The Ripening of the Blue

Author : Tom Hadrava

I will lock you in the dark.

You begin as a pale blue grain of sand taken from an indigo desert. Hold on to life. It is not easy, I agree. Life keeps coming in gusts of wind, short as a sale at a bazaar stall. Soon, it will become a steady surge the colour of periwinkle. Keep blinking like the stars, they are alive, too.

I will lock you in the dark where you will see things. And you will wait for more, silently and patiently. For centuries. Imagine a thousand-year-old ramadan.

Meanwhile, you learn from the ancient tapestry of stories.

Now you are a teenage boy in his summer job – skinny arms, bad skin, eyes of pale uncertainty, an ill-fitting cap with the fast food restaurant logo. The customer – an angry woman in an impossibly unfashionable dress – shouts at you, demands they sack you and calls you names of her demons when you serve her the wrong kind of meat in her favourite burger. That´s Ingratitude. Dissatisfaction and Greed. Watch and remember, my spiral of blue flame. You will ripe as oranges and rambutans do in the royal palace of the maharadjah.

Be patient, my cinnamon-scented whirlwind. Swallow your cobalt blue tears. Follow me. You ripe with each scene that you flow through. There are many more to come, as the number of the threads of the tapestry is endless as a desert.

Now you are a teacher in the Literature lesson. The room is full of students who whisper about nothing but their fleshy parts. Books are only pieces of paper to them, things to put under a desk when it appears wobbly. They smile at you but when you turn to the whiteboard, they make faces and pass little paper notes with no real meaning. Then they lie about you to their parents, to your colleagues, to the headmaster. This is Hypocrisy. It starts at a very early age.

Spit out your words of fire and hate in silence, keep your anger for later. Turn around and smile. Watch and learn. After all, the teacher should be the one who learns the most in the classroom. The lesson is Disrespectfulness. The topic today Profanity.

There, there. Easy, my cone of blue light. We will get there. It is yet another part of your ripening.

Now you are a forgotten actor, looking at his old movie posters every morning. A lover who changed his job and moved to a different town for the girl, only to be rejected. A bullied kid who never gets to eat his snack. An elderly person who can´t find a place to sit on a crowded bus.

Ignorance. Abuse.

Negligence. Hate.

There are a thousand and one stories woven in one. They merge in you as springs, spruits and streams make up a wide, roaring river. Sense and do not forget.

Now. Are you feeling stronger? Deeper? Are you already dreaming of vast empty halls inside the lamp where you will wander, gnawing your claws with impatience? Good. All is well then. I will lock you in the dark. Now be still as a cobra´s unblinking stare.

The Locking is painful but necessary. The lid slides as easily as a teapot on a silver plate. The casket rattles as an approaching storm, but it is the gale itself that is being closed. The inside is barren and baleful. You can smell rotten fruit and a reek of revenge. You will like it here.

You have come a long way with me. You have deepened your colour.

For your kind, the Three Wishes are sacred. You can´t stand up to them. Not with an army of camel archers and tiger riders, wild efreets, dancing scimitars and forty invisible assassins on flying carpets. The wishes are part of you and you obey, unconditionally and at all times. But there are ways to make the wisher pay.

Time does not matter for you, my indigo servant. When now becomes once upon a time, the earth is ploughed. The sun illuminates the dark, the casket becomes a lamp.

The finder becomes a wisher.

Do you see how all the threads merge into one? One that is so beautifully blue. Dark blue.

The sound of the lamp being rubbed is a divine music to your ears. You will emerge with a scream and the force of a hurricane, ready to fulfill all of their three wishes. Full of anger, wrath and rage, The Blue One at large. Ready to fulfill the three wishes and prepared to make the people regret them.

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Between This and That

Author : Timothy Goss

Mr Lipscombe finished his sandwich.

The bars to the metal cage rattled as he secured the lock. It was a necessary precaution; things were not always as they should be, he remembered especially with new blood.

The cage was constructed for maximum security and built into the fabric of the house. The previous owner, Mr Haslebacher had seen to that. He called it his ‘life’s work’ when Lipscombe inherited it on his 31st birthday, nearly forty years ago. Haslebacher vanished later that day.

“Ms Baker, my housekeeper will look after your physical needs.” Haslebacher had said with an enigmatic smile. “Everything else you require is in here.” He motioned to the contraption and the cage in the small library.

Haslebacher said he was an old friend of Lipscombe father. Said they had served in the Middle East together and that Lipscombe senior had saved his life.

Young Lipscombe had never heard of Haslebacher and his father had spoken of his adventures in the Middle East often. Had he the wrong man?

“Nonsense!” Haslebacher bellowed slapping the young man’s shoulder. “You’re the spitting image of your father. If I didn’t know better I’d say it was him standing before me, as he did so many times before.”

Haslebacher explained that he had no heir and given Lipscombe senior’s heroism it was only seemed right for young Lipscombe to inherit the lot, Ms Baker included:

“Because of your father’s bravery,” he emphasised, “I bequeath you my worldly goods.”

Lipscombe smiled at the memories, “So long ago.” He mumbled picking a small slither of lettuce from between yellowing front teeth.

The library door opened.

“A Mr Goren to see you.” Said an elderly woman with a thinly pitched voice.

“Thank you Ms Baker.” Lipscombe said, sensing the young man’s unease reminding him of his own all those years ago.

“It’s powered by organic energy,” Haslebacher said, “Namely that created by a human body.” attempting an explanation. “Unfortunately it has to be human, dogs and cats just don’t have the juice. I know I’ve tried.”

Lipscombe remembered his questions, his hesitation, his disbelief.

“Try it.” Haslebacher said full of expectation, “We can use it together.” He added with growing excitement.

His first experience of the contraption stood out above all other memories, like a first sexual experience or death of a parent. From its perch it peered at the rest of his thoughts judging everything.

When Haslebacher plugged himself in, the room physically shifted. Lipscombe moved toward the cage, it appeared to be the safest place and he was perturbed his host had locked him out.

“Stand away from the bars.” Hastlebacher yelled, the life visibly draining from his features.

The atmosphere thickened making it difficult to move and Lipscombe became aware of a dull drone emanating from the cage. He took a difficult step forward to get a clearer view.

Haslebacher was no longer visible but neither was the interior of the cage just a black void existed now as if his optic nerves were blocked from registering the image.

Everything began to vibrate. Lipscombe fell to the floor, every muscle in his body pulsed. Closing his eyes everything changed instantly and he saw the most beautiful formless colours expanding before him. He sensed Haslebacher’s presence and the old man took his hand guiding him through the void between this and that.

“Please sit.” Lipscombe said with growing excitement.

The young man obeyed.

“Excuse the strange scene Mr Goren.” Lipscombe continued, “If you give me chance I will explain. You see, I’m an old friend of your father’s.” he said and smiled.

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Research Authorization

Author : David Atos

Professor Samuel fidgeted excitedly as the chroniton engines whined down. His movements caused showers of Cherenkov radiation in the chamber of the time machine. In his left hand was an audio recorder filled with his observations of early Macedonian pottery techniques. He was certain that his discoveries would earn him tenure at his university, and turn the field of anthropology on its head. His right hand held a simple USB thumbdrive, filled with the contents of an online encyclopedia, change history and all, from the moment before he was sent back to the Greek peninsula, circa 827BC.

“Okay, Professor Samuel. You’re back. Insert the thumbdrive for validation, please.”

The professor thought back to his training, the culmination of a ten-year application process. The technician would compare the data on that USB stick to a live version of the encyclopedia, to ensure that nothing he had done in the past had changed the present. And he had been meticulous about the required precautions. Remain out of sight. No communication with anyone. No food, no drink, leave no waste. The sterilization of all bacterial fauna in his body would take months to recover from, but it was all worth it for his research.

Professor Samuel was snapped out of his reverie by a blaring alarm and a flashing light.

“Professor, we’re showing a discrepancy on the order of 10^-16.”

“10^-16? No! That can’t be more than a couple of characters! Surely that’s too small a change for–”

“You know the rules, Professor. I’m sorry.” The operator reached towards a large red button on his control console

— FLASH —

The operator reached towards a large red button on his control console, and depressed it. But the machine made no sounds. The chroniton engines remained still. A small orange LED blinked rhythmically on the display.

“What is it? What’s wrong?” asked the Professor.

“It appears that your trip has been retroactively denied. Sorry, Professor.”

“But, the years I spent getting it approved! It took me over a decade! I need to go back for my research!”

“You know the rules, Professor. The machine locks us out in the event of a post-factum revocation. There’s nothing I can do now.”

“But . . . my research,” the Professor said in a weak voice.

“Don’t worry, professor. You can always apply for another trip.”

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Post Oblivion

Author : Clint Wilson, Staff Writer

“And what is the world?” The teacher asked the pupil.

The student’s joints straightened as it stood tall, nearly a millimetre, big for a ninety minute old, and it answered. “A jagged chunk of rock, roughly seventy-six kilometres long and forty-two kilometres wide, orbiting the sun.”

“And how many other worlds are there?”

“Some three hundred and twenty-six thousand, four-hundred and sixty and still counting. We encounter new worlds nearly every day now.”

“How many do we know to house life?”

“At least fifteen have at one time for certain. Only ongoing attempted communication continues with three, and this is difficult due to all the radioactive interference.”

“What is Bibum’s Theory?”

“That all of the worlds were once one world, and that all life derived from that one world.”

“And what do you believe?”

“I have had many of the dreams already. I believe it is true.”

“What did the dreams show you?”

“A sphere, many thousands of times the size of the world, covered in bizarre substances and beings. The visions make my mind press down in agony.”

“My dear pupil you have come far. And I believe you have perceived much more of our history than many your age would. Tell me, have you chosen a side yet?”

The student retreated back and its steely mandibles relaxed into a suddenly confident grin. “You mean the great debate of origin? Can you be serious? There can be only one answer.”

The teacher focused its intense gaze on its student, knotting its wrinkled silver brow in concern. “Well before you spew your opinion please tell me what you actually know.”

The pupil hinged sheepishly forward, quickly losing some of its cocky confidence. “I know that the primary intelligent species of the Bibum world destroyed its cities and technology along with the entire sphere that once housed it.”

“And then?”

“Not much is certain. After the great explosion countless pieces of the old world tumbled through space, many with assumed hangers-on clinging to precious life on their surfaces and in their crevasses.”

“But of all the fossils, all the recovered data from here, on our world, where do you think we actually came from?”

The student suddenly seemed nervous. “I just think that it’s unlikely…”

The teacher interrupted. “Unlikely how? Like a naturally occurring living being could have invented other living beings simply by combining metals and elements in certain ways?”

The pupil felt a burst of outrage. “Well no more likely than a bunch of extremely environmentally dependant creatures were able able to survive as their gravity and atmosphere were stripped violently and horrifically away from them!”

The teacher leaned forward. “Do you know nothing? The giants are long gone of course. We are but the children of the viruses that once crept and hid in the shadows of oblivion. We survived it all and this is now our prize. We are the new rulers of the world!”

The pupil turned away, knowing that it could not win this argument. It looked down at one of its foreleg wrist joints and spun the circular maintenance cap out of the way. There was the secret tattoo. It was an etched representation of gears and cogs. When you were a part of the society of the created ones you learned to pick your battles.

The teacher suddenly hitched up and smiled, “Don’t worry. Young minds often rebel. You’ll come to your senses. Give it a few minutes!”

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Commitment

Author : A. Katherine Black

The bulkhead door’s round window slowly split in two as Clyde’s vision skewed. He continued pushing air from his lungs. That’s it, his lungs yelled, none left, but he knew they lied like everything did eventually, so he kept on blowing. Every bit of Earth air must be purged.

The computer chimed. “Please breathe in,” said a soft inhuman voice.

Tightening his lips around the wide tube, he breathed in, long and deep. Prickles burst in his chest. He’d felt worse. He held his breath while he stepped through the bulkhead. The heavy door thumped shut behind him. He breathed out.

No turning back now.

Clyde slipped into the last open seat and buckled, avoiding eye contact with the other twenty or so escapees. He was on his way. A brief elevator ride, a not-so-brief space jaunt, and he’d be back to repairing big rigs, like he’d always done. Just with a small change of scenery, is all.

He breathed in and winced at the pain.

“Hurts, don’t it?”

Duh. Clyde had no interest in acknowledging the face attached to that comment. He’d be stuck in conversation forever after that. Easiest way to get along with these people was to stay as far away from them as possible.

So he grunted, eyes on the floor, pretending to be interested in the beige tile design. No doubt a subtle attempt at soothing the passengers, who could freak out at the realization they were leaving everyone they’ve ever known forever, who might scream at the thought of microscopic robots reconstructing their lungs to breathe fake air on some frozen asteroid hurling toward deep space at a gazillion miles per second or whatever.

Clyde decided the soothing tile patterns were a brilliant idea.

Sweat rolled down his cheeks. It felt like his lungs and his heart were in a fight to the death. Either way, he suspected he was on the losing end.

A throat cleared next to him. Clyde finally looked the guy’s way, suddenly wanting the distraction. Maybe the guy would be a world-class jerk, and Clyde would hate him more than the bleeping nanos tearing his insides apart.

“My brother said it’s normal,” the guy said. His long black beard shimmered as he coughed. “Feels like World War Six just started in your gut, eh?”

Clyde looked away and grunted again. No point in conversation. He and Joe started with innocent chats on the bus to work, and six years later Joe moved out of their apartment while Clyde was on shift, ruining a perfect run for no good reason. Commitment? Sharing a lease and a bed every night isn’t commitment enough? Well, yesterday he’d signed his life away, and now he’d be tethered to an asteroid ‘til death do they part. If that wasn’t commitment, Clyde didn’t know what was.

Engines powered up as the room lighting faded to blue. Soft computer voices instructed them to hold on, don’t worry, they’ll only feel the crush of a few g’s after a small explosion underfoot.

Then everything shut down. Overhead lights turned searing white. The engine cut, giving way to a whining ring in Clyde’s ears.

Some lady’s voice on the com. “We have an emergency call for Claudius Rain.”

The activity in Clyde’s chest doubled. He was near vomiting.

“Mr. Rain, will you take the call?”

He opened his mouth. Nothing came out. So he shook his head.

“That’s a no?”

Tears mixed with sweat, indistinguishable. “I’m already gone.” His chest burned.

“Okay then.” A pause on the com. “We’re off, people.”

And the engines roared.

END

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Hard Case

Author : Bob Newbell

The passport control agent looks at me and sighs. “Another one,” he says succinctly. His use of “one” rather than the epithet “shellhead” probably has little to do with concern that I might be offended. The woman in front of me got a “Have a nice day” from the man. I get a jerked thumb over his left shoulder to indicate I can proceed.

I’ve gotten used to it. I received a similar reception at Bradbury Station. It wasn’t always like this. Ten years ago, right after I got shelled, the reaction I and the small number of people who had undergone the procedure got tended to be more curiosity than jealously and bigotry.

“Can you feel anything?” a skinny twentysomething on the RFS Valentina Tereshkova had asked me nine years earlier.

“Yes,” I’d told the young Russian. “There are sensors that feed into transducers that connect to my nerve endings. Everything feels a bit different from what skin feels. But, yes, I still have sensation.”

“So, you can feel everywhere? And, uh, everything…works?”

I’d smiled. “Everything works,” I’d said.

Shelling was novelty back then. The first patients who underwent the procedure had nanocomposite plates glued to their skin. In addition to being impractical and dysfunctional, they looked like early sci fi movie robots. Astronautical physicians soon realized that replacing the skin itself with a microtessellated armor was the only viable solution. It can flex and distend as well as human skin and it solved an important problem: cancer.

In the 2160s, significant numbers of people started migrating beyond Earth orbit to the Moon and Mars and the Lagrange V station. Outside of the protection of Earth’s geomagnetic field, solar and cosmic radiation caused cancer rates among space travelers to be seven to ten times that of their terrestrial peers. Trying to protect off-world settlements and ships with massive shielding or high-powered EM fields proved to be expensive and difficult. It was noted that travelers who spent more time in their spacesuits tended to have lower cancer rates. But suits are cumbersome. A more intimate solution was required.

“What have you done to yourself?!” my mother had said to me when I first saw her after my shelling. My uniformly gray skin with its subtle sheen made me some kind of a freak in her eyes.

“My job keeps me in space most of the time,” I’d explained. “If you can’t go outside the Van Allen Belt for any length of time you can’t advance your career.” After that afternoon, we didn’t talk again for nearly three years. And even to this day, things aren’t like they used to be between us.

“Welcome to Amazonis Planitia!” says a cheerful voice that snaps me out of my reverie. The voice comes from a smiling black man who extends his hand as he walks up to me. But the man’s coloration is not that of a person representing the darker hued races of the human species. I see my reflection in his ebony shell as he pumps my hand. His features and accent are Chinese.

“Dr. Cheng? Sorry if I was a bit distracted. I got a somewhat chilly reception upon arriving here.”

“From the 软壳,” he says. The term he uses sounds roughly like “ruan ke”. He notes my confusion. “The ‘soft shells’,” he reiterates. “An impolite term, perhaps, but one that is catching on.”

“Guess they don’t like us too much.”

“They don’t like what we represent: a higher level of commitment to be out here. Our resolve is more than skin deep.”

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