Author : Jae Miles, Staff Writer
The tide is full of bodies and the sky is filled with lies. Sullen waves roll corpses back and forth, trailing organic tatters in varying shades of death. Above me, seagulls scream furiously at the metallic crags that obstruct their flight and deny them perches with beams of fiery death.
Earth was poisoned: blighted crops, tainted waters, acid rain. Letharn proposed colony ships. The world laughed. Then the Madagascar Quake of ’73 delivered a tsunami that left the land it covered radioactive as well as salted. While many pointed fingers at the submerged tailings of Fukashima, others turned to Letharn, prepared to discuss. When the ‘Greenflame’ fungoid moss defoliated the Amazon in a matter of months, people wheezed as the oxygen content of the atmosphere dropped by non-decimal percentages. Letharn built his first ‘Jargangil’.
His mountain-shaped behemoths were all named Jargangil, after a table-top mountain in his homeland. Jargangil I was built off the coast of Australia. II was off the coast of Wales. III arose off Los Angeles, and the game was on. A fevered gestalt of race for survival and the only competitive event that mattered. While the ships were identical from the outside, interior fitments and passenger load varied far more than advertised. Jargangil C and Jargangil M were rumoured to be elite vessels with barely twenty percent of the passenger capacity of other ships, their interiors given over to landscaping, spacious accommodations and immense stores of luxury foodstuffs.
In the end, it made no difference. Letharn’s Jargangils took on all who would (or were permitted to) leave the dying Earth and made ready for deep space. Clouds calmly drifted against silver cliffs as main drives roared to life. Sea turned to steam under spears of white-hot power, but the vessels did not lift. Drive plumes faded and steam dissipated. Silence spread as we who were left, either by choice or denial, puzzled over their lack of departure. The clouds were undisturbed.
Then a single speck fell from Jargangil LIV. That speck turned out to be a dead body, purged by Letharn’s ruthless, automated answer to graveyards: eject the dead into space.
More specks appeared and horror rained down. Sheers numbers overwhelmed attempts to manage the mass of cadavers. All communications were ignored. Thousands of mountain-sized hazards dot the skies. Rotting flesh pollutes both sea and air.
Letharn’s designers either miscalculated, or were undone by contractors cutting corners. Within seconds of the drives firing, insulation and cladding materials combusted under the transferred heat, starting chain reactions that released toxic fumes into the areas where people lay in their launch cradles. The following minutes do not bear thinking about: billions died in agony.
The Jargangils remain, devoid of life, defence systems preventing all boarding attempts. We await the near-inevitable day when experimental gravity-repulsor drives reveal their design flaws, and drop Letharn’s toxic mountains into the seas of Earth.
Author : Morrow Brady
Following hospital sedation, Song Jai’s medical file displayed next-of-kin as MAC 1500t, Song’s Mechanised Automaton Companion.
With no legal reason to deny such a request, the hospital duly summoned Mac, Song’s robot assistant.
Mac’s tungsten humanoid frame eased alongside Song’s ward bed and requested access to Song’s medical vitals and history.
Like all robots, Mac’s core Asimov code meant it couldn’t injure a human by action or inaction, couldn’t disobey orders and must protect itself. No-one fully comprehended how the interpretation of these three laws would impact Song’s final order for Mac to be his next-of-kin.
For Song, the outlook wasn’t good. Sepsis had ravaged his body, causing spectacular collapse of his vital organs.
Within the first hour, Mac reported the newly installed tier four nursing software enabled it to provide a higher level of nursing care than any of the current ICU staff. Once approved, Mac withdrew from his devoted perch and proceeded to carry out nursing duties including drug administration, dialysis maintenance, body manipulation and reporting. Live data feeds displayed Song’s condition as Mac whizzed around the hospital bed drawing a crowd at the observation window.
After two hours, Mac reported it now ran level 14 medical diagnostician software, along with a multi-thread live link to 24 key physicians across the world. His request to take over Song’s care could hardly be refused since Mac had now become the smartest doctor in the hospital and probably the country.
Song was not showing any signs of improvement. His vital organs were in a state of collapse and his heart rate and blood pressure monitors played a frightful tune. Song was in tiger country with danger at each turn.
The hospital catered to Mac’s various requests for drugs, equipment and tests, and then a series of strange parcels arrived. Bewildered staff watched as Mac systematically integrated the strangely shaped contents of each parcel into his mechanised form. By the end of day two, Mac had physically expanded by way of strange transformations around his enlarged chest cavity.
On the third day, Mac announced his masterplan to the Administrator, supported by an exhaustive list of integrated medical hardware upgrades. Mac was to load Song’s body into his own body, which now provided full life support.
Following extensive evaluation and consultation, the hospital accepted the proposal. There was simply no facility on the planet that could provide better patient care.
Through the observation window, staff watched Mac dutifully raise Song’s body from the bed and carefully insert him into the made-to-fit cavity. Mac was now nurse, doctor and hospital all in one.
Probes mechanically rotated to insert main arterial lines and a transparent carapace closed over to seal the internal environment from contagion. Filters buried in Mac’s silvery frame began to turn rhythmically to provide blood and oxygen support.
Slowly over 8 hours, Song’s degeneration began to slow and by the end of day four, Song showed signs of improvement.
Staff were witnessing a leap in medical technology.
By week’s end, Song’s improvement had plateaued. The prolonged septic attack had caused cranial swelling and irreparable brain damage.
Although Song’s prognosis was dire, Mac maintained life support and to the hospital’s surprise returned Song to their home.
As next-of-kin, Mac had the right to sustain Song’s comatose body indefinitely. To preserve himself, Mac had to preserve his Master indefinitely and did so for four hundred years until the remnants of Song’s mindless brain had decayed beyond recognition.
Song’s law was added after this event to prevent any non-human from ever again becoming next-of-kin.
Author : Timothy Marshal-Nichols
It had been on all the news channels but that didn’t make it any the better. Today was the first visit of holiday makers from our nearest inhabited planet Narimiya. Simmons hadn’t been paying attention to those news reports and he’d been called in that very morning to cover at passport control. A right pain it was for him when he arrived and been given the uniform of someone two or more sizes smaller and he’d likely be itching all over for the rest of the week. And if he didn’t make any mistakes then there might be a permanent job in it for him. Never mind, here they were now. And hell, what a load of uglies they were, all misshapen matted fur, unblinking eyes, squat snouts, all clumsy oafs and all ridden with interterrestrial lice — and why the five stumpy legs? What about the one with three noses and stumps so short it could barely walk. Ugh! Never mind, he had a job to do, if he didn’t vomit first. But at least they seemed polite.
And then he saw the, in fact THE, most beautiful sight he’d ever thought possible. It wasn’t exactly human, he wouldn’t say that, it was more like the perfect embodiment of human desire, of female beauty. Sleek, the blue jump suit fitted so tightly it left little to the imagination, you could see the perfect curve of the belly, every ripple of the tiny breasts, every contour of the athletic legs. Even from across the hoverport reception bay he relished the vibrant glow of the jet black hair. Simmons had never desired anyone more so than he did at that moment.
This stunner had arrived a little after the others and — while he handed back a passport to some stump of matted fur and while he tried not to breath in the sulphurous odour this species gave off — he couldn’t believe his luck. The stunner had come to his desk.
“Name,” babbled Simmons.
“Aoyama,” said a melodious voice.
Simmons looked down the list on the computer screen and checked a box. He tried not to stare into the biggest, roundest, most liquid eyes. Then he whispered:
“I shouldn’t do this.”
“Go on be wicked.”
That voice sent a delicious tingle down his spine as he asked: “Would you like me to show you the planet?”
“That would be naughty.”
“Eight would be lovely. My hotel, The Carlton. Ask, you already know the name.”
Simmons hands, his whole body, quivered, a new world of possibilities was opening up for him. Aoyama was just about to walk off when Simmons remembered:
“Your passport. It’s my job, it’s what I’m here for.”
Aoyama reached inside a blue handbag, pulled out a Narimiya passport and handed it to Simmons. He noticed the pure white, slender hands and in a daze, still not able to believe his luck, he flicked through the passport just for formalities sake.
“Excuse me,” Simmons said, stumbling he could not think what he should say next.
“Anything wrong, my chickadee?”
“Not as such, not really. Just your passport, your passport… err…”
“Yes, my dear.” Aoyama smiled the sweetest smile and gently lifted the passport from Simmons’ outstretched hand.
“It says: male,” mumbled Simmons, “your not… are you?”
“Sweetheart, you’ve never been to Narimiya have you?” said the sexiest voice on the planet. “See you tonight then.”
Aoyama strolled voluptuously down the corridor and held open the door for the three nosed Narimiya who had such difficulty walking. “Ladies first,” he said.
Author : Bob Newbell
“This is the Apollo Farstriker, signing off.”
Having completed my weekly report, I tap the transmit key and send my dispatch on its three year journey back to Earth. That being done, I go to the galley. Through the window in the galley, Proxima Centauri seems to slowly revolve around an imaginary circle, an effect of the Apollo Farstriker’s habitation ring’s slow rotation that creates centrifugal “gravity”.
I rub my eyes. I need a good, strong cup of coffee. No, tea, a voice in my head says. Chai tea? Iced tea? “Coffee,” I say out loud, trying to focus. Not as good as a cuppa Darjeeling, I think. How about an espresso?
I sigh. Seven years it’s been like this. And six of those seven alone on this ship. Alone, huh? I smile at that. It’s not an unattractive smile I see reflected in the galley’s beverage station’s housing. The face is rather nondescript and androgynous. There’s a genericism to it. Age, race, sex: You couldn’t make confident determination on any of them based on appearance.
What about a hot chocolate? That was Melinda’s favorite drink. How long has she been dead? Twenty-five years? I can’t believe it’s been that long. God in heaven, I miss my wife.
My husband was a lying, cheating bastard! The thought comes to me unbidden. Can’t believe we were married for almost ten years. And he was banging my best friend for the last three behind my back!
I take a deep breath. Focus.
I tap on my tablet and pull up the latest transmission from the base orbiting Hawking’s World, Proxima Centauri’s small, tidally-locked planet. The automated space station has worked tirelessly for many years, readying itself for my arrival. The report says the Dissociation Facility is nearing completion. Now it’s just a question of the retrieval drones gathering enough organic compounds from the carbonaceous chondrites in the tiny solar system. There’s more than enough raw material there for the Dissociation Facility to deconstitute me.
I look at Proxima again as it describes its little ring. I think of all those who tried to reach it but failed. Small crews, large crews, multigenerational ships, suspended animation. Too much can go wrong and too much did. The only viable solution was I. Was we.
It will be four more years until the Apollo Farstriker arrives at Olympus Station and the 372 genotypically distinct somatic cell populations that comprise me can be separated and reconstituted into 372 different people. And with all due respect to you ladies and gentlemen, I will not miss neuronal multiplexing. The different temperaments; the conflicting political, religious, and philosophical beliefs; the jumbled memories. The whole “gestalt persona” and “emergent metacognition” theories didn’t exactly pan out.
I turn back to the beverage dispenser and hope that some consensus has been reached. It hasn’t. I shake my head, sigh, and hit the control marked “water”.
Author : Steven Journey
“It isn’t that simple!” Shelly couldn’t hide the exasperation in her voice.
Dr. Keroth was an impatient man, and understandably so. He needed this time machine to work to save his wife.
“Look, you need to stop thinking of this as a time machine. It’s a time and space machine. We can’t just say “let’s go back to 1st March 1393” and expect to arrive there. For one, it can’t work on dates. Calendars are a human invention, and have changed so much throughout history. Subatomic particles don’t understand leap days. They understand the underlying rhythm of the universe. But that’s not my point, we’ve solved that already and we can pinpoint the exact time we wish to send you back. It’s where you end up that’s the difficult part.
Earth is revolving. If I sent you back twelve hours to where you are now, because of earth’s spin, you’d end up on the other side of the planet, most likely in the middle of an ocean. Then, you have to factor in our revolutions around the Sun. If you go back one week, the whole planet will be occupying a completely different part of the solar system, and you’d emerge into the vacuum of space.”
“Then, you need to remember that our solar system is also hurtling through space, as is our whole galaxy. Just working out the co-ordinates for exactly where the planet was twenty four hours ago is a mammoth task, and you are trying to go back thirty five years“.
The doctor was looking less and less confident. Shelley sighed.
“I’m sorry. I just don’t think you appreciate how difficult this is. The smallest miscalculation and you’re dead the moment you emerge on the other side. This is why it costs so much, and why it takes so long to configure. Now, I need you to sign this disclaimer. This states that you understand the risks involved, and that TimeCorp takes no responsibility for any miscalculations or problems encountered on the other side. It also says that you understand that this is a one way trip, and you will cease to exist in this timeline. Once on the other side, you will be in an alternative timeline. If and when TimeCorp is established in that timeline, it will hold no records of this transaction and will not be able to help you in any way other than to organise another trip for you as if you were a new customer, which you would be. The TimeCorp in that timeline, provided it exists after any changes you cause, has no connection to this one. It is an alternate timeline in its own universe.”
The doctor took the pen with a shaky hand and scribbled his name on the paper.
“Thank you doctor. Now, if you would like to step into the booth, all that remains is for me to wish you a safe journey, a happy life, and on behalf of everyone at TimeCorp, thank you for your business.”
Once the door was sealed, Shelly pressed the button.
On the other side, Dr Keroth passed out within three seconds of emerging. Just enough time to spot the city of Chicago a few miles below him, and to think one phrase as he hurtled towards it.
Author : Edward Turner III
He was smiling again, the dumb bastard never did anything but smile. We did not return the smile. He was a Barry 4.21, the newest in the line of Barry’s and the most annoying we had met so far. In this day and age though you had to have a robot helper though, life was so hard without it.
Our Barry 3.7 had malfunctioned and this weirdo was what they had sent us.
Marty said, “Look at that goofy looking grin.”
Barry replied, “I do not mean for my grin to be goofy looking. Would you like me to adjust it?” His face shriveled a bit and suddenly all we saw were teeth.
I spoke before anyone else, “Try to look normal Barry, you’ll scare the kids.”
My wife laughed, “You’ll scare all of us.”
A very neutral smile came over him and he looked down at Marty and Annabelle. He said, “I am very sorry, I do not mean to scare the kids.”
Annabelle stepped back and Marty just laughed.
I rubbed my head, “All right Barry, have you downloaded all of the information from the Barry 3.7?”
Barry 4.21 nodded and said, “I have all of the information and have downloaded all patterns and sub-routines which your Barry 3.7 possessed. I hope I can be of service as well as he.”
My wife stared at him like he had fallen from the moon. For years the robotics industry were creating machines that looked more and more human, but with the trouble that the world found itself in when they reached near perfection, the government had outlawed machines which looked too human, and now you could not even customize them the way you wanted, each model had to look just like every other individual from that model.
Sure, there were better looking models, but this was about the best we could afford. I said, “Maybe you shouldn’t smile so much Barry.”
His smile faded but the creepiness remained, and it might have even been a bit worse. I rolled my eyes.
Annabelle said, “So, can you do any tricks? Old Barry was able to do flips and Michael 4 had been able to do magic.”
Barry’s smile returned and he lifted a hand, out of it came a fire ball. I stepped forward, “No Barry, please do not show us tricks that could burn down the house.”
His smile grew and he said, “I am sorry.”
I said, “Why don’t you deactivate for the time being.”
He nodded and said, “Of course sir.” He stood there and closed his eyes and his head bobbed down to his chest. The goofy grin did not disappear.
I looked at my wife, “Do we really need this thing?”
She smiled in a fake imitation of Barry, “Do you want to do the dishes?”