by submission | Nov 10, 2019 | Story |
Author: R. J. Erbacher
The incongruence of this bridge’s construction boggled Samm’s mind. Using her ship to cut, haul and position logs, if they could be called that, when they should be using carbon graphene girders. This planet didn’t have traditional trees but tall branchless cylindrical shafts that were nearly as hard as cement and reached above the layer of toxic surface mist where they sprouted a myriad of delicate flowers that absorbed fresh moisture and starlight. They were too hard to cut, and their roots went on for freaking ever into the moist soil of the lower terrain. A couple of shots from the blast cannon could snap them and if carefully caught, because if they fell into the murk below you would never recover them, hauled into place. There they were strapped together by her team on the ground using long ropey strands of some seemingly purposeless vine that cover the cliff face of the mountains were all these special quadrupeds lived.
That was the other thing that annoyed Samm. Her production company was sent here to relocate this tribe of highly developed beings without airlifting them. For lack of an easier word, they were called ‘Horses;’ she couldn’t remember their scientific name. Long full-bodied manes of hair shrouded a four-legged creature with hoof/hands ending in octopi tentacles. Their feelers had a chemical connection with the soil. The collective occurrences of the planet including knowledge, energy, emotion, and sustenance were transmitted from the natural surroundings straight through into their appendages. They were essentially a moving manifestation of their world.
But their intelligence factor was so phenomenal that human specialists had to create new charts to try and categorize their brainpower. All members of their breed could do remarkable swerve mathematical calculations. Straight math any handheld computer could handle but these creatures, in their head, manipulated formula’s around the time/space continuum that the smartest scientist on earth couldn’t even understand. But it was working. And its applications were allowing unprecedented vehicle engineering and travel throughout the universe. Yet their feet could not leave the soil of this planet. They literally would not jump to save their own life. One part of their anatomy always had to be in contact with the surface or they would instantly go into an unsurvivable seizure. So, you couldn’t just transport them to safety which would have taken all of ten minutes.
A millennium ago what was left of the Horses’ population migrated out of the lowlands that had become poisonous and settled in the undebased rocky upper hills. In the last thousand years, an erosion crevasse opened isolating them from the rest of the expansive region. Yet they managed to live comfortably in their limited surroundings, regulating their population. They didn’t need nutrients or water as they absorbed it from the ground. But now their little piece of home was continuing to crumble, and the slippage was precarious. The research people that were working with the Horses contacted earth and told them that the plateau they lived on was falling off the side of a mountain. The government contracted her company and sent her to find a way to move them to safety. The only way to save them was to get them to the more stable center of the continent, traveling only on items that were indigenous to the planet, like a home-grown bridge made of trees and twigs, that they could traverse.
So, she had to construct a primitive annihilation-preventing conduit so humans could ride the brains of an extraterrestrial species into the exploration of the cosmos. And Samm thought figuring out her mother-in-law was confusing.
by submission | Nov 9, 2019 | Story |
Author: Glenn Leung
‘Activate Neuro-Computer link.’
I concentrated on the implants in my brain as I thought those words. I immediately got a sense that I knew more than I used to, and I mentally scanned for knowledge of the ship’s map. Having it in my head would not help me see in the dark, though it would fill my consciousness with annoying foreign thoughts. Normally I would have just told the main computer to turn the emergency power back on, but the aliens destroyed the relay.
‘Move ten meters forward and make a left.’
Imagine following somebody else’s instructions while moving through a maze blindfolded. By my estimates, I had about ten minutes before the ship sank to crush depth. If I had not destroyed my flashlight in the fight, that would have been plenty of time. It was too late for regrets now. All I could do was take rapid three-quarter steps, back bent and arms outstretched for the inevitable mishap.
I nearly fell over something soft as I made the left. A quick feel told me it was human, one of my shipmates killed in combat. There was a sickly warm patch which corroborated the smell. Just as I was about to throw up, I heard a ghostly moan. The shock made me swallow everything that was on its way out.
‘All in the mind,’ I composed myself.
Bonnet had warned me this might happen. Linking with the ship’s network while deprived of the senses could cause very vivid hallucinations, amplified by the combined computing power of the brain and the ship’s computers. Filtering out scary thoughts was difficult when the deadly battle was still fresh in my memory. Screaming ghosts of shipmates were not helping with the grotesque tripping hazards. At least some of those ghosts pointed me in the right direction, saving me precious time.
It would have been better if they had flashlights.
At long last, I arrived at the stairs leading to the emergency generator. I had never imagined that the sight of that old rickety thing would bring me so much joy.
I then realized I could see the stairs.
At first, I thought someone else had turned on the emergency power, but the ship’s engine was still silent. Were my brain and the ship’s computers working together to create an accurate projection? Maybe there is a separate generator for the engine room’s lights, just as there are for the computers and everything else. My excitement was dashed when I saw one of the aliens waiting for me at the top, its proboscis twitching in anticipation of my flesh. Did we not kill them all?
I had to assume it was not a hallucination. I pulled out my pistol and started shooting. Sure enough, blue blood sputtered from its head as it let out a piercing shriek. It fell down the stairs, splattering its goo across the guard rails.
‘Emergency power activated. Returning to surface.’
The shock of the sudden thought was an extra kick to my already frenetic heart. I would have shot at the figure that appeared at the top of the stairs had it not let out a very human cry.
“Sergeant! Stand down immediately! You just shot the Captain!”
Bonnet’s shouts awoke something within me. I looked at where the alien had fallen and saw the mangled body of the Captain. My head grew impossibly heavy and my vision went dim as I struggled to make a coherent deactivation command. I remember seeing Bonnet running down the stairs before all went dark again.
by submission | Nov 8, 2019 | Story |
Author: Lance J. Mushung
The man standing in my doorway was me wearing different clothes.
He smiled and extended his right hand. “Hello, Brad.”
After a couple of seconds, he grabbed my hand and pumped it. “You should close your dropped jaw and invite me in.”
He released my hand and I stepped out of his way. He walked past me into my family room.
I closed the door, and my mouth, and followed him to the stone-colored sectional sofa. After we sat down, I did nothing but stare. His bald head, olive tone skin, hazel eyes, and other distinguishing features all matched mine. He even had the small scar under his left eye from my skin cancer surgery.
He broke the awkward silence. “You want to know why I look like you.”
I almost laughed. “That’s a safe bet. Is this a prank for some sort of hidden-camera TV show?”
“No. I am not native to Earth.”
“I understand your skepticism, but it is true. Can you guess why I appear to be your doppelganger?”
“Why should I?”
“I will explain later if you try.”
I shrugged. “All right, I’ll play along for a bit. Are you a shape-shifter or some sort of holographic creation?”
“Are you a robot made to look like me, or my clone grown by your people?”
“Are you using telepathy to just make me think I’m seeing myself, or maybe you’re me from an alternate reality?”
“I’m running out of ideas here.”
“Are you going to suggest time travel?”
“Time travel is crap. As a matter of fact, this is all complete crap. Why don’t you just tell me what’s going on?” I stood up and pointed to the door. “Start talking or get out.”
He got up and grasped my hand. “You should go to the garage with me.”
He let go of me and walked toward the garage, and I realized I was following him. Why had I accepted his suggestions twice?
Once in the garage, he stopped at the front of my Mustang and lifted the front end with one hand the way I’d pick up a box of cereal.
He said, “I am a nonorganic being modified to look like you for the moment.”
“So, you are a robot.”
His eyes narrowed almost too little to notice. “I am a nonorganic being.”
I’d struck a nerve, so I put up my open palms. “Sorry, I meant no insult. I’d really like to know what’s going on.”
“My people have come to test 8,192 humans to assess your potential as a species. You are part of the random sample.”
“When does the test start?”
“It is done.” He put down my car. “It is time for me to go. Thank you for your time.”
The garage door opener began pulling the door up.
He shook my hand. “You should remain in the garage.”
He walked away and the garage door began closing the second he stepped onto the driveway. I wanted to follow him, but my legs wouldn’t move.
“Wait,” I shouted. “Why are you testing our potential? What happens after the testing? What was the test? How did I do?”
He smiled and waved. The door hid him from sight seconds later. All I could do is wonder if anyone would believe the story, if I told it.
by submission | Nov 7, 2019 | Story |
Author: David C. Nutt
I saw the black limo outside our cottage. I knew why the angel of death was here. It was for my partner Andrew. He hasn’t looked well for over a week. What’s more, he’s been grumpy- as grumpy as his actual age of 337, rather than the 42 he presents here in the Home.
The Home. Once they were actual, physical, warehouses for the aged and infirmed, the Alzheimer’s, and the ones forgotten by their relatives. Thank the stars those are no longer issues for us but even so, humans still eventually wear out. In this case, our neural paths degrade after a time so not even our perfect VR simulation will work anymore. I’m sure one day science will figure out a way to keep us alive indefinitely through VR, and then the debate will be “who wants to live forever?” I think at age 204, the age I came to the home, plus the additional 136 years I’ve lived here, I could go anytime without making a fuss. 16 careers, four spouses, 232 descendants (can’t keep track of all the grandkids, but love ‘em all and they visit.) I think when my time comes, I’ll be ready.
I turned up the walk of our Block Island simulation cottage. On my wrist set, I dialed “showered” and chose “gray suit, business formal.” Andrew was so stuffy. He was always overdressed and insisted that I was perpetually underdressed. I got a little misty. I knew this day would arrive I just thought we’d have a little more time- but then, isn’t that what we all say in the real world as well?
I met the Angel of Death at our door. Dressed in a black rifle rock coat and bolo tie, he was young- looked to be in his twenties. Only his eyes gave away his real age- while they were clear and bright, there was a depth that told me this was no twenty-something.
“Mr. Philip Sinclair?”
“Yes, I’m him.” Before he could speak, I cut him off, “Does Andrew know?”
Death, or rather, the death notification avatar from the Home nodded. “He’s been made aware.”
“How’s he taking it?”
“About as well as can be well as can be expected.” Death opened the door for me. I sighed and walked in. The French doors in our vestibule were shut and when I opened them our cute little cape was transformed into what can only be described as a wedding venue- lots of white, strings of lights, champagne, hors d’oeuvres and all my relatives- oh. This is not Andrew’s time. It’s mine.
I turned to Death. “Not Andrew. Me.”
There was a look of shock and then sadness. “I’m sorry sir. I thought you understood. Death only meets with the decedent. It’s made very clear in the brochure.”
I nodded. “May I ask what’s happened?”
Death nodded. “Neural cascade failure. Our techs figure out we can loop you for no more than 30, possibly 40 minutes.”
I nodded. “Well, let’s do this shall we?” I winked at Death and he smiled. Andrew took my hand. I kissed him on the cheek and dried his tears.
Death walking ahead of us, our relatives all around us, we reached a set of doors and stopped.
“This is as far as we can go.” Death said solemnly.
Andrew was weeping. It broke my heart. He hated it when he lost control like this. I kissed him again.
Death opened the door. I squared my shoulders, took a deep breath, then stepped through the door into a blinding white light.
by submission | Nov 6, 2019 | Story |
Author: Thomas Fitzgerald McCarthy
— An excerpt taken from Pioteer Gigan Trilorgh’s Anthropology on Extinct Pathologies
Two Anecdotes On the Fragility of the Human Mind
In the 24th century, a human biotech engineer designated Angeline Mateo was heralded by the Earth press as the new saint of protection. After years of research, she’d finally solved the Static Bubble Equation and created the first interstellar shield that protected against rogue particles of dark matter. Fatalities from collisions during interstellar journeys dropped by ninety-four percent. All remaining accidents were classified as technical failures or intentional sabotage. No casualties. Human entities from her home territory of New Zealand created holographic representations of her in their windows to serve as charms of protection.
On the cycle marking her fifty-eighth solar rotation, when a monetary payment failed to process during a planet-wide plasma storm that obstructed the banking networks, subject Mateo’s previous polar-gendered mate confronted her at her work quarters at Biotech Laboratories, accusing her of deliberately withholding compensation from him. When she turned away to call for security, he struck her in the back of her skull with a figurine composed of quartz and bronze metals. Her biological functions ceased immediately and she was dissolved.
Despite all of her technological achievements, the human body remained as it was five-hundred thousand solar cycles earlier — nothing more than soft, vulnerable tissue encumbering a consciousness that could connect star systems.
Ninety solar rotations before Mateo’s termination, one of her biological predecessors, twice removed from direct biogenesis, was killed in transit to Alpha Centauri in an incident which inspired her life’s research. A stagnant asteroid, trapped for centuries in a mini nebula by the twin stars’ gravitational pull, was abruptly thrust out into space by a massive solar flare. It collided headlong with the Artomis, the flagship of the human race’s luxury cruise fleet. Mateo’s ancestor was eliminated almost instantly, along with nearly a thousand others.
A rear admiral named Gesius Magellan, a biological relation to one of the dematerialized humans, commandeered a military warship and pursued the rogue asteroid. This decision was made in full knowledge that the asteroid was headed out of the system, into extrasolar darkness. Before it could be intercepted, it passed into a subspace slipstream and accelerated beyond his reach. Magellan took his ship into the slipstream and across the quadrant—a journey spanning more than seven thousand light-years and eighteen solar rotations.
During this trek, Magellan’s ship experienced numerous problems that quickly turned fatal. Seven human crew members and two semi-conscious androids perished during an attack by a hostile race of anthropoids from the Caleos System. Nine more were killed when one of the engines imploded due to structural fatigue. Three more terminated their own biological functions due to psychological degradation resulting from their longterm isolation.
At the end of his journey, Admiral Magellan finally reached the asteroid when it encountered a pocket of interstellar gases that slowed its inertia. Despite threats of mutiny from his remaining officers for depleting the ship’s energy reserves, Magellan destroyed the asteroid and deployed a message buoy to alert Earth’s central command that his mission was complete.
Never having returned to port, with no further communications, the ship was assumed lost by historians.
Human languages are quite complex in their subtleties. A recurring issue in my research is the differences between the brain and the mind. In my research, I have found that one represents the physical, and the other, the metaphysical. Yet, both are extraordinarily vulnerable in their condition, and with it, the human condition itself, capable of magnificent feats and inexplicable obsessions.
by Hari Navarro | Nov 5, 2019 | Story |
Author: Hari Navarro, Staff Writer
The ancient evil that lives and breathes and seethes beneath my grandmother’s house has nothing to do with Hell. This rotting husk is not the place that villains go when they die. It is not some construct tasked with offering context and balance to those who need to have a notion of evil so as they know just how it is to be good.
It is a craft. A ship of enormous dimensions and it is a prison and it is failing.
You see these creatures thrive on the exact flavour of toxicity that our planet now finds itself bound. How gleeful as they pulled images of our slow demise down through the dirt and they watched and they plotted and they waited.
Such jealousy as they wish to walk upon the surface as we, but cannot. They pray for the day to arrive when they can wade out into the acid lake. To drink our rank filth down into their pores until it courses through every last ounce of their being.
And so for now they can but dream of a time, now many millennia ago. When their refugee barge spiralled like a great sycamore pod through the endless folds of the cosmos sea. When they crashed down into a world still in the bawling throws of its birth.
At first they thrived in their newly found acid realm. But, then, came the filtering trees and the animals and the greenery and, then… and, then, there came us. They retreated back into their craft and they watched with hungry eyes the march of time as the sediment and waste and the filth layered and layered and it layered.
At the end of one of my grandmother’s many winding garden paths, there is a rock that juts up from the earth. Only it’s not a rock. It is the very tip of a wing. That of a craft of enormous dimensions. As a child, I’d lay my hand upon it and feel its crackle warmth even on the coldest of days and Grandmother would tell me this tale.
How my own mother had been digging in the garden one day and that it was she who discovered the craft. That a tiny door had opened in it and she crawled through and was never seen again.
The monsters used her to create me. They created me so that I would speak to the world. I had to be female and when my time came to make known my voice I had to be young. I had to be sixteen. Surely, nobody would listen and the world would rail against me and belligerently stick to its course.
The monsters knew that the earth was at a tipping point. All it needed was for arrogance and greed to continue its trudge and the end would be nigh and they could slither on up to feed.
It’s just fiction, I know. Just a funny little tale that grandmothers tell. Not a fleck of truth in it at all.
But today, as I stand before the leaders of the world and some mock me and call out my differences, I smile.
I smile because I can feel that so many others can smell the stink of their uranium breath. I see change jostling just at the ends of my fingers. I smile because for now the monsters will remain down in the shell of their crumbling hell.
… They will, at least, for now.