The Cat Project

Author: Tim Love

Once we’d enhanced the Quantum stabilisation fields, our biggest hurdle to implementing Shrődinger’s cat experiment was more ethical than technical so we temporarily relocated. To bracket the data we brought along Pavlov’s dog and lab rats, bypassing quarantine.

When we determined that saliva did and didn’t drip, that stress did and didn’t improve memory, and that we were and weren’t in Guantanamo Bay, the Cheshire cat grinned. We thought that would be proof enough so we let it out of the bag, but before we could swing it, it got our tongue.

“What next?” it said, profiting from our silence. “What earthly use is a Quantum computer with one qbit, dead or alive? You’ve got no guts. Think outside the box. Imagine you could use all the quantum states in the universe. What would it be able to calculate? I’ll tell you – its own next moment. It’s no more than an analogue simulation of itself. That’s the meaning of the universe, its high concept. Watch.”

And with that, it disappeared, grin and all. We remained speechless even so. Would we get our Nobel? Or not? We needed repeatability, copy-cat action at a distance to justify our means – Siam, Persia, even the Isle of Man would have sufficed. But some things aren’t meant to be. Between the dog and the rats there was now an excluded middle. Had our very curiosity killed our subject? Should we just have ignored it as if it were a naughty child whose behaviour we wanted to correct? In any case, could cats be trained? There was no shortage of volunteers to search online for an answer, for hidden variables. Feline screensavers began to fill the lab as if the disappearance of the original caused many smaller ones to appear, each with a cute name.

Predictably, when the project leader announced that the fat-cats had withdrawn our funding, nobody had kittens.

Lines and Circles: Epilogues and Epicenters

Author: Philip G Hostetler

Xanta Truz County is well known for vortexes and psychedelic eddies. Some say there’s a social black hole effect where all the locals there are pulled by a metaphysical critical mass, a repelling pushing and compelling pulling, forced us apart and pulled us all back together again. The wavelengths vary, as they do in all atmospheric climates, but this one in particular is full of pyscho-microclimates, the sort where you could be by the opalescent seas of mindfulness and twenty minute later, hanging from the desolate peaks of happy insanity. Y’see they won’t tell you when you go crazy, if they love you for it.

The glitz and glam of kitschy tourist traps selling you digicards of Five Tailed Norback Whales breaching through acid seas means very little compared to the holding of hands and witnessing them splash through that technicolor ocean. I’ll never forget her gasp of exhilaration, denoting what we were all feeling around that obsidian beach bonfire that night. Maggie was quite a woman, who’s traits for goodness still elude me, though I remain inspired to this day.

But the grind, the service to the depraved, hoping to catch a glimpse of what we’ve all known, and perhaps, have taken for granted. For if you’ve known a mad paradise for life, you’d be confused by those coming from a mundane hell. Seeing Sparrowed Monarchs hatch from their leather cocoons for the very first time, was an afternoon stroll for us, but the avian-entomological experience of a lifetime for the rare enthusiast from sullen, distant shores. But Maggie and I left, knowing that there was a profound magic to be had in going out into that mundane hell, and so we did. We separated though, until we met Dr. Maxell, quite separately, who said not only could he match us up across light years of estrangement, but that he could send us to where the stars didn’t shine, that at best moonlight could be contained and sent with us on our… journey, a journey that would be told in reverse-time.

But I’m getting ahead of myself, aren’t I? Dr. Maxell was a terrible man, though a terrible man with fancy technics and gobs of money, all of physics, theoretical or otherwise, seemed to fit in his pocket protected breast pocket. When he wrote with his pen upon microcosmic canvas, galaxies opened and invited us in, but Maggie and I, we made their orbits eccentric, changed the very path they were naturally traveling by. Be it a by micrometer or lightyear, it was enough to render whole galaxies unfit for life, just so we could have a glance.

I was reminded of those tourists that came to Xanta Truz, and I felt a sort of shame, that I’d become much, much worse. As now perhaps billions, trillions of lifeforms would never be. Perhaps that’s why Maggie went spelunking into those black holes. To compress so severely, that she’d never have to look back again.

I still see her in that moonlight she kept bottled up, I still hear her dancing to “Under the Silkyway Tonight”, though she never danced much really, at least not with her feet.

Maggie, where have you gone, and could it be told in story? Would we even be worthy? Or has Dr. Maxell made fools of us all… So foolishly playing at love and half-life, of relative time and particle/wave confusion. Who knows, least of all, me.

Biased Off

Author: Julian Miles, Staff Writer

The shot resounds like thunder. All around the room, sidearms are lifted from holsters, sentry guns swing about, and the few sensible beings take cover. I quickly holster my weapon before one of the not-sensible beings decides I’m their target.
Shay looks down at the hole in her uniform, then up at me.
“You shot me!”
I raise both hands, grin, then point at the hole between her fake breasts.
“Like you said, it’s the only way to be sure I’m dealing with a robot.”
“I didn’t mean it as an invite! And it’s ‘hudroid’ you discriminatory prick!”
Behind her, a beaky coughs wetly and slides sideways off its perch. Shay spins about. I see a bigger hole in the back of her uniform. There’s smoke coming from it. I slowly drop my hands.
She rushes to the downed beaky, pulling communicator as she does so.
“I need medical, diplomatic, and intervention teams to my location immediately. Shots fired, VIB down, hudroid officer damaged.” She quickdraws with her free hand. I find myself meeting her eyes down the length of a pistol barrel.
“VIB is a Solanurian. I also have officer involved unauthorised shooting.”
Hold on a minute.
“Shay, what the fr-”
She tilts her head to indicate the beaky.
“You put one through me into an Honourable Envoy from Solan. Chances are, you’re just exercising your talent for impetuous incompetence, but I can’t rule out a transition to bribed assassination.”
“Oh, come on. Just because I banter a lot and you don’t like it.”
Her brow furrows. Marvellous what they can do with technology these days.
“You’re rude, sarcastic, and I don’t have time or temper to detail your fear-anchored gender identity delusions.”
I shrug. Robots are only as good as their programmers, and whoever did her code is clearly a softie. Bet he believes in the Christmas Fairy, too.
“Homo sapiens has two genders. It’s simple. Nothing to fear.”
She actually growls!
“Okay, as you’re determined to annoy me more: Since long before humanity spread from Earth, there have been more than biological genders recognised. The fact some groups of religious fanatics influenced the building of entire civilisations around denying that fact doesn’t change the truth. Hey! Keep your hands where I can see them.”
I slow down reaching for my baton. One zap from that and she’ll short out. Not sure if I can swing the situation, but her behaviour is clearly more aggressive. Putting her down means I can play a rogue robot scenario: she turned on me, I had to fire, and the beaky is just collateral. Unfortunate, but no blame coming my way. Might even get the robot partner programme halted, which would be a fine thing. They don’t understand the threats and force you have to use when dealing with softies and interplanetary scum.
Looking about, I see we’re centre of attention, but there are no other officers present. No watch drones, either. I need to wait. When she checks the site situation, I’ll have her.
She looks away. This time you get yours, robobitch. I step forward, drawing my baton.
Something hits me in the guts, knocking my legs from under me. I go arms down in time to save my face, but I drop the baton.
Lying there, I see someone kick the baton out of reach before crouching next to me.
“You forgot about VIB escorts. Getting my principal accidentally shot by a bigot is embarrassing enough. No way I’m letting you finish off your partner.”
He pats the side of my head.
“You’re done for, chum.”

Red Dust Rising

Author: Hillary Lyon

The window cracked, then broke, allowing a tendril of dust to slither in, covering everything in its narrow path with a fine coating. We wiped it up, patched the oval window with a metal plate soldered in place. Reassuring each other it was repaired, we crawled into our bunks and slept.

When we woke, console lights across our pod blinked weakly under a thin blanket of red dust. Overhead, the skylight leaked a fine shower, and the dust poured down, swirling in the currents of the air conditioner, spreading far and wide across our prefabricated unit. It took us hours to clean up.

The dust was everywhere, filling crevices between keys on keyboards, gluing gears, piling up in empty cups and test tubes, shaping tiny pyramids in every corner imaginable. We ourselves weren’t immune: it gathered in our ears, eyes, noses, mouths. Eating, all foodstuffs now carried grit crunching between our teeth. Showers turned the dust to a sticky red muck, which slid down our bodies, clotted the drain at our feet. This created yet another pressing job; we couldn’t allow the red mud to clog our pipes.

Constant clean up was exhausting, distracting us from our real work. Entire days devoted to patching and cleaning, disposing and sanitizing. Searching, searching for new cracks, inside and out—sometimes finding, often not. The dust continued to find its way in.

Even our EVA suits weren’t immune. Stored in sealed closets, somehow the red dust fingered its way in. Coarse minuscule crystals were sharp enough to tear tiny holes in the fabric, rendering the protective gear useless. We patched the suits as best we could. For two team members, that wasn’t good enough. Going outside the pod on recon and repair, we lost them.

Fine as baby powder—just as sweet smelling—the red dust rose in every aspect of our existence, until we were smothering in its soft avalanche. We who remained, gave in, gave up.

When the next expedition landed, they quickly located our pod. Inside, shin deep in red dust, the new crew prowled and poked until they found us, buried beneath a thick layer of powder. Our jumpsuits worn away, our flesh abraded to nothing. Our skulls, polished by the dust and now gleaming like crystals, flashed like unheeded warning beacons beneath the side-lights of the new crew’s helmets—as the red dust continued its inexorable rise.

Automatic Music

Author: Hannah Caroline Wayne

Vika was bopping down the sidewalk, holographic music blending seamlessly with reality. The street was empty, a marvel in a city so large, as she danced with the holo-girls, smiling and singing along with the synthesized melody. Her cutoff jacket bounced off of her; her loose hair flopped about. Several of the people watching her from their broken windows were jealous of her infectious smile. More than one lecher eyed her with mouth agape.

Vika was oblivious to it all. The concert would continue until she stopped it. It was the latest release by FTF: an artificial DJ that fit on a micro-drive the size of her pinky nail. It cost her almost two week’s pay, but it would keep her occupied forever; or until the next algorithm-based concert dropped. Whichever came first.

But as the music climbed toward a bass-drop, it stopped. She was ripped from her concert and plopped into the mundanity of the augmented street, jolting her as she danced with a sign post. Vika removed her AR glasses and examined them. Tiny cracks spiderwebbed their way down one of the glasses’ temples. She sighed, folded them up, and slipped them into a secure pocket. She returned her eyes to the street, a smile creeping back. It started in the eyes and worked its way down until she radiated positivity once again. She started singing a tune in her head and those still watching her could swear they could hear it too, unconscious smiles on their faces.

Above an Ammoniac Lake

Author: Alastair Millar

As I walked the rocky path from !X’alt, above the vapours that rise from that city on the great ammoniac lake, I came upon a native temple beside the way, and though I could not discern its name among the inscriptions thereon it seemed to me that I was tired and could rest in its shade.

As I took my ease upon the stone steps, the iridescent Cetian who dwelt in the utter darkness within scuttled out, and sat beside me, and such was its beauty that I was compelled to turn and look into its shifting eyes.

“Hearken to Me,” it said, “A traveller of your species came here, and I could not say from whence. His flight suit was scarred, its insignia worn away. But I saw in his eyes that he would partake of the Waters within, that erase the memories of you humans. Being Guardian of this treasure, I bade him tell me why he would drink of them. And he gave me no answer, but looked around as if he heard the voices of the mute rocks and stone lintel, and therefore I spoke to him again, and then a third time in his mind.”

“Then at last he looked at me, and said ‘That which I was, I am no more. That which was most precious to me has been chained, and there is no returning to the Garden in which I dwelt, where roses bloomed for all that weeds grew there also. In my youth, I walked with my face to a yellow Sun and found joy in its warmth, yet now I cannot raise my eyes, and all suns are alike, pale and cold to me.’”

“‘I hear the sounds and voices around me, yet none in such a wise as I may listen only to one – nay, they all strive for my attention, but I cannot concentrate upon any for the clamour of the others, all insistent, howsoever insignificant they may be. Thus I have no peace from this wall of noise that presses in upon me, except in utter solitude and quiet. I must avoid the crowd, and have lost my friends because, becoming bemused and incoherent, I offended or appalled them beyond hope of reconciliation.’”

“And I saw in the hollows of his eyes that he spoke the truth.”

“‘I have visited a dozen worlds and a score of species,’ he continued, ‘but I have found no respite or cure for this infirmity. I have sought refuge in the Void of Space, and in the Unreal Virtuality, but the labour of my mind is without pattern and hopeless. The work of my hands is stilled, for there is no clear pattern to guide them, and the words of my mouth are hushed, for they would be lost in the din.’”

“In this state of hopelessness he came to me, yet I knew not whether that Gift which is mine to bestow could rightly be given to him, and he saw the confusion in my eyes, and said nothing, but rose and continued upon his Way. But I know that he will return again to this world, to this place, and demand of me the answer which I could not give.”

And I looked upon the Cetian, even as it gazed upon me, and could likewise give it no answer, and thus we sat upon the temple steps in silence, above the vapours that rise from the city by the ammoniac lake.