Author : Callum Wallace
“Well, this is a little awkward, but we’ll have to destroy you. Only literally, of course. Metaphysically you’ll be right as rain.”
Paul shrank back from this. “Metaphysically?”
The speaker nodded, the soft beak spreading into what could have been a smile. “You’ll continue to exist in what you would call our minds. Specifically Klegg’s.”
The grey figure to his left waved cheerfully and nodded its bulbous head.
Paul shook his. “I don’t understand. Why do you have to destroy me at all? I don’t think I like that idea.”
The spokesalien gave a shrug of his tiny shoulders. “It’s quite safe. Imagine a two dimensional line. Take that line to your dimension, the third. It only ceases to exist in the sense that it is no longer two dimensional. If you think about it, it now exists even more! As a third dimensional shape, of course.”
The third alien piped up helpfully. “A rectangular prism.” This earned him a bony elbow to skinny ribs.
Bhob continued. “Yes, thank you Lendi.” He turned back to Paul, regarding him with over-large eyes. “In this way, so too must you be destroyed, and reborn as a fourth dimensional being.”
The being smiled its beaked smile again. “Yes, like us.”
He raised his arms, closing his eyes and taking a deep breath, like a vicar before a sermon.
Before he could speak, however, Paul interrupted. “Excuse me sorry, one more thing. If you’re fourth dimensional, how are you here, speaking to me right now? Aren’t you, you know,” he rolled his hands nervously, “third dimensional like me?”
The lead alien made an irritated noise and lowered its elongated hands. “Well, strictly speaking, we’re not in the third dimension. We’re with you in your mind, not actually here in any sense.”
Klegg joined in. “On that note, why do you lot always make us look like this?” Paul mouthed wordlessly, prompting Klegg to indicate their frail, pale bodies.
“Make you look like this?”
Bhob nodded. “We’re in your mind. You subconsciously chose us to look like this.”
Paul shrugged. “Um… Movies?”
Klegg grunted and rolled his eyes. “Popular culture has a lot to answer for.”
Bhobb cleared his throat. “Anyway, as I was saying, we’re here, in your mind.” He tapped his head. “But before you can meet the council, we need to take you into our dimension. Klegg?”
The second alien nodded and stepped forward. “The transdimensional shift doesn’t hurt. As Bhob said, we ‘destroy you’,” he waggled his long tipped fingers like bunny ears, “and reconstitute you in our dimension. Then, you’ll be able to interact with the council and find out just why they summoned you.”
Paul blinked and took a step back. “Wait, wait, you don’t know what they want? Aren’t you higher beings? How do you not know?”
Klegg ran a thin hand over his fleshy face. “Every time!”
Bhob shook his head. “Only higher to you. Do you know what your leaders are doing all of the time? Are you aware of how your universe functions, just because you exist in it?”
Paul shook his head as Lendi stepped forward, trying to smile kindly. “We’re just the collectors. Like your bureaucrats.”
“Or bounty hunters?”
Klegg gave a short laugh. “Kind of. Right, close your eyes, hold your breath.”
The aliens closed their eyes, arms raised.
Paul, still unsure and slightly reeling, waited, thinking.
Was this real?
And if so, what could possibly await him on the other side? What would he see?
It might be wonderful.
He steeled himself, took a deep breath.
Paul blinked, and —
Author : Ancus Mitis
Scanning another world. You pause in your survey when you see a creature with familiar pinkish skin on four legs. You squint at it for a minute, and then it turns around and you see its human face.
You grimace and look down at the “skip” button—actually the letter “s” on your keyboard, but you’re not typing essays or anything. You almost consider pressing it. And then the early warning system kicks in.
“Ah, shit.” You know they’re on their way now.
You look back at the creature on the monitor. Its face is familiar. Someone you used to work with. Maybe she’s still alive somewhere. If these are your alternate universe counterparts, then there must not be any civilization there. No one to destroy you. No one to be destroyed. So you press “evacuate” instead. The script you had Allen write days ago does its work.
Your machines pull on the stretchy fabric of this foreign reality and drag it into the room beneath you. The hallway outside it has all the necessary equipment for starting a new life. Everyone who goes through takes some piece of equipment with them, until the hallway is empty.
And out you go, through the doors and down the stairs and into where the room used to be.
Now you’re on a hilly grassland with those funny peoplemonkeys crawling around on it. You can still see the door to the hallway in your old universe. You get the remote out of your pocket as you watch your people coming through. Allan and Greenough, your next door neighbors, are about to cross the threshold when you hear this loud crash and parts of the facility are flung into the new world.
The connection snaps. But it’s as if you had closed the door yourself. The skin of the world rebounds and you are knocked flat by a wave expanding in three dimensions. You’ve compared it once to dropping a rock into a pond, but it’s more like tidal waves on the ocean. Within ten thousand kilometers, any buildings are like sand castles being washed away. People inside them—but there’s no reason to think about that. This place is empty.
You look around your new home. The day is warm and dry and there isn’t very much wind. The grassy hills lead up to mountains towards the south; halfway along, the grass changes to forest. There are parts of the world you’ve been chased away from that still look like this. But above this world hangs a colossal moon and there are those humonkey things munching grains on the ends of the tall stalks of wild grass. You see one of them with Allan’s face, taking tufts of hair from another, who looks an awful lot like Greenough, and biting off the ends.
You decide it would be better to lie back down for a while.
Author : R Gene Turchin
The lumbering thing on treads wasn’t sophisticated or complicated, a 0.50 caliber machine gun mounted on tank tracks. An array of sensors rotated on top along with a pincushion of antennas.
“We can send it into neighborhoods where the bad guys are without risking our soldiers. It is controlled remotely but has some autonomy.” He scanned the military reps, reading their faces.
“What makes this different from other recon robots?” a voice asked.
“Our algorithm,” Jason answered. “Tracks incoming projectiles, calculates the reverse trajectory in a heartbeat and then returns fire.” He’d hoped one of them would ask that question. “Bad guy shoots at it. It shoots back—and doesn’t miss.” He paused for effect. “The shooter won’t have time to take the weapon away from his face.” He beamed at he crowd. They were studying it warily now.
“Is it live?” one of the military officers asked. “We have safety regs for live ammo demos.”
“No sir, but we’d load it live for the field demo.” He relished the power. They were afraid.
A guy stood in the back of the room, in the shadows. His hair blended into the darkness as if it grew from it. Jason squinted into the darkness, momentarily distracted from his spiel. The guy had dreadlocks. How the hell did he get in here? One of those programmer types, with dark skin maybe Indian or Pakistani. They produced some hellacious programmers. The guy wasn’t paying attention anyway only fiddling with his phone. Jason would have to talk to security. No way that guy belonged here, even as a consultant.
He turned back to the crowd. “I’m going to activate the sensors and LIDAR,” he said tapping his tablet. The robot moved slightly. A small slit in the top flashed light.
“If one of you could help me with the demo,” Jason said. The guy in back was now alternately glancing between his phone and the robot. He’s trying to hack us, Jason thought.
Out loud he said, “Excuse me gentleman,” as he pushed toward the back.
“Who are you and what do you think you’re doing?” The guy was big, nothing like one of those wimpy programmers. Must be a gym rat. He smiled at Jason.
“Oh, I’m authorized to be here,” he flicked the badge up from his lanyard. “Your security and software suck, by-the-way. I hacked it, inserted a virus, more precisely, a worm. Burrowed it’s way in and fixed things.”
Jason, for once, was at a loss. He motioned to security. “This is the big leagues. You’re way out of your element.” The man’s smile never wavered.
“Doesn’t matter. I accomplished what I came here for. Your machine is useless.” The guards had him by the arms.
“My own little algorithm. Not mine really, the idea belonged to a very smart man, I figured out how to implement them–the three laws.” They were dragging him through the door.
“Not software, but embedded in the silicon latices structure on a quantum level. Can’t be removed…ever.”
Jason turned back to the customers. “Nut job. Don’t know how he got in here. Definitely going to make some security changes. Anybody understand what he was talking about?”
The general with three stars looked toward the door. “If he did what he said, then, the demo is going to get really interesting.”
“What the hell are you talking about?”
“The three laws,” the general answered. “If he did it, everything changes.”
“What three laws?”
From the speaker on the robot, a female voice said, “A robot may not…”
Author : Kate Runels
Mary Slade slipped her ship into the maze kilometers ahead of the police’s patrol craft still trailing her. Trailing since Ganymede station days ago. It was annoying to say the least.
Slade didn’t know why they had decided to trail her ship, why her, out of the dozens that had left the station at the same time, they followed, and to get rid of them was through the maze.
A small face appeared reflected in the glass of the front view. Slade knew her craft was small, but she’d never had another person in it with her. She kept her eyes on her controls as more and more asteroids surrounded them.“What are you doing up here?”
“Are they still following?”
It was odd how small the ship felt with another in it, even if the other was a young girl. “Yes. Now get yourself strapped back in, I’m heading into part of the asteroid belt called the maze.”
“We’ll lose them. I grew up in the maze, Amy.”
“No buts. Now strap yourself in!” Slade had no patience for idle questions, coming into the belt at speed. The patrol craft still trailing.
The reflected image disappeared. Slade never once looked directly at the girl. Her first glimpse of her on station had been enough for all the memories and the guilt to almost overwhelm her. The resemblance was uncanny. Her sister had died a long time ago and this eight year old girl looked just like her. Clone? A frozen test tube child? What kind of experiment had the government done? Slade didn’t know, but the government did that to recruits, tried to do it to Slade.
Warning alarms brought her out of that self-defeating memory as small asteroids went past.
“Light Space Craft, you are entering restricted space, heave to and-” the trailing craft finally contacted her.
Slade silenced that as well. She needed all her attention and focus for the maze. Not many pilots dared the asteroid belt outside of the proscribed and constantly cleared lanes, between the inner and outer system.
More asteroids filled the H.U.D. and the patrol ship gained on her as she fired braking thrusters and changed direction.
Soon that’s all she did while heading deeper and deeper into the maze. She’d traveled mostly in the maze, but had visited the labyrinth, but had never been to the far side and the warren.
The maze constantly changed, shifted. She had a basic idea where she was and where she wanted to go. Vaguely, she sensed the patrol craft until she no longer did.. Either crashed or turned back. It was no longer her concern. The beacon alert chimed at her. She was close to five mile asteroid.
“Five mile, Five mile.” Slade hailed the old prospecting homestead, knowing she had been spotted and most likely targeted. “This is courier ship, Slade’s Promise. Mom, Dad, I have someone you need to meet.”
She hadn’t been back since she and Alissa had left, with such optimism, filled with the knowledge they were doing the right thing. Now, her sister was dead and it had taken Slade years to track down this lead. This child.
Slade flicked off the comm and then slowed the ship and aligned it with the slight opening in the asteroid which led to the dock.
“Wow,” came from behind her.
Slade started, it had sounded so much like Alissa. “You’re safe now,” she said, as the ship settled onto the dock and the slight opening closed back up. “Welcome home.”
Author : Philip Berry
We had been on Tenlek III half a year before Yolande struck through. The thin metalloid crust gave way to the sharp end of her hammer, and momentum carried it, her arm, and her shoulder through the ship’s degraded shell. Yolande fell forward, off balance, and the reinforced glass of her visor connected with a grey-blue rock. It cracked, but only the outer glaze was damaged. I dragged her back, sprayed-sealed the entire mask just in case, and peered through the hole.
Over a hundred metres beneath us I saw row after row of preservation tanks. They gave out enough orange light for me to see far into the distance of this man-made cavern. The tanks continued to the edge of my vision.
I stood back, looked down the hill towards our pioneer camp of hard-tents, grow-sheds, multi-track vehicles and aerials. Boss Kuma was in the central tent, under the limp company flag. I pressed my tongue against a cheek to activate the mic and reported back,
“Boss… found a transport here. Third era by the looks.”
“Stay there, I’m coming up.”
Yolande and I watched him exit the tent and glide up to our position on a one-man rover.
He knelt next to me and looked down into the hole, probing with a strong beam. I saw that some of the tanks had opened. Boss Kuma sensed my surprise.
“What is it?”
“They’ve woken up since we breached the shell, I’m sure of it. The white ones, they weren’t like that a few minutes ago.”
Three human figures moved out of the shadow and walked to where fragments of rock and shell had fallen under the hole. One of them picked up Yolande’s hammer.
Boss Kuma grunted,
“It’s the Fair Source. I knew it.”
“The Fair… but that was three centuries ago Boss.”
“Yep, and it looks like one of the bio-stasis wings got detached before the crash. They said no survivors. They were wrong.”
I knew a little about the Fair Source. Most miners had heard of it. But Tenlek III had been scanned numerous times since that disaster, all sectors, all spectra, and no signs of life, active or quiescent, had been detected. Only minerals. Only infinite profit.
The three figures below looked up. They had no idea who or what looked down at them. A fourth appeared, then a fifth. Our accidental shell breach had evidently triggered the wake cycle, and the majority were coming round in good health.
I smiled. Life suddenly looked more interesting. With a fresh workforce, surplus energy stored in the bio-stasis drive cells and untold hardware residing in the utility hangars, we were going to break this concession wide open in no time.
“Where shall we put them Boss?” I asked. “On the crater? It’s flat as a field there, they’ll be able to throw up their hard-tents in two days. I can supervise the first shifts.”
Boss Kuma stood up and began to walk away.
“Bury this,” he ordered.
“Don’t you get it? They’ve got flag rights. They are the first pioneers. Means we get nothing. So bury them!”
So I made preparations, and considered – they’d have done the same to us.
Author : George S. Walker
“The bird couldn’t have just flown away,” said Ms. Donaldson, pointing to the vacated spot in the photos.
The Director nodded. They spoke quietly in his office as rain lashed against the window behind him.
“Maybe the last ones there simply forgot to lock up,” she added.
He didn’t get the joke. “That wouldn’t have made any difference. There were too many approaches. It’s not like the old days, when we didn’t have to worry.”
The Director was old enough to be her father. In his youth, a theft of this magnitude would have been inconceivable. Back then, they’d relied on the difficulty of physical access.
“Has anyone checked for prints?” asked the Director.
“Not yet. Of course, there were lots already there.”
He turned from the photos to look at her. “Each one is unique.”
“I’m not stupid,” she snapped. Instantly she regretted her outburst. He was the Director.
He shook his head. “Of course not. But even a footprint is a clue.”
“You mean, like an inside job.” She’d avoiding mentioning that till now, the elephant in the room.
“No. I’d know if it were our people.”
Would he really? And how much had he known before she’d walked in? What if the Director himself was involved? The power of the institution had been spiraling down for decades. What if the administration’s elite had masterminded the theft as a publicity stunt?
“Then who?” she said, studying his face for some betrayal of expression.
“I can count on one hand the organizations that could pull this off.”
“Where could they sell it? Not to a museum; it’s like the Mona Lisa.” She looked pointedly at the Director’s curio shelf, where a small replica of the original perched, eager to fly, every detail lovingly reproduced. “A ransom demand?”
“They must know we’d never pay. No, I think whoever did this took it just to prove they could,” he said. “You have to respect their gumption.”
Gumption, now there was a word you didn’t hear anymore. “Theft isn’t something I respect. We put our treasure on display for all the world.”
“On a long dark night with no one on guard.”
Lightning flashed outside the window. The weather here was stormier than there, overlooking a tranquil sea.
“We’re spread too thin these days,” he said. “One of the A-men is dead and the other will be soon. They were the best we had, the last ones there.”
Those days, the days of boots on the ground, were gone. Unmanned surveillance was the future, and the Director still had his head in the past.
“Of course, the only thing there was the body,” he said, “the base. We lost the top long ago.”
“Maybe they’re after that, too. Wouldn’t that be something to see? The whole thing put back together?”
“What part of smashed to a million pieces don’t you understand? No, they just went after the easy part.”
“Easy being a relative term.”
“How many people know?” he asked.
“You, me and the one who discovered it missing.” The man with the enhanced telescope was an outsider. That had to hurt the Director’s pride.
“Who has he told?”
“It’s not public. Not yet. I made sure of that.”
The Director looked her in the eye. “Once I tell the President that someone stole the Apollo 11 lander stage from the Sea of Tranquility, heads will roll here at NASA.”