Depths

Author: Jae Miles, Staff Writer

I’ve travelled distances that make oceans seem like ponds. I’ve dealt with solar flares and meteor storms, flown half-blind and bleeding from situations that would make a sane man scream for his mother.
As I look up at the snow-white spume that tops this towering wall of grey water, I realise I am a tiny being and for all that I’ve endured, the depths of my terror had not been plumbed until this moment.
“Ketse! Stop staring! Get your sodden butt in here so we can close up!”
Christa, captain of this tub, grabs my belt and hauls hard. Once she gets me moving, the spell is broken. I don’t want to stare into the abyss anymore. I nearly knock her down as I scramble inside and throw myself into my couch. With a rapid series of hisses and clicks, the harness engages.
She slams the hatch and slaps the locking lever down under its restraint. Throwing herself into her own couch, she shouts over the mounting noise.
“This one’s going to be bad. Brace up, there’ll be good finds after this tide!”
“Bigger the wave, bigger the fortune!” Gerder’s cry is greeted with cheers.
The treasures to be found in its wake are small consolation as a wall of water nine hundred metres high descends upon the rain-scoured piece of misery we’re tethered to with the sound that white noise wants to be when it grows up.
I’m spun, shaken, hurled, and dropped. Strapped down inside a thousand tonnes of salvager, being thrown about like this makes the forces at play outside terrifying.
There’s an impact that rattles my teeth and I see Christa go pale as the damage data reaches her via neural link.
I shout across: “One more like that?”
She grins: “Two! What do you think this is, some orbital utility scow?”
There’s a period of freefall, then a second impact that’s harder than the first. There are screams and curses from the crew. I catch Christa’s eye. She mouths: “No more.”
We’re dragged a fair way across something bumpy, then the nauseous, sweeping rush-and-lurch of surfacing behind the wave lets us know we’re going to see another day.
“Time to earn your keep!” She’s not giving us time to celebrate because she knows it’ll turn maudlin. Only failed waveriders live to see old age.
A salvager is a submersible ship designed to resurface even with a few holes in it. In this case, we find our redoubtable vessel – The Kelpa – is about a metre shorter, with the bow having been crushed into an even denser mass of ceremetal laminate.
In the afternoon light, the sea about us moves languidly, whilst the pitiful excuse for an island is festooned with drift caught in the gigantic nets and steel grapples we set up for just that purpose. A gigawave is birthed from the influence of four moons on the benthic deeps. It brings with it the remains of the civilisation that ruled this world before the seas claimed them.
“Treasure ho! Christa, we’ve netted a vessel!”
Emelda’s right. Lying athwart the promontory to our right is something not made by human hands, the nacreous curves of its piscine form catching the light as water continues to trickle from it.
Christa turns to me: “Looks like you’ll be back in space soon. This’ll make us all rich.”
I look about, then nod toward the alien vessel.
“I’d rather spend it on finding a way to get down where that came from.”
She grins: “I knew this place would catch you too.”

Echoes Through the Cavern of the Iris Black

Author: Hari Navarro

I found a way into tomorrow but when I got there it didn’t care. Though I burrowed deep through caverns cold and waited patiently for the drugs to take hold this newest of days it took no heed, no, for me this day it could care not one bit. For days they shun all those who fail to wake, those who slight the augmented rays of a sun dying but not yet dead and they who fall deaf to the piped chatter of sill birds now long since burnt and gone.

I am the traveler that never moves, laying here beneath pristine sheets so taut and so true, so swaddling tight that I could not stir even if I wanted to. Even if my cleavered spine spontaneously fused, its fleshy gape becoming closed and neat, even if my toes suddenly took it upon themselves to bash out a bed-end rendition of Liszt’s 12 Transcendental Etudes, I could still not shake this the grip of my night nurses most hermetic of wraps.

My eyes are taped shut but look, see the numerals that magically project onto those surfaces that may just require us to remember our place and our time. The shaft of the pen in your hand, the spine of the notebook, the paperwork that stacks; how ingenious and helpful. A calendar, a watch, an inescapable reminder that seconds they snap off and float in the light. Everything shearing away.

I feel the cold but I am not cold. I shiver but know that my skin does not bristle, nor does it quake. Powder it falls as I walk. Perfect red snow beneath a dome so high, securely screwed on and protecting us so. I taste the cola as flakes settle sticking to my lacquered lips, how did they make Christmas this perfect? I hear me behind me and I become a dog. One that walks upright with cane and with hat, one that nods respectfully unless it’s a rat. My fingers retreat and become padded and pawed and I frown and I wonder just how it was this morning that I managed to button this most splendid of vests.

I can hear your voice but I cannot feel your touch, are you touching me? Is my hand cupped into yours? I feel the man’s touch, as he scrubs and he cleans, as he sandpapers at my body with such detached and workmanlike vigor. I ask him to stop, its private you know, I scream but the words they do stick. They haunt as they tingle and dance in my mouth, please wrench open my jaw, break it if you have to and see for yourself.

I wish I could eat. I wish I could slide a pill-feast beneath my tongue and suckle its luscious gravy between teeth clenched just so. Wondrous hints of chicken or is that pork that I try to pick from the gaps, though I know it is true not a scrap can be wedged. The flavors so perfect, so divine as I chew only on air and feel the hit of the carcasses tender juices and crunch. A feast for the mind where not a single calorie need be counted, so slim and so perfect are we.

I found a way into the overmorrow, but yet again it does not care. So, I sit here and wait, and I wait and I wait. And I wait and I hope for my health to become as important perhaps, as the sugar-free flavoring that infuses the falling snow.

Man Without a Trace

Author: John McLaughlin

“Will it hurt?”

“No, just feels a bit weird. Like your veins have turned to ice.”

The tech switches on the IV and they hear the gentle hum of the pump kick in. She’s correct; a deathly cold is already gripping his extremities. Hayden lays back in the foam recliner and shuts his eyes.

“I’ve heard the treatment is quick.”

The woman smiles as she tidies up the medical waste. “Yes, our new CRISPR process is fast-acting. Your DNA should be completely scrubbed by the end of today’s session.”

That was good.

Hayden knew he had made mistakes in his career. Thankfully he was a careful man, so those errors could be counted on one hand. For instance, there was the guy in Vienna–a rush job, to be sure; too many bone fragments. And another in Caracas. All told, only a few, but still–one misstep could be one too many in his line of work.

The woman pulls a clipboard from inside her coat. “Standard consent form,” his one open eye follows her finger to the bottom of the page, “please sign here.”

Hayden scans the summary section. “Somatic DNA Spoofing: Hypervariable regions are randomized in every cell of the body; prevents the possibility of forensic DNA tracing.” He dashes off his signature and the woman tucks away the form.

She gives a warm smile. “How do you feel, Mr. Bunting?”

The Bunting identity had been quite expensive, but he had been more than willing to pay. Oscar Hayden would die for good, today in this room–thanks to the treatment.

He gave a weak grin. “Fine, I guess.” He imagined the tiny synthetic droplets being buoyed along by his bloodstream, their cargo of modified RNA now latching onto his cells and deleting his trace.

“Please do let me know if you need anything. At Anonymous, Inc., client comfort is our top priority.” Yes, yes, that’s fine; he shoos her away and she takes a corner seat from which to observe his vitals. Though she does have a lovely body, yes indeed. If only I were 20 years younger, I’d…

***

“Mr. Bunting.”

A hand on his shoulder. “Mr. Bunting, wake up.”

His eyes creak open. “Oh…how long’s it been?” He pulls himself upright.

“About five hours. The treatment is complete.” And before he can react, she’s swooped down with an injection into his right shoulder.

“Oof! What was that?” he asks, rubbing the site.

“Immune booster: vitamins and interferon. To speed the recovery,” she taps into her palm display, “Excellent news, Mr. Bunting. 99.98% penetration! You are officially a ghost.”

“Glad to hear it.” He smacks his lips, his mouth tastes like rubber. “So I’m ready to go?”

Her back is turned while she fidgets with a set of gloves at the countertop. “Take a few minutes, Hayden. The procedure can be rough on a man your age.”

“Excuse me?” Yes, his limbs do feel like concrete at the moment. Perhaps a rest would do.

“As usual, your instincts are spot on. Spoofing was the correct play; you were just a bit too slow this time.” She packs away the last of the equipment. “So now I’m cleaning up after you, instead of the other way around.” A crooked grin: “Boethius sends his regards.”

She hoists him over her shoulder like a limp sack of laundry. Damn, she’s strong.

“Ya know, if I was 20 years younger…”

“Shh, Hayden. Don’t wear yourself out. We’ve picked a nice spot for you: a meadow, with patches of flowers all around.”

She exits the clinic, carrying a man without a trace.

Greystorm

Author: John Xero

“The storm is upon us,” Barrett states grimly, finally looking away from his monitor, finally acknowledging the absence of hope.

“How bad?” As if I need to ask.

“Bad enough.” He shakes his head. “If we’d just caught the edge of it… If we could still access the lower levels…”

“If neither of us had volunteered…” I add. “But we knew what we were getting into.”

He nods.

“Have you transmitted the data?” I ask. Duty first.

“It’s gone, my interpretations attached. For all the good it will do them. These things are too damn unpredictable. I’m live transmitting anything we get until we lose the equipment or the dish, hardly think power drain’s a big concern now.”

I stand and walk the few steps to the back of the small dome, thumbing my personal locker open. Tucked at the back is a slender bottle of golden brown liquid. I hold it up, show it to Barrett.

“I thought that was all gone to the nu-rats, spoils of their victory – the great annexation of bunker gamma two niner’s subsidiary levels.”

I feel the edge of a smile tugging at my lips, despite the situation. “Is that what you’ve been calling our infested wreck of a basement? Shame about the ice and glasses situation, but I guess that’s the least of our worries.”

“The lack of ice and glasses situation?”

“Exactly.”

I take a disrespectful swig from the bottle, an injustice to the vintage and craftsmanship within, closing my eyes as it scorches my throat and drips fire into my gullet. I hand it over with a bittersweet sigh.

Barrett regards the bottle. “Are you religious? I always thought the truth of the old world, the above world, the work we do, would make me stop believing. How could He let this happen?” He takes a swig, grimaces, and passes it back. “I think I wanted to stop believing, you know, but it’s too ingrained.”

“No, I don’t believe in a higher being, or beings. But I did come here to escape.” We’ve never talked like this, all the time we’ve been stuck here together. “There was a guy, back home. I couldn’t…” My turn for a slug, and I need this one. “I couldn’t stop going back to him. I was trying to save myself, requesting this posting. Looking for a way to stop thinking about him.”

“Did it work?”

“As well as you forgetting your god.”

He takes another gulp, growling as he swallows. He coughs. I don’t think he can ever have been a drinker. Another thing I never knew about him.

I hear it now, worrying its way in at the edge of my consciousness. At first, I think it’s the nu-rats again, misfortune and doom doubling down on us, catching us in a terrible vice. A scratching like inch-long claws on concrete, like cracked crystalline teeth in overgrown jaws gnawing at the walls. I remember their pearl white eyes, glimmering in our torch beams, blind from a life below ground.

It’s above us, this new scratching, and nothing lives above ground anymore.

Barrett looks up too.

This is the greystorm. Sand and steel, dust and concrete, cities whipped into particles that rage in never-ending hurricanes across the surface of the world. Our dome, our reinforced home is wearing away, eroding beneath a fury our ancestors wrought.

We say no more, listening to the steady increase in noise, the approaching end, passing the bottle back and forth, the two of us spending our last moments thinking about everything we came here to forget.

A Question Not About This

Author: Jason McGraw

Zach opens his AI tutor and selects “Asteroid Belt” from the index. In his learning visor, 3D images of spinning rocks reflect the sun.

A male voice narrates: “The Asteroid Belt is located between –” Zach fast forwards. “There are three major types of asteroids. Metallic –” Fast forward. “Common ores present in asteroids include –” Stop.

“Tutor, I have a question about asteroids,” Zach instructs.

“Go ahead, Zach,” answers the tutor

“Can people live on asteroids?” Zach asks.

The Narrator begins. “Astronauts have visited, captured, and successfully mined asteroids in the Asteroid Belt. The first such mission –”

“Do humans live on them?” Zach interrupts.

“No Asteroids are currently colonized.”

“Is it possible?” Zach asks, hopefully.

“I do not understand the question, Zach, can you rephrase your question?”

“What do people need to live in space?” Zach queries again.

The Narrator answers. “Space suits provide a human with air, warmth, cooling if needed, constant pressure, protection from radiation, and carabiners to which devices can attach. Examples of devices which attach to carabiners include –”

Zach interrupts, his voice louder this time. “Do space suits have food and water?”

Narrator: “For long spacewalks, astronauts will attach external tanks to their suits that provide calorie rich water from which the astronaut can drink. The most common size of tank is one gallon and provides 2,500 calories.”

“How many tanks can a person carry at once?”

“I do not understand your question, Zach.”

“How long can an astronaut live in a space suit?”

Narrator: “An astronaut in a typical spacesuit can be in space for up to six hours before the astronaut’s air supply must be changed or supplemented. For longer journeys in space, an astronaut will carry –”

“Do asteroids have air?” Zach is practically yelling.

“There are no known asteroids with an atmosphere.”

Zach takes off his tutoring visor and, without the noise and light canceling features of the visor, Zach is momentarily disoriented by alarms and flashing lights. Pushing off from his desk, he uses handholds to make his way in zero gravity. Zach feels clumsy in his bright green emergency space suit with the helmet dangling behind him on a tether.

He sees his classmates, helmets on, huddled at a bulkhead. On the other side of the bulkhead is the vacuum of space and in that space is the front half of their spaceship. Holding onto the wall, Zach can hear and feel vibrations as small rocks bounce off of the hull of their crippled ship.

“The tutor wasn’t any help,” Zach tells his classmates. “But we can’t live on an asteroid.”

Zach feels vibrations and hears twisting metal. He decides to clamp on his helmet. Soon a rock breaches the hull and the ship’s air escapes into space.

The broken spaceship is not going to protect us anymore. Zach makes his way, hand over hand, to an airlock. It opens easily since the pressure is the same inside and out. Pushing off from the hull with his legs, Zach soon sees the two pieces of the broken spaceship, thousands of pieces of flotsam, and hundreds of asteroids reflecting sunlight just like in the tutorial. In the debris are green objects — others in emergency space suits.

Zach traces the path of one such asteroid with his eyes as it silently collides with his former spaceship. Zach feels a sharp pain in his stomach. High-velocity debris has run through him and depressurized his spacesuit. Zach has joined the flotsam.

One Baby to Another

Author: Hari Navarro

My daughter is born into the whore spit snarl of a Cape Hatteras hurricane. Beautiful and waxy, her delicate scent distilling the shedded taint of my own sweat, piss, and blood. Blue nostrils flare as tiny lungs struggle to fill, but for this, I apportion her no blame. The fault is mine, though really it isn’t. This the twisting helix that drills ever back through me into her and back and then back; gestational diabetes my most unwanted of genetic gifts. Carry on baby unwrapping your toys, I’m so sure they’ll compensate – the elegant slice of my jaw, the flat of my belly and a dogged inability to produce stretch marks a perfection confection of body just for you.

Your arrival will see to it that, due to a hypertensive spike, we’ll stay in this ward and I’ll be kept from that my most coveted of days. Christmas, but again how are you to know how special it is to me? To be wrapped with your father before a flamed hearth that pops as we gleefully disrespect the nog, this the day that we met – it’s mine and not yours to take.

But alone in this room, you squirm in my arms as a bubble forms at your lip, my wants they shuffle and confuse as I inhale the wispy float of your hair.

What a beautiful and well-mannered little girl they’ll hiss between teeth struck closed by jealousy’s sticky tar; damn how I love when it sprouts. But one day you’ll creep into my study and hunt out the album, its cover patinaed with age. You’ll flick through the pages and find those that sparkle and snip them to pieces you will. Irreplaceable and dear, but then girls will be girls and how can I condemn you for youth?

At sixteen you’ll smoke and slice at your skin, you’ll curse at your father and let a girl touch your body, three of these things I can take…

“Scroll back, I’d like to see that self-harming thing again… maybe it’s something we could deal with?”, so says the man who cannot deal with toast that is not relieved of its crust.

I sigh, “Why bother, why settle for skirting the rim when we can roll out a slam-dunk?”.

“Frances…”

“Yes Mother”, her life-grab simulation flickering before me.

“… I was happy to have met you”, I say turning my daughter off.

The doctor’s hologram needlessly swivels as he speaks,

“Don’t worry the sample was good, actually very good… “, winking at my way too conceited husband.

“The initial deposit is still very much viable, seven milliliters… way, way above the average sample. As you know that’s some 700 million possible life-grabs. The overseer routine is working overtime to weed out the obvious rejections but your projected lifestyle parameters are so superbly detailed… I wish all of our prospective parents were so thorough. Be patient. Your perfect daughter, or son as may be, is in there. Trust me, seven milliliters, actually 7.3… “, he snorts, again nodding at my husband as if eggs are not as important as beans in the making of this artificial feast.

“… a Thor-sized spawn if ever I’ve seen one”, the self-evolved sexism exhibited by these sentient AI Med drones never ceases to amaze me.

My husband straightens in his chair as I think he remembers that I have a 3:30 appointment with Donald, my buttock augmenter.

“What do you say, honey, got time to review one more?”, he asks.

My son is born into the whore spit snarl of a Cape Hatteras hurricane.