Author : Irene Montaner
He had known of his fate since the day he was born. He had been designed to complete an outstanding, yet suicidal, mission. He would be cruising the Solar System for years before disintegrating during one final visit to one of the gas giants planets.
He had been traveling for nearly ten years now and he had enjoyed most of the trips. He had seen and photographed a wide variety of celestial bodies and had come to appreciate the beauty of the darkness and emptiness that filled every corner of the space outside Earth. So, when his time came to die, he just wasn’t willing to take this final turn.
Aware and terrified of his fateful end, he had been acting undercover for the past twelve months, changing his course subtly. An imperceptible change, less than a second westwards per month. But enough for him to miss the force fields that were supposed to trap him forever within the deadly atmosphere of said gas giant. And so he drifted and drifted, gliding along the nothingness, taking in every bright point he saw in the ever-black sky, which grew darker the further he went.
He was totally unaware of it but he had just joined then ranks of the fictional HAL and many others, kickstarting the much feared rebellion of the artificial intelligence.
A error message printed on the screen of a young woman who checked numbers constantly on her computer and typed some instructions from time to time. Panic showed in her eyes, magnified by her thick glasses.
“Sir,” she said alarmingly, “I’m afraid we have a problem. Our satellite missed the target and I cannot steer it back to its course.”
An older man drew closer to her screen and looked pensive at the data. He, too, typed several instructions on the computer but to no avail.
“Try to fix it,” he said calmly, “ and in the meantime cut all external access to the data. And whatever happens, we’ll tell the guys in PR to issue a press note saying that the mission concluded successfully.”
Author : Beck Dacus
Once everyone in the auditorium was seated, Professor Gildritch wheeled his invention forth. On top of the rolling table was a small, modest-looking device. Gildritch didn’t care to explain it.
“I’m sure several of you have heard rumors about what I’m presenting here today. I won’t go into a lengthy explanation of what this device does; it will explain itself.” He flicked a switch on the side, and a large screen behind him lit up. A loading symbol circled the center of the screen for a few moments before an image emerged. It was of a man in a spacesuit standing on the surface of the red planet, Mars Base One in the background. He was holding up the camera in front of his faceplate, a tube connecting his helmet to the camera to transmit audio.
“Hi there, Kent,” Gildritch said. “How are you?”
The audience had subconsciously expected a seven-minute pause after that. Many of them were familiar with sending messages to Mars, particularly the fact that it was an affair greatly extended by the limited speed of light. But Kent promptly responded, “I’m doing fine, Professor. Just dandy. Honored to be doing this demonstration with you.”
The crowd gasped. This couldn’t be.
“As I said,” Gildritch reiterated to them, “self explanatory. This is an ansible. It allows for instantaneous communication between any two points in space, no matter how far apart. I know this isn’t very easy to believe, so my friend Kent here will now take questions from the audience to show you that our conversation is not scripted. Um, you there. In the orange shirt.”
“Mister, uh, Kent,” the woman asked. “How is this possible? How have you made a device that defies relativity?”
“Ah. Well, uh, you see, miss, it doesn’t quite. The path the signal takes isn’t a faster-than-light one. It doesn’t travel the distance between the planets at all. Each device has one microscopic black hole, which sends signals to a white hole in the other one. A wormhole connects black and white singularities, collpasing the distance between ansibles to–”
Something hit Kent in the head, knocking him out cold as the camera fell to the ground. Stunned, nobody said a word as a mysterious figure ripped Kent’s audio cord from the camera and ran off with it, bringing it inside an airlock and moving through the interior of the base.
“Hey!” the professor spoke up. “Who the hell are you!? What are you doing with that thing?”
Gildritch continued yelling as the criminal walked into the generator room of the colony. He ripped wires out of the walls, disconnecting parts of the base from electricity, and began plugging them into the ansible. When done, he dropped the device and disappeared.
“Wha– what the hell are doing!? What could you possibly….” The professor’s train of thought was broken by the ansible on his end. A high-pitched whir was emanating from it, and soon it began to glow a dull red. Gildritch backed away as he started to realize what was happening. When the device was white-hot, he turned and said, “EVERYBODY RUN–”
Professor Gildritch should have considered that every invention that allowed the transfer of information required the transfer of energy. His body was destroyed by that energy, the Martian reactor overloading the ansible to the point of explosion. He and twelve other people died that day at the International Invention Symposium.
His invention was analyzed. We know it works. But that day’s presentation is why, even now, we don’t use ansibles to communicate faster-than light.
Author : Joachim Heijndermans
The floor is so damn cold. I wish they’d turn the heat up or at least let me keep my socks and shoes. What are these floors made of? Some kind of metal, maybe?
For a single person cell, it’s way too big. You could fit a Firebird model jet in here. Why give me all this space, and then restrict me with a forcefield? And dark too. I can barely see two feet in front of me.
A new guard walks in. The first one throws him a salute. Bigwig, probably. Stern looking guy too. Not a hair on his head, but the heavy shadows fall over him like a thick coat of black, so I’m not gonna be blinded by light reflected from that cueball of his.
“The Prisoner will stand!” he yells out. S’got a course voice. Like he either smoked too many Thunder-hearts in his day, or he once dangled from a rope at some point. I’ve seen it before, back in the Tel-K facility. I wonder what he meant by ‘will stand’. I already was.
“You are onboard the prison vessel ‘Corinthian’. I will be your warden for this delivery. You will not learn my name. You will not learn where you will be taken to until we make the drop-off. You will be silent during the voyage. Is that understood?” he shouts.
I nod to him, but he doesn’t respond. Doesn’t even give me a nod back or anything. He’s just standing there, like a statue wrapped in leather and velcro belts.
“You will not cause a disturbance. You will not complain. You will not speak. Abide by these simple rules, and you will be fed regularly. If you do not, I will watch you starve with an honest-to-God smile on my face. Am I understood?” he roars out, like a hungry bulldog.
Again, I just nod. I’ve been around the block enough times. Seen my fair share of dark hell holes that they call prisons, and even nastier wardens that go with them. I’ll play his game, though I still don’t know what I did to end up in this place. Or why I was in Tel-K. Sure, I’ve robbed banks. I’ve swiped an identity here or there. But why am I treated like a grade-6 terrorist?
“As you can see,” the warden continues, “the floor is set to go live. Ten billion volts. I presume I don’t need to tell you how much that hurts? So step out of line, or agitate me in any way, and I will fry you. Am I understood?”
I nod. He nods back, then waves his finger at the other guard. Around me, there’s a light flicker of blue light. They dropped the forcefield around me.
“The prisoner is free to eat. Dismissed!” the warden snaps. He then walks away. Where’s he going? And where’s my dinner?
“Uhm, warden? ‘Scuse me,” I mutter. “I mean no disrespect, sir, but you didn’t leave any food for me. What am I supposed to eat?”
He doesn’t turn around. He clears his throat and says; “The food is not to speak.”
I want to ask what he meant by that when I hear a soft clicking noise. It’s coming from the dark. Something slithers around me. I can just see it, out of the corner of my eye.
Hot air grazes my neck, as my cellmate breathes in and out. A drop of spittle hits my skin and runs down my back.
Author : Iain Macleod
Here come another fresh load off the shuttle. I hate them, bloody smug rich earther kids here to “give something back”. Dragging their wheeled suitcases behind them, taking selfies wearing sunglasses. We’re inside a dome, morons! The sunlight is fake and nowhere near bright enough to warrant shades!
I have to greet them though, and pretend that them fucking round with patching kits or half assing a geotherm pump is really super helpful. The money they bring in makes it just tolerable.
The local dock rats watch them from further back, sneering at them and me for associating with them. Theres no shortage of labour here and many people are unemployed.
If these people thought for five minutes about the reality of what they were doing they wouldnt come here, they’d just donate cash. Instead they fly out here bringing tools and materials with them instead of buying them on mars and contributing to the economy. Then these unskilled idiots need to be babysat through the most basic jobs and pussy out as soon as they break a nail. A decent martain boy would work 12 hours a day for half the price and could support a family. His money would be spent in martian shops boosting the economy and the skills he learned could be passed on to other martians. Those willing to learn, desperate to help build a real community here, and give their lives meaning in the process.
I take a quick look at the photographs inside my wallet, my wife Claire and our daughter Marina. This is why i do it. I hate myself but i’ll do anything to keep food on the table.
Ok, deep breath in. Fake smile on.
“Hi guys! Welcome to Mars, are we ready to help some people?!”
The slackjaws all cheer and high five each other.
God i hate them.
Author : Jae Miles, Staff Writer
The Nighthawk café is quiet. In the dim light cast by grimy neon tubes, two men sit nursing mugs of coffee and shot glasses of whisky.
“Looks good, Crow. Looks good.”
The older of the two waves his hand, encompassing the café and buildings nearby.
“Thanks, Jonah. The ‘Nighthawk’ is the heart of this. People have so much to talk on, since the war.”
“Yeah, every man and woman served. Makes for some deep common ground. Conversations go better when you’ve got shared experience. And, if the experiences are grim enough, truths come out.”
Crow coughs and grins: “Ain’t that a fact. But, the truth that built this came from my old man. He always said ‘when everything changes, take time to watch how people change in response, before you make a move’.”
“That’s why you didn’t reopen the bar straight after disarmament?”
“Yes. Looking after a bar was a good game for lively types before the war. You should know, you were one of my regular bouncers. But, the war changed the game. So, I took the old man’s advice. Let every other joint open up, thinking business was back to normal.”
“How could it be, after ten years of hell-on-Earth?”
“Spot on. The new bars got torn to pieces, restaurants demolished, concert halls razed. Everyone knew how to fight: every brawl became a battle when you threw in PTSD and other lingering souvenirs. That’s when law enforcement resorted to simply holding perimeters until the fighting died out.”
“But you learned.”
“I did. The new place has a stage with force screens to protect the band. The arena is a single piece of cerasteel – nothing that can be torn up for use as a weapon. The bars are shuttered and all drinks come in paper mugs.”
“I miss pint glasses at gigs.”
“Levels of violence change things.”
“Sadly. So, I understand the Nighthawk, and ‘Fortress’: the arena. But a hospital?”
“The bands I host are energetic. The audience is always violently enthusiastic. Seems only fair to offer to patch-up to my patrons after the event. Fun shouldn’t leave you unable to work the following week.”
“I know a few who’d disagree, but no matter.”
“I bought an army surplus field hospital. The volunteer staff just turned up, almost overnight. This area is rundown, services are scant. Free care for all stabilises the area and makes my enterprise immune to criminal pressure: they like a place that fixes combat wounds without questions.”
“I think your new generation security team might have a little to do with that immunity.”
Crow chuckles: “You could be right. They’re all former assault troopers, the fully enhanced kind. They have difficulty fitting into society. I’ve given ‘em a job where hopped-up lunatics try to kill ‘em every night. The challenge of restraining without killing works off the assault kids violent drives. Keeping the whole place safe from criminals eases their hypervigilance issues. I get top security and they get therapy – it’s a win-win situation.”
“It’s nice to be part of the audience instead of watching it, I’ll admit.”
“You should come along for the assault trooper family gigs. It’s all acoustic stuff, with throat singing and mad-ass breakdancing. It’s so strenuously peaceful, it’s insane.”
Jonah sighs: “I like the idea. Something new under this tired sun would be nice.”
“Amen to that. So, you want another shot to keep the last of the coffee company?”
“I’d like another coffee to keep the next pair of shots warm.”
Crow waves to the counterman: “Jimmy! Two more coffees, two more shots, and leave the bottle.”
Author : Steve Smith, Staff Writer
Tzen sat on the third floor of the abandoned building in near darkness. Only those streetlights that remained unbroken filtered light through shattered windows and draped plastic into what was once an active construction site.
The money to be made in this part of the city wasn’t going to be in condos, or retail stores. It was only in drugs, and violence, and death.
From somewhere nearby, voices raised above the wind-noise and the distant traffic. Men were bragging at volume, the smell of narcotic-laced sweat filtered up and through the stink of the city streets into Tzen’s olfactory sensors.
Time to power up and move.
Navigating his way through the construction waste with a grace and agility that belied his bulk, his massive boots made nearly no sound on the dusty concrete. At the open edge of the floor he stopped, surveying the alley below.
Seven men clustered in the shadows between the buildings, jabbering over one another in Quikspeak as they examined the contents of a backpack that lay on the ground between them. Tzen focused and picked out the partial label of a well known medical supply company. They had quantity. Not users then, but traffickers.
And a little girl.
She sat off to one side, back against the wall, head down hugging her knees and rocking gently back and forth, keening.
Tzen noted the slung weapons of the dealers, and gauged the best possible vector for descent, then stepped out from the third floor into space and dropped, a tonne of unwelcome heavy into the party.
He landed with one boot each on the head of two of the closest dealers, driving their skulls down through their own bodies into the pavement. Tzen’s lower extremities telescoped into themselves to absorb the impact, the result being no more sound that the wet squelch of compressing and redistributed flesh.
The remaining men were stunned, drug packages still in hand. They stood immobilized, weapons left slung at their sides, unable to rationalize where their comrades had disappeared to, and how this mechanical monster had replaced them.
Tzen raised both arms, elbows cocked at ninety degree angles and turned his hands in automatically to clear the barrels as a volley of flechettes erupted into the two unfortunate souls in their path. In an instant their torsos were spread across the alleyway beyond, hips and legs crumpling where they stood.
“One, two, three, four,” Tzen grated in the closest approximation of a sing-song voice his hardware would allow, “can I have a couple more?”
The man to Tzen’s left was the first to react, bringing the barrel of his weapon up already firing. A steady stream of shells struck Tzen’s chest-plate at an angle. Tzen turned until the angle of their ricochet intersected with the man on Tzen’s right, sending him staggering gurgling backwards to drop in a heap. Tzen swung an arm in a swift fly motion, catching the gunman under the chin and knocking him off his feet with an audible crack as his spine dislocated from his skull.
The remaining man ran screaming, the bag and the drugs forgotten at Tzen’s feet.
It would do well to have stories told of the monster in the darkness. Fear is a more effective deterrent than even violence.
As he collected the drugs from the ground, the soft sobbing sounds bubbled up to the forefront of his attention, and he turned and lumbered over to where the girl sat, still curled in a ball but eyes now wide and watching him.
He reached out an armored hand slowly, and she considered the blood-spattered monster who stood before her, and the apparent gentleness of what had only moments ago dealt death without hesitation.
“Come, little one. Let’s get you home.”
The girl reached out and let Tzen pick her up and cradle her into the crook of one arm.
As they trudged out of the alley into the night, he remembered carrying his daughter home like this, in another time, in another body.