Business as Usual

Author: Patricia Miller

It was an odd commission, but no one but Grimbello Brothers had the wherewithal to pull it off. The client was quite specific as to the size and shape of a cask to hold the finest jewel in the kingdom. It had to be a masterpiece, she insisted, but more than that, it had to appeal to a particular collector of unusual taste. He wasn’t someone prone to public, ostentatious displays, but rather was a discreet connoisseur, someone whose recollection was hazy when it came to provenance, and had the means and connections to escape repercussions for the occasional questionable acquisition. Possibly she didn’t have the rights to sell this jewel to the collector, but then again, he lived far enough away that it didn’t matter.

In the generations our firm had been tapping the horde, we’d pulled out numerous stones and baubles too large, and possibly too identifiable, to sell through our usual channels. This commission would be a suitable opportunity to put them to use.

We couldn’t afford a hint of gossip, so we worked in small groups, first fabricating the cask out of imported cedar and plates of lead crystal, lined with burgundy silk velvet.

A sapphire tiara was converted into ornate hinges. Ruby bracelets became roses in the centerpiece, accented with emerald leaves recovered from a truly hideous brooch. We twisted, annealed, braided, and wound gold, silver and platinum wire into gossamer filigree webs across the top.

The last task was fabricating a cart fitted with a suspension system. After all, it wouldn’t do to have it damaged in transit, not after we’d invested more than a year to create something we hoped would last for eternity.
Then it was done. And it was stunning, exuberant, extravagant, and every other adjective which could be used to describe something so audacious in form and function. The client was thrilled, the future owner on his way. All it needed was one final component to elevate it to perfection.

She stumbled into our clearing three days later. Of course we knew who she was. We worked in a cave. We didn’t live in one. Eyes as blue as the most brilliant sapphire, lips as vivid and red as rubies, hair the color of obsidian, skin as white and luminous as the pearls which graced the handles. The tale she spun about her poor dead mother, missing father, evil stepmother and some huntsman should have softened any man’s heart.

But business was business.

We don’t know what was in the apple, but for a small percentage, Grimbello Brothers has been promised another one for our next commission. Seems the collector has his eyes on a blonde…

The FutureScope

Author: David Henson

I hold my breath as Dr. Wocker studies the results of my full body scan. “Well, Stan,” he says, “it’s fortunate we included the FutureScope diagnostic in your physical this year.”

I sit straighter as if that will influence what the doctor’s about to say.

“There’s an 87 percent chance you’re going to break your right arm sometime in the next 48 hours.”

Not great news. Not horrible. Maybe my posture helped. I raise my arm. “It feels fine.” Dr. Wocker stares at me. Oh. “Sorry, Doc. Still trying to get my head around these new medical advances.”

Dr. Wocker tells me to be careful the next couple days. “Use common sense. Stay off ladders and such. It’s not like you’re trying to change the past, but the future will fight for its probabilities.”

As I pull into the drive after the appointment, I notice dead leaves jamming the gutters. Should’ve cleaned them. I search the sky. Might it snow? Could lead to ice dams, water backing up under the shingles. The image of a deluge crashing through the ceiling pushes into my thoughts.

I start to get my extension ladder from the garage, but stop and take a few deep breaths. Don’t be crazy. I’ll be wearing sandals before long. Not going to snow. I’ll clean the gutters after the 48 hours. Or not. Never had ice dams before.

For now, I’ll put my arm in the protective custody of a good book. I go inside and check out my collection. My eye is drawn to an old murder mystery I enjoyed years ago. I forgot who the killer was, but recall it was a great twist. The book is on the top shelf, which I can’t reach without a step stool. Could a 12-inch fall break my arm? I stand on my tip toes and swipe my hand. So close. I jump, land awkwardly and stumble against the wall, protecting my head with my arm. My right arm. I flex it a few times. Doesn’t hurt. Definitely not broken. Lesson learned. I watch a ballgame and turn in early.

I’m coming out of the emergency room, my arm in a cast. I’d put up a good fight, but the future probability prevailed in the end. I approach a man with a little girl, a robo-duck waddling beside her. A dog sticks it’s head out the window of a parked car and barks. The startled robo-duck quacks, flaps and rushes into the street. The girl, chases her pet between two parked cars. I run after the girl and sweep her up with my good arm — just as a red pickup truck barrels past, the robo-duck taking flight in the nick of time.

I can’t get the dream out of my mind. So real. Was it a premonition? A side effect of the FutureScope? What’ll happened to the girl if I’m not there at that moment? Maybe I could go to the emergency room and wait outside for a girl with a robo-duck. But which emergency room? And when? I’m no hero, but a broken arm is nothing compared to a little girl’s life. I decide to clean the gutters.

#

I come out of the emergency room, my arm in a cast. Sure enough, I see a man and a little girl with a robo-duck. I brace for action. Dog barks. Duck freaks … And the girl picks up her robo-pet and cradles it in her arms.

A red pickup truck roars past, horn beeping. I swear it sounds like laughter.

secp256k1

Author: Gorilla Sapiens

Well, spit it out boy, what did you find down there?

Machines, sir, self replicating machines.

I see, what were they doing?

As near as we can figure, sir, they’re consuming enormous amounts of power and generating vast amounts of waste heat by feeding themselves random numbers as input to… a puzzle.

Speak plain, boy!

Sir, it’s not my area sir, but the guys over in science think it’s some kind of closed field cubic curve equation.

Any biologicals?

No sir. We believe all life down there died out due to an ecological catastrophe caused by all the waste heat from the machines.

Strange way to suicide, eh son?

Sir?

Killing your whole planet with a silly game. What a shame.

I suppose so sir.

Alright, catalog it, launch a warning buoy, whatever algorithm that is, is obviously deadly and contagious, level 5. The next closest star system is about 4 light years from here, set a course for that. Trinary system, 2 yellows and a red dwarf, that should be interesting.

Yes sir.

The Specimen

Author: Jae Miles, Staff Writer

The room is unadorned. No evidence of tooling; not even a scuff mark mars the bare rock. No dust, no insects. Nothing moves. This place is still. It’s uncanny. Unnerving for some.
Jeffrey Palist found it fascinating. He wiped himself down before stepping into the room with a deliberation that bordered on reverence. Taking the few steps across the downward-sloping rock surround, he walked out onto the yellow-striped grass until he stood at the centre of the room.
Fortunately, he left his drone camera on. The recording shows him turning around, clearly looking for something. He spread his hands, uttered the words “I can’t see you”, and dropped dead.
The rescue team didn’t even make it to his body. They each took three steps onto the grass and died. The second team were dressed in biohazard suits and found all organic materials on the first team had desiccated to the point of crumbling when touched.
Jeffrey’s body wasn’t desiccated. It looked like it was melting: slowly seeping into the pale earth. Any striped grass that protruded from the liquid mess was quivering.
A decision was made to leave everything in place until further research could occur. The second team were on their way back when they too dropped dead.
Six days later, beautiful flowers bloomed amidst the remains. Metallic purple, glacier blue, blood red, snow white. Petals arranged around pistils that resembled jade green compound eyes, with no visible stamens.
Five days after that, the petals drifted down and shattered. The compound ‘eyes’ were revealed to be shells, from which golden worms hatched. Those asymmetrical horrors opened rings of glossy black eyes and wriggled toward the exit. People were still panicking when Sarah Jackson noticed they were dying while ascending the rock surround. They shrivelled as they went, falling apart while struggling up the slope to escape. The pieces rolled back and sank into the pale earth.

Nineteen years later, Sarah stands next to me as we watch another batch of worms die.
“So the amount of material only affects the number of worms, not their size?”
She nods.
“The worms are all the same length, give or take a millimetre or two. None of them are more than two centimetres wide. A hundred kilos of animate organics will create twenty. A hundred kilos of inanimate organics, four. Blooming and hatching periods never change. The grass never exceeds eight centimetres in height, and is shorter toward the edges of the container.”
“Container?”
“We’ve monitored this thing for nearly two decades. The room is precisely designed to keep it alive, but nearly dormant: dependant on prey wandering in. The rock surround emits radiation whenever living material comes into direct contact. The worms are killed by a gamma burst that never goes further than thirty millimetres from the rock.
“This whole edifice is largely impervious to penetrative scanning. What we’ve found is baffling: indications that the interior of the rock sometimes exhibits liquid properties. Scanning the grass reveals a hemisphere of living material, flat side about five centimetres below the surface. It’s nearly fills the container. All gaps between hemisphere and rock are filled with the same dirt the grass grows from.”
She turns to look at me, gesturing in the direction of the room.
“This place was designed to keep the hatchery alive, but to never allow the hatchlings out.”
“You’re trying to find out why whoever built this place didn’t just kill the thing, and you don’t believe any of the ‘religious cult’ or similar theories?”
Sarah nods.
“Welcome aboard. We could be at this for a very long time.”

The Bright Beyond

Author: Josie Gowler

“What do you see?”

The last bandage came off and I opened my eyes, blinking hard. Even in the low lighting, everything was stark and clear. And astonishing, vibrant, like I could taste and hear the colours. But I wasn’t going to say that. That just sounded crazy.

“Seven, all seven. Bright,” I replied. “I mean, I’d heard about it, I could pick out some of them, I knew the mnemonic, but I’d never… I’d never appreciated it, you know?”

“Does it give you a headache?” Dr Noakes asked.

“No… no… it’s just… well, hard to explain. Same as when people used to say ‘what’s it like?’ and I gave them a funny look because the whole point was that I didn’t know what being colorblind was like because I’d always been colorblind.”

“Here, try this.”

Dr Noakes held up some cards covered in coloured dots to do an Ishihara test. I laughed out loud. The letters were so obvious now, leaping out from their background of blobs of other colours. I read them out easily. Previously I couldn’t see any letters at all.

“So, what’s the first thing you’re going to do once you get out of here?”
“I’m going to enjoy the journey back home, marvel at seeing everything as nature intended it… then I’m going to redecorate the house. I bet it looks horrible to me now.”

Dr Noakes laughed. “Now you’ll get to find out whether your husband was simply being polite about your choices.”

“I never appreciated what colorblindness really was until now I’m not colorblind any more. This is awesome.”

“What can I say, Lieutenant, other than welcome to the space programme. Such a waste, careers being closed off because of something as trivial as a few cones in the back of the eyeballs.”

I stood up and stretched, grinning. “Thank you, Doctor. And about the other… proposal, that’s fine by me too.”

Dr Noakes chuckled. “Well, let’s get you used to seven colours before we branch out. Not like the tech’s going anywhere.”

“Well, whenever you think I’m ready,” I said. Two PhDs and an exobiology career in the military, I knew I’d always been ready, and that was before I studied agronomy as an extra.

Dr Noakes carried on. “With your experiences of having been colorblind and then not, you’ll have more idea of what it felt like to be the aliens, how UV and IR expanded their range….”

“And how it enabled them to use their food production tech,” I finished for him.

Dr. Noakes smiled. “I’ll leave you to get used to the change and call back in an hour. All being well, you’ll be on your way home by dinnertime.”

He left the room. I picked up my hand terminal and flicked through the pictures I’d got stored there. Circuit diagrams were suddenly brighter: I could figure them out in an instant. And with the next upgrade, who could tell what would happen? Yeah, people had used goggles and filters, but it wasn’t going to be like living the colours. I knew that from my forays with colorblindness-fixing glasses compared with the eyeball upgrade I had now. And that was why I reckoned we couldn’t get the alien tech to work – it simply didn’t understand us on a visceral level. And solving that would mean food for everyone, both home system and colonies.

I stood up and walked over to the window and stared at the bluest sky I had ever seen. And now I was actually going to travel beyond it.

Eternal Ocean

Author: I.W.Ray

Lullabies are for the air
Poets are of water
Remember this well
Do not mistake one for the other

And then my dream state abandoned me to have me face my cruel fate. I was doing repairs on my spaceship and then a freak anomaly hit me. And now I’m in water without boundaries. There was no light but there was life. I traveled for miles, trying to find the surface. I would have been ecstatic if I could see the ocean floor if only so I can know up or down. The memory of my last meal refused to leave my mouth. My suit couldn’t save me much longer. It took some time to convince it, but I ordered my suit to turn off life support.

I woke up again. At first, I was mad at my suit for disobeying me, until I realized I was on a firm dry surface. Without waiting for my suit’s permission, I took off the helmet. I can breathe. I quickly discarded the rest of the outfit. It was cold and damp but bearable. My muscles atrophied by staying in that suit for so long, but I got my balance back on the uneven ground. There was a faint light all around, but it was enough to see the aquatic creatures on the floor. I recognized some of them earlier. Later, the ambiance increased to my liking.

I checked what was edible, built a fire, and had a meal. I used the suit’s filtration system to give myself clean water to drink. It was so good.

After resting, I got up to survey my surroundings. Every once in a while, water would rush in past objects in the distance that looked like doors. It was too controlled to be natural. I asked my suit to provide the data of my surroundings for the last three days. I was followed for two days. A whale-like creature as big as a city was trailing me. It was too far back to be a threat. The creature only rushed up to me when my life support was off.

Am I in this creature? The scientist in me emerged from its dormancy. I examined the readings of the environment. This is amazing. Pressure and temperature were nearly uniform throughout the waters. Is this an aquatic universe? How did it come to be? So many theories came flooding into my brain.

My suit took a beating, but it’s working. Good, as it is the only thing that will make my new life bearable.

After a hard day of work, I found a dry spot to have a good night’s sleep. As my heavy eyelids did all the work, I realized my surroundings became comfortably warm. And then I dreamed.

“Boundless you and I.”

“You, in my mind?”

“I is eternal ocean. Eternal ocean is I. Days many followed.”

“Days, why?”

“Saw you when breach I. Empty, death, and dry. Needed life so to my waters you dive. Now rest. Tomorrow songs to make.”

“Thoughts to form and fly.”