The Space In the Numbers

Author : Ray Burke

Maybe he was broken. It would certainly explain a lot. He always felt lost, hurt, angry even. It never mattered how many were around him, who he talked to, even when sleeping with them in the throes of romance. He just felt alone, detached, like none of it was real. He felt like he had woken from a dream, a dream where he could fly and go wherever he wanted yet on waking he was stuck, like he’d been clipped. He wondered at times do tamed birds that have been clipped look at their reflections and remember flying? Did it sadden them they couldn’t anymore? Were they tortured by this knowledge?

Always he felt a hunger to belong, he wanted to be with someone to escape, to feel that connection, that love, that interdependance. It all felt wrong to him, it was like a hollow life, a hollow world. He realized at an early age he felt different to everyone, no one seemed to be aware of the gap, the seperation. He was five when the world broke and the curtain dropped draining the magical shine from life.

Sitting watching people brought him some comfort though he never knew why exactly. To imagine their lives, to see their complexity from afar. He could sympathise, he had great empathy for them, going about their lives unaware, ignorance is bliss. That always made him smile. It explained perfectly why he was never comfortable. They all seemed so happy, the daily routine, family life, personal problems, relationships. He just couldn’t understand it all. Couldn’t they see they were wasting their lives? The nine to five rat race. Fritting away their energy, their talents and dreams, to make someone else’s life more comfortable.

He smiled as he felt him coming. The world seemed to slow down just for him, like their time was important, he could always smell his aftershave before he ever saw him. It was the one surprise he looked forward to in this seemingly endless term of detachment, the one thing that felt real. A hand squeezed his shoulder, “Good afternoon Kyo, how’re you today?” The cheeriness and optimism was almost infectious. Always he asked how he was doing, if he was ok. No one else seemed to care about him. He had only known Brian these last few years but he felt in him something that made all the pain recede, he felt something real, someone there behind the face.

***

Walking in Brian looked over the control room. He’d managed to slowly whittle his staff down to remain undetected. The main readout in his office still flashing red in warning beside the timer running on twenty six months and thirteen days. Everything seemed normal despite the error report compiling daily. Interface dilation was still on track hovering at seventeen hundred percent, response times were optimal, data exchange seemed to never deteriorate. He hadn’t dared shut the program down when the critical error occurred. Could he really have happened upon a virgin AI? Removing his lab coat he sat in the interface chair and reclined, adjusting the headset as he inserted the recording chip coded; Kryptic Estrangement Observation Program.

As the dilation effect wound down and the interface loaded in Brian materialized on a side street near a cafe. Was the program truly aware? Did it even know this environment wasn’t real? He could see the program avatar sitting watching people as it always did. He approached and squeezed its shoulder.

“Good afternoon Kyo, how are you today?”

Discuss the Future: The 365 Tomorrows Forums
The 365 Tomorrows Free Podcast: Voices of Tomorrow
This is your future: Submit your stories to 365 Tomorrows

Start The Cycle

Author : Ryan D. Harris

“They’ll get what’s coming to them. Isn’t that right, dear?”

Dr. Charles Kilborne had his last remaining–and live–specimen in front of him. With his left gloved hand on his tweezers, his right hand took a syringe from a table littered with lifeless male suitors.

With his professional, steady grasp, Charles slowly guided the needle to his subject’s abdomen. The contents of the syringe emptied into what would be his magnum opus, the triumph of his life’s work.

He could hear the spliced melody of robins outside as he worked. They brought a faint joy to him as the damp light of dawn gave way the sun. The career virologist longed to return Earth back to her natural state.

“The human race is evil. You give our planet a…mortality it needs. However, we all need a bit of help now and then don’t we?”

Civilization, he decided, did not need nuclear war, grey goo, or an asteroid for cleansing. The goal would be achieved with subtlety and aforethought.

Excitement streamed through his body as he picked up the fifty-cent culturing cup and walked outside to his car.

Charles enjoyed the sunshine as he drove from his home in Thousand Oaks to Santa Monica. He knew tourism boomed at the Santa Monica Pier and it was the perfect place for his vector.

The beach and the pier teemed with activity. People walked, skated, and ran. Charles strolled to the pier, cup in hand. Amidst a crowd of beachgoers , he could hear his heart beating with anticipation. Hands shaking with adrenaline, Charles carefully unscrewed the lid but halted its complete removal. He drew a deep breath and let her out.

She would soon feed and lay her eggs as she chose someone as her prey–her host. Compound eyes and millions of years of instinct directed her efforts. A tiny proboscis would be enough to humble a species that felt foolishly superior.

Charles Kilborne drove away, dreaming of a simpler time and a carefree world.

Discuss the Future: The 365 Tomorrows Forums
The 365 Tomorrows Free Podcast: Voices of Tomorrow
This is your future: Submit your stories to 365 Tomorrows

Extinction 74

Author : Jae Miles, Staff Writer

It sat there, yellow feline eyes glowing gently in a face that reminded me of the top of a burned rice pudding. Short, bald, muscular – if what moved under the garment was muscle – and completely at ease.

“Can you understand me, Evan?”

The voice was husky, comforting: grandfather telling a funny tale on an autumn eve comforting.

I nodded.

“Good. Now, are you ready to depart?”

I looked beyond it to where Alicia, the kids and the cat hung in the lounge air without visible reason. They seemed to be sleeping peacefully.

Licking my lips, I coughed to bring up a voice: “But what about our folks? The police? Government?”

The cat-gremlin-pudding shook its head: “This invitation is for you, and it has been extended to your immediate domestic unit as a courtesy. There is no time for you to include anyone or anything else, and your time is swiftly running out.”

“No. I mean warning the people. So they can prepare.”

The spines that lined his paw/claw nipped my chin: “One more time for the hard of believing: your planet has contained a dormant entity that was trapped during the creation of this solar system. That entity has now healed to a point where it is able to continue journeying. Which requires it to climb out of confinement, an act that will sunder this planet into at least two pieces. The resulting devastation will be inimical to every order of life above single-cell organisms. For most of them, it will be a quick end. For the unlucky ones, it will be a lingering death. Your species is predicted to be the seventy-fourth to expire. I am part of an evacuation initiative. We cannot rescue everything, so we have selected at random. You are now one of the few with the option to flee.”

I shook my head. Something was wrong. Something beyond the alien in my dining room…

“But –”

The paw/claw squeezed and tears ran down my cheeks.

“No ‘but’. You may accept this offer or face the end of your world, race and life.”

“We must be able to do –”

It dropped me. I wasn’t even aware it had lifted me. I heard my family hit the carpet.

Yellow eyes blinked and faded. The wide maw remained: “A brave decision. I do not understand it, but it was yours to make. Die gently.” The teeth faded out and Alicia screamed.

We were huddled on the lounge floor sobbing and shaking when events on the television caught our attention.

“We interrupt this program to go live to Yellowstone National Park.”

“This is Anton Fielder. I am coming to you live from the K-News 24 chopper, high above Yellowstone. As you can see, a massive disturbance is occurring. We are not sure what that object is, possibly some kind of superdense tornado effect, but it extends from the heart of the Yellowstone caldera up into the storm clouds. To give you an idea of its size, the peak between us and the phenomenon is Mount Washburn!”

I looked at the picture and saw the gargantuan tentacle that had erupted into the skies. As I watched, Mount Washburn seemed to leap toward the camera. The screen went black.

We hugged and cried as the room started to shake. I sobbed apologies and Alicia told me I had nothing to apologise for. I couldn’t articulate why.

That wrong feeling had not been the alien. It was like when birds sensed they needed to flee a cataclysm.

I had been too civilised to recognise my survival instinct.

Discuss the Future: The 365 Tomorrows Forums
The 365 Tomorrows Free Podcast: Voices of Tomorrow
This is your future: Submit your stories to 365 Tomorrows

Space Slobs

Author : Thomas Tilton

“Stax, hull breach!” Wattler gurneyed from portside of the Excelsior, his plastoscreens ablaze, his catheter tube streaming a current of nervous yellow piss to the ship’s water purification system.

“I need refueling!” cried Stax–telepathically, of course. The slobs had not spoken more than a word aloud to each other since the start of their eighteen-year mission.

Stax gurneyed himself under the fuel disseminator, which resembled a late-twentieth-century soft serve ice cream machine. Out of its spout poured plentiful heapings of baconnaise, the Terrans’ most prized garnish.

“Ready!” thought-spoke Stax, savory baconnaise drizzling from his gaping unhinged maw and coating his black-bearded jowls, like the spent loveseed of some intergalactic lard pig.

There were no windows on the Excelsior and of course their assailants would not be visible even if there were–not even to the trained oculi of the slobs, whose eyes were digitally enhanced and coated to ensure maximum clarity and sharpness. Space battles were very long-distance affairs.

Wattler needlessly–they were telepaths, after all–brought Stax up to speed. “They’re firing in waves. Hull integrity compromised on the aft decks. The ship’s nanobots are compensating and rebuilding.”

“Check. Reverse thrusters. Strategized target selection, fire at will and random.” Stax directed his thought-commands at both Wattler and the ship’s computer, which was wired to both pilots’ brains via access ports in the slobs’ faceholes.

A quiet, soft, feminine voice stunned them into cerebral silence. “Stop, you foolish men!”

Their plastoscreens lit up white. The entire interface appeared blank and bleached. Then she appeared. Filling the screen, a beautiful hentai maiden with a shimmering blue dress, skin like creamy baconnaise, a short button nose almost like a pimple, and improbably wide, impossibly blue eyes.

Had the slobs breathed in any conventional sense of the word, those breaths would have been taken away.

“You … you call us men,” telesaid Stax.

“We have not been called that in some time,” telesaid Wattler.

“You are men,” said the hentai maiden, “though you may have forgotten. Once you were a proud, upright race. Now you have let the Terrans weaken and destroy you.

“I am Roog. I am a demigod. This is not what I look like. I take the form of whatever my spectators desire most. Yours is a lusty, hungry desire. But has that fiery thirst ever been truly quenched? Does the baconnaise sate?

“Have you ever drunk water from a spile of the spice trees on Yorn? Or fed the taloned squirrelcats on Betazus? When is the last time you felt the wind in your hair or the rains on your beard? Tell me, can a sedentary existence on a probe in deep space ev–”

The hentai beauty’s voice muted, then her head blew up.

“Insolent slander!”

“The baconnaise sates!”

The slobs had only feigned surprise at being called “men,” and they had not actually been listening to her diatribe. While the demigod spoke, they were working silently, telepathically, with the ship’s computer to create the biomechanical cocktail necessary to expel the intruding deity.

They would report Roog’s attempt at sabotage to their Terran benefactors. Now, they both needed refueling.

Discuss the Future: The 365 Tomorrows Forums
The 365 Tomorrows Free Podcast: Voices of Tomorrow
This is your future: Submit your stories to 365 Tomorrows

Living Chromatography

Author : D.H. Arnold

Okay, don’t panic, you’re not dead yet, get a grip, dammit, DON’T PANIC!

God, how I hate that cliché in movies where someone in ZedGee space pauses to note the beauty and wonder of the planet above which they float. God, I hate those movies, I hate this, why the hell am I dying like this, are you out there, help!

Don’t panic! Focus!

Okay, you’re not bleeding, everything seems to be working, fat lot of good it does me at twenty two klicks above the planet. You’ve got a fallsuit on, you had time enough after the integrity klaxons went of to get one on. You’ve got at least 30 minutes of life support, maybe more if you Don’t Panic!

Life support is nominal; charge steady at 97%. Time to start working on saving your life, here. Check the radio and ansible locator output.

Perfect – 3% charge. That’s it, I’m dead.

My orbit shouldn’t decay for a while. I might get lucky, get spotted by rescue transports from the station or those on the way up.

Or not… what the hell?

Dear God – the whole thing is collapsing – breaking apart, shattering into.. so many pieces…

Skytowers CAN’T collapse, they’re engineered to withstand anything short of… deliberate…

Someone blew up the Tower.

No, no, that’s crazy, why would anyone blow up a Skytower? Who would deliberately kill…

What the? That was the Anchor Station! No! No! No!

Close your eyes. Get a grip. Don’t Panic.

This isn’t the way this was supposed to end. Join the Vend, see the galaxy, find ways to help sentient races flourish without slaughtering and desecrating everything around us. That’s what the Vend IS!

How does one minute feel like an hour? Please, someone…

The lower portions of the Tower are getting dragged into the denser parts of the atmosphere and eventually onto the planet. Different materials give off different colors as the friction of reentry and the plasma of the radiation belts tear the molecular structures of the tower to their component atoms. Mostly orange, yellow and red, but the occasional purple and green and blue flare then vanish, giving variety to the death throes of over 7 million people and their home. If this was a meteor shower, it would be beautiful.

The death of millions shouldn’t be pretty.

Don’t panic, don’t vomit, just… don’t!

Well, there’re the first flares of planet-based rescue ships. Not holding my breath for those, too much dodging as they’re re-computing lift loads and flight paths to avoid station debris bigger than they are while maximizing thrust upwards. They might be evac-lifts, though. That much debris planetside will have horrible consequences if they were ready for it; this might be it for Parabus V for a good long time.

More flashes of light but above – debris colliding with ships, other debris, electrical systems breaching and electrons running for cover. Face it, kid, you’re done. Rescuing anyone in this much debris isn’t going to happen with the few shuttles and transports in the sector. You’re one of maybe 2 million left alive and in free-fall – the three million in Anchor have to be dead, anyone below 19 klicks is already flying to meet the ground. Lucky you, Goldilocks.

Funny.. you realize you’re done, and now you’re not panicking anymore.

For the record, God, this sucks.

See you soon. I hope. Save a place at the table.

I feel warm.

I hope I’m beautiful when I burn.

Discuss the Future: The 365 Tomorrows Forums
The 365 Tomorrows Free Podcast: Voices of Tomorrow
This is your future: Submit your stories to 365 Tomorrows

Amongst the Stars

Author : Tino Didriksen

The crying boy slunk down by the obelisk. “Everyone says you listen at these stones”, he whispered, “so if you really do exist, please take me away from here.”

To his surprise, the aliens whispered back, “why do you wish to fly amongst the stars, young one?”

“I tripped over my own shoelaces and everyone laughed at me, even my best friend Pete”, he sobbed. “You’re supposed to take people away who really want it, right? Well, I really want to go into space, away from everyone!”

“Those who can hear us, we allow that choice”, said the aliens, “but you are not yet able to make an informed decision. Remember us quietly, and come back when you are ready. Now go, your parents are getting worried.”

 

The young man hesitantly touched his hand to the obelisk. “Are you still here, or were you a figment of my imagination?”, he asked.

“We are still here. We are always here.”, the aliens replied. “You have come of age. Are you here with purpose in your heart?”

“Yes, but not for going with you just yet”, he sighed. “I got accepted to the finest university in the region, and started to wonder if a particular childhood fantasy really was one. No, I will first make my mark on the world, then return to dance amongst the stars.”

 

The middle-aged man hammered his fists on the obelisk. “Take me away from this blasted place”, he muttered. “The greedy bastards stole my invention, my chance to reach the stars in my own time, and locked me out of the program. I can’t take this corrupt world any longer. Let me walk amongst the stars…”

“We will do so if you are certain”, said the aliens, “but are you truly ready to depart, or are you blinded by anger? Do you count your children, your wife, in the corruption? Do you wish to disappear and let them forever wonder where you went?”

“I…”, the man stammered, “I, no…no, of course not. But it was within reach! A few more years, and the skip drive would have launched us out of this system”. He sighed heavily. “You are right, I will not abandon my family. Farewell, for now.”

 

The old man leaned heavily against the obelisk. “It is time”, he stated, “and you won’t talk me out of it today.”

“Our offer stands”, came the always steady voice of the aliens. “If you are of one mind, we will whisk you away to be amongst the stars.”

“Yeah yeah, I am of my own singular sound mind”, he scoffed. “I am old. My children are grown with families of their own, my wife long passed away, oh and I have several incurable age related ailments. If there was ever a time to fly away, this is it.”

“You will vanish”, the aliens warned, “and nobody will know where you went. Any hints of our involvement will be erased. Do you agree to our terms?”

“Agreed.”

On the dresser in the old man’s bedroom, a lamp shorted and caught fire. The automated suppression malfunctioned, causing only the airtight door to close, but leaving the window open. The man’s carefully hidden journal vaporized into the night in a superheated blaze, along with everything else in the room.

Discuss the Future: The 365 Tomorrows Forums
The 365 Tomorrows Free Podcast: Voices of Tomorrow
This is your future: Submit your stories to 365 Tomorrows