Author: Katlina Sommerberg
Joe has until the automatic build at 12:05 am sharp to submit his feature. It’s a stupid button that does in one click what used to take five, and the UX designers loved it in his presentation last month. It hadn’t been done before because of all the bugs, and the company’s flagship app can’t have even a minor glitch.
He’s up to his eyeballs in code, blue irises flicking from right to left monitor in a state of caffeine-induced hysteria. Dark mode is on, but his raw eyes are weighed down with so much exhaustion, even coffee is useless. His #gamerlife white mug can’t cheer his spirits. Neither can the Funko POP’s LT. Simon “Ghost” Riley.
11:45 pm. Less than fifteen minutes left. His palms, slick with sweat, fumble. But he still types the right commands into his terminal. Five minutes until everything finishes compiling on his local machine and the unit test results spit out, in borderline unreadable text format, in his transparent terminal.
He leans back into his ergonomic chair. Joe sinks one inch into the seat, but he barely notices as his eyeballs are glued to the screen. He sips the coffee, adds a pack of sugar. His legs fold into a misshapen pretzel, squishing down into the blue cushion.
11:50 pm. The build finishes. He tries to sit forward, but he only manages a twitch. His back won’t leave the chair. Grumbling, he determines to never work so hard he forgets to show for three days again, but it’s a lie. He tells himself this at least twice a month.
He pulls the desk. It wiggles, and his chair rockets forward. His knees slam, hitting his keyboard. It flies off and clanks on one of the many desks in the open office.
Joe doesn’t watch it soar through the air or contemplate the pain in his knees. He’s laughing in open-mouth astonishment at the screen. He’s passed all the checkpoints. He can submit this code to the cloud. His feature will be added to the next release.
He reaches for his laptop, but his hands can’t leave the armrests. Tugging harder, he screams when his thumb breaks free, leaving the skin stuck to the metal. He sinks down another inch. When he looks down, his mouth opens wider and his eyes go wide. His pelvis is completely fused with the blue cushion. His legs and torso connect to stiff padding, and his hips are nowhere in sight.
Now he’s shrieking. Wordlessly. Nobody hears, because nobody stays in the office this late on a Wednesday night.
The chair engulfs him, swallows him whole. The blue cushions, vibrant and squishier now, are as pristine as the day the factory shipped them off. Inside, somewhere between the chair’s metal frame and delightfully cozy padding, Joe is still screaming.
12:05 am. His feature builds, and Joe’s code successfully enters the core components of his company’s product line.
Meanwhile, Joe is still screaming, but only inside what remains of his brain. Tomorrow, his manager will discover the miraculous comfy chair mistakenly delivered to Joe instead of himself, and he will swap chairs. Then Joe will really have something to scream about.
Author: Samuel Stapleton
“What do you think it is?” I asked as Clarence stared at the dataset I had collected. By accident. He was stumped, so I went to get Sean to see if she could help.
“I promise it’s worth your time,” I said as I walked into her office.
“If you don’t know what it is then how the hell do you know it’s worth my time?” She retorted from behind her HUD.
“Because Clarence is stumped too,” I answered simply. The hum of electronics disappeared and she stood up slowly from the floor. Her green eyes met mine and I felt that old kick of excitement. I had her attention for the first time in…months.
“Fine, let’s go.” She said as she marched into the hall without me.
We barged back into research operations unceremoniously.
“You figure it out yet?” She asked him flatly. He reluctantly answered,
“Good. What do you have so far?” She asked as he threw the data up on the big screen.
“It’s a region of space within a dead-zone, containing a very unusual set of matter. Nothing within dozens of light-years, but the space itself is incredibly tiny. Smaller in volume than the average asteroid.” He had the computer generate a list as he spoke.
One of all known quarks.
One of all known leptons.
One of all known elements.
One of all known energies.
“All in the same region of space, static,” Clarence added quietly.
For the first time ever, I watched Sean have to take time to think. The answer didn’t just flow out of her like water from hydroponics. This was big.
“Incredible, I suppose I have to believe in a creator now.” She said suddenly.
“What?” Clarence and I echoed each other in confusion.
“Why?” I asked.
“It’s a programmer’s room. Isn’t it? When you create a program world you need somewhere to keep the most basic individual pieces in case something gets corrupted. These are the basic components of the known universe – a few of which we apparently don’t know about. Regardless, they can’t be there by chance because it breaks the laws of the universe. The most likely explanation is that someone put them there. Someone with enough knowledge to know how to manipulate time, space, matter, and energy. This is way beyond us.” She explained to us like we were kindergartners.
Clarence sat in stunned silence. Obviously he understood and agreed but I was still a little lost.
“Like an Easter Egg for the universe?” I clarified.
“No. Easter Eggs are meant to be found. This was meant to stay hidden. It’s storage.”
More silence. Until finally,
“Send the dataset to me, if someone or something did put those there, I’ll find their traces.” She said.
“We find evidence of a being capable of being our universal creator and you think you can track them down like Nancy-fucking-Drew? You’re unbelievable.” Clarence fumed.
“If you think you can do it, be my guest,” Sean demanded.
Clarence turned back to his desk and was silent, but we all knew he’d send her the data. It’s the one trait we all share, insatiable curiosity.
“Thank Liz, this’ll make my week,” Sean said to me with a dazzling smile. I melted into a puddle and muttered a pathetic, “No problem.”
Without another word, she swept from the room.
I found I suddenly didn’t give a shit about what we discovered, I just wanted her to invite me along. Mysteries be damned, why wasn’t I good enough to be her universe?
There was a pause in the trial being held in the starship court Serendipity just before the cross-examination began. If the wall behind the Alpha Nebula circuit judge’s chair had not been filled with stars, the room could have been anywhere. Only the judge and lawyers were present; the teenage plaintiff and her mother, the defendant and the witnesses for the prosecution were all isolated in other cabins on the ship, each visible via the feed to the screen on the left wall of the court. The two defence lawyers had switched off their mikes and Shard was running over the case with Hughes, mindful of his role as mentor to the younger man.
– We need to give the impression that we have this in the bag, so take that anxious look off your face.
– But it’s not looking good for the Admiral. We weren’t able to find any link between the defendant and the main witness that would show collusion. Their description of… events… matches to an extent that is alarming for our case.
– Yes, but it will take balls of steel to convict our client. All we have to do is sow doubt as to the moral fibre of the prosecution’s star witness.
Shard stood and moved to stand before the wall of faces. The face of Elena Price expanded and the other faces shrank back into the wall.
– First Officer Price, you claim that you ran away from the Defiant seventeen years ago to, I quote, “escape my father’s control and abuse”?
– You claim that he mentally and physically abused you, and that the abuse became sexual when you were twelve?
– You stowed away on a trading vessel that had docked onto the Defiant, the Jumping Jack?
– And as a fifteen-year-old runaway, you offered yourself to the captain of this vessel as payment for your passage?
– Is this a normal behaviour for a victim of abuse? You claimed to have been paralysed by fear of your father and sexually abused, yet you sold your sexual favours at the age of fifteen to a man twenty years your senior?
– It was desperation, a desire to live. My father had begun choking me when he raped me. I lost consciousness the very last time. I wasn’t selling anything that had not already been taken from me. And it didn’t go quite as you are suggesting.
– Please explain.
– Captain Price refused the form of payment I offered and suggested another. I had successfully circumvented the security of his ship, he wanted to know how I had done it and how to close the loophole.
– Yet you shared a cabin with him from that day, just barely fifteen.
– Affirmative, and we slept in his bunk together. But there was no sex. He would hold me when I had nightmares, but that was all.
– We have statements from former crew members stating that he made it clear that anyone that touched you was out. He was also described as being tactile in front of the crew.
– Affirmative, but his touch was never sexual.
– Is this not the control you claimed to have been escaping?
– No, it was protection and affection. He refused to touch me sexually until I was eighteen, and then only when I initiated it.
– You expect us to believe that a much older man gave you that amount of control?
– Affirmative, he said some things were sacred, not taken but given.
– Sacred? So your father’s reputation as a decorated Admiral is not sacred to you?
– I couldn’t care less about his reputation. I tried to forget him, I did not want him having any power over me, even in my memories. I am only here today because the prosecution tells me he was abusing my half-sister in the same way. All the reports have been read out now and… I can tell you something that is missing from them.
– Please enlighten me.
– Ask my sister to type out what our father would say when he choked us. I will type it too and we will press send when the judge instructs us to.
The words on the screen from both read: “Lo decido yo”.
– It means “I decide what happens” in an old Terran language. He meant, “I decide whether you live or die”.
The case was lost, but Shard found he did not mind too much. Waiting in the hangar to board his craft afterwards, he saw Elena Price talking to a tall, grizzled man that he recognised as Captain Price. Shard watched him reach out his hand and touch her face, and there was reverence and care in his touch.
Author: Joshua Fagan
After a decade spent wandering Andromeda, General Louis Patterson arrived at the conclusion that his dream of ruling an entire galaxy was nothing but a cheap fantasy, something out of the discount paperbacks he’d read as a child. Rather, it would be much more sensible to steal a remote that would allow him to enter an alternate reality where he already ruled an entire galaxy.
Sneaking into a laboratory, he chained up Carrie, the lead scientist, before taking her remote. Activating it, he saw an infinite number of universes flash before his eyes. He chose one where he could see himself draped in the adornments of power, and he rushed toward it, but before departing this universe, he saw Carrie smile. Though the secrets of trans-universal travel unfolded before him, emerald nebulas swirling through his mind, he could not unveil the mystery behind that smile.
Exotic birdsong soothed his ears as he awoke in a golden throne room, servants feeding him plump grapes. Spaceships bearing his name flashed through azure skies, bound for distant worlds. His advisers brought him maps of his empire, which extended to the far reaches of the galaxy. It was everything he wanted, but what if it didn’t last? What if there was a rebellion? What if the rebels assassinated him?
It was a possibility too terrible for him to comprehend, so he escaped this universe. Too many risks. Too many what-ifs.
The only thing better than to be obeyed like a king was to be worshipped like a god. Entering a universe where his subjects had erected cathedrals in his honor, he stared at the setting sun, believing himself its equal. He asked his nearest advisor if there were any rebellions, and she chuckled. “Of course not. Forgive me for laughing, Your Supreme Majesty, but there haven’t been any rebellions in three thousand years.” Then this was it—the universe where he would stay. His very name was synonymous with the divine, and there were no threats to his authority.
But what if that changed? There is nothing more transient than fortune. As long as he could die, he was vulnerable. There was only one solution. He created a portal and searched for a universe where he would be immortal.
Shackles covered his wrists. The musty prison air provided no comfort. Rats scurried between the bars. Filth covered the stone floor of his cell, and there was no light, save for the flashlight carried by Carrie as she descended into the prison and took the remote from his shaking wrists.
“What is this?” he asked as he coughed and choked.
She stomped on his remote until nothing remained of it but scraps of wire and cheap plastic. “Did you really think that was the only trans-universal remote?” she asked. “You’re not the only one who can travel between realities.”
Author: Bill Gillard
Vic bellied up to the counter at Plaskett’s Diner and ordered a donut and coffee, black. He smiled, waited for the waitress with the glistening bald head—to each her own—to respond with a smile at his joke, but she dropped the menu in front of him and shuffled humidly to the next customer.
Vic settled into his chair and swiveled it so he could take in the room. Ten tables all filled with the jabbering of languages he had never heard before, if that’s what they were. Some sounds were hushed like the breeze in summer leaves. The corner table buzzed and hummed like the live wires which, judging from the blue arcs dancing among those three seated lovers, they might actually be.
It had been days/weeks/seconds/millennia since Vic’s resupply interport went off course on the Orion route and found its way to Monoceros, which is the surprising location that Vic, who was still coughing up perfluorocarbon from the long dream of space travel, had to check through an actual window before he’d believe it. Nobody had ever ventured out this far—and for good reason. Human anatomy plus even a weak x-ray nova-like A0620 makes for a painful—albeit quick—death.
Nevertheless, here he was, in this diner, inexplicably, and he realized that he was hungry. He swiveled back to take a look at the menu. The donut he asked for had appeared on a black plate with a yellow rim.
He regarded the chocolate torus. There was something about that shape that reminded him of stuff he learned about at pilot school, stuff like singularities and wormholes. He closed his eyes tight.
There’s no way his little pressurized can with its third-hand negative mass thrusters and graviton sail could have avoided the event horizon of that system, the nearest black hole to Earth. He remembered waking up jarringly from the long sleep. He remembered understanding quickly how screwed he actually was. He remembered settling into his seat and cranking the music: Kevlar Medulla’s “Subtonal Opera Number I,” the favorite of his youth, to focus his mind. He remembered vague nausea and the strange blue shimmer as the starfield curved into an ever-shrinking ellipse.
And then he remembered nothing until the tinkling of this bell and the welcoming electric aroma of coffee.
Vic poked his finger through the hole of the donut and lifted it like a ring. He took a bite. Now that was real, he thought. He was sure of that.
A song came on the diner’s jukebox, that oldie by Sir Carter Knowles he used to like.
He turned again to find the room filled with people—actual human people—dressed sharp and happily eating breakfast. At the corner table sat a woman with two small boys. One boy ate oatmeal while he colored his placemat with a crayon. The other held a chocolate donut aloft on his index finger, nibbling the edge and turning it slowly.
The dress the mother wore looked so familiar. She lifted her head and, for the first time, noticed Vic.
A curious puzzlement came over her face.
She lifted her hand as if to wave, but Vic turned away in alarm.
He shook his head, dug his fingernails into each palm to try to wake up.
He took a big bite of the donut that still hung from his finger. He felt his memory, his mind, and his body stretched thin through a prism of confusion and loss.
That’s what he felt like for dinner.