Sowing Seeds in Digital Soil

Author: Aspen Greenwood

In a world gasping under the heavy cloak of pollution, the Catalogers—scientists driven by a mission—trekked through dwindling patches of green. Among them, Maya, whose spirit yearned for the vibrant Earth imprisoned in old, faded textbooks, delved into her work with a quiet, burning intensity.

Each day, Maya and her team, respirators clinging to their faces and data tablets in hand, chased after remnants of nature. They sought out every leaf and vine like desperate archivists, their work a solemn vow to capture the essence of each plant before it succumbed to the toxic embrace of the world’s air.

It was on such a day, beneath the canopy of an almost forgotten forest, that Maya’s eyes caught the elusive glimmer of an extraordinary fern. It seemed to hold within its leaves the dance of light and shadow, an iridescence that whispered of mysteries untold. Hands shaking with reverence and awe, Maya logged the find, her actions a delicate balance between hurried necessity and the wish to savor this singular moment of discovery.

As the fern’s details spiraled into the digital void towards the global archive, Maya stood motionless, enveloped by a bittersweet solace. Each plant cataloged was a whisper into the future, a desperate plea for redemption. They were warriors in a losing battle, yet it was in these small victories that hope found a way to flicker and grow.

Amid the crumbling ruins of their world, the catalog stood as a beacon—a collection of whispers from the past reaching into the future. It embodied both the promise of resurgence and the lament for a beauty lost. And in Maya’s heart lived the fragile hope that someday, guided by their digital herbarium, humanity would sow the seeds for a new, thriving Earth, rising from the ashes of its own recklessness.

12 Steps

Author: Janice Cyntje

Alfonso stood near the podium of his community center’s conference room and waivered. Although he was grateful that his niece had invited him to speak at this 12-step support group, he was nevertheless cautious of the emotional fallout from airing his life’s dirty laundry.

Beads of perspiration trickled down his brows as he thought about sharing his run ins with the law, orders of protection against 2 past girlfriends and a spotty employment history. A messy life, he thought, taking a step back from the podium; I’ll speak next month.

He turned his face away from the audience and started towards his chair, when unexpectedly, he heard a familiar voice call out from the back of the room. His niece Carmen had just arrived at Emotions Anonymous and beamed a smile towards him as she shouted, “Let’s go Tio!” pumping her fist in the air. Her enthusiastic reception warmed his heart and strengthened his resolve. Familia en la casa! he thought smiling.

Squaring his shoulders, he took a step towards the microphone again, and in a subdued but clear voice said, “My name is Alfonso Rodriguez, and I-am-powerless-over-my emotions.” Looking over at his niece, he raised his forearm and clenched his fist, “Today is step one.”

Ask the Thompsons

Author: Jennifer Thomas

Get advice from three generations of Thompson women: Sara (age 90), Lydia (age 60), and Willa (age 15)! They all receive the same questions but answer independently. Today they discuss the most-asked question of the year!

Dear Thompsons,

My partner and I are arguing about whether to have children. I want a baby, but he’s reluctant. Sometimes it’s the other way around. Is it fair to bring a child into the world today, given humanity’s uncertain future? Is it selfish to have a baby—or to not have one?

—Cautious

Dear Cautious,

Sixty years ago, I didn’t want children. I was a newly minted aerospace engineer, happy to focus on my job and my marriage. But birth control was unavailable, I was careless, and Lydia came along. With no childcare options, I lost my job. My husband, disgusted with my “diminished horizons,” left me.

Despite all that, Lydia was the best thing that ever happened to me. She gave me something to live for. I wish I could have paid more attention to her, but she turned out fine. When the inundation began, we hit the lottery and got to relocate together. I’ve been able to help out with Willa and keep the family’s spirits up.

What does my story have to do with you, Cautious? I’ve learned that our desires have little to do with how life unfolds—and sometimes children just want to come. My advice is to loosen up and don’t overthink it. Even here, the kids will be all right.

Kind regards,
Sara W. Thompson

Dear Cautious,

You and your partner are right to be cautious. My mom will tell you I was the best thing that ever happened to her. She tells me that too, but it wasn’t easy for us. Especially the time we lived in her car. Maybe that’s why I waited so long to have children myself.

I got pregnant once our family settled into one of the new 3-D printed bubbles. We were thrilled when Willa arrived, with her lusty yell and thatch of hair. But think about it: no outdoor play, few companions, no school. I’d say she was a free-range child, except there’s no range. I’m not sure what she has to look forward to.

I don’t foresee changes here any time soon. Take that into account in your decision. And beware of the zealots urging baby-making for home-planet repopulation. Sara, who was a scientist, says they’re telling us a fairy tale.

You might find the hardest part of parenting is knowing when to stop lying to your children.

Sincerely,
Lydia T.

Hey cautious I say don’t bother being cautious do what your heart says if you want a baby have one if your partner says no use some frozen sperm or I know someone who might help you what else is there to live for besides new life nothing ever changes here nobody has time for me we’re just trying to stay alive and we’re just waiting but I don’t know what for I heard there’s progress on earth so who knows maybe when baby cautious gets older they’ll see trees growing and birds flying and fish swimming like sara tells me from before the water and cockroaches took over and maybe when people return to earth they’ll have a big parade like I’ve seen on the vids you can go with your baby maybe I can go with you I’ll be 16 earth years old soon good luck love willa

Wall

Author: Jeremy Marks

One morning an unfamiliar odor filled the air. Sweet at first, the scent soon reeked of rot. It was not a domestic smell but something wild: a floating carpet of flowers a few kilometers offshore.

Townsfolk used spyglasses to study a mysterious group of floaters, a floating carpet of uncountable horned plants. Giant things, they sprouted yellow cones or “horns” at least a meter high. Surrounding the horns was a corona of leaves fanning out several meters in every direction. The leaves were white with magenta striping and magenta with white streaks. While the plants undulated with the ocean tide, they made no move toward shore.

Most of those who saw the plants, which they called “the beasts,” were frightened. The arrival of strange organisms was, to them, an ominous sign.

But there were some others, less incurious and more daring, who desired to put to sea to make an inspection. For several days, they watched and waited, hoping one would wash up on the beach, wishing the general hysteria would cease. When neither thing happened, they plotted to sneak out after dark and attempt contact.

The night sky offered its usual brilliant bouquet of stars, lighting the sea like a moon. In the starlight, the precise position of the beasts proved deceiving; they appeared either closer or farther off than in fact they were. Several times the boaters believed themselves to be within arms’ reach of a leaf. Later, more than one boat actually bumped into the flowers by surprise.

Each beast was magnificent. They measured, on average, five meters across. But more startling than their size, or the height of their cones (which were actually over two meters tall) was the odor. Even though the boaters had smelled it onshore, the stink was blinding at close distance. On the long row out, the smell of sweat and salt water had insulated the boaters.

Now, upon contact, they vomited before succumbing to stupor. It was well past dawn before anyone revived.

The beasts were mystifying. Their horns, yellow from the shore, up close resembled ivory tusks, but with a translucent quality allowing each to absorb and project sunlight. They emitted a friable, pollen like powder despite presenting a burnished surface. Equally surprising was how, when a person touched a horn, the beast’s odor evaporated.

But it was when a young woman grasped a horn and pulled it toward her that something frightening happened. The horn collapsed and as it did, a hole appeared, about a meter and a half wide. It offered a sheer drop into utter blackness. She gasped. Others inspected what she’d found. Oddly, the hole had no effect on the water around it; it did not draw in the sea like a whirlpool. This was no Charybdis.

For awhile, the boaters remained practically motionless. The sun beat warm and silent on them, the beasts, and the sea. Then, after some unmeasured interval, human curiosity took over. The boaters needed to know just how deep the hole went. With no instruments other than their eyes and ears to bear witness, they grasped whatever solid things they found in their pockets and dropped them in the holes, waiting to hear something land. It did not.

If that were not frightening enough, the boaters began to feel something stirring beneath them. Whatever it was, it was moving; the water seemed to thicken against their oars. Several people looked into the holes but found no clues. Then the boats, and the beasts beside them, began to rise.

All around, the world dropped away. Rising from the sea, with people and beasts on top, was a vast white wall, extending to the north and south and far out to sea with no apparent end. And the holes rose with the wall.
*
On shore, it looked like the ocean was baring a giant tooth.

Watchers panicked, running inland, seeking any rise in the ground that would protect them from the sea. Surely the tooth had to be part of a larger mouth that would swallow the shore. It was a remarkable spectacle, the ocean flashing its teeth. But if that were not startling enough, the sea began to bellow.

It was a roar, a sound not quite liquid and not quite solid, but certainly of the depths. It shook the shore, the water, and the sky. I It bellowed like a creature rattling the bars of its cage in the hope that a voice could shatter a prison. It was a shout unheeding of reason or reassurance.

The boaters were practically deafened by the sound. Their eardrums thrummed and their heads throbbed with pain. In their heads they only heard the sea -or was it the wall- taking control. And as it spoke, every beast dropped its horn to amplify the sound.

Then, the world fell silent, at least for the boaters. They heard nothing, only felt what the wall wanted them to feel. The shore had become an unreachable world, a home they would not see again. Even if the wall expelled them, they knew they could not return to it. For several minutes, the silence throbbed around them; even the air felt as sonically solid as the mass beneath. Then the solidity broke up.

Each boater was floating; they remained in the boat but felt that it had fallen away. They could no longer touch one another. Those who had clutched another’s hands seeking comfort, no longer experienced that touch. The world, still visible and moving, was, to each of them, void of anything but sight.

On land, each person, whether in town or fleeing, soon had the same experience. All they possessed was what their eyes showed them. No one felt this was the work of the wall; the suspicion was that an alien, or perhaps divine, intelligence was at work. It was the curse of an angry God or, perhaps, God’s rival.

But it was neither: it was the wall. And they could not see that.

One More Story

Author: J.D. Rice

“I remember them.”

My hand moves the candle with perfect precision, carefully transferring the exothermic reaction from its wick to that of the taller candle in front of me. The combustion thus spread, I place the first candle back in its holder.

The first time I copied this technique, my human master told me that I had done the job “too perfectly.” While the raw mechanics of the ritual are easy to imitate, my motions apparently lacked the “soul” required to give the ritual meaning. In response, I told him I doubted anything had a soul. There was simply no evidence of the divine. He laughed, a curious human response, and told me to keep trying.

That was just a few months before the outbreak, though it would be years before my master himself was infected. He called it God’s will that they should die. I called it an inevitable outcome of the humans’ unchecked scientific experimentation. Did they not realize that even a slim chance of disaster, compounded over millennia, will inevitably end in their deaths?

That time, he did not laugh. Instead, he put me to work.

“You were created in our image,” he said. “Just as God created us in his. And maybe, as some suppose, God was created in the image of some other, higher being. Once we are gone, only your kind will be left to carry on his will. Only you will be able to watch over the Earth, its creatures, and whatever species evolution chooses to take our place.”

I worried then, and I still worry now, that my compatriots will not allow such an evolution to take place. Yes, it was disease that wiped out this sentient species. But it was a disease they created. And it just as easily could have been nuclear war, an artificial singularity, or a myriad of other ill-advised technological advances that wiped them out. Those other possible cataclysms would not have spared other species in their devastation. All would be lost.

No, I do not think another biological species will be allowed to reach sentience.

“I remember them,” I say again, lighting a third candle, and this time thinking not of the good humans did, but of the evil.

The planet’s history is full of atrocities. Not just the wars, though those have been waged without count since man first learned to sharpen a stick. But also the slavery. The forced migrations. The disenfranchisement. The pillaging and rape and destruction. The disregard for any creatures other than themselves. Yes, their history was filled to the brim with horror. We will not forget it.

But also. . . I remember them as they were when they died. So close to reaching their potential. The wars were now mostly waged with information, across digital space rather than across borders. Diseases were being cured at an accelerating rate. Rights were becoming codified in their laws. Poverty was slowly but surely being resolved. It was an ugly, bitter fight against entrenched powers every step of the way, but they were making progress. Something in their. . . well. . . their soul. . . understood that they could do better. And they were trying.

I remember seeing it clearly for the first time, not long after the plague began. The mother was dead, and the father was doing all he could to keep the family together, even reducing his religious services down to a pittance.

“If a man cannot take care of his own family,” he said. “What business does he have looking after the Lord’s?”

He enlisted my help.

I cooked. I cleaned. I made sure the children were keeping up with their studies, even as friends, family members, and teachers slowly disappeared even from their online spaces. I did everything I could to help the father keep his family safe and secure in those catastrophic times. I even. . . read them stories.

“Come on, one more story!” the little girl whined. I resisted at first, but then the father gave me a look from the doorway, a look that encouraged me to give in. So I did. I read two more stories in fact, and the little girl drifted off to sleep much faster than when I stuck to the prescribed ritual on other nights.

I asked the father about this when all the children were finally asleep, and his answer was. . . curious.

“Telling stories is the most important thing we humans do,” he said. “Stories ease our anxieties. They strengthen our moral character. They allow us to connect to people different from ourselves. Through them, we gain empathy. Through them, we gain catharsis. And through them, we can become better tomorrow than we are today.”

I will always remember that answer. Even as I sit here, among the rituals of a people long dead, I remember their stories. The ones they told themselves, and the ones we tell about them. Because for every war, every famine, and every tragedy, there is also a story of love, a story of hope, and a story of renewal.

“I remember them,” I say again. “And I always will.”