man clings precariously to the top of the tallest spire. “Wind is three twenty-one degrees, northwest!”
Relief washes visibly over them. Only one still seems anxious and tense. He arrived only recently, on the last transport. This is his first encounter with a behemoth, but he’s heard stories. One of the more experienced veterans grabs him and pulls him close.
“That’s good!” he reassures the newcomer, shouting to be heard through his mask. “If the wind holds, the bastard will stay in the fields and drift clear of the settlement!”
The newcomer nods but remains uneasy. He pulls away and stares out at the approaching gas giant.
“Point four seven! Wind steady!”
Across the field, the behemoth pulsates. From underneath it, behind the mass of its tentacles, a meaty protrusion emerges, descending ominously towards the wheat and barley. The protrusion swells, shivers, and then from it explodes a gelatinous torrent of Stygian sludge, which cascades down into the field, exploding against the ground in a great, mushrooming flood.
“Shit,” says the newcomer.
The older veteran nods, grimly.
There is a price for paradise. Every soul in Abel’s Promise is willing to pay. Still, they all pray the wind holds.

The Great Space Race

Author: Glenn Leung

The continents were coming into focus; the race was almost over. Niu Mowang checked his hyperscan; the only other racer close by was the Tiger clan’s, about seven thousand kilometers behind. This distance could be closed in under ten seconds. He had to stay on his hoof-like toes.

Mowang’s sights had not been this forward in a while. He had defended the Ox clan from other human-animal hybrids; from the ferocious Tigers to the deceitful Rats. Yet he and his kin were no match for the might of the Chimera-Dragon clan, which swallowed the Galaxy in a Blitz-like conquest. The heavy shame of surviving the defeat had kept his head down, and he was now in the race for redemption.

The Dragon’s Jade Emperor had announced the race, knowing his own clan’s advantage. The first in this new rotational rule system could make irreversible laws and a Galaxy that’s essentially theirs. The Dragons had the best ship technology among the twelve; a fact made very clear during the war. They knew how to grip the soap just right; a stable hold on the conquered involved carefully tailored olive branches. There was supposed to be little risk to them, but the Jade Emperor had not counted on his chosen racer turning around and helping his competitors that were trapped by Jupiter’s gravity. Mowang was surprised that the Dragons actually believed in the honor they preached.

‘Well, they’re certainly not Rats,’ he thought.

Rat rule was not something Mowang felt he could stomach; their tiny bodies paired with their not-quite-human faces would bring dread even without knowing the extent of their chicanery. He had all manners of scars from skirmishes with those rodents. He shook that thought aside. If he won, his clan would keep the vermin in check and there would be nothing to worry about.

Wait. Where was the Rat’s ship? After the Dragon racer’s heroics, all twelve ships should have been accounted for, but it seemed the Rat had dropped off the hyperscan. Mowang wished he had been paying more attention; such creatures do not just disappear.

Luckily for him, it was getting late for surprises. The massive ring marking the finish point above the Earth’s North pole was coming up, and he had managed to increase the distance between himself and the Tiger. Things were looking good; his breath was gushing out his giant nose in excitement. He could only see forward now; the Earth no longer a sketch but the majestic planet that gave birth to his ancestors and their stories. Victory was in sight!

A slight shake and a small boom reverberated through the ship’s hull. To Mowang’s horror, a Rat-sized ship began undocking from behind his cockpit. Having conserved its fuel by hitching an uninvited ride, it was able to dump the lot into its afterburners. A blinding glow emanated from its miniature thrusters and in less than a blink, it was blazing through to the finish, its wispy trail dissolving into space like a certain clan’s hopes and dreams.

Mowang followed the petite ship through the ring, mouth still ajar from shock. Surely the Jade Emperor would not allow this travesty! No, he was being naive and he saw it now. The Dragon racer had been honorable, but that wasn’t true of his entire clan. The Rats may be crafty, but deals with them could serve the Dragons’ agenda better than working with the stubbornly righteous Ox.

Mowang hung his head once again. The Year of the Rat has arrived.

Kolson

Author: Alex Z. Salinas

Back when I was at the Academy, on the outskirts of the Red Asteroid Belt, I bunked for six months with a trainee whom I can still say, with absolute certainty, is the most memorable person I’ve ever met. His name was Kolson, or at least that’s how I’ve remembered him.

Every night before lights out—though we always had, out there, the feeling that lights were out no matter the time—Kolson, that bizarre entity, would bend my ear trying to convince me that he really wasn’t Kolson, a man born on Praxis-7 the night of Moonseve, but the fragments of other souls since passed. Kolson, who had Germanic features—dark blonde hair, a strong sharp chin—said he remembered living a day as Stan Lee, the creator of Spider-Man, in New York City in August 1962. Kolson claimed he not only remembered living as Stan Lee, but he understood what it meant to live as Stan Lee.

“Since then, us boys of the human race, all of us, have never ceased modeling our lives after the superhero,” Kolson said. “Even now when heroes aren’t necessary.”

“Shut your mouth,” I said.

It got better; by better, I mean batshit crazy.

One night, Kolson said, to my complete bafflement, that he knew what it was to play chess against Einstein—yes, Einstein—as Garry Kasperov. Or Bobby Fischer.

“His wit—their wit—my wit—is short distance, like a sprinter with massive quads,” Kolson said matter-of-factly, “whereas Einstein’s wit, akin to a bicyclist, is long distance. Small and spindly. Remember reading about that guy named Lance Armstrong? The cheating bastard!”

“They must’ve poisoned your make today, you’re talking like a drugged lunatic,” I said after a loud yawn.

“I don’t own a part of Christ’s soul, though, don’t get me wrong,” Kolson said, changing the subject nonchalantly. “That would imply I possess God, and if you understood what it was to be Albert Camus, or Friedrich Nietzsche, or Stephen Hawking, Stephen King, Genghis Khan, or even Jorge Luis Borges, you’d know then that God’s little more than a kill switch in our easily corruptible brains. A pawn invented for domination.”

Deploying a different tactic—and what was about to be said has never left my conscience, like a cancerous sore—I asked Kolson:

“And myself? Do you know what it means to live as me?” Then I added: “Do you own a piece of my soul, Kolson? Huh? Do you own me, you slimy snake?”

In utter darkness, in lights out, somehow still I saw—I swear—a smile so huge it beamed, emitted its own perverted light.

“Remember, Salinas,” he answered softly after a short pause, “I collect dead souls. When the time comes, when yours cuts its tie, you can ask me that again.”

After graduating from the Academy, we went our separate ways. Shipped off in opposite directions, gloriously. I’ve never seen him again. The likelihood I will is practically nonexistent. A shot in the dark, eyes closed.

But to tell you the truth, I’d be lying if I said, every once in awhile, when I see a streak of red slice across the cosmos, that a part of me doesn’t feel, beyond reason—beyond awful, terrifying conviction—that I could be, I might be—very, very wrong.

The Faster Strand

Author: Arkapravo Bhaumik

“No, it is not that. It is not bio-engineering. Bio-engineering is a lot slower. This is on a planetary scale. Bio-engineering cannot do this, this is mother nature.” Alec said.

“Then? The turtles just got together and found the secrets to the atomic structure? Higher mathematics? And they can work together as a hive mind spread across the entire planet? The latest reports suggest they had started with plans to design technology – somewhere in the Pacific Ocean.” I said in bewilderment.

“You see, it has been forty-three days and they already know more than what humanity has known in its entire existence. It is a leap of evolution. Have you never wondered how one fine day an ape started walking upright and in less than forty-thousand years we became a space-faring civilization?” Alec said.

“Alec, Gwen … have you read this?” It was John with his mobile phone.

“Oh God! Really? Why did the military attack them again?” I said as we read the news article.

“It seems they are using psyche as a technology. And, amalgamated across five billion turtle brains it really works well. One hundred seventy-three military and civilians dead, and like last time, the nuke has been rendered sterile. This scares me.” Alec said

“It will only get worse from here. The turtles know now that we are their enemy. As the second-best intelligent species – we may either be made to be their slaves, or worse, be eliminated” John said.

“A faster strand of evolution, we have enjoyed that privilege for a long time. Now, nature has made another selection. It was always in the cards – we never connected at a higher level of humanity, and hate, greed, and acquisition were our dominant social tools for cohesion” Alec said.

“Humanity, so, will it be Turtle-ity next? I am assuming that they are able to communicate at a level of language – social exchange of ideas” I said.

“Maybe they just don’t need to. It is as if each one of them opens up their minds to the rest of them, and they ‘see’ the thoughts like a movie on the screen of their minds – no language or gestures – walk into my mind. Turtles have often been connected to Zen Buddhism, it may be a link to their wisdom and their harmonious working, as they are showing now.” Alec said.

“So, what happens next?” I asked

“The two most intelligent species will contest for the planet, and one way or another, the lesser intelligent one will lose,” Alec said.