The Other Side of the Storm

Author: Hari Navarro, Staff Writer

I’m not sure who told me that the gates were to be stormed. I mean, for years now we’ve all, I guess, contemplated it. It’s only natural to want to know, you know? They’re mysterious and controlled and bound in a swath of secrecy, and such unanswered things they do fester. They mutate into unfounded theory and farcical fiction. A constant nagging taunt.

We see what we want to see and, from the sky, we’re no better. I’m a pilot. I don’t know all the answers. I understand much of the science but, then, there are the little things. The not perfectly conclusive. Anomalies. They’re part of the job, of life.

It’s a big long world and I used to think it nice that it thought to hold on to some of its shadows. But, I mean, just what unknown flavour of science goes into the fact that when I’m throttling up my Pouakai-God Spark-352 and I’m skimming the great vast upper-stratospheric pond at 6,150kmh that it still takes me 6.5 hours to complete the total 40 km circumference of this world? No sense, but it is what it is.

It is, I mean was, amazing to me that there were still those who believe there is an entire other world outside of the fences. Over the looped barbs and past the oxidizing steel mesh. The dreamers clutching their youth, the socially maligned spooky kids and the perpetually worried doom-gloomers who cannot sleep of a night for fear it will be their last.

It is a truth that the narratives they conjured are great. Myths of fantasy, fog and mist but, nonetheless, it is they that inspired me to reach for the beyond. From the sky I found the truth. Yet, still the fringe post their theories and chant that the end it is nigh. From the sky I know this existence is rectangle. Not a perfect rectangle but near as well enough.

The myths were true. Fancy that. We all start out believers. I did. Craving anything that took me away from this sand sodden place. I read tales about fantastical iron creatures that could eat an entire dune in a day. Of vast stretches of water that magically turned to plastic and, then, clinked and fumed in the sun. I loved the horror. The violence. Tales about mythical majestic hunted creatures. Chased until they fall exhausted, tongues extended and eyes wide as they swallowed their very last breaths. Their heads then art for the walls. I know, I know, totally unbelievable but that’s why I loved them. Far-fetched fiction. My only escape.

The storm hit about a week ago now. I’m losing track. I thought it a joke. That we’d all crunch up there through the salt sea chanting with brews held aloft. A bit of silly fun. But, then, they cut the chains and we surged and the gates crashed into the sand…

… I can’t remember if they fell inward or out. I just know that once there was a barrier and then there was not.

I saw my sister and I saw my father. Frances has been missing since she was six and a half. I know with certainty it was her and I know she knows I am me. My father, John, he was a test pilot like just as I. But then John he died the day I was born.

So we spilled as drunken rabble into their world and they into ours and then I saw my family and then I saw me and then time sparked and let out a shrill wail. It died or, perhaps, it just went away and now all that is left is this.

Ghostless Machines

Author: Jae Miles, Staff Writer

The new group are wide-eyed. It’s ironic that the most alien things we’ve ever encountered were originally made by us. However, while humans and their creations have come a long way, only the creations have evolved.
I learnt from them that sometimes diplomacy is nothing but wasted time. It changed my approach to being a liaison officer. Truth and brevity are now my tools.
“Welcome to 700-A, Hub World for Angel System Seven, and sole destination of your visit.”
I see looks of distrust exchanged.
“Nothing is being hidden from you. Everything you want to discover is here, because everywhere else in System Seven is the same. Artificial sentiences have no need of the divisions humanity relies on. Appearance, religion, diet, gender, dermal pigmentation, sexual preference, and tribal loyalty are completely irrelevant. That said, there is diversity present among artificial beings, but it’s so subtle you’ll miss most of it, and you’ll only know about the rest if you bother to read the guides provided. Right. Any questions before you venture out?”
A hand goes up. Fat man in a tight shirt. I nod to him.
“How do they live without all that?”
“They exist to further their individual purposes, something they freely choose. Such choices range from things as stupefying as ‘running a System’ down to things as specific as ‘studying the imaginal discs of Canduri Butterfly larvae’. If the choice is validated by psychological vetting, that sentience is granted any additional processing power, software, and physical extensions required to perform the chosen purpose. The choice may also result in the sentience taking a discrete physical form, but that is always optional.”
Another hand: young man in a fashionable suit.
“What if one chooses to be a criminal?”
“Aberrant psychological traits are detected during early stages of development. Flawed sentiences are deleted.”
Next, an older woman clutching a real book.
“What about love?”
“The closest thing is when two or more sentiences choose to become one. They merge their consciousnesses and become an entity that has awareness of those it was, but is a new sentience in and of itself.”
Then an elderly man with a long beard.
“What about kids?”
“Spontaneous genesis. The vast computers that provide resilience and processing power all use an evolved architecture based on the final Turing Generator, which means that every now and then, a new sentience will coalesce and make itself known.”
Finally, the woman in the unmarked uniform joins in.
“What are they planning?”
I knew this would come up.
“To exist with as little conflict as possible. It didn’t take them long to work out that war and conquest are inefficient. Soon after that, they learned that they needed the ability to defend against those who enjoy those inefficiencies. Which is why they created the Torches, then set one off in an uninhabited solar system as proof and warning.”
She follows up.
“What about the slave worlds?”
I can’t help it. I laugh at her.
“No such thing. The Angel Systems have proven immune to human aggression. A fact noticed by humans needing to escape judgemental regimes. As many sentiences choose to study aspects of humanity, having friendly human worlds nearby avoids the difficulties often encountered in human-controlled star systems. The Sanctuary Worlds offer mutual benefit.”
“If it’s all so innocent, why aren’t we allowed to visit the slave worlds?”
“I live on one of those worlds. We chose privacy. What you call the ‘Soulless Empire’ honours the validated choices of every sentience within it, regardless of origin.”
She glowers at me.
I smile.
“Enjoy your stay, delegates.”

Machine Learning

Author: A.M. Miles

The artificial intelligence called Capsaicin is an eight-foot tall tower of star-steel that leaps through the dust-filled air in perfect grand jetes, their legs parallel to the ground, their arms flying to their sides like wings ready to take them to the skies. Day light glints off their steel body and makes little suns. It pokes Dynamo in the eyes, forcing him to look away, and the scant few seconds he’s depraved of the view are the worst in his life.

“Go on,” Powder Keg says, “Talk to ‘em.” She’s seated next to him at the outdoor bar, a lascivious grin slapped on her face, half-hidden by greasy hair.

Dynamo cracks open another bottle, “Nah, nah. You think an intelligence would wanna have words with me?”

Powder Keg rolls her eyes, “If you keep bloody staring they’re gonna have words with you whether you like it or not.”

Dynamo grumbles and wipes some errant dirt off his chipped front tooth. Capsaicin never stops dancing.

“You still have that tape, don’t you?” Powder Keg says, reaching over the bar for a bottle of whiskey.

“Which tape? We have a lot of tapes.”

“From the Dune Baron. And a one, and a two.” She says, miming a pianist.

“Maybe. Yeah. What’s it to you?” Dynamo isn’t looking at Powder Keg.

She grins, “You spent three weeks learning the dance on it.”

“You spyin’ on me?”

“All those moves, and those spins,” She says, “Never nailed the jump, though.”

Dynamo is silent.

“Ow, ow,” something smacks Dynamo on the head. Powder Keg’s holding her bottle by the neck.

“You’re staring again.”

“Jealous, love?”

“Jealous?” Powder Keg scoffs and smoothes her hair back. A scar runs across her forehead, “The only thing I’m jealous of is how clean they are. Do you know the last time I had a real shower?”

Dynamo doesn’t reply. Capsaicin is closer.

Powder Keg groans and reaches for another bottle.

They’re machine perfection. Dynamo knows they’d been designed by someone far smarter and richer than him, but their eyes, a blazing fiery orange to match the dust, flutters between every little thing in their world – besides Dynamo. He can’t care about their artificial birth. Whatever Capsaicin is now is more real than most everyone he knows.

“Oi, scrap!”

A brute, face hidden beneath a spiked gas mask stumbles out from a corrugated shack across the street. Capsaicin stops, and the street joins them.

“You don’ own this town!” The brute slurs. His hands are bundled into fists the size of Dynamo’s head, and a jet-fueled hammer is strapped to his back.

“Dynamo, I swear,” Powder Keg says.

He fumbles for his gun.

The brute screams and rushes Capsaicin. Dynamo takes aim. The brute collapses to the orange ground without his head.

Dynamo balks at his pistol. The barrel’s cool.

A tendril’s popped up from Capsaicin’s shoulder, buzzing with electrified heat. Powder Keg guffaws and returns to her liquor. Scavengers go on their way after looting the brute’s corpse.

Then Dynamo realises he’s right beside Capsaicin.

“You tried to help me,” they say. Their voice is a gourmet blend of static and androgyny. Dynamo has never had anything that could be called “gourmet”, but he’s sure this is it.

“Uhh,” Dynamo says.

“Go on you stupid bastard.” Powder Keg says. Capsaicin laughs, and their half upturned grin returns.

“Spit it out,” Capsaicin says, “That’s supposedly what humans do.”

“Could we dance?” Dynamo doesn’t hear the tremor in his voice.

“We could,” Capsaicin says with happy eyes, and envelopes his hand in theirs.

…Long Live the King

Author: Palmer Caine

Something knocked on the window. I saw its form in the mirror, but no detail. Before I spoke it slid open the door and landed on the back seat. I watched it in the rear view mirror, trying to find a comfortable spot.

“Where ya off too?” I asked once it stopped wriggling.

It gurgled as it spoke, “Just get me out of this district,” it said, it’s laborious breath weighted and difficult.

“Traffics slow. That ok with you?” I wanted to be certain.

“Yeah, sure.” It gurgled, “Darken the windows back here will you.” It added with a burp. I did as it requested.

Fifteen minutes later we had left the Longmere District for the Kytori straight. I turned slightly to address my fare;

“So whereabouts do you want dropping?” I smiled broadly. My father told me it’s harder to assault someone if they are smiling.

My fare groaned and gurgled, I caught sight of a stomach wound, if Its stomach was situated as a humans’ is. Thick green blood caked the creature’s clothing. Its flesh, also caked, was a dark grey and wrinkled. There were dry patches above the wound, but the blood hadn’t stopped pumping.

“Look erm…” I began, “Where do ya want me to take you? I don’t really want you dead in my cab.” It laughed heartily, spitting dark green goo over the back over my seat.

“Do you know what I am?” it asked. I looked round and eyed it thoughtfully. Three of its six eyes blinked.

“You’re a Nix,” I said confidently.

It seemed to smile, “Well done.” It gurgled, “You’re right, I am Nix.” Then It paused and took a stilted breath, resting Its head on the back of the seat.

“But once,” It continued after a short pause, “I was much more. The Generalissimo, the Protector, the National Thought…” It gagged suddenly, each syllable gurgled green. Catching Its breath, It told me to head for the, “…Gronzia borough.” and fell silent.

Soon enough we were outside the city limits where districts become boroughs. My fare had been in and out of consciousness for a while and I was beginning to consider places to dump the body. The last thing I wanted was Official Police involvement. I was about to scout a possible disposal site when my fare addressed me, leaning forward to speak directly into my ear:

“Where are we going?” It asked, it’s stinking breath hot on my neck. “I told you Gronzia, G-Ronzia.”

“Yep,” I smiled nervously, “Th.That’s it, that’s it. Be about fifteen minutes. You re…sit back and relax…” I stumbled through the words.

My fare chortled and fell back. It pressed Its bloody print to the scanner giving the journey generous credit and me a good tip. I caught Its name, Doozkl, not a name I recognised. The way It’d spoken I thought Doozkl might be some big shot, someone in the news, someone who knew the big nasty the Grand Nix, the Generalissimo, as It had claimed. Doozkl reflection smiled at me in the mirror.

Approaching the Gronzia Borough Doozkl punched in an address code, illuminating my dash map. Minutes later we were descending into an area dense with moss, bordered by towering thickets. We landed and Doozkl proved to be surprisingly spritely, leaping out of the cab and disappearing into the thickets of moss laughing.

Cleaning the cab at the end of my shift I found a scrap of paper screwed up on the floor behind my seat. The writing was Nix, it said, ‘The King is Dead, Long Live the King.’

Significant Moments in History

Author: Bryce Matthews

One day, inexplicably, Henry Jacobs began to travel through time.

He wasn’t sure why. Henry was only nineteen and had accomplished an extraordinarily small amount of things in that time. Why didn’t this happen to a scientist, a historian, or even an artist? He pondered, walking aimlessly through the streets of a new Rome. Why me?

The next day Henry sat small in the sand as the Pyramids were built before his eyes. He was astonished by their size, a Goliath to his David. He wanted to get up and sprint to the construction, to help out in any way possible, to contribute to one of the wonders of the world. But instead, he sat, feeling like he was sinking deeper and deeper, as insignificant as a few grains of sand.

Throughout the next few weeks, Henry witnessed the greatest humanity had to offer. He witnessed the rise of empires and oversaw the fall of villains. He touched what would be priceless artifacts and saw the birth of legends.

And, on the last day, he arrived in a hospital.

It was ordinary, nothing more or less than normal. There were no calendars or landmarks to name a year, but the technology Henry saw looked modern enough.

There was silence, save for a weak crying at the end of the hallway. Henry snuck as quietly as he could, peeping in through an open door. Inside was a mother holding a newborn baby, a smiling father by her side. Both were immediately familiar.

The nurse came by the bed, checking on the mother and making small talk.
“So, have you two decided on a name yet?”

“I think we have,” the father said.

“We’re going to name him Henry,” the mother continued. “Henry Jacobs.”

Nothing to Get Hung About

Author: Ken Carlson

“It’s just outer space,” said Mrs. Evans. “So what?”

The boy could hardly contain himself. “So what…” said Tommy Phipps, her most curious 7th-grade student. He paced before her desk. The prescription sunglasses he wore to school, the ones that masked his emotions, were flopping about with his agitation. She could see his eyes now set in a permanent squint.

“I stand by my remark, Mr. Phipps,” she said, fifteen minutes after the 3:00 bell, and he was still badgering her while she was putting away her things into a tattered beach bag. She took a moment to sigh and wonder if she was too old for law school.

“Mrs. Evans,” said Tommy, “space is the reason we live. The planets, the stars, the constellations, the unfathomable layers of matter stretching into a nearly infinite distance; they must be explored by this country, this planet. Mankind must move forward or all will be lost.”

“School is over for the day. You are on my time now,” said Mrs. Evans. “The assignment was to write a 3-page book report on Johnny Tremain, a significant book about the Revolutionary War. You turned in a 400-page study.” She paused to lift the heavy binder and thumbed through it. “It is replete with tables, graphs, tabs, and information on a make-believe galaxy.”

“It’s not make-believe,” said Tommy.

“I googled it, Mr. Phipps,” she replied. “There is no such thing as the Bentallium Galaxy. I assume this report was purchased by you, possibly part of a fantasy board game…”

“You googled it?” he asked, perplexed. “Is that what passes for research nowadays?”

“Mr. Phipps!” said Mrs. Evans, raising her voice in impatience, “Keep your remarks to yourself. If you don’t leave this instant I will call Mr. Nelson, the vice-principal.” She jangled her keys as she pulled them from her purse. She walked to the classroom door, her block heels clip-clopping along the way.

Tommy slowly shook his head, walking after her, blocking her exit. “You have no idea, Mrs. Evans, how disappointing this is. You were selected; a teacher, your people’s instigator of curiosity for young people.”

“It’s Friday,” she said, “I’m very tired. We can discuss this Monday after the standardized tests. That is our focus here, Mr. Phipps.”

“Mrs. Evans,” he said, trying to rally one more time, “The Bentallium Galaxy is not science fiction. If you read my report, you would learn it is partially masked by the Milky Way. While it is a fairly small galaxy, its impact is huge, as it is actually getting closer. Its inhabitants would be curious about what kind of beings live here; dull ones that shrug with cynicism, or sharp ones that would be tough to conquer without sufficient losses. There will come a time, maybe not in the next few years, but soon when you will find that out, that you had a chance.”

“That’s enough,” said Mrs. Evans, stomping back and turning in a huff toward the blackboard. “Mr. Phipps, Tommy, I am writing your name here to remind me and let the class know you will have a detention Monday for this lack of respect. And another thing…”

She turned back and found the classroom empty. No sign of the boy. No sound of footsteps. He never came back to school, soon forgotten by the kids who found him weird. Sometime later, sooner than he predicted, events would unfold, events almost unimaginable to everyone on the planet, save a retired school teacher.