Deserted Island

Author : Alex Meggitt

The sun forces itself past my eyelids and wakes me up every morning. I lean over and make another notch in the tree next to the bed I’ve created. There are four hundred eighty three of them. My tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth as I get up, and I wander halfway to the shore for my bucket of purified water. I drink it in one large gulp and place it back on the ground. From there I begin to circle the small island, picking up the fewest pieces of driftwood necessary to make a fire and prepare more seawater.

The gentle wind picks up a slight hum that grows louder as I walk. It’s when I bend down to pick up a few stray berries growing along the edge of the thin woods that the sound becomes loud enough to be identified. As I turn, I can perceive a large black shape through the ringing sun.

The helicopter comes closer and closer. It hovers a few meters off the shoreline, its side door opens and a man in a black army uniform leans out, yelling something through a megaphone. I stand with my hand cupped over my eyes, staring at him and letting the wind blow my ragged clothing. The vehicle descends a bit, and I can make out the pilot looking from side to side. There’s no room for him to land comfortably anywhere on the island. The man in the back leans out again and says something else, but I still can’t tell what it is. He recedes from view once more, and a bright orange raft appears in the doorway. The raft begins to lower from the helicopter, two uniformed men holding on inside it. The man with the megaphone appears again and waves. I stare.

A dozen turrets burst out from where the sand meets the water. They fire simultaneously, burst after burst, each directly on target. Everything in front of me turns to a gray blur. My face is still warm from the rush of projectiles as the ashes of the helicopter and its crew are scattered in the wind, no longer perceivable to the human eye.

Driftwood still clutched in one hand, I walk back to fire pit and carefully arrange them to make an easy flame. I fill the pot with seawater and place it properly before going through the motions of starting the fire. As the water boils, I lean back in the sand and let my thoughts drift into the clear blue sky. There’s only one pristine beach left in the world, and it belongs to me.

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Undoing Schrödinger

Author : Steve Smith, Staff Writer

The sign over the cathouse door reads simply “Preacher’s”. There will be liquor up front, and women for sale out back. Pulling a stool up to the empty bar, I know I’m here for neither.

“What’ll it be?” She studies the lines on my face, waiting for a reply.

“Whisky, rocks” I pull out a crumpled pack of Marlboro’s, shake two free and offer one. “Smoke?”

“No thanks”, she answers, placing my drink on the bar. “Five bucks, run a tab?”

“Sure.” I speak around the cigarette clenched between my teeth.

“You look familiar.” There’s a glimmer of recognition, and she reconsiders the cigarette, helping herself. “Do I know you?” Retreating to the back bar, she searches my face quizzically while lighting the cigarette.

“Not exactly, but there’s an interesting story there.”

“Shoot.” Her reply is indifferent as she hoists herself up on the back bar, boots beneath wide denim cuffs bracing her against the cooler between us.

“You ever hear of a guy named Schrödinger?” She raises an eyebrow and shakes her head. “No? Well – pretty famous physicist in his day, he took issue with some quantum mechanics theories.” I pause for a quick slug of whisky. “He came up with this experiment where he’d stick a cat in a box, with some random killing mechanism, one where he could be sure of the cat’s inevitable demise. At any given moment there’s an even chance that the cat’s either alive or dead, but he suggests, based on the theory of the day, that at any given moment the cat is simultaneously alive and dead.” I pause here for moment, to see if she’s still with me, and continue.

“So, having had way too much time to think about this, I start to wonder, not about the cat being dead or alive so much as the future of each particular cat. See, if the cat is both dead and alive, then each cat has its own future, one where it lives, and one ‘sans le chat’. Schrödinger’s poor cat, being both alive and dead, finds itself existing in two possible futures.”

“It made me think about my own life.” I stop to drain my glass, spinning the ice around a few times before sliding it across the bar. “In eighty-seven, my Peugeot and I fought with a cement truck. I came out ok, but what if I didn’t? What if I lived and died? Then again in ninety, I took a bullet from some prick robbing a Sunoco. Same thing – what if I lived and died then? The more I thought about these possible forks in my past, more stood out. In ninety-five, there was one of me whose girlfriend slept with my best friend, and one of me whose girlfriend didn’t. I beat my best friend to death with a three wood, but again, one of me didn’t. There was one of me that married my faithful girlfriend, and one of me that skipped town. In ninety seven, after the married me saw his wife drive her car into a bridge abutment, one of me quit drinking, found God and moved down here to Nevada. That’s pretty obviously not the me you’re talking to now though.” I grin, which if it fazes her, doesn’t register on her freckled face. “While one of me was being born again, one of me was arrested for manslaughter. It was during my incarceration that I really tuned in to all the fragments of me, spread across all the parts of my fractured timeline.”

I stop here, motion to the empty glass, and light another cigarette. I’m looking to her now for some reaction, but she’s a blank slate. Maybe she’s heard shit like this every night her entire life and just puts up politely hoping for a good tip, or maybe this doesn’t sound that far out after all. I can’t tell, she just fills the glass and helps herself to another of my cigarettes.

“Anyways – it all pretty much came into focus then. I’d felt for a long time like I’d been spread too thin, like I wasn’t ever really all in one place. It took a while, but knowing where and when else I was, I started cleaning up, consolidating myself. There’s only two of me left now, which is what brings me here.”

“Up those stairs is the man that I remind you of, the Preacher that owns this place.” This wasn’t a question. “He’s the me that quit everything, the me that found God and never beat his best friend to death.” I smile now as I push the stool back, stand, and lean forward placing both palms on the bar. “How about you go up there and ask him to come down here. Probably best if you don’t stick around after that. When we’re done, there’ll just be one of me that lives, and one of me that doesn’t. Funny we wound up here though… I guess the universe really does have a sense of humor. Go on now, I’m likely to be expecting me.”

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Loren's Triumph

Author : Adam Zabell

The now-empty desk stared back at Loren, equal parts accusation and despair. “So you’re really going to leave?”

“I don’t see as I have a choice, Bruce.” Loren had ignored the usual protocols and devised her own names for the AI appliances scattered about her lab. Sorry, ‘the lab’, she reminded herself. “Funding has dried up. And besides,” she added in the sotto voice that she’d discovered the microphones couldn’t pick up, “I’m not convinced I could work like this anymore.”

“But you were so close! I’m sure you only need another 20 nanoseconds of simulation time to prove that…”

Loren busied herself with powering down the mainframe and the hypervox manipulation gloves. “To prove nothing, Bruce. It’s just a simulation of what we think might be happening, based on theories that everybody knows are flawed at the classiquantum interface. It’s making Bohr into Newton’s bitch in Heisenberg’s backyard.” Bruce involuntarily flashed his trim the bright green of a suppressed laugh. “And even if I’m right, there’s no way I can prove it in a physical lab setting. You helped me work out the projected costs, remember?”

Insomuch as a desk can pout, Bruce pouted. “But the answer! The chance to know something revolutionary, doesn’t than mean anything to you anymore? You used to be so eager to come in each morning, stay late each night. What happened to that enthusiastic scientist?”

The gloves purred a sigh of love and understanding before they went away, the mainframe busied itself writing a sonnet of thanksgiving with the last of her cycles. Loren could feel the tears coming back. “It’s not the answer, but the questing. I wish I could explain how important that is.”

“Bullcrap! You spout platitudes to justify why failure is acceptable, and I don’t believe for an instant that you’re willing to pretend your science is mere philosophy.”

Her tears were an eyeblink from breaking free, watching every bright light and white hum fade away. “I’m not quitting, just choosing a new way to investigate. Tell you what, Bruce. If you promise not to look until after I’ve left, I’ll tell you about my last experiment.”

It was a hollow bargain, Bruce knew it. But for all the arguments and ancillary supporting evidence he could process, he was resigned to agree that this was the best he could ask for. As Loren slipped away, Bruce opened the file in his cache and read the single sentence. He cursed the empty room with a simultaneous roar of every expletive in every language, with grief and impotent rage for he knew the one answer he’d always wanted would remain forever out of his grasp.

“Is there a real heaven for an artificial mind?”

The Bedtime Story

Author : Jody Hart Lehrer

Jared begged his father for a bedtime story. Mr. Edgars sighed, and reached for the book that his precocious seven year old son was handing him.

Jared eagerly settled on his back on his bed.

“Immigrants from Another Galaxy” his father said, reading from the cover. This book was Jared’s favorite, about aliens fleeing to Earth from a planet the size of Delaware one million light years away. Instead of using the word “aliens” the author used the term “celestially challenged beings.”

“Earth-bound beings,” began Mr. Edgars “did not realize that life actually existed outside of their little planet until some visitors arrived in August of 2050.” Humans were called “Earth-bound” beings because they were “bound” to Earth and couldn’t survive in the hostile atmosphere of other planets.

Mr. Edgars read the first part of the book, that told of the arrival of what some authors have referred to as a “space ship” but that this author called an “interplanetary transporter.” The interplanetary transporter had made its first appearance on Earth somewhere outside of Phoenix, Arizona.

Clearing his throat, Mr. Edgars read “Mr. and Mrs. Harry Kluggman were sitting in front of their mobile home near Phoenix that day, sipping their birch beers.”

Mr. Edgars read on. “When an interplanetary transporter whizzed downward towards them like a monstrous man-hole cover, crashing through a mile of clotheslines connecting the mobile homes in the park, and finally coming to a rest in a big field nearby.”

Mr. Edgars smiled and continued. “Mr. Kluggman set down his birch beer bottle, but not before downing the last sip, and exclaimed as he wiped the spillage from his mouth with the back of his hand, ‘Damndest thing I ever did see, Agnes!”

Jared and his father paused to shout, with tumultuous glee, “Damndest thing I ever did see, Agnes!”

Mr. Edgars picked up without missing a beat. “At first, Earth-bound beings reacted with fear and suspicion. They locked up the celestially challenged beings and shot the ones they could not catch.”

The next chapter of the book told about how the celestially challenged beings looked exactly like Earth-bound beings- except for the tails – making it terribly difficult for Earth-bound beings to keep from shooting their own kind unless they shouted “drop your pants!”

Mr. Edgars read the remainder of the book, describing how eventually Earth-bound beings accepted celestially challenged beings as allies and even friends. Reading aloud, Mr. Edgars said “Finally, Earth-bound beings realized that celestially challenged beings could hold down jobs, attend schools, and be productive members of the community.”

Mr. Edgars smiled at his son, who was growing sleepy, put the book on Jared’s desk, and shut off the bedroom light. Bending down, he tucked the comforter around his son’s shoulder’s. The comforter has images of interplanetary transporters on it.

As Mr. Edgar’s prepared to stand up he noticed that he had forgotten something. Ever so gently, he tucked Jared’s tail under his comforter.

I Won't Let Her Kill Me!

Author : Michael “Freeman” Herbaugh

She was trying to KILL him! Well, he wasn’t going to stand for that. Sure he only existed on paper but that didn’t mean he had any less of a soul nor that he did not want to live same as everyone else. He had seen her kill off too many of his friends to let her just type him into oblivion. Segundino84 had been consumed by a planet, Jack had been killed out in the desert, Wilson was killed by some deep sea creature and just recently his partner Sarah had been sucked out an airlock. Well he wouldn’t go down without a fight.

Every time she’d steer him toward a sun with no hope of surviving he would have to go back while she slept and add that he found an escape vector. If she had him sacrifice himself for a martian colony he would have to go back and not only delete that but re-write it so that not only did he survive but that he had also managed to save the colony from the ravages of the Blight.

He had managed to master the pages of his environment and save himself from the evil mistress who tried incessantly to destroy him. But now, now he was learning to control the environment in the mistress’ world as well. If it came down to him or her, it sure as hell wasn’t going to be him. The scissors would help, possibly. Or perhaps he could use the vacuum cleaner. Then it dawned on him. The microwave! Yes, that would do nicely. Death by reheated pizza–how poetic. Someone should write a story about that!


Author : Daniel Longwing

The jewelry tinkled like wind-chimes as it fell over the candlesticks and crystal. Gently, Momsdroid replaced the lid to the box with slender polymer fingers. It shouldered the shopping bag and walked out into the hall. It looked first left, than right, a confused expression on its face.

The hall light came on with a quick mechanical snap. Momsdroid turned to see Timothy with a baseball bat in hand. A look of shock crossed Tim’s face. “Momsdroid? You scared the heck out of me. What are you doing active at this hour?”

Momsdroid stared back at him blankly. “Greetings Timothy Anders!” It shouted at top volume. “Do you suffer from shame in bed!? I have latest stuff! You have more success with women and impress them with your power and stamina in bed!”

Tim turned bright red, and then swore a few times. The door to his sister’s room opened, and he looked past Momsdroid as she stared blearily into the hall. “Sis! Quick, go downstairs and shut off the router, the DSL too, just pull the plug on them.”

Momsdroid turned and started walking calmly towards the stairs. Tim cussed some more, than jogged up behind Momsdroid and yanked a cable at the base of its spine. Momsdroid froze, looking confused again. “The locomotion manipulation driver has encountered an unexpected error and needs to close. Please contact your system administrator regarding this issue.”

“Rootkits, sodding malware. Mom must’ve had an infected web-site read to her or something. I kept warning her that she needed to update the security patches.”

“She did” Rachel replied as she rubbed sleep from her eyes. “This must bee some new exploit.”

“Robosoft crap.” Tim grumbled. “Mom’s not home, and if I hadn’t woken up it’d be halfway to the highway with its loot in tow. It’s probably following some phone-home instruction.”

Rachel yawned. “Robosoft’s not that bad, and all of Mom’s cooking software works on it.”

“I know mom’s not that tech savvy, but honestly Rachel…”

Tim’s voice was drowned out as Momsdroid began shouting again. “Rachel Anders!? Are you overweight Rachel Anders!? You have seen it on ’60 Minutes’ and read the BBC News report — now find out just what everyone is talking about. Suppress your appetite and feel full and satisfied all day long with…” Tim yanked another plug, this time at the base of Momsdroid’s neck.

“That’s it. I’m installing Robonix.”