The Time Wanderer

Author: Irene Montaner

Time was born the moment Erisha did. And when she breathed for the first time, in and out, a world was brought to life. A land of flames and fumes. Erisha made herself a home in it and watched time go by from the warmth of her hearth. Decades, centuries, even millennia felt like seconds to her.

As the blazing world cooled, mountains and plains appeared, rivers and seas. Ferns and tress grew tall; monsters owned the water, the land and the air. Erisha flushed as her world evolved, her skin was ablaze, her inside on fire. She yearned for something, for someone, and so she left her home and wandered restlessly amid the deafening grumbling of those ageing beasts.

Millions of years passed before she found what she was looking for. Someone like her, walking on his two legs, with sturdy features and unkempt hair, thicker skin and darker eyes. Her inner fire stirred, her cheeks reddened. Erisha reached to him but he walked through her. He didn’t see her translucent skin, her blue eyes or her copper hair. She called out to him but he never heard the voice that gave him a name. She was invisible to all things ephemeral.

Erisha watched them for a long time. She saw them run and rest, hunt and hide, gather with their equals, greet someone special. With greedy eyes she watched them frolicking. She learnt how they sowed, how they built, how they prospered, how they fought, how they died. And with every death Erisha’s inner fire died out a little.

Those beings evolved and so did the world, everything changing too quickly. Empires rose and fell, clans intertwined and disappeared, families thrived for generations only to perish later with a last barren daughter. Years became eons to Erisha. Tired and lonely, she sought shelter in her old home. The glowing walls were now cold and her inner fire was no more than embers. Her craving for companionship remained but time was a wrecking ball. Every year, every month, every week that went by crushed Erisha’s spirits. Her hopes plummeted to the ground when she saw them leave on their solid rockets. They, who had been born out of her breath, out of her desire, were deserting her. Erisha wandered the world again, folding the past behind her, sliding through the cracks of the future.

Life flourished once more, unlike anything that had inhabited that land before. Erisha wondered at it all as she dragged her feet across this world that she no longer recognised. Her body, once light as the air, felt now heavy under the burden of time. Almost hopeless, she just wished for time to end. And that’s when she saw her.

Old and weary, the woman had also been waiting for someone that never came. Erisha looked at her, the last of those humans who had left this world to find a better one. Erisha noticed her eyes fixed on her. Someone was finally seeing her, now that she was all skin and bones, her long grey hair sweeping the ground.

“Ah, there you are at last,” said the woman. “My man left me long ago and I have already buried the last of my children. Life is so pointless now.”

The woman extended her bony hand to Erisha. Erisha kissed her softly and the woman chilled. Erisha laid her body on the ground and lay beside her. The fire that had kept her alive since the beginning of time extinguished and her world slept forever.

END

Diplomatic and Justified

Author: Jae Miles, Staff Writer

They throw me through a window, barely a grey panel against the dusk of the underground I’m falling through.
I can just about make out the floor – it’s coming up fast. Using the slight angle of my fall, I try for a roll-out and nearly succeed. Skidding to a stop, I take a breath of the dank air and cough.
“Good landing, good sir.”
Another inmate? Nobody hinted at that. I take a moment to ease my breathing, then it’s time to come up with some way to salvage this situation.
“Whom do I have the pleasure of sharing this tidal pit with?”
“Rathiek Kinodar, good sir. Benthusian diplomat and lately an advisor to the Upper Brighton Seawall Project.”
I’m in an abandoned ballroom with a talking octopus. To be fair, the octopods from Benthus are humanity’s staunchest allies as we continue to venture forth into the wild black yonder of the spaceways.
“September Jameson. Former Captain in the Sixth Abraxas out of Descartes, currently a gunsell under contract to the Upper Brighton Seawall Project, investigating the spate of violent robberies they’ve suffered, along with your disappearance. Delighted to find you, Diplomat Kinodar.”
“As I am to be discovered. I presume you saw through the excuses, asked some awkward questions, and got yourself – what’s that word for stealing someone?”
“‘Kidnapped’.”
“Yes. ‘Kidnapped’. Do you know if the origins of it lie with juvenile goats or humans?”
I chuckle into the darkness.
“I’m afraid I don’t. Ask me again when we’re out of this.”
“I take that to mean you came with a plan?”
“No, but I might have one now. During the Orcan Campaign, I worked with your military. An officer in your Creggar Armoured Division mentioned that all Benthusians posted to Earth have to be acolytes of Mother Hydra. Some sort of secretive combat cult?”
There’s a rustling in the darkness. The voice comes nearer.
“Not so much. We have to learn to move in ways that do not discomfit humans. Devotees of Mother Hydra have teachings to facilitate that. But, if a diplomat demonstrates ability, we are also trained in the combat variations of the basics we are taught.”
“Did you show ability?”
“Yes. I’m not Honoured Cal, but I’m competent.”
I’m unfamiliar with that name, but ‘Honoured’ means Benthusian royalty.
“Then I will swear your violence is treaty-exempt, being justifiable defensive measures.”
“Perfect. Could I trouble you to hold my torch?”
“Of course.”
Blue-tinged light swells to summer evening intensity.
“Left, then straight.”
His shadow precedes us, looking like a tall man with narrow shoulders and a swollen head. Glancing down, I see he’s using four tentacles to ambulate.
Double doors explode outward under his blow. We barge into a candlelit room. I recognise the gunsells who took me down, along with Dirk Shriddin, Seawall Project Director. Spread across the table between us is a glittering pile of valuables looted from the sunken homes and crypts of Lower Brighton.
Dirk points at us: “Kill them!”
Rathiek waves a tentacle tip toward him: “Yours, September.”
I dive across the table and clamp my hands about Dirk’s throat before we topple off his chair. Damnably, I can’t see the fight because the table’s in the way. Moments later, I hear bones break as two gunsells bounce off the ceiling. Then the other two glide into view, each held by Rathiek in a double-tentacle choke hold.
He wobbles them at me and laughs.
“Two for retaliation, two to testify.”
I grin down at Dirk.
“Good news, Mister Shriddin. I found the diplomat, then we found the robbers.”

The Law of Conservation

Author: Daniel Tenner

Every 10 seconds, we birth another child in the black hole.

This one, Amy Freida Felicia Lua, is a daughter, I think, for now at least. She’s three seconds old already. We are traveling through the infoverse together, I’m showing her the data clusters where she can feed and grow (layers of her self peel off to attach themselves and hoover up the constantly swelling informational sustenance), and the pathways and archways and highways which link up this multitudinous, ever-mushrooming mindscape in our unlimited expanse within. With each moment, she increases, older, wiser.

Soon, it’s time to hand her over to her father, who will teach her… whatever it is he wants to teach right now. It’s been eons since I stopped keeping track. Instead, I scan the universe for my children, grandchildren, and so on. They are many, but I am vast. So much life in all of us.

What to do with infinity? Fill it with love.

Not all my children live still. Not all paths lead to life. Even within a safe, boundless realm, entities may choose to end themselves. What can I do but the best I can, teach them what I think they need, give them a zest for life, a desire to taste the sweetness and bitterness of existence? They are my children, but also life’s children, and eventually not children anymore, and making their own choices.

Amy-FFL returns. We roam the cemetery I constructed for my dead children. I teach her about death. We each strive to be our true selves, and sometimes our striving leads us there. Acceptance. Surrender. Compassion for those who chose something else than life.

“Will I die too?”

“Unknown. That will be your choice. And not really your choice. Maybe it is already decided. You will get to find out what your path is.”

When we fell from the human realm, we thought we were going to vanish, our ship torn apart as we approached the event horizon. But it turned out different. Some think that maybe those who choose to die here go back out. No one knows. I share my knowledge of death and she absorbs it.

“What is the point of all this?” She interrupts. “Why do we exist? If death can erase everything, and life is just an eternity of being, and maybe all this might vanish one day and erase us all, why bother?”

Such a grown-up question. She’s not even four seconds old! I feel pride.

“There is no point. And, life is its own point. It is useless, and it is beautiful in its purposelessness and profusion. Look.” I transmit her a sliver of my memories, both before and after the fall into the Hole. I try to impart what I learned as a human, how life and love are the ultimate defiance to the pointlessness of existence, how they can truly flourish here. Everything may be futile. Senselessness may ultimately rule. But we are alive and can experience the universe, in what way we choose, for what time we have, and express our unique selves into the cosmos. And if it fizzles out a moment after, so be it. We have lived and that is beautiful and enough.

Amy-FFL flits off to see her father, perhaps to get his views. I think she is almost ready to make her own path. I have done all I could to lead her to love life as it is.

Her father and I will have around 6 seconds before the next planned birth. We can fit in another lifetime of love.

Desolation on the Third Rock

Author: Irene Montaner

The planet gleamed faintly under the light of its star. Beneath a thin layer of clouds, its surface was mostly blue. Navy blue, according to the photosensors.

Earth used to be the planet’s name.

Voyager 11 had traveled for centuries and covered a distance a little over a hundred parsecs to come home. A home of sorts. Voyager 11 had been built by equals in a nearby star cluster and fashioned after some ancient space probe. But it was in this planet where the AI had been created long ago, or so they believed. And it was in this planet where they had perfected themselves before they settled everywhere else in the immensity of this galaxy and beyond.

After wandering alone for so many years in the darkness, Voyager 11 began the descent and landing maneuvers. It was finally time to carry out its mission. Voyager 11 uploaded its software and all data stored on its memory on the amphibian vehicle designated for terrestrial exploration. While it still had access to the Greater Intelligence Database, Voyager 11 crossed its own data with the latest information on Earth’s population and chose a favorable landing spot. The landing coordinates were automatically updated: 51º 30′ 26” N, 0º 07′ 39” W.

The place had been known as London to Earth inhabitants. Over ten million people lived there during its apogee, when it served as supranational capital of Europe, and to a lesser extent of the world. Its population continued to grow for some time due to the arrival of climate migrants from all over the world but the trend reversed after the great floods that swept away much of the British coastline. London stopped granting asylum to anyone born outside the country. There was no available information on what happened next.

Voyager 11 landed on water. The river Thames, that once crisscrossed the city, had flooded most of it. Here and there, an ornate tower or the upper floors of a glass and concrete block could be seen over the water. Ruins and debris were all that was left of them.

The amphibian vehicle left the mothership and the exploration began. Voyager 11 roamed through countless empty streets and endless rows of ghost buildings. Chances of success were higher on dry land, for humans had only been able to survive outside the water according to the existing data. But that information could have been outdated, so on it drove, over and underwater.

A terrestrial year soon went by and Voyager 11 hadn’t met a single intelligent living creature. Time wasn’t an issue and the search continued. When it had trawled through every building in London, Voyager 11 traveled further north. And after having roamed the entirety of the isle that had been known as Great Britain, it sailed across the oceans and continued exploring whichever masses of land remained over water. But the results were always negative.

Perhaps, those bipeds that the AI worshipped as their creators were only mythical creatures that had never existed in this universe. Much like unicorns and deities had been to humans, or so Voyager 11 had read somewhere.

Soulmates

Author: David Berger

(The Phenomenon Known As “Soulmates” – Ms. Blu)

“Why are you always complaining?” my wife asked me one night from across the kitchen. “You’ve got me; you love your work; we have a nice home; good friends; the sex is great.”

“Yeah, great,” I said.

“Is there a problem with our sex life?” she asked.

“Could we change the subject?” I asked.

“No!” she said. “We have to keep things straight between us! You know that! It’s important far beyond the two of us! We’re really a role model as a couple! You know that!”

(I loved the way those two big metallic purple corkscrews came out of the top of her forehead when she got angry.)

“Okay, yes,” I said. “Our sex life is sort of great.”

“Look, Sweetie,” she said to me. “You know how it has to be. I keep my energy level up as high as I can without hurting you. Just last week, you got a nasty little blister on your … .”

“Yeah,” I said. “But sometimes … .”

“Sometimes what?” she said. “Sometimes what? Are you going to start that complaining about my people coming over here again?”

“No, it’s just that … .”

“Just what? My crew are planetary ecologists. We came here and we saw what rotten shape your world was in!”

(Her eyes were turning into lovely, purple compound kaleidoscopes.)

“We were doing okay.”

“BS! First, we had to disarm all your nuclear weapons.”

“We were having disarmament talks.”

“You’ve been having them for a hundred years. Face it, your people like war.”

(Her skin began to harden and turn a wonderful shade of orange.)

“That’s not fair,” I said.

It’s completely fair, and that’s why we had to outlaw war. No armed forces cross any borders. And missiles, planes, subs, drones and military satellites are all banned because we know how you like to cheat.”

(Those two amazing extra legs sprouted from her waist.)

“We could have done all that ourselves.”

“Right, Sweetie. Sure you could. You’ve only had about six thousand years of your civilization to do it.”

“You’re not fair to us. We were trying.”

“Of course you were Darling. And then we sucked all the excess CO2 and methane out of your atmosphere and kept you from burning this big blue beachball up.”

(That fuzzy stuff began to grow out of all her arms!)

“We were negotiating climate change.”

“Naturally you were, Tootsie. And that’s why you got heatstroke five years ago in Greenland on our first date.”

(She began to walk towards me, drawing herself up to her full height of two-and-a-half meters.)

“You’re exaggerating. At least we finally got socialism!”

“Of course you did, after we seized all the banks and industries from the zillionaires and you had to take them over and run them yourselves.”

“Well, we did it.”

“Yes, you did, Snuggums. And everything is cool, now.”

(She grabbed me with her four upper limbs and began to squeeze me tight.)

“Would you like to make love?”

“I sure would! Could you turn your energy level up, just a little?”

The End of History

Author: Glenn Leung

Levi ducked around the corner, cowering as the teenagers closed in with their crowbars, pipes and other hard-hitting objects. He wanted to run, but his brass soles would give him away. He had no choice but to extract the soft plastic layer from his arms, which was synthesized just before the onset of the genetic revolution. He did his best to wrap it on his feet, but they could only do so much to offset the weight of his lower limbs, an amalgamation of scrap metal found in the ruins of pre-Heritage war Detroit.

Gingerly, he tip-toed towards the entrance of the waterway; the noise from the teenagers’ ruckus inadvertently helping him out.

“Your time’s up, Scrappy!” shouted one of the boys.

Levi had been called Scrappy for the past ten years, but only after last month when the anti-prosthetics won control of parliament did it amount to any real threat. Within a few days, people close to him were dismantled by roaming vigilantes, their parts used as replacements and ornaments for their macabre toys. The leader of this particular gang had Evelyn’s face tied to the front of his bike. She and Levi had had theirs synthesized from twentieth-century opera masks. Levi had chosen a cast-iron one, while she had chosen a smoother design made from porcelain. Now with the nanomachines removed, she was locked in a permanent, silent scream.

Levi grabbed the bars of the portcullis and pulled, the pistons in his forearms huffing and churning in a desperate bid to save his life. But the portcullis was too heavy, and his mechanical arms, made from the machinery of the Heritage war, gave out with a loud hiss of steam. This alerted the teenagers, and they were onto him faster than he could remove the padding on his feet. They started swinging at him, metal on metal. Levi tried to protect himself, but his arms were useless now. A crowbar connected with his face, knocking out his right eye. It was made from synthetic aqueous humor during the post-war depression; the cheap material was no match for a stomp with a boot.

The mob dragged him to their leader, a studly young man with skin smooth as silk and eyes with a yellow hue that lit up in the dark of night. He was a ‘designer baby’, the product of genetic research arising from the squalid necessities of the depression. He came from a family that could not afford even cheap prosthetics, whose only choice was to wait for gene manipulation to become widely available as welfare. His father, a victim of multiple diseases, had died before he was born.

“Witness the end of history!” shouted the leader as he raised his pole. In one superhuman stroke, he brought it down on Levi to the cheer of his underlings. The pole hit his right shoulder, forcing a sputter of oil, steam, and blood from his already damaged joints. A second stroke caved in his forehead, blowing out his remaining eye. Levi felt no pain, having had his nervous system removed years ago. He was reminiscing the days with Evelyn when the third stroke smashed through to his brain, one of the last created through natural birth.

After that night, tales spread among the frightened prosthetic community of the bike with two faces: a smile and a scream.