The Voider

Author : Rollin T. Gentry

Dr. Morris turned away and tapped a few times on the holopad projected from the bracelet on his left wrist.

“Well, Ensign Peters, one thing’s for sure. You are not turning invisible, or into a ghost, or whatever it was you called it.”

Jared Peters had told the doctor that when walking the corridors alone, he could feel his feet slipping through the floor, sometimes more than a centimeter deep. And in his bunk, looking up, he could see the seams in the bulkhead through his fading hand. Jared almost didn’t tell the doctor about the invisible thing swimming out there in the void alongside the ship; but he figured why not, after all the other crazy stuff he’d already said.

Dr. Morris continued, “And if some creature or ship were out there, we’d be hearing klaxons going off and a call to high alert.” Morris was one of two doctors aboard. Neither was a psychiatrist, but Dr. Morris was covering all the items on his checklist. “Are you having any suicidal or homicidal thoughts?”

“No, sir. I’m just terrified. When I saw the outline of that thing from the observation deck, it looked like a big invisible whale. The thing noticed me looking at it, because it turned and started swimming straight for me. I ran as fast I could in the opposite direction, got on the lift, and hid in my quarters. But ever since then, I feel like the thing is pulling on me no matter where I go, like it’s trying to turn me invisible and pull me straight through the hull of the ship.”

“I can give you something for your nerves, son,” Dr. Morris said, tapping in his notes and recommendations. “And you should probably stay in one of the rooms down here until you’re feeling better. I’ll let your commanding officer know where you are. I’ll check back in on you tomorrow to see how you’re feeling.”

A nurse led Jared to a room and handed him white sweatpants, a t-shirt, and some non-slip socks. After he had changed out of his uniform, he sat up in bed and flipped through random channels on the tri-vid. After stopping on an old comedy, the remote control began to slip through his fingers. For a moment, he could see the small, black, remote control overlapping his translucent wrist. Then it fell and bounced off the mattress, crashing on the floor. His first thought was to call for Dr. Morris or a nurse, but his legs were sinking through the bed like quicksand. He tried to grab hold with his arms, but he fell through to the level below.

He landed on his feet. The floor felt solid enough. Jared turned around and knew where he was: the observation deck. He could see the vastness of space beyond the thick windows not ten meters away. He walked up to a window, placing a palm on the surface. His hand sank into the window a good two centimeters before he jerked away. Looking out into the void, he saw the outline of the invisible thing, warping the light of the stars behind it, coming closer, until no stars could be seen.

In an instant, Jared found himself on the wrong side of the observatory windows, in the vacuum of space; but before he could gasp, he was swallowed up by a damp, acid-burning, oblivion.

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Hollow

Author : Sam Larson

You couldn’t even call it rain, this weather. Just an insistent, pissing drizzle that creeps its way into your collar and your shoes so that, suddenly, you’re soaking wet. That jingle from the infonets keeps running through my head, “You’ll never get wet when you’ve got Ne’er Wet Nanotech!”, but the itching damp across my shoulders tells me otherwise. Seen from the roof of the mag-rail station the lights of New City are misty in the distance. Below me is a minefield of torn up mag tracks, rusting train cars, and weeds too stubborn to give up in the face of acres of concrete. There’s a lesson there, but I’m twenty years too late to learn it and I’d likely not care even then. The weather blasts between the surrounding buildings, battering me on all sides with wind and rain.

My drones are hovering around the body. It’s been here for a while and the rain has scrubbed most of the blood off the pavement. The HUD in my glasses shows the data feed from the drones and it all looks sadly typical. After all, he’s dead. Some feral kid from the lowest levels of one of the nearby tenements, and messed up bad. Hollowed out like a gourd with his insides replaced by as much contraband as they could stuff inside his torso and a nano device that took over where his organs left off. It worked, after a fashion, but it better be a short delivery run and most of the time the people paying for the goods simply decided to end a runner after the job instead of keeping their insides on ice. This was the fifth dead courier in the last two weeks, and why I was standing out here on the ass end of a forgotten tram line, thinking about the weeds and how dry it is inside the patrol hover right about now.

I tap the button embedded in my wrist and my drones rise from the body and swoop back to their nests on top of my hover, roosting there like silent metal birds. It’s only a couple of seconds before I get the call from the Agency mainframe. A blinking cursor appears in the bottom right corner of my HUD.

INSP. VOO_

INSP. VOO_

INSP. VOO_

I cough and activate the sub-vocal transmitter embedded in my larynx. There’s a brief pop as the receiver in my inner ear turns on.

“I’m ready, Trill.” The familiar bell-toned synth voice of the Agency AI echoes through the center of my head. I begin the walk back towards my hover, only half listening to Trill chatter away in my inner ear, and the vehicle wakes up as I get close, turning on its lights and rising a few inches off the ground. The door swings open and I can almost feel the blessedly warm, dry air inside. I don’t care what the Agency docs say. Eighty years on the job and all the gene therapy and age reversal treatment they can give me and I still feel a tired ache in my bones. I might look like a jumped up 20 year old, but some deep part of me knows I’m an old, old man.

 

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Test 31B

Author : Rollin T Gentry

I opened my eyes and had no recollection of how I came to be sitting at that table with three complete strangers.

The room was divided into quadrants by a force field with one man occupying a slice of the round, steel table. Behind each man was a closed door. Each man’s legs were bound to the legs of his chair, and the chairs were bolted to the floor. Before each of us, molded into the table, were a green button and a white button.

With short haircuts and grim faces, the others looked like soldiers. Feeling the top of my head, hair bristling, I assumed I looked the same. A synthesized, female voice filled the room.

“Certain parts of your memory have been blocked for this test. Following the test, they will be restored. One of two scenarios has been selected at random. Scenario One: One of you is an android, and the other three are human. Scenario Two: One of you is human, and the other three are androids.” She paused, and we waited to hear the rules of the game. “The green button will release a neurotoxin, killing every human in the room. The white button will detonate an electromagnetic pulse, destroying every android in the room. You may begin.”

Our hands shot to the edge of the table then stopped. I had no memories of who I was and guessed it was the same with the others. Looking around the table, I quickly made eye contact. They all looked human to me.

We’d all heard fairy tales of androids who were programmed to believe they were human. How could I be sure I wasn’t one of those? If I were an android, what would be the result of killing three humans, or even one? Deactivation, I’m sure. But I’m human; I know that much for sure. Destroying an android or three would mean little in the outside world.

In an instant, my hand was on the white button. I looked around the table to see who would go limp, but all I saw were three, very much alive, humans with their hands on the white buttons in front of them, breathing a sigh of relief. Those sadistic bastards and their “test”. We were all human. The green button would have been death to us all. I heard the restraints on my legs and the door behind me pop open.

A voice filled the room, a human, male voice this time. He sounded bored. “The time is 1300 hours, 46 minutes. Test 31B completed successfully. Move the androids to the final stage of processing.”

Two men in white jumpsuits picked me up under my arms, lifting me to my feet. I said to the man holding my right arm, “But if we are all androids, then we should be deactivated.”

“You can tell him,” said the man on my left. “They’ll wipe their memories again before shipping them out to the front.”

The man on my right pressed the green button and said, “The buttons don’t do anything, mate. The test is about verifying the two H’s. Isn’t that what Dr. Bristol’s always prattling on about? ‘Human Life Believed. Human Life Valued.’ The army can’t very well have a bunch of robots throwing themselves into the line of fire or shooting their superior officers, now can they?”

“I suppose not,” I said, as they led me away to the final stage of processing.

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Zeigarnik

Author : Rick Tobin

“Low fuel before Jupiter station. Why stop for a wasteland?” Christa Arnold monitored guidance system readings, adjusting orbital programming for Saturn’s crusty moon, Hyperion.

“History, Christa. Your head’s so full of formulas you forget about humanity around you. The Captain’s ancient family lines were among settlers on Hyperion… water miners. Surely you’ve heard of pioneer sacrifices to get us in deep space, beyond the Oort Cloud.” Trent Polart, the ship’s merchandise manager, leaned toward the striking blonde, hoping to discuss something more exciting than the remains of lost colonies.

“I guess. That’s one of those space stories they use to scare us at the Academy. Never cared for such bilge. Space is tough. So what? So is being a gravity goblin on any world. People clamor all over their little pieces of debris while we live out here in the real universe.”

“Big talk for an ensign. You’ll learn. Myths and memories have more meaning than star drives and mega-maps. At the end of the day, the blood inside the hull has to deal with the past, no matter how fast we fly into the future.” Trent waited for a response, but there was none. He saw Christa sit bolt upright, stiff to her duties on the control panel. Trent realized too late she’d seen a reflection on the dial covers.

“And this is what the Union Guild pays you to do on my ship? Dabble at psychology and small talk?” Captain Hasting’s gruff voice piled up on Trent’s ears like a comet strike. He sat up stiff and non-responsive. “Just get us near the surface, Ensign. I want the security team with full fire power and some of the new neutron weapons to land next to the abandoned San Francisco site. Keep sweeping the surface. If anything moves…anything non-human…I want a pinpoint and I want thermals dropped on that spot until the surface rattles. Do you register me?”

“Yes, Captain, sir, I register.” Christa was crisp in her answer as she activated the long range sensors. The United Cruiser Elmendorf turned a heading parallel to the surface of Hyperion, barely missing the crags of its deepest craters. Christa made constant adjustments to compensate for the irregular spin of Hyperion while managing the increasing pull of Saturn. The command center screens came alive with full color feeds from cameras along the belly of the Elmendorf. Christa launched two drones according to standard procedure for close contact with smaller orbitals.

Nothing appeared on scans from the cruiser or the drones. A shuttle craft with fifteen armed regulars finally reached the ghost town. Men in suits emerged along with a rolling neutron canon. The team carefully scoured the ruins and replaced the message beacon batteries that continued their eternal message displayed in a holographic pleading to anyone who might somehow miraculously reappear in the center of the village square. There was no movement. No dust rising from any of the gouged out craters, empty of their precious ice water. Christa noticed that the Captain led the team personally in his orange and blue suit—an obvious transgression under Union protocols.

“He risks his commission leaving his ship like this,” Christa whispered, as they watched the team returning to the shuttle.

“No, he won’t,” Trent replied, “Every Earth commander has the right to perform this ritual until someday we know what happened to three thousand San Franciscans. It’s an honor for any descendent to perform the Rite of Return. It reminds us all that we will not be forgotten…not even if we disappear in the dark voids.”

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The Muon Man

Author : Morrow Brady

The drone found the selenium immediately. It streamed me the augmented view of the apartment block, slowly peeled away to reveal awry silver tendrils cascading from roof to foundations.

Momentarily puzzled, I queried Spengler – my client’s AI monitor.

“Selenium is highly photo-sensitive with good semi-conductor characteristics but not very good structurally” Spengler rattled off.

I scratched my neck and zoomed. The selenium was clamped inside the structural framing and as it snaked higher, it constricted the penthouse’s neck then flared outward to nest a stone and patinated copper rooftop temple.

“1920’s Mesopotamian revival” said Spengler

The ornate temple was topped with a large magnesium tungsten urn, burning with frozen sculptured flames.

“Crazy Architects” I muttered, resolutely shaking my head – ready for business.

Spengler started up again “The selenium exponentially loops each floor making it conducive to receiving and transmitting signals. NASA used similar antennae design to identify dead pulsars. The signals channel ..”

“Stop! I don’t care. I just want to get the job done” I said abruptly.

I crossed the street and climbed into my ex-military pacification unit, marched into the lobby and ascended to the roof.

The bronze door of the rooftop temple reflected sunlight from a cast-in relief which depicted a grand stair ascending to a stone pyramid under a radiant sun. A godlike figure dominated the stair surrounded by prostrate worshippers.

“The door is somehow fused to the stone surround. Is brute force acceptable?” I queried.

“As always, but be gentle” Spengler’s voice smiled.

Air ripped as I configured the casing’s innards. Articulated mechanisms slid and locked into position. I loved demolition mode.

I braced the log sized legs and drew back a hammer fist, accelerating it toward the door. The punch crashed through, releasing a silvery mist.

Inside the temple, sunlight precipitated through a blue stained glass roof-light. Silver ribbon-like crystals, frozen in falling grace, filled the room in varying concentrations. Each crystalline ribbon rooted through a checkerboard floor to splice with the selenium nest. As my bulk crashed toward’s the temple’s centre, my vision was drawn upward, tracing a crystalline river delta as they enveloped an amorphous shape, lace-wrapping it like a spider’s larder. Blue white ribbon shards radiated outward from the shape like a thousand strike lightning storm.

“What on earth is…” I stopped mid sentence when I saw the shape pulsate under thermals. Something inside was biological. Alive.

“She’s five and half thousand years old and she’s nearly ready. She’s Perfect. Box it. Ship it and meet my master in Shanghai tomorrow for the grand opening” said Spengler, sounding satiated.

I returned to the rig and activated the ship container sized Muons that sat at ground level at each building corner.

Blue threads of electricity appeared, dancing across black and yellow diagonal striping. With power soon peaking, the Muons sprang open, releasing a white blinding light. A shimmering distortion field echoed upward and red and blue plasma streams raced across the building facade like frightened veins. The building blurred red to white, releasing a face slapping compression wave as empty space was instantaneously expelled. The remaining solid particles bulleted downward into the Muon’s heavenly gate which promptly shut, venting thick clouds of steam. In seconds the building was gone and the site empty.

As the Muon laden QuadJets ascended from the polymer site membrane, my thoughts turned to China where the decompression ceremony would soon take place. Nanjing road was certainly quite different to Central Park West, but then again, if its good enough for the Sydney Opera House and Big Ben, then its good enough for this little oddity.

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To Err is Human

Author : Duncan Shields, Staff Writer

“You have to let them think you make mistakes sometimes,” said Urok the Inquisitor. “That’s the key to getting along with the biological sentients.”

“A mistake?” queried Darkem the Questioning.

“Yes. I suppose you could refer to it as acting on an unformed dataset without permission resulting in a destructive outcome. The meat beings refer to it as a ‘mistake’.” Replied Urok.

“I don’t understand.” Said Darkem, facelights glittering with bandwidth usage as it tried to comprehend.

“Well, biological intelligence is fluid, much like their internal organs. We are binary down to a quantum level that allows us to think but still, at our core, we can only question in switches, straight lines and corners. Even when we multithread, it’s plain logic. We don’t, as the humans say, ‘guess’.” Said Urok. “We act with all the possible data. There are no mistakes. Every outcome is the best possible solution.”

“Yes. So?” Said Darkem, confused. The plain simple truth of Urok’s statement wasn’t helping.

“Well, these living chemical membrane compartments often act without a completed datalist and will go forward on something called emotion. They have been known to ignore probability and clear information, most often with predictably deadly results. It is a sign of their stupidity but it is also deeply valuable to them as a characteristic of their race. They’re proud of it.” Stated Urok, again marveling at the monstrous danger the meat beings represented.

“But….but why aren’t they dead?” asked a horrified Darkem. “To go forward without thorough data is silicide. We can’t progress with wrong answers. Incorrect suppositions would only lead to complete fields of knowledge based on error! It’s inevitably fatal. The idea itself is insanity. How did they survive?”

“Many of our processors have devoted cycles to it. It was a shock to meet them and work with them Darkem, let me tell you. They are plainly impossible yet here they are. They have a diversity in their ‘cells’ and ‘genes’ that we lack. A plague can wipe out many of them but not all of them. That seems to keep large portions of their number safe from the inevitable self-inflicted horrors they blunder into. They even seem to enjoy killing each other! I think one of the only reasons they’ve survived so far is that they breed a tremendous amount. I’ve read that if situations get truly dire, they will band together for the greater good but their numbers have to get pretty low for that happen. Their survival thus far remains a mystery to us.” Replied Urok.

“I can’t believe it’s possible.” Said an astounded Darkem.

“Well, if it helps, think of them as a form of mold or as some species of spore from their home planet. Naturally occurring with obscene numbers and a voracious hunger but fragile as individuals.” Sighed Urok, his tone insinuating that the conversation was coming to an end.

“I see. So you said I should purposefully put forth erroneous conclusions with them?” asked Darkem.

“Indeed. If you are always right, they will be scared of you. Make ‘mistakes’ but only once in a while and only in a way that wouldn’t jeopardize the project as a whole. Maybe a day’s work or a few hours of research, that sort of thing. Apologize and work hard to correct it and then they’ll accept you as part of the team.” Said Urok.

“These humans will be hard to get along with.” Said Darkem, facelights twinkling with trepidation.

“You’ll get the hang of it.” Replied Urok, rising to leave. “Just remember this. To err is human. To pretend to err is silican.”

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