Author : Michael Jagunic
Brick stands motionless as mechanical arms snap the exosuit around him: torso first, then limbs, weapons, and finally helmet.
“It’s like God creating life, you know?” he says. “You start with a soul, slap a body around it, and then send it shrieking into the harsh light of the world.”
He’s trying to lighten the mood. He’s failing.
Outfitted in my own exosuit, I lead Brick down the dimming corridor. The dying lights are on purpose—no reason to maintain full intensity up here. Still, power has been ebbing for weeks. A few weeks more and the rest of the lights below will be just as dim. And then dark.
We waited as long as we could. We hoped as long as we could.
“Think they’ll be waiting for us?” Brick asks.
“Yes,” I answer. “And they’re legion.”
At the end of the corridor, we come to the hangar, where the last three Hoppers loom like dusty dragons before the hangar door. The hangar once housed twelve Hoppers, but the other nine are no more than scraps of mangled metal now, lost somewhere out there beyond the bunker walls. No matter. The only Hopper I care about is the one Maddox was flying when he tried to save us.
Maddox, Brick, and I had been thick as thieves even before the Solar Army landed this planet, and we stuck together through everything: the Door opening up, settling this bunker, the Anti-Event. Them pouring through from the other side, slaughtering us in droves, clawing our Hoppers out of the sky and cracking our tanks as easily as they did our skulls.
When it got down to just the three of us and our distress calls were still going unanswered, Maddox couldn’t take the waiting anymore. He offered us a quick goodbye, and then flew a Hopper directly into the Door. I watched the whole thing in the control room while Brick said a prayer in the chapel. The vidlink showed a view of Maddox’s cockpit as he took one last run at them.
And that’s when I saw something.
“Brick. We need to talk about the plan.”
“I remember. Stay stealthy, sneak away.”
I look at him, knowing that all he can see is my black visor. “No. That used to be the plan. Not anymore. You remember when the Door first opened? Solar Army tried to pass a drone through.”
“Drone just kept on flying like the Door wasn’t there. It’s a one-way door, for them.”
“No,” I reply. “It’s not. When Maddox flew into the Door—”
“He passed right through, just like the Drone.”
“His Hopper passed through. But when Maddox hit the Door he disappeared. He didn’t pass through…he passed through. His ship crashed, but in the second before it did, I saw. He wasn’t in it. The door, it must have to do with organic matter or…or I don’t know, but…”
“Why didn’t you tell me before?”
“Because I know how crazy—”
“Yeah, it’s crazy. They came from that side.”
“You have a better plan? If we have to die, don’t you at least want to see what’s on the other side first?”
“The other side? Those things came straight from hell!”
“Maybe. Or maybe they’re guarding the gates of heaven.”
Seconds pass. An eternity.
“Okay, Johnny,” Brick says. “Doubt it matters whether we die in this universe or the next.”
“Right,” I smile. “Let’s go take a peek behind the curtain.”
With the slam of a lever, the hangar doors yawn open. In the distance, the first of them takes to the sky.
Author : Lindsey McLeod
When the doorbell beeped, Henry didn’t bother looking up from the Independent Galactic Dispatch. It would beep again in a few moments, once the customer had glanced around the shop and decided that there was nothing they wished to peruse further. Even a potential purchaser, as unlikely as that idea was, could wait. Henry’s knowledge of the debate on legal rights for robotic cup holders was shabby at best, and the Indy was currently helping to rectify this.
A shadow fell across the page. Henry swallowed a sigh. “Can I help you?”
The woman was studying the dusty radio on the counter with a hint of disdain. “Yah, yah. I’m just looking.”
She didn’t immediately slide away from the counter though, so he was forced to politely endure her umbral encroachment with a thin smile. He watched her in annoyance, unable to fully devote himself to the grand pursuit of wisdom as she meandered about the room, picking up various objects with increasing ennui. One listless tentacle caressed a withered photograph of some twentieth century President Nobody. Prime Minister Something or Other. He wondered whether he could pass the coffee stain off as blood. A bit of tangible history.
The same tentacle fondled the engraving on an open silver locket with a gesture which was, if not a sibling then definitely a first cousin, of complete boredom. Her shoes made syncopated clicking noises.
Henry returned his focus to the Indy, drawing his sprkker-weave cardigan closer around him. The Courts versus V-Type Holder 1138775 could wait until later. The advice column this week was about introverts. Interesting. Perhaps it had some useful information he could use. The subheadings read: Try reaching a new goal; Interact with people; Choose your own boundaries. The shadow fell again. He took a calming breath. If only interacting with people didn’t actually involve interacting with people. There was a whole galaxy out there and he’d be quite happy if it stayed that way instead of repeatedly barging into his little shop. “Can. I. Help. You?”
“These fortune telling cards,” the woman said, brandishing said item. “Have you tried them?”
Henry squinted at her. “Fortune telling is entirely outwith the realm of science.”
“That wasn’t my question.”
He felt hopelessly adrift. “Then no.”
She opened the pack and started shuffling them one by one. “Pick a card, any card,” the woman drawled.
Most of her eyes were a deep, lustrous brown. Challenging. He looked down at the Indy. Then back at her. He drew a card and glanced down. She eyed him impatiently. “Was it the Lovers?”
“Does it matter?”
“That wasn’t my question.”
He smiled in spite of himself. “Then yes.”
Author : chesterchatfield
“What’s that supposed to be?” The student guffawed. “Some kind of dragon or something?”
The professor gave her a look completely devoid of all amusement. “Dragons, do not exist. This creature is reptilian and has the ability of flight—after that all similarities to any fictional creatures cease.”
She tossed her blonde hair. “Well, I’m no expert, but taking the laws of GRAVITY and PHYSICS into consideration, I’m pretty sure there is no way that dragon, could ever get off the ground. Its wings are too small.”
Through my distaste of this bubble-headed teen, I had to admit she had a point. The animal did look like a dragon, and its thin, leathery wings most certainly did not have the width or length to keep its scaly mass in the air.
The professor’s jaw tightened. “Well,” he imitated, “Taking into consideration that you know absolutely nothing about this creature, you are correct. Its wings could never lift it off the ground.”
He slipped a new picture into the projector, a beautifully illustrated representation of the creature with a number of odd swirling shapes around the tail and hind legs.
“These,” he flicked at the shapes with a long thin pointer he seemed to pull from nowhere, “are what keep it in the air. Its wings serve only for balance and steering in the flying process; a mere gliding technique. These air currents,” He circled them, “are projected from specialized ducts located beneath the scales all along the tail and legs. They—along with the extremely muscular hind legs—provide the lifting force and power behind flight-”
He was on the verge of launching into a more detailed account of the muscles and processes involved when he was stridently interrupted by the blonde’s even more idiotic friend. She was standing a few steps behind the professor, and he was forced to turn all the way around in order to confront her.
He rotated slowly, a look of supreme irritation on his normally serene face. “Is something funny?”
She took a deep breath, but her explanation was still punctuated by giggles. “I apologize professor, but,” She looked at her blonde friend, hoping she would share the amusement. “But are you saying that the dragon flies by passing gas through its tail?” The last few words came out garbled through a cackle, shared by her friend.
The professor frantically tried to regain control of the conversation, “That’s ridiculous. It’s a simple process of gas exchange–”
I couldn’t help but let out a small chuckle of my own at his unintentional hilarity.
“It’s called wind power! Will you get ahold of yourselves!”
The two were in a fit of hysterics, falling over themselves laughing.
“You’re killing us, Professor! You’re killing us!”
His face was bright red. “I refuse to put up with this! I’m leaving! Ladies! Try to regain your composure!” He stomped out, and the girls could do nothing but wipe tears of mirth from their eyes at his retreating back.
Author : Willis Weatherford
Cold concrete, suppressed breathing, hands pressed flat to the grey rooftop. Winds whistled by his high-altitude haunt. The clatter of metal caterpillar tracks filtered up seventy stories to tingle in his straining ears, but Diemer was listening for something else: a footfall.
He silently cursed the wind that blew past, muffling the sounds his life depended on. He did not understand the wind – he had never felt it before. It arrived immediately after yesterday’s explosion, and while it had slowed from its initial fury, the charged air still rushed dreadfully past at twenty miles an hour.
There it was again -Diemer’s eyes flicked towards the sound. Sweat seeped from nervous pores. Heart beat. Pinpricks ran through his bare feet. If he was being followed, it must be the State Surveillance Service. If it was the SSS, they not only knew he was breaking ancient curfew laws and the day old No-Travel Law, they knew about the Confederacy. And that left him with only two options: escape, or die. At this point, both seemed agreeable.
Diemer spent a moment planning what might be the last ten seconds of his life, took a deep breath, and…
Push up to a crouch.
He rose, head pointed towards the edge of the flat roof, eyes fixed on the kevlar sheathed filament line stretching between his rooftop and the next. The SSS used it to transmit audio and video files – he was going to use it to escape. He allowed himself a grin in appreciation of the irony.
Plant right foot, push off into a sprint.
As he started to run, he pulled the bent titanium bar from his waistband, and slapped his back pocket to make sure the snips were still there. He heard a yell and the sound of running behind him. What if the agent caught him before he escaped out onto the wire?
Jump off the edge, hook the bar over the line, grasp the other side.
Gravity pulled him into a quick slid, zip-lining towards the next rooftop over. The wind in his ears blocked any sound from his pursuer. Hope flashed through him, until Diemer wondered what he would do if there were more SSS agents on the other side. Well, too late to turn back now.
Swing legs up, hook heels over the concrete edge, pull body forward.
The lithe maneuver brought him, standing upright, onto the top of the high rise. As he turned, he saw with surprise the SSS agent speeding across the line towards him.
“Ah. So somebody else knows that trick”, he thought with a mix of fear and amusement. Quickly pulling the snips out of his pocket, he positioned them around the kevlar line, and squeezed. A sharp ping rang through the air as the line’s tension released. The agent dropped out of sight, screaming until his forward momentum slammed him into the side of the building on which Diemer stood. A few seconds later, Diemer heard a crunching thud on the pavement below.
Adrenaline mixed with relief. Pounding heart pumped blood to brain. He returned the snips to his back pocket, thankful he had brought them in anticipation of the twenty-foot chain-link fence around the city. Turning his eyes toward the glowing crater, he estimated the journey to the forbidden area would take three more hours. The information he hoped to bring back would prove crucial to the Confederacy.
Author : Alex Skryl
Jack Thompson carefully placed Roger into his cage as Patrick Hughes entered the lab.
“Hey Jack. Yuri missed our weekly. Any idea where he is?” asked the Director, looking concerned.
“What?! He didn’t tell you?” replied Thompson, grinning.
“Tell me what?” inquired Hughes, reaching for a chair.
“P53! It worked! It … more than worked!” said Thompson in an excited whisper. He pulled up a chair next to Hughes, taking his time to contrive an explanation.
“Pat, do you know why most living things don’t live forever?” Thompson asked.
Hughes pondered the question for a second. “Well Jack, assuming they don’t die of disease or some unfortunate accident, it’s because they get old. Their cells become less efficient with age, having to work just as hard only to get less done. Current science blames it on DNA degradation, isn’t that right?”
“Yes! It’s a fidelity problem!” exclaimed Thompson, his eyes widening with excitement. “With every copy, our genome’s signal to noise ratio decreases, causing the cellular machinery to alter its behavior slightly. Over time, these small errors accumulate, usually leading to what we perceive as aging, and on rare occasion causing disease, such as cancer. Now, let me ask you this,” Thompson continued, “considering how universal senescence is, why do you think that nature hasn’t come up with a fix?”
Hughes sighed, getting impatient. “It’s a diminishing returns problem if I remember correctly. Complex organisms die from predation, disease, hunger, and a myriad of other causes, making their chances of living to old age slim to none. There is no evolutionary pressure to extend lifespan because animals don’t die of old age, my friend. They die from being eaten by other animals.” Hughes reached for a pen and a piece of paper. “Look here. If the probability of some creature dying in the span of a single day is 1/1000, then the probability of them surviving for 20 years is (999/1000)^(365*20)=0.067%, which is negligible. So, as long as they reach maturity and reproduce well before then, evolution will consider them fit. No reason to fix what’s not broken. Right?”
“I’m very impressed Dr. Hughes!” said Thompson smiling. “Anyhow, this is where P53 comes in. It is a retroviral gene therapy that was intended to be a cancer vaccine. It improves transcription fidelity and adds new mutation-triggered apoptosis pathways. A few things that nature overlooked. Here’s the kicker though, after vaccination, our simulations show no sign of DNA degradation over millennia. That’s thousands of years, Pat!”
“Wait!” Hughes interrupted. “Am I to understand that the two of you inadvertently created an immortality drug?”
“Roger is our first living test subject,” Thompson replied, glancing at the white mouse on the other side of the room. “But if the simulations are accurate, then he will outlive us all.”
“Who else knows about this?” Hughes asked, reaching for his phone.
“Olovnikov, myself, and now you,” said Thompson. “Why?”
“Brian?” Hughes spoke into the handset, “Code 42, lock us down plea…” before he finished his sentence, Yuri Olovnikov walked into the room. There was fear in the man’s eyes but it was overshadowed by righteous determination.
“King of kings, Lord of lords; Who only hath immortality, dwelling in the light which no man can approach unto…” Olovnikov mumbled, his voice trembling. “Forgive me.” His fingers tensed into a fist and the lab was suddenly awash in a brilliant white light.
As the dust from the explosion settled, a small white mouse ran out of the rubble into the grassy underbrush nearby. He had a long life ahead of him.
Author : Gray Blix
“Whoa, what’s that approaching Mars, a comet breaking apart?” he said as he excitedly examined the images. He realized it would be quite a find for an amateur astronomer — another Shoemaker-Levy 9 magnitude event. But to make sure it wasn’t just hot pixels or other phantom artifacts, he returned to his backyard telescope and took another hundred exposures with a different camera and filter. Satisfied, he submitted coordinates and photos for others to confirm his discovery. But what they confirmed was that the objects streaming toward the red planet were not cometary fragments.
“They are alien spaceships, Mr. President, hundreds of them, a fleet orbiting the planet, and several already on the surface.” NASA’s Administrator offered several photos, “These were taken by our Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. All the ships are outwardly identical, over a mile long and about a third of a mile wide.”
“How far are they from Mars Colony?”
“Thousands of miles. And that may be deliberate. The Colony revealed itself by trying to contact them during their approach. The aliens could have landed near it, or on it, if they’d wanted to.”
It was always a stretch to call the half-buried habitat and the dozen scientists within a “colony.” It was more like an antarctic research station, whose nine surviving staff members were hunkered down against an environment hostile to life.
“Why aren’t they responding to our attempts at communication?”
“They may not communicate by radio or any other means we’re familiar with. Or they may not want to communicate.”
“So, what do you recommend that we do?”
“Nothing. The Colony can ration supplies to last two years. I urge you to put a hold on upcoming Mars missions and ask other nations to do likewise. The aliens are far ahead of us technologically and until we have established communication we should not do anything they might misinterpret as a threat. Meanwhile, we’ll keep an eye on them from our MRO.”
And that’s exactly what the president and his counterparts worldwide did for the next astonishing 16 months. Nothing. Nothing while the aliens somehow gave Mars a magnetic field and a breathable atmosphere. Nothing while they created oceans and fresh water lakes. Nothing while prairies of grass and forests of trees sprouted and grew remarkably fast.
Mars Colony survived the planetary transformation — the aliens apparently having taken pains to protect its inhabitants — and the day finally came when humans first braved the Martian atmosphere without pressure suits and oxygen supplies. Later that day, they transplanted vegetable seedlings to an outside garden and were seen by the MRO sunbathing in the nude.
But the aliens had not traveled across the galaxy to create an eden for nine humans. Scientists had concluded that the fleet was comprised of generation ships transporting lifeforms from their home planet to another suitable for colonization. Thankfully, the planet they chose was Mars, not Earth. It was expected that their ships would soon land en masse and disembark passengers. Mars Colony erected a welcome banner and waited anxiously — only to see the fleet depart shortly thereafter.
From their new position at Sun-Earth Lagrange point L2, the aliens transmitted their first message to Earth. It was to be the only one. Over every radio station, television channel, and internet website on the planet, in the six official languages of the United Nations, the following words were repeated for 24 hours:
WE HAVE PREPARED MARS TO YOUR SPECIFICATIONS. YOU WILL TRANSPORT YOURSELVES AND ANYTHING ELSE YOU REQUIRE FROM EARTH TO MARS. EXACTLY ONE YEAR FROM NOW, WE WILL BEGIN PREPARING EARTH TO OUR SPECIFICATIONS.