Author: David C. Nutt
From my corner table at the café, I saw the tourist read the plaque. The same plaque adorns every public space on our planets, but this is the first. I know the words by heart. I was made to memorize it as a child. It is not the most elegant tome written by our people, but it does have the simplicity and brevity associated with the utilitarianism of project management, which it should, as it was written by an engineer, not a poet.
“You have to understand; our universe was going to die. We were in a panic. We knew that even with all the best technology we had, we couldn’t fix it. The planets we terraformed, the space stations we had around them, the billions raised to the billions that we became, all of that would be over in one brilliant burst of radiation from our dying sun. And we didn’t know when it would happen other than “relatively soon.”
So we sent out our fleets of autonomous terraforming ships. The idea was they would terraform the worlds in advance of our arrival, we would arrive at our new home, and then as one world filled up, the rest of us from the diaspora would follow the fleet of terraforming ships and we would all eventually be settled on newly transformed pristine worlds able to support us.
But, in our panic, our haste, we did not see the errors in our language… the “vaguery” in our programming. The parameters were too wide, too all-encompassing, the AIs we sent to manage them too powerful, too… parochial. We had no idea you were out here until it was too late. For that, we are truly sorry.
You will be honored. Our politicians, social scientists, and philosophers desire to make amends. One day, when the time is right, we will bring you back and seed you on a world where you can begin again.
As for now, we have recalled the last of the terraforming ships and their millions of self-replicants and rest assured we are fairly certain this will not happen again.”
The tourist bows his head in an acceptable moment of silence and moves on.
What has been done, has been done. The guilt of my ancestors weighs little on my conscience. The sun is shining, the sky is blue, the air is sweet, the flora and fauna of our ancestral home have taken over and this planet is indistinguishable from our mother world. As it is with the rest of this system, and the next, and the one after, and the one after that, and the one after that one, and so on, and so on, and so on.
Author: Jeremy Nathan Marks
I was the only person who ever saw the castle in the air.
It appeared one morning, a visitor from nowhere suspended high up in the cobalt blue of a December morning. Hovering thousands of feet over emptiness, that castle could have been a hallucination, some projection of my childish id. But since I knew nothing of psychology, I simply accepted what I saw which hung in my firmament for months.
As a boy, I never remained some chrysalis-bound pupa. My parents made certain I went out and skinned my knees, or dirtied my nails in the cold mud. I scarred my head on a brick, even broke my foot running over stones in the creek. When I’d see them at meals, they knew I was alive and that was good enough. While I had plenty of friends, I was often alone. I never had my time with them scheduled; we would school and disperse like a pod of pond minnows.
Winter was my favorite season because I was an inveterate sky watcher. Without the summer dome of humid light that plagued my star gazing, I could take out the telescope and puncture the clear dark in search of Saturn and Jupiter. I was better skilled at making sightings without gloves, so I learned how to work through numb fingers.
Each day that I saw the castle I was sure would be the last. Something so unique and singular could not pass for long. But there it was, every day. It ranked with the most improbable things I had seen, a nautilus of the deep. Friends would see me standing around looking straight up, forced to ask what the hell it was that I was staring at. I never answered directly, I just said I had a kink in my neck I was working out.
Every Sunday, the Concorde would pass over our house en route to Paris. It was an afternoon flight always on time, steady as a metronome. My dad told me that the pilot was required to wait until the jet passed the twelve-mile limit before breaking the sound barrier. This was done to protect human ears. I wondered to myself what a Man-of-War or cresting dolphins felt in those Chuck Yeager moments.
It had not occurred to me that the castle might fall directly in the Concorde’s path, but that is precisely what happened. I clutched my binoculars with damp hands, certain castle and jet were set to die. So it was that I watched the Concorde pass through the castle, molesting neither pennant, passenger, or barbican.
One week later, I watched the Challenger disaster in my class at school. For the first time, a non-astronaut, a teacher, slipped Earth’s surly bonds. When the shuttle exploded, many of the girls in my class spontaneously sobbed. My teacher had to turn her head away. After a few minutes one boy, normally very quiet, started to laugh. He was immediately sent to see the principal.
At home that evening, my parents tuned in to listen to the president. He eulogized the dead in a flight of rhetoric that seemed to soothe my folks. I don’t recall whether they cried, only that someone sighed and we had a short conversation about what I had witnessed. That night in bed, I didn’t see the Challenger, instead, I replayed the path of the Concorde.
The next morning, when I went outside, the castle was gone.
Twins focused better together.
Navigating the universe in a faster than light vessel required a higher level of brain power than a single person could manage individually. In the late 23rd century, Dr. Sabine Korgev created a revolutionary device that stabilized synergetic neural connections. Countless studies backed up the science and decades in space were a testament to the technology. Embedded synth-sents managed most of the data processing, but critical analysis, and then selecting the final plots were best managed by people.
Still, it wasn’t enough to prepare for the unexpected. Damage control systems had sealed off sections torn up by the rogue meteor shower and stabilized life support on what was left of the SEV Copernicus. Engines were at forty percent and improving. Slowly. Thanks to the small army of repair drones. Six total casualties, four confirmed fatalities, from a crew of only ten.
Bahati was one of those wounded when a shower of fragments ripped through the galley. She gingerly lowered herself into the pod beside her twin. Her breathing was slow and shallow, but she smiled reassuringly at her sister. Amani masked concern with procedure and initiated the dive into the navigational construct that allowed the twins to perceive their location in five dimensional space.
Perception in the construct was like having a double-sided mirror along the line of your nose, swinging from left to right, while constantly swirling about in a thick viscous oil of complex data points. Fragmentary and confusing. This is why it requires a second, merged consciousness as validation for self-perception. The synthetic sentient engine of the ship distilled the critical data and created navigational links which the twins investigated.
“So, ladies, where are we?” A third consciousness entered the nav-con. It was the first officer, Krit. Geoff was in stasis down in the medical bay. He was now technically captain of the Copernicus. Krit was off shift and in his berth when the meteor shower knocked them off course.
“We’ve identified Aldebaran, Matar, and Zibal. Confirming distances now,” replied Amani. “We need at least two more stars to get an accurate URH.” She didn’t really need to vocalize her responses since all three of them were tapped in to the nav-con. Her sister confirmed a fourth star and plugged it into the data set.
“How long before we can get a plot back on course?”
“At least another hour, Krit,” Amani said. Her sister disagreed and argued that only ten minutes more was all they needed. She could not see the course projections without the fifth point for the URH location. Bahati showed her the first pass of a thousand navigation threads and then plotted in the final point. “Thank you, sister.”
Perhaps it was the urgency brought on by tragic circumstance, but the link with Bahati was more intense and even more coordinated than usual. They were analyzing complex data threads almost as fast as the synth-sents could generate them. Amani smiled and felt the warm glowing presence of her sister grow inside her own consciousness.
“We have a solution.” Bahati prompted her sister to add, “Captain”. Amani felt a realization that Geoff was no longer with them.
“Thank you, Amani.” Krit replied slowly. “I don’t know how you can manage, but I will leave you to it.” His presence disengaged from the navigation construct. He helped another crew member remove the lifeless body of her twin from the adjacent pod.
Author: JT Velikovsky
They say, (well, Science says) the human brain is wired to love natural rural scenes.
So, call me an old-fashioned Utopian, but… these days, I always have my brain-computer interface re-design, re-sculpt, and re-paint, my realtime-vision of the city I live in.
Augmented Reality. It overlays perfectly-rendered three-dimensional graphics onto objects in the visible world. I can’t tell, they’re not the real thing. So–instead of concrete skyscrapers towering above me–I always see: giant redwoods. I mean truly gargantuan ones… Draped in lush green vines.
And instead of endless columns of cars clogging up the swarming city streets, I see miles of mammoths, migrating in millions as they trudge along a well-trod earthen track… (Sometimes, just for some variety, it `swaps’ vision of the mammoths out for giant ants, or other enormous prehistoric insects… I can watch those for hours… Sunlight glistening in rainbows on their shells as they amble along.)
And–the bustling city human crowds–for me–are all dressed in `caveman’ bear-skins, rather than their business suits… Their briefcases become old wooden clubs; their cell-phones are sea-shells. People no longer talk on a phone, but instead just listen to the sound of the ocean inside the shell… No-one texts a message, but instead I just see them tracing out a swirled shell-pattern, with their fingers. I like it that way.
The sounds I hear are all synthesized, too… No more inner-city engine-roars, screeching tires, car alarms, police-sirens… Just: serene animal sounds… The rumble and screech of the Jurassic jungle.
But–mostly, the soothing silence…? The whisper of the breeze in the tall trees. And that pungent smell of the ancient forest: fecund fresh earth, and moist fungi–instead of all those car-exhausts, rotting city rubbish, septic sewer-ooze.
A really funny thing… I really don’t miss all that Euclidean city geometry–and all of those strange, straight parallel-lines of brutalist buildings and byways… The square swathes of all those cement sidewalks.
All gone, for me!
I much prefer this new, ancient natural rural world… I feel at home.
They tell me that all the Dystopians instead have their realities `painted over’ with: bombed-out buildings, scorched landscapes. Mutant zombie critters roaming the ruins, instead of the people… (It’s not my thing…)
My own brain-interface even makes my sense of taste match that of the ancient past… So everything I eat tastes and smells like raw meat. But I do miss the ice-cream… And, burnt bacon.
I could ask my digital interface just to rewire my brain, so that I was equally-pleasured by the sights, sounds and smells of the actual city, as it is now… As, we had made it. All: parallel and perpendicular.
But–billions of years of biological evolution baked into a bipedal brain are not so easily undone.
And can we ever really believe all that we see, hear, taste, smell, and touch? Last count, we had eight senses, not just five. Some studies even suggest–with our technology upgrades–we have twenty-two senses(!)
You can alter the observer, or the observed. The perceiver, or the perceived. Or both.
I like to think that both me, and my environment, are: co-evolving. An emergent synthesis.
So, call me an old-fashioned Utopian…?
I’ll hear it.
Decoded as primeval guttural grunts, as we stroll in the ancient cities of tomorrow.
Author: Hari Navarro, Staff Writer
“You are going to sleep with me”, said my wife as she stepped out of the future and spoke to a man who wasn’t me.
“You’re so strange”, smiles the man as he touches her fingers and pushes the hair from her eyes.
“First you will cup my breast and pin me against the wall in the bathroom of the hospital in which your mother lays dying. You will tongue my lips and I’ll contract the pathogen black rot of your lies. And I will carry their stain and I will pass it on down to my children.”
“That’s rather dramatic. I think I told you she was sick, but how did you know she’s dying? Doesn’t matter, Look, I’ve only known you a few months but I can see you’re sad. I’ve seen you with him. Your boyfriend. I see you walking together and it’s as if you’re strangers. You deserve better.”
“I forgot about my husband and my children, I forgot as I lay down with you. I escaped with you, though you took me nowhere and together we lied to them all.”
“Married? You’re not married, are you? And if you have children then you’ve kept them very quite. Do you have them locked up in a box?”, smiles the man who isn’t me.
“My children are my life”
“If this is the future you see for us, then, I have to say I would never lie to you. You are so full of potential. Maybe, you need someone who really cares to tell you sometimes, is all.”
“The day I told him about us was the day I tore him in two. But he stayed with me. For years and years and years, he stayed. He loved me best he could but the drip, drip, drip sticky filth of what we did just never stopped”
“There’s no need for this. All I want is to have a little fun. You’re over-thinking.”
“Will you smile at your wife tonight when you still have the stink of my sweat on your skin? Will you feel shame as tomorrow you sit at your table with your son and you look over his shoulder at the couch where you pushed me down and pulled at my hair?”, said my wife as she remembered the last moments of my life. When I looked at her and she knew that old age had robbed me of every thought but that still I saw just what she’d done.
“I love my wife. But I love you, too”
“You won’t and you don’t have to believe me, but I came back. I lived a long life with this chaos we wrought. And you, well, you went on with your wife and your children and you lied for yourself the most splendid of lives.”
“You’re fucking sick”
“When he died I broke and I fell and when I got up I was young again and back here at this fork in the road. I thought it was a chance to repair what I did but it isn’t. Things are not as they were. I am not married and my children they do not yet exist. It is you with the family now.”
I walk up to my wife, my girlfriend, as she sits in the Cafè with a man who isn’t me. I smile and I shake his hand firmly and I hope that he smells the cooling beads of his wife’s sweet sweat as it drifts to him down from my skin.
Author: Jae Miles, Staff Writer
The sirens start to wail.
John turns as he shouts, swinging a rucksack of stolen provisions onto his back. By the time we see torch beams flicking about in the hands of guards heading this way – the section where their spotlights aren’t working – we’re all running for the fence.
“Keep up, Jinny.”
Easier for you, Em, you’re taller and it’s all legs. Back here in the shortarse division, we get to dodge and hide more often.
Which is what I’m off to do. There’s no way I can make the fence. I’m not convinced Em can, but at least she has a chance.
Sliding under an overturned truck I pull myself up against the back of the cab, hopefully merging the outline of my form with the accumulated crap already under here.
I hear a shot. Nothing to do but wait. Hopefully they aren’t led by zealots determined to exterminate the evil scroungers threatening the glorious New Era government by stealing a few cans of food.
The night is criss-crossed with searching beams.
A scream. Em! Sodding hell, how am I going to tell Trev? Little Em will be five next week.
Footsteps approaching: one person, no torch.
“Vardy!” The shouter is a long way off.
“Here!” The owner of the footsteps.
“You get that screamer?”
“Body went down into the scrap. You want it, come out tomorrow.”
Footsteps pass the overturned truck, then come back.
Another shout: “Not worth it. Come in. We’ll do a final sweep to the fence line.”
“Gimme a moment. Breathing’s playing up.”
The footsteps stop and someone leans against the truck.
Same shouter, further away: “Catch up when you’re sorted.”
I hear Velcro rip and then the sound of someone taking a big pull on an inhaler.
“The problem with sliding under something in a hurry is that you leave a big skidmark if you forget to brush it away.”
Footsteps crunch and scuffed boots come into view. They start kicking about, obscuring the trail I left!
“Your tall friend has broken her ankle. She’s flat out in what’s left of the grey container between here and the railway line. Wait until the follow-up sweep passes in about twenty minutes, then you can retrieve her. They won’t try to fix the gap in the fence until daylight, so you’re good to get out that way. Mind the sentry drone. They rotate for recharge every hour or so and the procedures are slack, so they bring one in before sending a new one out. You’ll have a ten-minute window.”
I can’t believe I’m about to chat with a Domestic Army trooper.
“The time you’ll have to get through that fence and leave the area.”
“Why are you-?”
“Too old to run with the resistance, and my lungs are too fucked anyway. My choices were Pensioners Workhouse or Domestic Army. I chose the one that lets me look like a loyal citizen while making sure the system doesn’t work like the New Era Mandate says it should. Damn sure there are more like me, but surveillance means we can’t trust anyone. In a way, it makes the disruption better: it’s all disjointed, and they’re looking for an organisation.”
“Some days, I do things I’m not proud of. Other days, like tonight, I get to do a little good. Anyway, I’m off to look for intruders I’m damn sure I won’t find. You have better luck next time. Ciao.”
The footsteps retreat. Our unknown saviour is gone. What a way to survive.