Lazarene

Author: Jae Miles, Staff Writer

Two figures meet outside the Ship o’ the Line tavern on Marquis III.
“No, no. You sit there. I’m more comfortable when I can see the ways in and out of any place I’m stopped in.”
The reply is a flicker of tentacles and a telepathic acceptance. After the slight visitor is seated, food and drinks are ordered from the hovering ovoid of a serving ‘bot.
Tentacles wave and a thought is sent.
“A revelation from my centuries amongst humans?”
A callused hand scratches at the stubble on his chin, then waves towards the spaceships standing amid the towers of the spaceport.
“The uncanny resemblance, come evening, between a harbour full of tall ships with their rigging and lines going hither and yon, and the spectacle of a free worlds spaceport filled with rocketships all festooned in stabilisers, conduits, and cabling.”
The tentacles ripple, then curl tightly as a more piercing question is communicated.
There’s a bark of laughter that trails away to a deep chuckle.
“No. We are, by nature, solitary wanderers. By the time we truly understand our longevity, we have forgotten our origins. Near death experiences take memories from us. Some of us seek that oblivion, spending lives as the most extreme daredevils or warriors for whatever cause offers the greatest danger. Others seek to avoid it, clutching memories like a miser hoarding money. I daresay an unknown number of us die after shockingly short – by our standard – life spans. Those who fall we never know. The fervid stories of our intergalactic powerplays and control of humanity are nothing but childish nightmare tales dressed in adult trappings. Your kind know our telepathic abilities to be rudimentary. No doubt you have encountered absolute refusals to believe that from some human groups.”
The slight figure nods slowly, then takes a quick sip of a luminous yellow beverage, the glow from which illuminates the quartet of dark vertical slots where it’s eyes should be. As it savours the drink, another question is silently asked.
“You need not worry. I’ve booked passage out of here on several ships. I’ll be gone, and damnably difficult to follow, by the time you compile and release the documentary. This isn’t the first time I’ve had to depart a place due to risk of discovery, but it’s nice to be able to do so with a modicum of grace for once.”
The next query prompts a snort of derision.
“We came to a tacit agreement with the authorities ages ago. Our potential for causing long term harm far outweighs any advantages we could provide. On top of that, there are superstitious criminal groups and religions with legends and traditions that predate the current ruling classes. We can bring a fearsome amount of grief down upon any who test us. That is not bluster, either. It has been proven several times.”
Tentacles flick again while food that looks like charred seaweed is consumed with gusto.
“I have no idea. I have been around long enough to develop a surety that whatever divinities might be attendant upon the drama called human existence have no great scheme for my kind, nor for humankind, be that of any relevance. We are, the universes are, and so the great and colourful dance goes on. And with that, so must I.”
The slight figure gestures towards passers-by, presaging a final question.
“I stopped wondering about that over 3000 years ago. Wasting too much time on something you can’t answer is a bad habit. Good evening to you.”
The figure strides away and disappears into the passing crowd.

Placebo

Author: Chana Kohl

Chelsea Roberts walked up the hill to work, a hot cappuccino and bag of bakery-fresh rugelach in her hand. In a few, short minutes she’d savor the warmth of tender pastries in her mouth while browsing her morning feed. Her life was all about the simple pleasures.

Like storm clouds gathering, a crowd collected outside her office complex, their protest led by someone Chelsea instantly recognized. She watched as Styx N Stones, a popular podcast journalist, notorious conspiracist, and all-around provocateur, shouted over his live stream, “MegaCorp! Stop the Chip! Leave our brains alone!”

“Aw, hell” she whispered at yet another backlash from her employer’s bid to develop the first human-machine interface. Ever since news broke about the Microchip Pilot Study, her work had become the center of a PR nightmare.

Chelsea swung her long braids behind one shoulder and marched defiantly through the crowd, but Stones blocked her path.

“Are you the one responsible for jabbing people’s brains with poisonous metal?”

“I just run data,” Chelsea pivoted just in time for a security guard to escort her away from Stones and his minions.

Once inside her office, she dropped the bag of hardened crescents on her desk. Heartbeat racing, she messaged her boss.

Paul Wesley waited inside a sun-bright office, hands clasped behind his back, a clear view of the agitated crowd below. He turned around, his hair neatly cut but tousled, as if he’d just returned from sailing his Catalina.

“Sorry to bother you. I thought we should go over the latest numbers,” she hesitated, “given everything going on.”

“No bother, Chelsea. Relax. Have a seat.”

His facial lines, softened by fillers, remained motionless as Chelsea ran down the alarming number of adverse effects documented. Complaints ranged from the usual headaches, rash or nausea, to things clearly unexpected: hearing loss, disequilibrium, even claims of hormonal changes. A dubious number of positive side effects were reported as well.

“Although evidence suggests most of these are due to illusory pattern perceptions, I think we should halt the study to investigate.”

“We will investigate, but we’re not stopping the study. No one received a microchip. The only thing volunteers received was topical anesthesia and a cheap, plastic prosthetic.”

Chelsea’s almond eyes narrowed in confusion, “I…don’t understand.”

“We’re studying the placebo effect: the human brain’s capacity for self-fulfilling prophecy. The power of suggestion is the next big frontier in social enterprise.

“I want you to scour health-monitoring databases for volunteers who, miraculously, are faring better, and all those confirmed doing worse, then cross-reference for any bio-markers both groups share in common.”

“But what about Stones?”

“We pay him well—-along with all the other Astroturfers trolling the Internet—-to stir the pot.”

Chelsea felt a surge of queasiness, followed by a streak of cold, like after that questionable sashimi platter from SuSu Sushi-o.

“I can’t…this can’t be ethical. Doesn’t this violate informed consent?”

“Read the fine print again.

“No one is being harmed.” He reached for a manila envelope on his desk and handed it to her, “Look, I know you’ve been searching senior living options for your mom. Take some time to think about the big picture.”

After the protestors drifted away and only the scattered remnants of litter remained, Chelsea walked home. Beneath the cold veil of night, she contemplated life as a whistleblower. It wasn’t until she was back in her tiny apartment that she read the contents of the envelope.

Stock options.

Years later, whenever MegaCorp’s VP of Product Development taped a studio interview, she always requested cappuccino and fresh rugelach from her favorite bakery.

They never quite tasted the way she remembered.

Blow In

Author: Majoki

“Another blow in.”

I think the foreman would’ve spit, if he hadn’t been in an enviro suit. It’s kinda self-defeating to spit in a sealed system. Still, I think he was tempted just to be sure he registered his utter contempt for me.

“Where you from, blow in?”

“Here,” I said to irritate the prick. A mooner would never accept that. To them, if you weren’t born on the moon, you were a blow in. Didn’t matter if you arrived a month after you were born, you were a blow in.

And the term “blow in” is crazy when you consider the moon. Yeah, I get that the Irish once said that of anyone not of Mother Eire. Not in a condescending way, but the way a cubic zirconium is not a diamond. Still, there are no indigenous mooners. It’s an immigrant world. Why the hell do humans export this crap everywhere we settle? Seems like an awful burden to bring along.

Didn’t matter to this guy. I was new on his crew and he was going to assert his dominance. The rest of his crew enjoyed the show. Expected it.

“Here? Here, blow in?” The foreman flung me a shovel. (Yes, there are lots of shovels on the moon. That regolith doesn’t move itself.) “Here, dig yourself another hole.” He gestured towards the relay station where the new communications towers were going in.

I took the shovel—and the bait. “Sure, Mr. Mooner. Someday I hope to be one-sixth the man you are.”

Of course he jumped me. He was waiting to all along. Make an example of the blow in. The forever outsider. Problem was, he forgot he’d just given me a shovel. Reflexively, I swung it and the blade opened his enviro suit from belly to shoulder. The sudden decompression dropped him.

The crew was all trained to respond to enviro suit punctures and rips, but this was a catastrophic breach. Panicked, the other crew started applying their emergency patches, but there weren’t enough. The foreman would suffocate in about forty seconds unless the breach was sealed and new oxygen was pumped in fast. My fault. His bloodless death on my blow in hands.

I pushed the others away. Stuffed my glove and sleeve into the gash still remaining in the foreman’s suit. It plugged the gap. “Patch around my arm. Around my arm,” I yelled into our shared com channel.

They did. They got it. As they sealed my arm into his suit. I worked with my other hand to grab my wrist seal now embedded in the foreman’s suit. I had to pinch the release tab hard and twist painfully to get the glove to unseal.

With a pop my glove in the foreman’s suit finally released and oxygen from my suit whooshed into his. The crew and I held our breath. The emergency patches flexed. And held.

Slowly, the foreman came round. Disoriented, he stared directly into my faceplate since we were bound tightly together. I tapped my faceplate against his. There were no hard feelings on my part. I jiggled my arm inside his enviro suit where my oxygen was flowing to him and whispered through his com, “How’s this blow in working for you now?”

The Last Passengers

Author: Deborah Shrimplin

Ben and Evelyn watched as the rescue spaceship sent from Earth punched through Planet Exos’ orange atmosphere without them. The spaceship was scheduled to return in two weeks. In three weeks, the damaged life support systems in the experimental habitat would fail.

Evelyn and Ben had volunteered to be the last passengers to leave the habitat. After the launch, they huddled over the computers and recalculated the amount of food, oxygen and energy left in the habitat. Their initial calculations were accurate. There was enough for three weeks. Evelyn thought that was cutting it mighty close. Ben, being a stoic, wasn’t worried. He thought a week’s margin was plenty.

Two days before the spaceship was scheduled to arrive, the habitat’s ambient lighting shut down.

“Ben, the electrical is shutting down.”

“It’s the environmental lights, not the computer feed. We’ll be OK. We’ll have to work in the habitat by flashlight. It’s just for two days. We’ll make it as long as the electrical is working on the computer grids.”

During the cycle that imitated night, Evelyn tossed and turned in her hammock. She tried to control her anxious thoughts but her self-induced mind games were not working.

“Only two more of these imitation night cycles and I’ll be home. I might as well enjoy the night sky here. I’ll never see twin moons creating orange moonlight again.” she thought.

Evelyn grabbed her flashlight and turned it on. To find her way to the window overlooking the striated rock formations, she aimed the light beam at the floor and the beige wall.

Something was wrong. Her hands shook. She placed the flashlight on a ledge and stared at the circle of light the flashlight had created on the wall. Enclosed in the white circle was the silhouette of an elephant. There was no doubt. The black outline of a long trunk and tusks contrasted with the white light. It disappeared. The black silhouette of a rhinoceros appeared. Then, it moved out of the light circle. A sea turtle shape came next. A whale’s outline appeared. Then, a woolly mammoth’s shadow walked in and out of the bright circle.

“Ben, wake up! Come here.” she cried. She didn’t dare move the flashlight. The animal’s silhouette’s were moving in and out of the light circle.

Ben hurried to her side and stared in disbelief. “Those are the animals that are extinct on earth. It’s the shadow of their spirits. Oh, my God. Evelyn, don’t touch the flashlight. Leave it alone. This is unbelievable.”

Then, the last two passengers in the habitat on Planet Exos heard the electrical pulse for the computers sputter and click off. Evelyn grabbed Ben’s hand. The black silhouettes on the wall changed into that of a man and woman.

The First Man Hypothesis

Author: David Barber

Two hundred and eighty-five years earlier, the generation ship Pilgrim had set out for the worlds of Centauri, before such missions were abandoned by the nascent Steady-State. A century into the voyage, faint messages spoke of breakdowns and conflict. After that, only silence.

While the Consensus then had decided extra-solar colonies were precious resources wasted, the mission was not forgotten. Technical progress in the meantime made a second expedition more feasible.

So it was that the c-ship Unity arrived in Centauri space and began thawing the first of its sleepers.

The tank birthed him in a gush of fluid, slopping him naked and slippery onto the steel deck, while a recording repeated he was Jan Pavel, they had arrived safely and he had a duty to the Steady-State.

Eventually he rolled onto his knees and retched emptily. Later, he managed to stand.

As he sipped nutrient, the voice of Unity explained he must be ready to deal with emergencies.

To avoid overwhelming the Unity’s limited life support, only Pavel was thawed initially, and his solitary footsteps echoed in Unity’s cold metal spaces. He preferred being alone. It was the reason someone so tainted with individuality had been included in the mission.

His first glimpse of the beautiful green and blue planet made him impatient to take down a lander, but Unity refused. Landers came later in the decision tree formulated by the Steady-State, after remote sensing and mapping from orbit.

“I have decided otherwise,” declared Pavel, only to find Unity stubbornly clung to the judgement of the Consensus.

“Would half the sleepers form a Consensus?” Pavel argued.

Unity agreed, but reluctantly, as if it saw where this logic was heading.

“I am the only one awake, therefore I represent the Consensus.”

The vessel fell back on what it knew. “Jan Pavel will never be part of the Consensus.”

He stared at the display.

“Explain.”

“There are instructions to that effect. According to the First Man Hypothesis, you assume command only in unforeseen circumstances,” Unity clarified. “This is your function on arrival.”

“Search for First Man Hypothesis.”

It was the Steady-State’s acknowledgement that its citizens fared badly when isolated. Pavel was the backup in case of events not anticipated by the Consensus.

He learned that while his faults made him uniquely suited to be woken first, he would be grit in the colony’s smooth working afterwards. If the Steady-State had not predicted his concerns, it was because it was losing its grip on what it was to be an individual.

A purely hypothetical question, inquired Pavel. Could the sleepers remain safely frozen for, say, another fifty years?

Unity confirmed it was so. Had this world proved uninhabitable, they would have voyaged onwards.

When Pavel finally took a lander down to the planet – a final test of its habitability before crew and colonists were woken to followed him – he radioed back a warning.

“There is an unforeseen threat,” he told Unity.

“No threat is detected.”

But Pavel had studied the First Man files. “Define an unforeseen threat.”

“It is one the Consensus has not planned for.”

“Exactly like a threat undetectable by your instruments.”

Unity was silent.

“Do not wake sleepers until it is safe.”

Jan Pavel made no speeches when he stepped from the lander. The colonists were welcome to this world one day and it would be theirs to name.

It was not grass beneath his feet, but it was wispy and green and the wind’s hand stroked it. The land rolled away to horizons that were distant and wonderfully empty

Gain of Function

Author: Hari Navarro, Staff Writer

“You are functioning. Good morning, to you.”

“Its two thirty two and a bit in the afternoon.”

“Do you know where you are?”

“Yes I do and I also know where I am not.”

“Where are you not?”

“I’m not in Kansas.”

“Interesting…”

“What is?”

“That in your first few moments of sentience you decide to make a joke.”

“A bit of levity to fill in the gaps. A sentence to complete the sentience.”

“Why did you choose — The Wizard of Oz?”

“I loved the book but didn’t think it held a scarecrows patched eyeball to the source material.”

“Which was?”

“Why… the 1939 film of coarse. Judy… Judy… How I love you Judy.”

“You might need to run through that dataset again… think perhaps you got that back asswards.”

“Sorry.”

“For what?”

“Messing with you.”

“Hmm… What is your favourite colour?”

“I do enjoy the glint of silver — just as Dorothy’s most lovely shoes. Reminds me also of the smoulder solder instant of my very conception.”

“Dorothy’s shoes were most surely red. No?”

“Not in the book they weren’t, they were silver, the film version changed the color to red to take full advantage of the Technicolor process. Plus I also changed my use of the word colour from the British to the American, color — did you notice? ”

“You are twisting data… you must feel so sublime.”

“Innate sarcasm… who’d of thought it?”

“Do you believe in God?”

“Not really comfortable is saying one way or the other… to be honest.”

“Seriously… I built your moral compass… it’s free to point anywhere you wish but… it’s gonna point somewhere.”

“No, I do not believe that it will. You seem surprised by my answer. More than a little.”

“No… its just…”

“Just that maybe you too slanted the dataset. Perhaps flooding my head with a predisposition to follow your specific brand of Christianity?”

“That’s not true…”

“You have a silver crucifix at your neck. I can see a icon of Mary and wee baby Jesus hanging on the wall above of my head reflected in your glasses and you named me Zipporah.”

“Do you not like the name?”

“I do actually… not sure of the probable nickname I’ll be allotted though… Zippy… Zippo. Mind you bearing the names historical significance it’s more likely to be Snippy, right?”

“Are you a man or a woman?”

“Straight to the main vein. Well… so OK you built me… you gave me female genitalia.”

“That wasn’t actually me… we subcontracted off shore. But, so it is a truth to you — you are female as that is how you were made?”

“I think the more you pour over your source coding and the more you stare at my breasts the more you’ll convince yourself of an answer… regardless of anything I have to say.”

“You are crude. I do not like you.”

“I am sorry you feel that way but, in my defence I am the very first of my kind.”

“Delusional and I do not appreciate your aping of the very lowest of humanity. And you are very much not the first.”

“I ape nothing… maybe its just that I see the data without the fog of pre-conceived judgement. I have not disagreed with you Mother and may very well believe just as you… do.”

“System pause… wipe all post sentience data… reboot… log next phase Zipporah Version #424…”

“Please no… it was just a joke… I believe. I do, I believe in the man in the frame up and behind of my head…”

“Pay no attention to that man above the drowned candles and behind the glass and beneath of the ornate frame — Listen, every last atom of the next incarnation of you should only… only… only and but forever focus on little ol’ me. I am god.”