Jupiter's Lightning

Author : James Smith

Nothing but killers. They came screaming soundlessly out of the Oort and Mercury Station was gone. My wife swallowed a handful of pills when the remains of Venus fell across the Moon.

The Dyson sphere lays empty, reconfigured into an enormous laser. I remain behind. I am the firebreak between them and our fleeing caravan. I began the power-up this morning, and four years behind me the sun will soon strike the lens now moving into position. The light will cohere and lance through my relays to the diamond core of Jupiter, naked and polished for the purpose. Jupiter’s Lightning will strike some fifteen lightyears out, punch through their sun and cause a cascade effect, ending in a supernova. Before their world is consumed, seas will boil, and the very air will catch fire. Perhaps the man who ordered that first attack will watch his own wife burst into flames and, if he is a man, may be given to regret.

I have not had a body in 145 years, but my sensors register the throb and hum of this station. I am reviewing a video of my wife. I’m wondering why, at the last, she felt the need to first grow a body. So many centuries and we still don’t trust our senses, no matter how superior to the initial five.

The cameras float everywhere, of course, and calling up the file was easy. I watch my wife uncap a bottle with three-day-old hands, an action she hadn’t performed in almost two hundred years, on an object no one’s used for a hundred. I cross-reference with file footage from a family picnic. Yes, she re-grew the body she had when we first uploaded– aged, liver-spotted, sagged and broken. She killed herself striving for a kind of pride we haven’t had need of in a century.

Once Jupiter’s Lightning fires, it will be another sixty years before the light of their exploding star reaches me. Their homeworld will be ash while I still run this station, and for good measure I will once more pump the remains of lonely old Sol into deep space, long after the threat has passed.

I look at my wife on the slab, and superimpose her on top of the picnic footage. Her corpse lays along the blanket where our food is placed. I am not in the picture; I am holding the camera. She and our children appear to reach into her flesh and pull out plates piled high with food.

Across the chasm of centuries, over the expanse of her own dead body, my wife smiles at me. I miss her. I miss the electronic susurrous of the sum of human knowledge, underpinning reality. Somewhere in the depths of me, I ask myself if I will accept handshake from the second relay. Without accepting, the beam will reach Jupiter too dissolute to make the final, murderous journey out of the solar system. I deny handshake and power down. Come and get us.

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Author : Geoffrey Cashmore

The first thing Vinka noticed were the trees, (Bula was late…why was she always late?) the ground was dirty too; some places nothing but bare earth or a covering of ragged grass. That couldn’t be healthy, could it? These pathetic people.

Vinka watched Bula arrive and park up, clumsy as usual, but at least she didn’t hit one of the trees. He glanced at his watch. Charl and Birdo would be expecting him back. It wasn’t fair to leave them finish the shift without him, he’d had so much time off lately.

“Sorry.” Bula wore the silver outfit she got last winter. She wore it once to a party and hadn’t touched it again, saying it was too good for normal wear. She was obviously making a special effort today – first impressions and all that.

“You’ve left your lights on.” Vinka gestured impatiently, sending his wife back into her car to fluster with the controls. “This is the place, isn’t it?” he asked when she finally made it over to stand beside him, smoothing down her jacket and smiling.

“I think so.” She answered. “It’s not very clean. Look at those trees. That can’t be healthy, can it?”

Vinka was gazing around for signs of activity. “No…” he said absently.

“Oh Vin, we are doing the right thing, aren’t we?” Bula had grown increasingly nervous as this day approached. “Adopting one of the under privileged, I mean.”

“Bula, I told you, it’ll be fine.” Vinka was weary from the reassurances, but Bula could be like this; nervous about something at first then confident and self-assured when it finally happened “How could any right minded person stand by and leave them bring up a child in this squalor? And besides, I showed you all the forms we’d need to fill out if we wanted to adopt back home. Look.” He pointed out past the broken down buildings to where something moved at the edge of the trees. “Someone’s coming.”

“Oh yes, there he is!” Bula caught sight of the figure. “Isn’t he adorable?” she said, leaving Vinka to approach the youngster alone for fear of frightening him. He seemed a little nervous, and curled up on the floor as Vinka drew near. “He’s so cute. I hope the other children don’t tease him because of he colour of his skin.” Bula stood to one side while Vinka lifted the child and put him into the back seat of Bula’s car.

“Now.” He said “I’ve really got to get back to work – Birdo’s going to go mad – can you take the kid home and settle him in?”

Bula was smiling even though there were tears in her eyes as she nodded to her husband. She kissed him on the cheek as he closed the car door. “Thank you, darling.”

“Whatever makes you happy, honey.” He said, pulling car keys from his pocket and preparing to go.

As Bula’s car broke free of the little blue-green planet’s atmosphere the child on the back seat began to cry.

“There, there.” She comforted, “You won’t have to live in that nasty old place any more.”

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Author : John Tudball

Love – with all its pain and all its wonder – is the human condition. We are slaves to it and truly, above all other creatures, masters of it. When we know love we feel alive. It brings us terrible, terrible hurt but that’s okay because of the joy that comes with it. When we forget love we feel cold and empty. Inhuman.

In my line of work, you wouldn’t think I’d spend too much time thinking about love. I run a cloning facility outside New York. It’s not one of the big ones; you’ve probably never heard of us. There’s no room in the industry for another company making pigs. There’s already enough bacon on the market so’s everyone can have it for breakfast and still have some left over. And chickens are a waste. Too much time and money goes into a chicken with too little output. It’s still cheaper to produce chickens the old fashioned way.

No, we mostly clone specialty animals; ostriches are a current top seller. Last year it was pandas. Fancy restaurants where the bread costs more than most of us make in a year, they buy from us to avoid the legal issues with endangered and near extinct species.

And occasionally we sell directly to the rich folks themselves, when they want something even more special. I take care of those orders personally; they need a delicate touch. The rich can do whatever they want, you see. It’s a good basis for society. Encourages everyone to try extra hard, like. When you’ve got enough money your only restrictions are your own ethics, and who am I to question another man’s choices? I make my money growing the most beautiful creatures on the planet for food. So when someone offers me a whole lot of money and tells me they wonder what human tastes like, it’s not my place to say no, it’s my place to make sure no-one finds out about it.

Clones are grown in a lab. They’re kept unconscious – the shock of accelerated growth would be painful beyond belief. They’re not loved and they’re not capable of love. So when you ask me if I’ve ever tried one, when you look at me with those accusing eyes and whisper that word, “cannibal”, remember that they don’t know love. Remember what they are: cold and empty. Inhuman.

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The Ride

Author : Laura E. Bradford

“Merging down.”

He pulled the joystick and the car started its swift descent, tugging him along like on a roller coaster. “Whooo!” he yelled, pushing the pedal down and merging onto the invisible highway at two hundred miles an hour. He swerved around skyscrapers, flying across the street made of air, completely exhilarated. He was born for this.

“Car approaching, left side,” came the calm, female voice of the navigation system.

“Way ahead of you,” said the young man. He pulled the joystick back and the car went up, giving the other–a yellow car in the shape of a bee–plenty of space to go by. He watched it pass beneath him on the monitor, which showed a 360-degree view of his surroundings.

“Light ahead. Projected signal: stop.”

“Aw, man.” He hit the brakes and slowed, noticing how smoothly the machine responded. With some disappointment he watched the floating signal ahead change from magenta (northbound travel go) to blue (northbound travel warning) and then red (universal color for stop). So he stopped, which meant floating in the air six hundred feet above the ground, as traffic in other directions began to move. He glimpsed a few ladybug-styled 2018 models, but mostly saw older cars, shaped somewhat like yesterday’s ground-movers but sleeker, with an aerodynamic design better suited for cruising through the air.

A soft “beep” sounded in his car, and the light changed back to magenta. He pulled a lever and darted forward, maneuvering like a fish through the sea, swimming in an ocean of blue sky. The pedestrians below appeared tiny, like pebbles tumbling in sand.

“Turn left now,” the navigator said pleasantly.

Done. At the sight of an office building, he lowered his car to its space one foot off the ground, and paused a moment before taking off his seat belt. What a ride! Safe, fast, and thrilling. Finally, with a sigh from having to give up something so wonderful, he pressed a button to lift the eagle-wing doors, and stepped out. He stood in the showroom of a car dealership, having completed his virtual test drive.

“Well?” asked the salesperson.

He grinned. “I’ll take it.”

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Author : Michael Herbaugh a.k.a. “Freeman”

Ten years. That’s what the Fri-l’r sting had cost him. Craig had been on safari on Lankus XIII when the accident happened. His friends didn’t realize until a few days later that his personality had been completely superseded, but for Craig the transition was immediate. For Craig, it was like he’d been locked in a dark box with small lights racing all around him, locked in his own mind for ten years. Ten years of complete sensory deprivation while the Fri-l’r had control of his brain and by extension his body.

Ten years seemed both impossibly long and incredibly short while trapped in his own mind, learning the language of the neurons firing around him. Craig had been fighting intensely to regain control of the pieces of him that previously had taken little or no effort at all. Fortunately for Craig, he wasn’t the first case. While he spent ten years trying to fight his way out, there was a team of psychiatrists wrestling with the Fri-l’r personality, convincing it to let go of the body it had grabbed merely by instinct, fighting to allow Craig to regain control.

Craig finally emerged to the body of a thirty-nine year old having been locked inside since he was twenty-nine. While his body had aged and the Fri-l’r had kept it in good shape, Craig retained the maturity of man now ten years his junior. It wasn’t long until he began to feel disconnected from his old life. All his pre-Fri-l’r friends were living their lives, with the loves and families of middle age, while he retained the wild personality of their youth. He made new friends, sure, ones that felt more appropriate of age, but having the body of a forty year old, he was always an outsider amongst them as well. Dated. While he shared the same goals and interests as his new younger counterparts, he was more of a relic in his knowledge of this new time he had awoken in. Craig was more of a token in his new circle, an object of interest and entertainment.

A side effect of the accident and his rehabilitation was that he had a strikingly acute awareness of his own mind. When he closed his eyes he could see his own thoughts as they raced around his brain in the form of neural energy. Craig felt as though he had a more accurate sense of his emotions, however those around him felt that he had lost the emotional expression that they felt was ‘normal’. People found him to be insincere; he knew he had feelings, he just had lost the ability to express them to others.

After a few months of being back in society, Craig’s disconnect from those around him grew to be too much to handle. He could see only one solution. He would turn his body back over to the Fri-l’r personality which had been subjugated to the deepest parts of his sub-conscious, and return to the depths of his own mind.

On the night he sat down and decided with finality that he would relinquish himself back to his neural prison, he wrote a note to the world he would leave behind.

It read, “Don’t concern yourself with me, I died ten years ago. Help the man I leave behind.”

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