Unmoored

Author : Jae Miles, Staff Writer

“Where did we find him?”

“Outside a pizzeria on the Alpenring in Walldorf.”

“Obviously a man who travels first class.”

Hans chuckled.

Dolf stretched: “So, before he vanished, on camera, from a locked cell, and the infestation of sharp dressed young men with Hamburg accents began, what did our mystery guest tell you?”

Hans pulled out his notebook: “He spoke almost perfect Hessian. I had to get my grandfather to verify my translations. Grandpa said that he was speaking ‘Darmstadter’, and he hadn’t heard that spoken since he was a child.”

Dolf raised a hand: “So he’s a bit of a linguistic mystery as well. Move on.”

Hans grimaced: “We’ll have to. The suits took the tapes.”

Dolf glared at Hans.

Hans ducked his head and continued: “He claimed to be Grustaf Kolingt, a ‘Geldaj’ – some sort of private detective. Anyway, he had been hired to look into a trio of disappearances, one every fifty years or so. Now, things got weirder when I asked about their cold case methodology, because he didn’t understand. Lifespans where he comes from average two hundred and fifty years. Two of the disappearances had made headlines that Grustaf had read!”

Dolf looked up: “Only two?”

“Yes. The first one occurred before Grustaf was born. The fourth was imminent. Grustaf was hired to prevent it, and find the cause.”

“Man from another world ends up in Walldorf? Come on, Hans.”

“I thought the same. Then he listed the three missing people, and one of them was familiar.”

Dolf sat up: “In what way?”

“Frankfurt,” Hans waved his hands as Dolf started to rise “on-Oder. The other Frankfurt. I read about the stranger that appeared there when I was a kid. Said he came from ‘Laxaria in the country of Sakria’, but vanished before authorities could do anything. That was back in 1851. Next one was in 1905: a man caught stealing bread in Paris. Had a torn map of a place called ‘Lizbia’. He spoke no language anyone could interpret. Again, he vanished before anything more could be done. Then, in 1954, a chap was detained at Tokyo airport: presented a well-used passport from ‘Taured’, in Andorra. They locked him up overnight, -”

Dolf interjected: “And he was gone by morning.”

Hans grinned: “Precisely. So, Grustaf did some basic detective work – common themes, places, etcetera. The only overlap was visiting some place called Mantuk, an abandoned town in what we’d call Connecticut.”

“Let me guess. Our intrepid private detective went out to Mantuk, didn’t he?”

Hans grinned: “He did. Found an abandoned naval station with generators still running. Inside, he found what I would call a ‘mad scientist’ by the name of Johann Titor. Unfortunately for Grustaf, he had henchmen. They overpowered him, then threw him into Titor’s machine. He has no idea what Titor was trying to achieve, but the result of a failure is what happened to the disappeared, and to Grustaf. They become ‘Losgemacht’: slipping from one reality to another, until they encounter the reality that matches the resonance that Titor’s machine imbued them with.”

“What happens to those who don’t find a matching reality?”

“They spend a short time in each reality, then ‘drift’ on. Until they die.”

Dolf leaned back and laced his fingers behind his head.

“Then I hope Grustaf Kolingt gets lucky and lands in a reality where they need impetuous detectives.”

Hans raised his coffee cup: “I’ll drink to that.”

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Aster

Author : John Carroll

The killer whale that I had dubbed Aster and the robotic companion dolphins that he was chasing erupted into view, flashing across the length of the viewing window and back out of our field of vision so quickly that by the time Maria could squeak with surprise they were already gone again. I felt Elizabeth shiver involuntarily.

The sleek robots, guided by my mind, led Aster back into view. He noticed us then, drifting toward the screen and turning over several times. He began to paddle lazily back and forth across the fortified plastic wall. Kashvi thought that now he seemed more like a gigantic panda bear than the fierce column of predatory might we had witnessed moments before.

“Extremely charismatic, isn’t he?” I said. “It’s little wonder Orcas saturated the mythology of indigenous coastal cultures for centuries.”

Aster was very close now, close enough for us to see the thin surgical scar on his eyespot that proved he was a co-pilot.

“Many of our passengers were disturbed to think that Aster would be joining your ranks as a co-pilot,” I continued. “Many remain ignorant when it comes to the android/co-pilot relationship. It’s still widely believed that each co-pilot needs to understand the physics of the voyage. Of course, I did not select Aster for his mathematics credentials. In fact, he will probably play a relatively small role in this expedition compared to the four of you. But his brain lends an invaluable perspective.”

Behind Aster, his silvery playmates danced around each other in elegant helixes, waiting mindlessly for Aster to re-engage them.

“Orcas are human-like in a number of ways. Like a human, Aster is usually the most intelligent organism in the room. Orcas have culture, dialect, self-awareness, and wonderful problem solving skills. Like humans, Orcas are the undisputed rulers of their domain. It was not a challenge to integrate Aster into a computer system designed for human brains. But what attracted me to Aster were the parts of him that make him a wild animal. Up until the moment of his capture, survival for Aster was a repeated process of throwing himself headfirst into the apparatus of his ecosystem and wrestling the life force from another creature.”

Far back in the tank, a scarlet plume of fish guts splashed into the water, deposited by Aster’s automated feeding system, and billowed into a gory inverted mushroom cloud. Aster turned tail immediately and jetted away from us, the scent of lunch in his hypersensitive nostrils.

“Aster’s brain is on a wavelength that I, as an android, am only beginning to imagine,” I said, almost whispering. “My self-preservation programming is a hollow imitation of a survival instinct like Aster’s. To guide this ship to an adjacent universe with the same physical constants as our own, I know without doubt that I’ll need to call upon a mind more primal than my own vat-grown, code-laden brain. That’s where Aster will come in. In the face of extinction and loss of habitat, human beings have quickly learned that they need to return to that wavelength, to re-activate dormant instincts and fight brutally for their lives. The ship that we stand within now is a testament to that. I myself was born of this resurgent instinct. But you and I both have more to learn from Aster before this storm is past.”

I turned from the tank to face the four of them. Through Mark’s eyes I saw blue ripples dancing across my face.

Aster devoured his meal in the far distance.

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Escape

Author : Bob Newbell

The sound of the ship’s klaxons faded over a span of a minute.

“Air pressure is at zero, Captain,” Ramirez heard a female voice say in south Vietnamese accented English from the speakers of his space helmet. “We’re in hard vacuum throughout the vessel.”

Typical Consortium tactic, thought Ramirez. Having the crew don spacesuits before the engagement was the right decision. Ramirez looked at the twelve men and women whose faces showed fear and despair emerging from a thinning facade of courage and determination.

“They’ll be boarding the Juneau any minute,” said Ramirez. He was surprised at how even his voice sounded given the fear he felt. “McKinney, rig the reactor to blow. Be sure to take out both the primary and secondary coolant systems. Novikova, weld as many of the hard point contacts around the reactor as you can so the Consortium won’t be able to jettison the reactor before it detonates. Hurry!”

The two ran down the corridor.

“Captain, in case your bluff to destroy the ship doesn’t work, I suggest we take up defensive positions in the–”

“I’m not bluffing, Nguyen. We are destroying the ship. That’s why we’re leaving. Now.”

The captain led the crew to the nearest airlock and began cycling the chamber.

“Go to camo mode as you emerge. And follow me,” said the captain.

The spacesuited figures became all but invisible as they floated out the airlock. The surfaces of their spacesuits were covered with countless microscopic cameras and projectors. Any given surface displayed an image of what the microcameras on the opposite side of the suit was seeing. After three minutes, they reached the Consortium ship’s port stardrive impeller.

“Iqbal, can you hack into this ship’s sensor net?”

“From the outside, Captain? I don’t think so. If we could get inside and I could establish a direct connection to their intranet, then maybe.”

“What if you could plug into their communication array?”

Iqbal consider the idea. “Their com-array to their quantum entanglement switch to their main metaprocessor and then access the sensor net. Roundabout way to do it, but it would work. But without that direct connection…”

Iqbal fell silent as he saw Ramirez pointing at a thin rod that jutted out from the impeller’s housing. A secondary hyperwave antenna. Iqbal smiled.

“Engine’s sabotaged, Captain,” said a voice in Ramirez’ helmet. “She’ll go in about ten minutes.”

“Abandon ship. Go camo and meet us at the enemy vessel’s port impeller.” Ramirez turned back to Iqbal. “Go!”

Seven minutes later, a dozen men and women watched Iqbal furiously tapping at the control panel on the left forearm of his spacesuit from which a data-cable extended to the base of the hyperwave antenna.

With a tired voice, Iqbal said, “It’s done. They think their port impeller is about to go singularity. They’re abandoning ship.” Thirty seconds later: “Internal sensors show no one’s on board. They’re all either on our ship or en route there.”

“Iqbal, quickly!” said Ramirez looking back at his doomed vessel. “We’ve only got a few seconds until–”

Before the captain could finish his sentence the Juneau appeared to recede into the distance until it could no longer be seen. A few seconds later a new star seemed to flare momentarily in the heavens.

“I switched on the impeller drive for 50 nanoseconds,” said Iqbal. “We were close enough to the ship to be inside the field’s inertial reference frame.”

“Muy simpatico, Iqbal,” said Ramirez with a smile. “How about opening an airlock?”

“One minute, please, Captain”. Nguyen was burning “Juneau II” into the hull with her sidearm.

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Mom and Dad’s First Teleportation Ring

Author : David Henson

Mom’s holo-image comes into focus in the viewbox. “Johnny, I’m glad you contacted us. You have to talk to your father.”

“Everything OK? Where is he?” He’s usually next to her at the table when we talk.

“He’s been popping in and out all day with that darn teleportation ring you sent us.”

“I said it’d be better if you’d wait till I came over and gave you a few pointers.”

“Well, you know your father. He — Oh! –” Dad is suddenly sitting beside Mom.

“Hi, Son,” he says. “Thanks.” He touches the band on his finger, then puts his arm around Mom. “Martha, you have to see the pyramids. But be careful. Wait till the camel lurches three times before you climb down from it. Son, you should’ve got us two so we could travel together.”

“Well, Dad they aren’t cheap. They –” He’s gone. I absent-mindedly wave my hand at something tickling my ear. “Dad! You can’t go around startling people like that.”

“Sorry, Son, couldn’t resist.”

“Please. Pop back home and take the ring off. I’ll be there in a few days.”

“Will do, but I’ve got one more stop first. Great Wall’s on my bucket list.”

Dad, please just go back home and –” Never mind.

I turn back to the viewbox. Mom is shaking her head. “See what I mean,” she says.

“I should never’ve sent it to you ahead of time. I guess he’ll be there after China.”

“This is unbelievable, Johnny.”

“I know. I –”

“No, I mean it’s really unbelievable. You know those simulated reality rings you gave us for Christmas. I think I’m stuck in SimReal and just don’t realize it.”

“No, Mom. You’re not in SimReal. Look at your hand. You don’t even have your SimRing on.”

“Well, I wouldn’t if I didn’t put it on in SimReal this morning, would I? That doesn’t mean–”

Suddenly Dad is crying out in a muffled voice: “Help! Help! I materialized in the wall.”

“My God,” Mom shouts. “Johnny, what should I do?”

Before I can tell her about the ring’s built-in safety features, I see Dad in the background coming round the corner talking with his hand up to his mouth. “Studs! Drywall! How do I get out?” he says as he sits next to my Mom.

“That’s not funny” she says, then starts to laugh.

“All right, Dad. Off with the ring.”

“OK, OK.” Dad pulls off the ring and lays it on the table in front of them. Just then my wife yells to me that it’s time to leave. I turn and ask her to give me a couple of minutes. When I look back at the viewbox, the ring is gone…and so is Mom.

“Dad, did she–”

“Pyramids, son, pyramids.”

“Promise me that when she gets back, you’ll put the ring in the box.”

“Aye, Cap’n,” Dad says with a salute. Then he gets a serious look on his face. “Son, your mom and I have been wondering if all this is real. Even before this teleportation business. Now…” his voice trails off.

“Dad, Mom and I went through that. We –” Dad’s image flickers as he taps his viewbox.

“Feels solid,” Dad says to himself. “But then everything in SimReal feels pretty authentic, too.”

“We’re not in SimReal, Dad.”

“How can you be so sure.Teleporting all over with a ring. You have to admit, it’d be easier to pull off in SimReal than real real.”

“We –”

“John, please,” my wife calls out from the kitchen.

“Dad, I have to leave. I promise you this is all real,” I say. “Talk to you later.” I turn off the viewbox, hesitate, tap it a few times and go.

.

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Eternity Plan

Author : John Tippett

After what seemed like an instant, he awoke.

700 years of cryostasis had passed like a good night’s sleep. Immediately he noticed the partially healed incision in his abdomen.

“They all called me a fool, but who has the last laugh now?”, he smirked to himself.

He was a pioneer in medical cryo-storage, banking on the off-chance that a future civilization would have the know-how to fix him. He had poured much of his massive and substantially ill-gotten wealth into the “Eternity Plan” marketed by the world’s first cryogenic startup. Now, he had quite literally cheated death.

His mind raced. No doubt he would be a celebrity in this time: the oldest, maybe even the first, successful cryo-resuscitation. Oh, and his wealth! If the date on his podscreen was correct, with the magic of compound interest he could buy his way into the highest realms of opulence and power. Some things never change.

Through the pod door he saw a hazy humanoid figure moving along the periphery of the suite.
“You there!”, he mouthed, but no sound came out. ‘That’s to be expected, I suppose”, he said to himself.

At length, he regained mobility in his legs and attempted to draw attention by kicking the translucent pod door. No response.

He sensed pressure on the back of his head and through various contortions managed to discern a tube projecting from the base of his skull.

“I demand to speak to the own-”, his soundless articulations were cut short by the appearance of a form through the plexiglass.

“H-one-seven is now active”, a voice resounded in his head. He kicked the enclosure.

A searing pain shot down his spine and he convulsed. “Remain stationary”, the disembodied voice commanded.

He felt a whoosh of cool air and the haze on his pod door cleared. He realized that he was the center of attention in a room full of humanoid figures. “That’s more like it”, he thought. “This must be the press”.

“One neural network, with body, primitive. Opening bid 40 credits.” Movements. Flashes of numbers on a board.

“Optimized?”, another voice.

It was then that he noticed…a vacancy.
A distinct sense of vacancy between his legs.

“Affirmative”, replied the first.

He wailed a voiceless wail.

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The Pact

Author : Steven Journey

I watched her sleep as I cradled the gun, pausing only to wipe the silent tears rolling down my cheek.

We had made a pact last night, a deeper pact than even our wedding vows had been many years ago. I was about to betray that pack.

I stared out at the desolate landscape. Nothing to see for miles and miles, apart from the six mounds marking the shallow graves of our crew, and the remains of our spacecraft. They were the lucky ones. When our spacecraft malfunctioned during entry into the atmosphere, only I and Lucinda survived. It wasn’t meant to be like this.

We were here to mine ice. Well, the mining would be done by the drilling crew, but we first had to build the support structures to house the drills that would arrive in a couple of days. Now we waited for the crew to arrive, and with them the extra oxygen tanks we required. Ours had exploded upon impact, and all that was left was the ones on our backs, which would run out today, and one that had somehow survived the landing.

It wasn’t enough for us both, but one of us could survive until the drilling crew arrived. We had both offered to give our lives for the other, but neither could accept the offer. In the end, we agreed we would die together.

It was a surprisingly short discussion, when you consider the gravity of the situation.

I hadn’t slept. Lucinda seemed to have found peace in our pact, and was sleeping deeply.

During the night, I had realised that our decision, whilst being the only reasonable one we could come to together, was ridiculous. But if I made the decision on my own, then one of us could live.

As I loaded the gun, I wondered if it would hurt, or if death would be instantaneous.

I raised the gun, and took one last look at my sleeping wife.

I pulled the trigger.

As I crawled towards the spare oxygen tank, I wept.

 

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