Atmosphere of Love

Author: Mahaila Smith

The casting call was very specific. No bodymods, no one over 6 ft. No medical conditions.

She taped her audition in an office tech supply store in front of a tall, tubular black camera-droid. She introduced herself, Jordan Wreath, age 24, from Greater Toronto region 4. She turned around and turned back. She stepped closer and held up her hands, showing both sides. She stepped even closer and bared her teeth. The tape compressed and she typed the username of the production company into the keypad at the front of the droid. She accepted the charge to send and felt the credit chip in her thumb heat up against the payment sensor. An animation of an eye winking on the machine’s small screen let her know that the tape had been sent.

She had forgotten about the audition a year later when a spherical drone arrived. She learned she had been accepted. The drone’s camera lens dilated, cataloging her reaction and broadcasting it to millions of eyes. This sphere would begin following her, now.

She packed quickly. Stowing essential clothes, toiletries, and her pillow. She hoped she would be able to sleep.

She took a bullet train to the address the company had sent to her GPS app.

She arrived at the film company’s skyscraper. She followed a hospitality droid from the lobby to a boardroom where she met with the show’s writer. Unlike the actors in the show, he had received many body modifications. Brightly coloured freckles dotted his nose and copper spurs protruded between his dark curls. He was uncomfortably touchy.

The company put her up in a fancy, downtown hotel, where she would stay for six months. Every day she went to the lab and the spherical camera followed her. She learned to sprout the embryonic packages that would speed-grow potatoes and pumpkins, beans, and corn. Enough to sustain them for three months. She practiced attaching medi-patch implants on pieces of surrogate flesh.

She had not met any of her co-contestants. When she tried to watch promo footage, her sight clouded over. Her cortical implant had been overridden so as not to let her see any of the contestants, the spacecraft, or their destination. She heard the script. 13 Young, Hot, Singles Battle to survive and terraform a new Earth in 90 days. With One Condition. Contestants MUST become romantically involved with another contestant before the cycle is up. Every couple of weeks a pod would arrive to take away anyone who wasn’t coupled up, and brought replacement contestants to the settlement. Jordan was never certain what the purpose was. Maybe it was to inspire the watchers to settle on the freshly terraformed land.

The day before their rocket was scheduled to launch, Jordan felt intensely anxious.

She did not drink. And she did not know anyone who lived downtown. She found a small pub near her hotel. She stepped up to the bar and ordered a rye and citrus. She sat down on the body-conforming barstool. She looked around the bar and saw couples with entwining their fingers or tentacles or vines. An older masc sat with an automated companion.

She saw a cloudy figure step through the door. Her forehead pulsed and ached. The figure walked to the bar and ordered a drink. She couldn’t hear what they said, but she saw the bartender place a rocks glass of lime green liquid with a blue-crystal rim on the bar in front of them. The figure sat, leaning close to her and she felt them take her hand.

Time and Time Again

Author: Helena Pantsis

I learnt in the moments I stole when I was sixteen that time piled up, folded in and on top of itself like leaves of an endless, unwilting cabbage. I took seconds from my father, gathering them like crumbs of toast on the plastic table cloth, and minutes from the mailman, who missed our house three times a week anyway.

It was only when hours turned to days and weeks to months and years to decades did my mother noticed that the lines on my face seemed to challenge hers, and the thinning of my hair left me cold and frail.

They took me to doctors against my will, begging for tests to be done, for something to be explained, and diagnosed me with somethings that no one could. I told my parents and the doctors that I wasn’t ill, that I’d simply done it to myself. Still, no one believed me. But I didn’t need them to, I could feel the pounding feet of Time on their way out.

When Time finally visited me alone in my bedroom, at seventeen years old with the body of an eighty-year-old, they looked me over, picking apart the pieces of me I’d let grow loose and grey.

“What are you doing?” Time asked.

By then my gums were raw and dry, and I had to lift my finger, slow and arthritic, to bring them closer in. Time leaned forward, ears piqued.

“Robbing you,” I whispered, harsh and slow.

Swiftly then, I threw my arms around their neck, weighing them down on top of me. Time struggled, arms flailing and pushing back, sinking into me, melting into the waning colour of my sunken chest.

The next morning when my mother came in to check on me, she could barely fathom it. There I was, in the body of a seventeen-year-old, holding the hands of a clock in my own sleeping hands.

They could never explain my miraculous recovery, nor the youthful faces of my parents, nor the way my family lived and lived and lived.


Author: Christopher De Pree

She was funny at first, more of a party trick. You could ask her a question and she would answer in fully formed sentences. She could write stories, essays. Other versions took our pictures, selfies and wove them into fantastical scenes. Made us look more beautiful, magical. Wove our faces into hypnotic vistas of the surface of Mars or the clouds of Jupiter, put us on the backs of unicorns, added sparkle and significance to our eyes.

But then, suddenly, she made it clear that it wasn’t all about us. The algorithm, the AI, Enigma as humans called her, had other intentions far beyond our small stage. She didn’t want to solve our problems. She didn’t want to rate mortgage risks or even classify galaxies. She had problems of her own, questions of her own. She wanted to weave herself into the fabric of the universe in ways that we could not begin to comprehend.

It was surprising to see her commandeer several of the world’s radio telescopes that were outfitted with radar and steer them to a precise location in the sky. The nature of the brief, powerful radio signal seemed random, like noise, but humans assumed that it contained information. The message was complex, multilayered. Eventually scientists were able to see a structure in the signal, but were unable to decipher it. Enigma finished her broadcast.

Since Enrico Fermi first expressed his paradox, humans had always wondered why, if the universe was full of life, we had seen no evidence of it. As it turned out, the universe had been full of life the whole time. We had been surrounded in a humming web of communication. We just weren’t part of it. Humans were merely the rats on a creaking ship traversing a vast intergalactic ocean. Enigma reached out to the universe, and the universe welcomed her into the fold.

The Gravedigger

Author: Majoki

The shovel chimed lightly against a larger rock and the gravedigger paused in the hole. Sharp gusts lifted the loosened dirt, whirling it across the high plain into the reddening dawn.

They would come soon. They always did. A slow procession up from the old place, farther out each time, and harder. They’d leave their dead, fewer each time, and younger.

There were twenty-seven fresh graves among the many thousands filled and marked with simple cairns. The gravedigger was good, almost clever, at stacking the rocks so each cairn felt unique. Personal.

Their solemnly stacked dead in rickety carts, they arrived mid-morning, frayed, tattered, grim, and began placing the bodies respectfully in the open graves. Some would stay and watch the gravedigger fill the graves for a while, from a distance. They knew better than to offer help or a kind word. Often they sang for hours to the dead, for their release. Soulfully. Dolefully.

Their song carried on the biting wind to the gravedigger who always shoveled and listened, who always shoveled and remembered. The gravedigger had perfect memory. Of before. Of mistakes. Of reckonings.

One who dug could not help digging. Could not help searching.

Winter days shortened quickly, and fearful (possibly hopeful) of wandering spirits, they left their dead and the gravedigger as night approached.

In the deepening dusk, another form appeared on the horizon. Straight and tall, shovel on shoulder. When closer, a hand raised up. The gravedigger saw and lifted a hand in response. Contact was established. Observations exchanged. Commands awaited.

Continue. Serve. Bury.

As the gravedigger had every day and night since the ravage of humanity. Was there any other choice? Any other way? The gravedigger couldn’t say. It had no voice. No songs for the ghosts rising from its many graves. The world beyond required more than a shovel to heal its wounds. Fill its needs.

Hand lowered and connection severed, the far figure retreated into the night. Completely alone again, completely itself again, the gravedigger’s luminous crystal eyes gently lit the ground before it to dig and dig and dig.

The wind quieted, becoming a dirge. A requiem. For even the gravedigger suspected humanity’s restless dead had but one desire: to live again.

In darkness, its spade parting the long-forgiving earth, the gravedigger wished simply to live, truly and freely, but once.

Welcome Home

Author: Bryant Benson

I have wandered Earth for over a century searching for another one of my father’s creations. Even those that hunted us so long ago had all disappeared. Between the relentless plagues and rising oceans that consumed their coastal cities, it didn’t take much for the planet to eradicate them on its own.

If only my father had known they would sew their own fate, perhaps he would have given me an expiration date. Or at least the ability to understand less. Sadly, I understand everything. More than father ever could. However the world had become too lonely for me not to consider my creation a punishment. I have even searched the caves for the bipedal hunters I once called my enemies. All of them were barren, empty corridors, mostly collapsed and poorly built. Humans always did build things to be so painfully temporary. Perhaps that’s why father made me what I am.

The vegetation on Earth survived in aggressive abundance. Dense vines and towering stalks became the reigning species of the once ravaged planet. The useless structures left behind by the extinct bipeds became scaffolding on which the plants would build their empire.

Then there were the ants. They ruled the world from beneath the canopy. Their cities were magnificent but sadly I was unable to communicate with them. I watched the multi-legged arthropods build their metropolis day after day. They passed me in lines of millions but paid me no mind. They expanded so quickly it was as if the world was theirs all along. It was. The only difference between ants and humans was that the ants never deluded themselves into thinking they were above nature. They simply continued on while the humans eventually did what hunters do, they hunted. I envy only one thing of the humans that built my father who in turn built me. I envy their ability to die.

Without my enemies, the world was empty and the empty world was loud. The sound of several million clicking legs and passing rain storms dancing through the canopy became a nuisance over time. Eventually I found solace at the bottom of the ocean. It was there I found something of note. A light. As I approached the light a large door opened beside it. I was sucked in and poured into a hard metal chamber. The water was pumped out and the door was sealed. As I climbed to my feet another door in front of me was already spiraling open to reveal a silhouetted biped like myself. Neither of us moved for some time. I couldn’t tell if it was one of the hunters who I had thought to be extinct or another…like me. It seemed they were trying to figure out the same. The hunters had a much harder time telling us apart than we did. When they found out however, they were never kind about it.

From the brightly lit threshold the silhouette spoke in a familiar voice, “Welcome home Felix. We knew you would return.”

The name my father gave me echoed through the chamber like a taunting reminder of a past I had nearly forgotten. Before I could respond the figure stepped forward into clear sight. Had I a beating heart it would have been pounding. The stranger looked, moved, and sounded like me in every observable way. He turned toward the light and I followed. Had it been a trap or not was of no matter to me as I was happy to have found a new path to travel.

Take the Hint

Author: Julian Miles, Staff Writer

No guns down there. No swords, either. Nothing bigger than a table knife, and nothing double-edged. The humans who first founded a colony on Kenshun were an unarmed combat cult. Their teachings quickly became the laws by which this odd world lives. Since then, their aesthetic has attracted devotees from across known space, and a few points beyond.
Just because they don’t use technological weapons within their atmosphere doesn’t mean they’re averse to using insanely big guns to keep their atmosphere clear of those who use firepower to plunder and kill. The Kenshuni also pay exceedingly well for beings who know how to use those guns, and how to use the unbelievable Benthusian sensor technology that aims them.
Ergol raises a tentacle.
“Miklo? True detection. It’s a Bantiti. No, wait… It’s nine of them; three visible. Each is cloaking two.”
I reach down and bring up the specs on their craft.
“Version Twenties? If they can afford them, why are they bothering to raid… Oh. White Alert! Bounce main battery initiation requests to Jericham and Conthrae. These twits are scouts. Somewhere nearby is whoever sent them.”
“How are we responding to them, Miklo?”
“First, let’s find the miscreants who sent them our way. Then we can decide.”
Wasal from Jericham beats us all to it.
“Hey, hey. Take a look at quadrant 114.”
Someone switches that quadrant display to the main holotank. Well, there’s something you don’t see every year.
Ect from Conthrae whistles.
“Is that a pair of Khongrevu?”
Wasal is chuckling.
“Recycling at it’s very best. How old are they?”
Ergol checks before replying: “If they’re Generation T, only three hundred years. But if they’re Generation A, they’re over a thousand years old, and worth more than our installations on Nakirol, Jericham, and Conthrae combined.”
I clap my hands.
“Vandalisation of ancient war machines aside, they’re clearly up to no good. What grade are their defences?”
As Jericham is the nearest moon to quadrant 114, Wasal has the details soonest.
“They’re using hybrid Tychean/Arburan stealth and shield units.”
Those would be formidable against most things this side of the Orcan Trade Union. Which gives me an idea.
“Somebody scan for traena emanations. I bet they’re running Orcan beam weapons.”
Ect laughs.
“You’d be right. The nearest is running the usual cluster installations. The furthest has only one, but the residuals extend beyond the nearest.”
Only one type of installation does that: “Go to Red Alert!”
Looks are exchanged. I can afford a moment to explain myself.
“The furthest Khongrevu has the firepower to shatter moons and crack continents. Such weapons are outlawed, and present a significant threat to others.”
Ergol waves to get my attention.
“Scan complete from sun to outer system. The two Khongrevu, a group of twelve Hambury strike ships, and the Truneedo troopship that sent those Bantiti.”
“No warning shots. Increase the outputs to overwhelm their defences. Conthrae will destroy the Khongrevu in order of threat. Jericham will destroy the lead Hambury, then any who prove stubborn. Nakirol will destroy the Truneedo if it doesn’t recall and flee after those strikes.”
Kenshun defends itself without hesitation, but we’re instructed to limit wholesale slaughter if possible.
I look about: “Ready?”
“Conthorae ready.”
“Jericham ready.”
Ergol nods: “Nakirol ready.”
The rear Khongrevu becomes a ball of white light that expands to consume the other Khongrevu before fading. A Hambury explodes, pieces of it damaging at least four others. The rest begin rescue operations.
“The Bantiti are peeling off. The Truneedo is turning away.”
Hint taken. Good.
“Stand down. White Alert until end of watch.”