The Divine Void

Author: Bryce Parker

“What’s that?” my colleague asked. He pointed a thick finger toward the smooth black stone at the end of my necklace. I glanced down. The stone had drifted away from my neck as our landing craft bounced between microgravity and intense g-forces.

“It’s nothing,” I said and I stuffed the end of the necklace back into my shirt.

“It’s superstition,” growled the woman sitting across from us, “if I were heading this mission-”

She shut up because our spacecraft spun wildly. Through the thin window above me, I caught a glimpse of our target: a comet flailing its way toward the sun. In just minutes, we would be the first people to land on a comet’s surface.

The ship shook violently and I grasped onto the smooth stone beneath my shirt. I felt its featureless form through the fabric and rolled it between my fingers. My companions didn’t understand. They concerned themselves with the science of our mission; I worried about coming back alive. Out here superstition was necessary, for in the vast expanse of space one was never more than a few inches from certain death. Only idiots didn’t hedge their bets. The smooth keepsake hanging from my neck had brought my grandmother home safely from the moons of Saturn. Her son, my father, had taken it on a mining tour of Mercury and Venus. Now it protected me as I skimmed my way around the asteroid belt. If you take a piece of Earth with you, perhaps one day you will return it.

“Can I see it again?” asked my colleague, tapping me on the shoulder.

I put my hand up and rejected his request. This was the crucial moment of our journey. I would honor the void so that it would not take me. I clasped the trinket, which was still under my shirt, in my fist. He tapped me on the shoulder again. I ignored him and shut my eyes tighter.

“30 SECONDS TO INTERCEPT,” the pilot’s voice echoed from the cockpit.

I considered I might have only half a minute to live. My fist tightened around the ball of obsidian. The void grew inside me. Maybe it would be alright.

The lander twisted suddenly and my eyes jerked open. My focus shattered. I looked up to see a blinding white light through the thin window. The comet’s tail was eating us alive. The man next to me shot me a smile. I returned his volley with a dead serious glare.

“Why are you so-?” he began asking.

“FIVE SECONDS!”

I shut my eyes and tried to—

Radio, Radio

Author: Steve Smith, Staff Writer

Jeb startled at the suddenly ringing telephone. It took a moment to register, the old analog handset on his desk hadn’t been used in years, and he struggled to identify what that sound was before digging through a stack of papers to retrieve the receiver from the cradle.

“Hello? Yes? Dr. Stenson here, who is this?”

A tinny voice crackled through the speaker.

“Dr. Stenson, this is Darlene at the Green Bank Observatory. Apologies for the wire call, it’s all we get out of the radio-quiet zone.”

Green Bank, the radio telescope out of the Monongahela Forest.

“Darlene, I don’t believe we’ve met, have we? What can I do for you?”

“Well Dr. Stenson, your name is on the top of my call sheet if anything unusual happens with the radio chatter we’re monitoring from space, and… well, something unusual has happened.”

Jeb straightened in his chair, pulling the bakelite phone across his desk as though having the unit closer might make the signal clearer.

“Unusual? How, unusual?” She had his full attention now. He’d been monitoring radio signals from space for most of his career, and they’d been described using many words synonymous with boring and uneventful, never unusual.

“A few days ago, the amplitude of all the incoming traffic cut in half. We checked the calibration of all the equipment, as we thought it may have been something out of alignment on our end, but everything checks out, the radio signals just got quieter, and then today…” She paused.

“Yes? What today?” Jeb almost shouted at the phone.

“Today it all stopped. Nothing. It’s all gone quiet. I think you should get down here, see the raw data, see if it makes any sense to you.”

The Dr. pushed back from his desk, holding the phone to his ear, waiting for an explanation to present itself, but nothing came.

“Dr. Stenson?” Darlene broke the silence.

“You’re sure this isn’t an equipment malfunction?”

“Positive. We’ve recalibrated.”

“I’ll head down now, I’ll need an address.”

“I’ll have to give you directions, you can’t trust GPS out here.”

Darlene dictated the route he’d need to take turn by turn, which Jeb scribbled on a notepad before hanging up and rushing to the parking lot.

A few hours later, as Tom Petty was belting out ‘Runnin’ Down a Dream’, Jeb hit the first landmark from Darlene’s instructions, turning to head South on Route 92, and instinctively turned the radio down low so he could concentrate on following her directions.

Fifteen minutes later he drove through Arbovale. The sun already down, the road in near utter darkness, he turned the radio off completely so he didn’t miss his destination.

His hand froze on the stereo knob, and he hit the brakes hard as the realization struck him.

He sat in the middle of the road staring at the stereo for a long time, before slowly looking up.

When the Oracles Fall Silent

Author: Jae Miles, Staff Writer

The screaming wakes me. I roll off and under the bed before assessing. Christine’s slid over to give me room. Another scream. The Bensons let their guard down. I warned them about trying to make a community. I’ll go across the road and loot the place after the pack leaves.
“About twenty savages.” Her hearing is phenomenal.
Eight years since someone’s idea of a clever plan met someone else’s idea of a cunning counterstrike, and I hope to god the EMP storm was an unexpected side effect.
I’d read articles about people in western society coming to rely on the internet as an extension of their mental capabilities. What I hadn’t grasped was just how little the average ‘first world’ human actually knew after the ability to go online and find information disappeared.
The first winter did for the weak. Warring between the various post-apocalypse fantasists living out their road warrior, whatever-punk or Aryan dream thinned the herd further. By the time the second winter rolled in – with skies like beaten lead and ice blizzards that lasted for days – even the hardened survivalists were having to face a reality far worse than anything they’d been ready for.
Survival is about the basics: water, food, shelter, and the fundamentals of hygiene. There’s also some simple logistics involved. While one human can feed a lot of rats, the other way round erased the rodent population in under a year. Wildlife either avoided humans or died out. Eventually, humans had to make some hard decisions. The younger and less squeamish turned first. The older generations were easy prey. Which messily removed most of the remaining sources of pre-internet knowledge and lore.
That’s why I’ll be salvaging cans amongst other things tomorrow. Savages don’t consider them a food source. Even if they recognise them, I’ve seen that taking time to figure out how to open one leaves a savage open to being attacked and eaten by its packmates. I’d hazard an extension of that explains their lack of offspring.
I lived a solitary, smokeless, low-noise existence in the upper part of a four-storey building with razor-wire tangles across the exterior. Painstakingly worked out rooftop agriculture. Had windmills and solar panels to charge car batteries, along with a hand-cranked generator. Those let me heat, light, and keep watch.
“They’re dragging the bigger bodies away.”
One morning I went out on the roof to find Christine watering my tomatoes. She’d also fixed one of the windmills. She’s partially sighted, but felt her way up the side of my building, under the tangles. I should have added her to the larder. Instead I offered her a cup of tea and let her describe the gaps in what had become our defences. I’ll never ask what she went through before getting here. That she’ll only sleep in the dark under my bed tells me enough.
From what I was then to who I am now convinces me that the dictates of ‘absolute’ survival mean you might survive, but you won’t be human. In that case, what’s the point? Much as there is any point, these days.
“They were screaming your name at the end.”
I reach back and pat her leg reassuringly. She pokes me in the ribs.
“Answer.”
“They were calling for help from the only source they knew.”
“Why didn’t we?”
“You know why.”
“Because we would have died as well.”
She ruffles my hair as she says it.
This precarious existence is comfortable, but inflexible. We don’t talk about rescue. We just are, and that will have to do.

The Obvious Choice

Author: Katlina Sommerberg

Everything started with a star burping out an interesting tidbit. Buried amongst the electromagnetic radiation hiccups the same messages on repeat, looping endlessly. One species tamed this red giant, a fiend who swallowed half its planets, into the galaxy’s most creative loudspeaker.

Five years after its discovery, the collective work from thousands of scientists twisted the translation out of the ultraviolet spectrum. The other light bands remain, but this one was trivial.

“This system holds the ancient ruins of our pre-space civilization, and this star all our philosophical lessons. Be warned, once you cut the tether to your planet, your species will never be the same. Ours cannot go back.”

Plastered on every newspaper, the entire world inhaled the message and choked on its implications. Articles cranked out of every news source, from the most prestigious journals to the smallest internet bloggers, and millions of children revoked their career choice of ‘astronaut.’ Questions peppered government officials, from city council members to United Nations janitors.

Everyone wanted to know, but few knew what they wanted to know.

Space programs revived under new waves of funding, expanding to personnel counts higher than in their heyday before Climate Change. Piece by piece, the rest of the message unraveled in secret rooms. The masses lost interest in the century’s strangest puzzle, but those invested in the message never lost their drive.

When Earth lost the last of her bees, the message was unraveled at last. The world raced to hear the news, eyes running quickly across the words detailing the scientists’ arduous process. All eyes stared fixed on their screens and papers when they reached the aliens’ philosophy.

“We regret ruining our world, only to chase the dream of a paradise across the stars.”

Top of the World

Author: Malena Salazar Maciá
Translated by: Toshiya Kamei

My breath came in choppy gasps as I climbed. I thrust my pick against the rock with all my strength and finished hauling myself over the edge. As I sucked in a deep breath, the icy air stabbed my lungs. I was the fourth climber to have conquered the Magic Line on K2 twice and survived to tell the tale, losing my two small toes in the process. This was my third attempt.

I raised the banner and stuck it in the snow with a trembling hand. Most likely, a storm would blow it away, but I was following the code. I checked my equipment and resolved to descend via the Abruzzi Spur. However, my first step to the opposite edge was caught in a curious crevice, a soft and suddenly moving fold that was never there, making me lose my balance. I used my ice ax in time to avoid tumbling down. As the tremor increased in magnitude, I crawled with my eyes wide open, as if that would help me understand exactly why K2 was furious with me. Pieces of skull, crumbled knucklebones, and something that had a terrible resemblance to a human femur shook free with the avalanche.

The dirt-covered eyelid was completely open, and the onyx pupil was now staring at me, reflecting my frozen face.

Rise of the Maui Jungle Fowl

Author: Katlina Sommerberg

The wind rustled, drier than the dirt. The hazy moon cast its glow on the fields, but it wasn’t alone.

My mother’s stories mentioned lights that accompanied the fickle moon.

But these lights brightened. A green-blue ball, twice the diameter of my beak, carved a wake larger than the road.

I gave chase. Steam wafted off the meteor, and I‌ pecked it out of curiosity.

The stone cracked like an egg, and a yellow ooze dripped out. The goo shivered, pooling together. The sludge slipped up my legs and coated my feathers down to the skin.

We merged; we became Aware. And I understood my ancestor’s lights still shined, but couldn’t pass through the clogged atmosphere.

We wanted the same thing. I wanted the lights restored, and to see the world how my great-grandmother saw it.

The ooze wanted humans destroyed. I understood.