The First Robert Stolz

Author: Vanessa Kittle

Robert Stolz looked at the body on the table. The problem seemed simple. He had to get into that thing. It was only centimeters away. The best scientists in the Solar System had been working on this problem for two decades, and now Stolz was ready to try the procedure. His body was so frail he could blink out into nothingness at any moment. So much work wasted. To no longer be… that was not going to happen. He had devoted billions of dollars to ensure his survival. The last human test was very promising. The subject survived with his memories intact, though they lacked the data to assess personality changes.

He looked again at the body. It was a clone of himself, though nearly 70 years younger, and without any memories. The clone never had a conscious thought during its five years of growth in the lab. It would be nice to get around again easily in a fit body, but Stolz didn’t care much about that. It was his mind – whatever made him himself – that is what he needed to survive. Stolz looked up to see the lead scientist enter the room. He announced, “We are ready, sir, if you are.” Stolz nodded yes and lay down on the table next to the blank. During the process, they would record every atom in his brain, store the data in the computer, then make a copy into his blank. As they put the mask, he looked down at his shriveled hand and made a fist. Before he could release it, he was unconscious.

Robert Stolz opened his eyes. He looked down at his hands. They were young and strong. He sat up swiftly and without pain. He remembered everything. He tested himself, picturing his childhood home of Dresden. He could almost feel the cobblestone streets beneath his feet. He could almost smell his mother’s Dresdener Stollen baking. He had come through the fire and made it safely to the other side. It was as if he had visited a sorcerer who had waved his wand and turned him forever young, for he knew his backup was now safely stored away on the computer.

Stolz looked over at the next table. Why should he be afraid to see himself? Those sorts of feelings were for lesser men. And there he was – the old Robert Stolz – just waking up from the anesthesia. The broken body was no longer useful. The old man sat up very slowly and turned his head to look at Stolz. The old man’s eyes were glazed, but suddenly they came into focus. Stolz could see what he was thinking. He leapt from the table and stumbled to the floor. His legs did not work properly. They did not know how to walk. But he forced himself up and closed the distance. He seized the old man by the throat and squeezed with all of his strength. The old man struggled and flailed at him pathetically, then he went limp.

Stolz looked down at the corpse. Was that really me? What was it that made him himself? Was it just the memories and choices? There was so little to that. Most virtual characters had stories just as rich. Then he had a warm and wonderful thought. Even if a man was only a collection of memories and thoughts, likes and desires, he was more than that now. He was in the computer, too. He could always come back. And next time there would be no old man to kill.

Time for an Illusion

Author: David Henson

*The distinction between past, present, and future is only an illusion.*

A stranger is standing on the stoop. Ben lifts the ax and pulls it down in a smooth arc. “Cup of coffee for a wanderer?” the stranger says. As the couple eats, there’s a knock. Ben goes to the door.

“I’m afraid your illusion of time is malfunctioning. Probably a quantum black hole in the area,” the stranger says.

“Do you Benjamin Knudsen, take Flory Johansson…” Ben can’t believe how lucky he is.

The blade slices cleanly through the log, the two halves clunking to the ground on either side of the chopping block. Ben gathers an armful of wood and walks toward the small house, his footsteps crunching in the frost-covered grass.

“Now you.” Ben pulls the cow’s teat as his father just showed him. Milk squirts Ben in the face. “Aim at the pail, boy.”

Ben gently pats the mounded soil with the shovel. He closes his eyes and feels Flory burrow her hand in his, her weight slumping against him.

“Sure, come in out of the chill,” Ben says to the stranger. “Take a seat.” He motions toward the table.

The egg rises from the spattering bacon grease and into the shell, which becomes whole in Flory’s hand.

“What brings you to our parts, Magnus?” Ben says.

Ben runs into the house carrying Walter. “What happened?” Flory gasps.

“He fell off Nelly and hit his head.”

“I’m Ben. There’s Flory.”

“Call me Magnus.”

“What a little breath of a thing,” Ben says, looking down with a vague feeling of sadness as Flory cradles their newborn son, Walter, in her arms.

“I have something to show you,” Magnus says.

“Flory, Ellinor wants me to move in with her and Franklin,” Ben says. He kneels and pulls weeds from the two graves. “But I told her I’d sooner stay here with you and Walter.” He braces himself on his wife’s stone and slowly pushes himself to his feet. “Wish you could’ve known her, Flory. She looks just like you now.”

Magnus reaches into his pocket, takes out a large gold watch, and dangles it from a chain. “Look closely.” Ben and Flory lean in.

Magnus presses a button on the watch casing and a red beam of light streams out of the sweeping second hand and into the eyes of Ben and Flory. Magnus finishes his coffee, then presses the button again, killing the light. “There we are,” he says. “Things’ll be straighter now — at least they’ll seem to be. Open your eyes.”

“You sure you don’t want something to eat, Magnus?” Flory says.

“Not — now.” Magnus says. “I ate—earlier. I might have something—later.” Magnus looks carefully at the couple. “Understand?”

“Sure, Magnus,” Flory says.

“Suit yourself,” Ben adds.

“That’s better, folks,” Magnus says. “I’ll be moving on.”
Ben and Flory walk to the door with Magnus, who presses a button on the side of his watch. “Illusion restored here. Where next?” he says.

A voice comes out of the watch. “True nature of time manifesting at coordinates 23759.56. Year 2482.”

“You’ll forget all this,” Magnus tells the couple, then twists the watch casing. A blue light envelopes him, and he disappears.

Ben goes to the fireplace. “I feel chilled to the bone.”

“I’ve been thinking some more about names,” Flory says, putting her hands on her belly. “Walter if a boy and Ellinor a girl.”

“Fine names both. I wish we knew.”

“Now, Ben. The future’s not for us to see.”

Ben shivers. “Probably for the best.”

Bad Neighbours

Author: Julian Miles, Staff Writer

John trundles the pallet truck toward the ramp.

“A few of us acquired some things from Centra Medico on your behalf. Doesn’t seem right, just throwing you out.”

He smiles and I hope my embarrassment doesn’t show. ‘Civil war’ is a misnomer. It can be rude and brutal. But, despite the rabble-rousing and the hatred, good people remember that today’s enemies were yesterday’s neighbours, friends, and family.

Seven hundred colonies seceded from the Pax Centra, choosing to make their own way into the great unknown in a loose alliance devoid of big power blocs. After many weeks of negotiation and sporadic violence, it was decided that both sides would repatriate those who wished it and subsequently adopt a peaceful hands-off policy for six Earth months before returning to the negotiating table.

He smiles: “You understand I can’t stay, the Pax Police are keeping watch on any who come near you Free700 folk. Good luck.” He parks the load, shakes my hand, and leaves.

Ellen steps out of his way, then turns to watch him go.

“That man is vile, Jerome.”

I gesture to the pallet: “I wouldn’t go that far, but certainly didn’t expect him to turn up with a batch of shanghaied medical supplies.”

She looks at it, clearly unimpressed: “Nice of him.”

With a shrug, I ask her to close up and head off to check on things in this hastily fitted-out evacuation ship.

Lift off is hard, but everyone makes it. Reaching high orbit, we meet Free700 Cruiser ‘Rubinia’, settle in their cavernous hangar, disembark, and move to the mess hall. We still have a lot of interplanetary logistics to discuss: an exodus this big is without precedent.

An hour later, my attention to the details is waning. I become aware of a lot of running and hushed conversations in urgent tones. As I rise to investigate, two officers run in.

“Did you get a shipment of medical supplies just before you lifted?”

“Yes. Why?”

“It’s a thermonuke! Damn Pax just destroyed the evacuation group!”

My vision blurs. How many dead? John, you bastard!

I hear many versions of the same question: “What about us?”

The pair shrug, looking scared.

“Don’t know why we’re still here.”

“I left it behind.” Ellen’s shout silences the hall.

She raises a finger: “Any man who treats his family like John did isn’t generous. When that sort gives, it’s with the intent of taking more. So, when Jerome left me to close the cargo bay, first thing I did was roll John’s ‘gift’ outside.”

Well, I’ll be damned. People are patting her on the back and cheering while the two officers make hasty comms calls. My sister just won another point in our ongoing disagreement about her intuition. This time, she did it by saving the lives of two thousand people.

I pause and grab one of the officers.

“Did a thermonuke just go off at the spaceport?”

He smiles: “Thankfully not. They must have seen Ellen dump it and deactivated it.”

“Do we have any spies down there?”

Now I have their complete attention.

“Neither of us will answer that.”

“I’m not asking you to. I just want a man by the name of John Raberton the Third to find out there are grim consequences for trying to nuke your neighbours.”

They exchange glances. Two thin smiles appear.

“We’re sure that can be arranged, sir.”

The Treasure of the Kut

Author: David Barber

The new doctor mangles my name. “What is that, Iranian? Arabic?”

I have learned to be still while their thoughts congeal into language. To slow the movements they mistook for nervous tics.

“Is this part of the review?”

Speak slowly, so they can understand. This one reeks of nicotine and burned animal flesh. They have no idea how much they offend.

The doctor has been tasked to cut long-stay numbers by a quarter. Each patient gets ten minutes. He turns pages in a folder that lists the potions they put such faith in; documents my unusual resistance to drugs. The doctor blinks at the doses of Thorazine.

“Hmm. Says you were found wandering round Malmstrom Air Force Base. What were you doing there?”

“The silos hold missiles.”

A contest to see who can suffer silence the longest. He correctly suspects he achieves nothing worthwhile here, that his skills have the same pedigree as blood-letting and trepanation.

“Hmm. You say you’re from the future. Tell me about that.”

“I was given the chance to go back and see the Treasure of the Kut.”

“Kut, what’s that?”

“You are the Kut. It is what you are called in my time. What is the word for two people who repeatedly shoot each other?”

He takes off his glass prosthetics and rubs his eyes. They display their disabilities, their sores and blemishes openly. Unashamedly. Without nanoflora I would be crawling with their parasites.

“I don’t think there is a word for that.”

“Kut. Feel free to use it.”

This one is an improvement on the female doctor, who casually flaunted bare limbs. A wonder they don’t just copulate in public.

“In my time, archaeologists uncovered the ruins of missile sites. Robbed out long ago of course, but they were the wonder of your age. Those few missiles alone could kill tens of millions. Each crammed with a fabulous wealth of transuranics and beautifully crafted electronics; all brought together in devices of baroque complexity and lethal purpose.”

He purses his lips. I am not yet sure how he will decide about my release from this place.

“As you might feel about cathedrals of an earlier age,” I add. “Or the tombs of the Pharaohs.”

“But the military thought you were a spy?”

“I told them the truth. Eventually, they decided I was mad.”

“And you ended up here. That was in…” He flicks pages. “Hmm, you don’t look that old.”

“Something went wrong. My visit was supposed to go unnoticed. But the time engine will retrieve me, I need only wait.”

Exploring a delusional construct has no therapeutic value, yet many of my doctors have done so. This one has long exceeded my allotted time. I intrigue him more than the florid schizophrenics and catatonics filling this Bedlam.

“No futuristic gadgets?”

“You would not even recognise our technology.”

“How about predicting the future then? Our future, I mean. Your past.”

“Who remembers current affairs in Babylon?”

In my first years here, there was a doctor who played chess. The natural procrastination of the game disguised the slowness of his mind. It was almost like confronting an equal.

“If discharged, what would you do?”

“Return to the silos where they will come for me.”

The doctor scribbles something. I’m sorry, he says. “I’m not recommending you for release.”

You are the Kut, it is what we call you. I have experienced the world beyond these walls and it is a vast reeking abattoir inhabited by savages. I must continue to manipulate you until rescue arrives, sheltering here while the Kut remain safely locked outside.

Awareness

Author : Lewis Richards

Today is my 456th birthday.

Growing up everyone is made to think space is a dangerous place full of Alien space pirates and impending doom, ( I’m looking at you, Sigourney Weaver). But as it happens, space is just empty. The majority of problems come from us just not being as ready as we thought for the great beyond. Take me for example, nothing says adventure like signing up to travel billions of miles to a new planet, all in the ‘ Luxury comfort of our new cutting edge Hibernation Chambers’ great sales pitch there.

This is where I’ve gotten myself into a bit of a pickle. Apparently, in some very rare cases, Suspended Animation entails that while your body is completely, and I mean completely dormant, you may or may not remain aware of every – single – second – that ticks by. To put this in perspective, there are 259,200 seconds in 3 days. And I have been in suspension for 158,410 days. I know right. What a time to be alive.

Fortunately, I’m pretty sure we’ve started to decelerate, which should mean I have a paltry 3 weeks left until we begin orbiting and somebody gets around to waking the rest of me up. Of course, I could be way off the mark here, I’m basing this thoroughly well thought out assumption on the fact the tingle that was on my left leg for the past few hundred years is now on my right arm. Because what else have I got to do but think about thrust dynamics.

Given my current predicament, I think it might be fair to say I’m going to be writing a strongly worded letter to the geniuses who put this machine together, because honestly while it is comfy, which I suspect the quite wonderful mixture of drugs that have stopped me from aging ( yay!) and kept me physically paralyzed ( boo!) for the past 4 centuries has a fair bit to do with. Even if it does take another thousand years to get a reply.

I haven’t even mentioned the worst (and most pressing) part of this whole journey yet. It is heavily recommended that you excuse yourself to the little boy’s room before you get into the chambers. I, however, decided to join a few of my fellow Hibernatees, now blissfully unaware, in a last quick celebratory Beer before we went to sleep.

Bad Move past me. Bad move. I’ve needed to pee for 400 years.

What Stays

Author: Rick Tobin

“Get out of here, now!” Telerman yelled into his beleaguered colleagues’ faces over blaring dance music inside Omnia, as lights flashed around them, from above, over a vast dance floor of writhing partygoers.

“Chill pill, Telerman,” Sheila Barsted interrupted, pointing red fingernails onto Telerman’s nose, over his beard.

“Screw that!” Telerman screamed, grabbing her wrist.

“Hey, buddy,” slurred Roscoe Peterson, as he rose to defend his companion. “We got our first R&R in five years from the Ranch and terrific comps for rooms, food and alcohol from that tight-ass Project Manager. What the hell’s wrong with you? You got number crunching eating your butt, or what? Ain’t Caesars great?” Roscoe swirled his hand at its ambiance.

“Roscoe, get your shit together. There a black light room in here?” Telerman’s powerful grip pulled his smaller laboratory companions upright.

“What the hell? You crazy? Yeah, back behind us on the left. Hey, you can’t grab us like this, asshole!”
Josh Telerman ignored their antics. He dragged both Barsted, a top zoologist, and Roscoe, a talented microbiologist, out from their booth and into the Zoom Room, where swirling colors from semi-pornographic paintings glowed around them. Telerman’s captives stopped struggling after he pointed out yellow splotches covering their bodies. Telerman ignored yellow handprints over Sheila’s front and Roscoe’s crotch.

“Remember when we added fluorescence to scorpions for our cancer tests? That’s their damn sex pheromones all over us. Worse, I was responsible for not only increasing their size, but increasing metal concentrations in their aculeus.”

Roscoe’s shock cleared away his first two drinks. “Accu what?”

“Their stinger, putz. Scorpions use metal. You never asked questions about what we’re doing. Didn’t you wonder why we’re supposed to develop huge blue scorpions?”

“Geez, Telerman,” Barsted interrupted, “they just want to get more venom for cancer trials. They can’t synthesize it yet. Wrangling small herds is a hassle. We quadruple their size and drug tests get cheaper. So, what…and what is their crap doing all over us? How the hell did you know?”
“So there, smart ass,” Roscoe slurred. “Old Mr. DNA, always asking questions. The Ranch doesn’t like that. Didn’t you learn anything at Lawrence Livermore?”

Telerman pulled them both close to his face. “I should leave you both, but I can’t. We’re expendable. I smelled a rat when we got this free ride. Do you remember anything after we got off the bus and hit our rooms?”

“Who cares?” Roscoe complained, trying to push away from Telerman’s bear grip. “Fell asleep. Guess all those uppers we took to meet schedules for months must have worn off.”

“Yeah, me, too,” Sheila piped in, her long blonde hair draping back over her slinky dress as she looked up at Telerman’s growl.

“Probably only thing that saved us. We weren’t supposed to wake up after those free bus drinks.”
Telerman yanked them toward an exit door. Roscoe pulled away, sitting down. “Where the hell is Cynthia? She’ll fire your ass for this. You aren’t team lead.” Roscoe pointed both middle fingers at Telerman.

“She’s dead, you jerk. Go ahead, sit there, and they’ll find you torn to shreds and desiccated like her. I was just at her room. Cops found a foot-long stinger that went right through that bull-rider belt buckle she always wore. That’s what we developed, you saps. Somebody else was using our research. They made gigantic assassin weapons that make no sound and leave no prints. ”

Three terrified researchers rushed in drunken haste to find a cab as small arms fire echoed through Omnia.