The Music of the Sphere

Author : Selso Sam Zaghloul

Cherry woke up at three o’clock local time, sweating and panting. She turned and looked out the window as the light from the smaller moon dripped into the room.

She had the dream again. The same dream she had nearly every night since the colony group had plopped their dull-gray prefab houses on this world. A dream of music, of an unearthly song bigger than everything, and of a light that would consume the heavens.

She trudged out of bed, dragging herself to the sink. She splashed ice cold water onto her face, as if trying to wash out the vision from here mind. It didn’t work. She could still hear the song echoing in here head, and the light dance before here whenever she blinked. She sighed. Cherry wished she had someone to talk to. But the other colonist lived in a compound about ten minutes away; a home to herself was supposedly Cherry’s reward for her work on the soil survey.

But the truth hung there, unspoken. They wanted Cherry and her dreams of heavenly music and all-embracing light as far away as possible, as if she was a useful, but dangerous animal. And maybe they were right to do so, she wondered in despair, maybe she was a ticking time bomb, waiting to go off.

Then she heard it. The same music from her dreams rose faintly into her ears. Cherry listened, at first in fear (this was it, she thought I’ve had finally lost my mind) and then in longing, greater longing than anything she had wanted in her entire life, until she could stand it no longer and ran out into the night, the melody pulling on her soul like a fishing line .

She didn’t care that it was the middle of the night, or that the song emanated from the untamed forest, or even that she was as naked as a newborn. The music made its siren’s call, and Cherry would answer, no matter what.

As she dashed through the spiral pines she nearly ran into pack of gecko-wolves, one the planet’s most vicious predator, who could strip a man to bone in seconds. She barely noticed them as they parted before her as if they were bowing before some sort of holy woman.

She exited the forest near seaside cliff. The Song was coming beneath her, from within the earth. She got on her knees and began to claw at the ground like a dog searching for the last bone in the universe. Hours later, she hit something.

The music stopped.

She had uncovered a black metal surface, barely visible in the light of the second moon. Cherry held her breath, and slowly reached for it with here index finger, trembling in both fear and excitement. The second she touched the metal’s cool surface, veins of light appeared on it, spreading quickly. The structure, a sphere the size of Cherry’s head, bursts out of the ground, knocking her on her ass, and floated over the clam sea.

The sphere disassembled itself into five pieces, like a puzzle in reverse. The floating pieces were still connected by the light, and from that light emerged five new structures, rectangles this time, and they too disassembled, and reattached themselves to the ends of the sphere-pieces. The process repeated-metal structures would come forth from the light, take themselves apart and attach the new individual parts to the ever expanding super-structure that had begun with the sphere.

By the time the larger moon rose, Cherry was no longer sitting before open space.

She was standing before a city.

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Just Like Old Times

Author : Hillary Lyon

Sheila opened the door to her grandmother’s house, flooding the dusty entryway with sunlight. She walked through the little house opening shutters and raising blinds. She put the fresh flowers she’d brought in a vase.

In the kitchen she washed two tea cups and their matching saucers. She rinsed a kettle, filled it and set it to boil. Sheila looked through the cupboards until she found a tin of oolong tea, her grandmother’s favorite. She also found the sugar bowl. From her bag, Sheila pulled a plastic container with the finger sandwiches she’d made that very morning.

Moving into the breakfast nook, Sheila arranged the setting for afternoon tea on the highly polished little table. Cups, tea, sugar, finger sandwiches. Curtains pulled back on a beautiful Spring day. Flowers from the garden in a hand-painted vase. Linen napkins. Sheila smiled.

From her bag, Sheila withdrew a small chrome box with a black button along one side and a gray glass lens on its top. She set the box down at her grandmother’s place at the table, pushed the black button and held it for three seconds. She closed her eyes.

When she opened them, her grandmother was smiling at her from across the table. She was wearing her Sunday best, with her hair styled for church. Just as Sheila remembered, her gran was wearing wire-rimmed glasses, and the cameo pin that Sheila had given her for her last birthday. The old lady motioned for Sheila to pour the tea.

“Tell me, dear,” her grandmother began in her soft, warm voice,”do you still enjoy your work? What are you reading these days? Are you still writing poetry? Oh, and are you still seeing that nice young man? I want to hear all about it!”

After first taking a sip of tea, Sheila launched into an account of her life so far. Periodically, her grandmother nodded, or inserted a question when there was a pause of more than 15 seconds. Several times, her gran offered up an amusing or poignant story from her own life.

As she spoke, Sheila nibbled at a finger sandwich, happily absorbed in her beloved’s gran’s reminiscences. In the pale blue light of her grandmother’s flickering hologram, Sheila’s world softened and became a sheltering space; a safe place, far from the noise and cold chaos that waited outside.

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The Forgetting

Author : Jae Miles, Staff Writer

“Lie back, Daniel Sixteen. This will be over in under five instants.”

I swing my legs up and settle into the logro, feeling the soft curves adjust to the contour and temperature settings supplied by my envi. Things have definitely come long way from my last forgetting. Not that I remember the exact details, but the echo of certainty – what used to be called déjà vu – hints me true.

Yarrie Four-Twenty Clone smiles and rests her hand on my brow, her entire forearm tailored to convey reassurance and gravitas with that single contact: I am safe in competent hands.

“Please drop your envi.”

A simple request that causes me more discomfort than the fact I am about to have three decimillennia defragmented. When one lives forever, the little things become so tiresome: shower temperatures, seat posture preferences, tea flavours and strengths, they all take up time and matter. So we have attotech personal processors – envi – to carry those environment invariables and free our matter for living.

I drop my envi and feel a lack that I cannot name. Then a grey twisting streaks across my conscious, is gone, and I feel lighter. My envi restarts without prompting.

“Arise, Daniel Sixteen. You are cleared.”

Man’s technology has allowed him to live forever. In conjunction with the need to limit the number who are permitted to do so, there is a need for those of us who are permitted immortality to remain sane – some early horrors taught us that lesson well.

The postulated problems with memory turned into hard limitations until selective memory removal became a science, two centuries after its genesis in the torture chambers of MK-Ultra. Amnesia is not enough: an amnesiac has simply lost the way to a memory, not lost the memory itself. Brains have a finite capacity and only a limited way to tidy up – after all, organically we’re still designed for around a hundred years of thinking at most.

The memory removal process has retasked an old term, and ‘defragmentation’ is what immortals voluntarily undergo. Formative memories – the first four decades – are inviolate. Apart from that, you can choose what you keep: the Euphorics only retain joyous events, Glooms keep their disappointments close, Screamers retain extreme events, Horrors retain catastrophes, and so on. The gamut is similar to the old book and film genres, but since we can come back from anything bar a total brain incineration, we are our own entertainment. Vicarious pleasures are a thing of the past for the eternals, and those who do not qualify for immortality can watch us for their entertainment.

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Jupiter Watches

Author : Duncan Shields, Staff Writer

I miss having Jupiter in the sky.

I know Earth is humanity’s homeland and a pilgrimage to her is on everyone’s bucket list along with seeing Olympus Mons, the Ganymede Borealis and Titan’s cryovolcanoes in person. However, I am underwhelmed.

This coffee shop is serving the purest coffee I’ve ever had. One sip of it has set my heart galloping and I feel like I’ll taste coffee for days. It would have cost a year’s salary back home on Europa. The unfiltered air here is stinky, layered, and confusing to my nose. Being outside without a faceshield makes me nervous on a bone-deep cultural level. The whole setup here seems oversaturated with smells and tastes and to have a complete lack of safety. People are walking around practically naked because there’s never been a violent, sudden decompression in their lives. It gives them all an air of terrifying naiveté.

Europa has no mountains. I should have gone to Earth’s prairies, I guess. Instead I’m in Switzerland, in what Terrans calls Europe. I just assumed that Europa and Europe would be similar. Rookie mistake, I guess.

“The food on my Europa is bland. The coffee is weak. The air is boring.” That’s what I keep hearing from other tourists. But to me, the air and food here seems unnecessarily complex. Designed to confuse and overwhelm. All native Earthers seem a little crazy to me with their bright eyes and their short attention spans. I think it’s the rich input of what they consume. Too many distractions.

But I guess they need it because the plain blue of the daytime sky makes me feel like this planet is unfinished. Like it’s in a blue room. I have no perspective when I look up. It’s unsettling.

‘Jupiter watches’ was our moon’s Latin motto. The eye swinging around to monitor our lives, taking up so much of the sky. No interference but it was keeping a record. It was the basis of our religion. Here on Earth, it feels like no one’s watching.

Alone. That was it. The Earth felt alone.

One tiny pathetic moon haunting the night time while the Terran light pollution erased most of the stars and then the powerful sun bleaching out the entire universe during the day. No Jupiter hogging half of the sky, no family of moonlets, moons, and halfteroids peppering every afternoon, morning and sunset. No daytime moonstellations telling young lovers when to kiss or gamblers when they were at their luckiest.

Earth’s history had something called a sundial that stood out to me as a symbol of the tedium here. It was a flat, metal circle with a triangle set perpendicular to it, casting one single shadow to measure the march of time by tracking the one plain light traveling across the sky. Like a bare bulb in a blue room.

Earth and the moon had the simplicity of a hydrogen atom. Like a child’s toy. A very basic protostructure of what a planetary microsystem could be. A blueprint to build on. I really didn’t like the crushing monotony of it and I longed for the majesty and complexity of my home sky.

I could watch Jupiter’s swirls forever, meditating on the storms. I remember reading that most people on Earth chose blue as their favorite colour. What a drab reminder of loneliness and simplicity. On Europa we had names for shades of orange, red, pink, and brown they didn’t even have here.

I mean, I guess I’m glad I came and all but I can’t wait to go back.

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Lastly

Author : G. Grim

Do I know you? Maybe. Let me think.

I think we met on Betelle.

When I look at your face I remember tasting strange fruit. Like persimmons, but wetter. Sweeter. Like water falling in a garden. They don’t have fruit at home. I remember that. Something to do with pollination and bees and … something. There is a word for that fruit, but it’s gone now. Like the apple trees are gone and I can’t remember why. I can’t remember why I’m not at home.

No, it wasn’t Betelle. It was Lastly, and the fruit came from Betelle. The fruit seller looked old, but someone told me that she wasn’t. The journey changed her.

Was it you who told me that? Or was it you who handed me the fruit?

I’d love to have just one more mouthful of that fruit. I remember that people used to hate the rain, and now I’d give anything for that fruit because it tastes like water falling from the sky.

Do you remember the sky? I do. It was a blue so intense it was almost purple. Not the sky at home, of course. The sky on Betelle. There was something wrong with the sky at home.

Stop interrupting me. It’s very rude. You can’t make a memory wake up, you know. You just have to wait until it’s ready. Sometimes if you push it goes away and never comes back.

We went away, didn’t we? We left home because the apple trees and the sky were gone. And we’re never going back. But you were with me. I remember your hands. I remember squeezing them as the engines roared. Ripping apart what was left of the sky. Crying because there wasn’t any rain left.

Why aren’t you old? If the journey made her old, why aren’t you if we took that journey together?

Am I old?

Am I?

Who am I? I don’t remember. Do you have any fruit for me? I miss the taste of raindrops.

We stopped on Betelle. That’s where I tasted it for the first time. Oh. Oh yes. They grow it there, the rain-fruit, and then they send it to other places. All the places where people remember apple trees and skies.

You were there. I remember that. You held the fruit for me as I ate it. I remember the taste of sweet juice on your skin.

Why are you sad? It’s a lovely thing to remember and you look so sad. I was so happy.

Why aren’t you happy? Aren’t we safe here together?

I remember…

I remember I offered you some. You liked persimmons, back when they still grew at home. But you refused. You were so angry. I don’t understand why you were so angry. A whole world that smelled like rain and flowers and you hated it. And I was angry.

I don’t want to remember being angry. I was happy before. Why did you come here? This isn’t your home.

This isn’t my home, either. I want to go home.

I want to go home.

I want to go home!

Oh, Lastly. Lastly isn’t home, but it’s all there is now. I remember that. I remember the day we came here, ripping another hole in another sky. I had my hands in my pockets that day. I would have held your hands, but I was holding my last fruit.

You were so angry. You took it away. You threw away my fruit and brought me here.

I remember you.

I hate you.

I love the fruit that tastes like rain.

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The Console

Author : Rachelle Shepherd

He came into the house throwing looks back over his shoulder. He had the shuffle to his step that suggested less than legal activities.

“You have something?” I asked. He gave me a quick nod and shut the door. He slid the bolts, city lockdown style.

Barrel pulled something from his pocket. It was a tangle of wires around bottle green plastic.

“Are those headphones?” I asked. Maybe I whispered. Maybe I even choked.

Barrel brought me the bundle and laid it in my lap. We both looked at it, full of wonder and paranoid fear.

“Bring me the console.”

Barrel went into the closet and came back out with a box made up of processors, audio chips, memory chips, and software. He placed the black box at my feet. It was smooth except for one jack. It had no logo or label and it was fashioned with the old kind of power plug that went straight into the wall.

Interface unnecessary.

The one jack was a headphone jack, phased out of legal electronics before I had hit puberty. It produced sound. It ran voltage across its circuits to create the cold electronic beats of a constant current. Auditory hallucinations.

It was the kind of drug you bought from the back of pawnshops.

We tackled the process of untangling the wires, uncoiling the dusty knots of a decade, relaxing the tension behind stiff black rubber sheath.

Headphones are a method of injection. I could feel the straightened wires vibrating in my hands, heavy with a history of music. Emotion, straight to brain, quicker than the fastest intravenous hit. Humming with the potential for overdose.

“Do you think they work?” Barrel asked. Headphones are brittle things, prone to sound in one ear and static in the other. Familiar with abuse. Close relatives with silence.

I sent him stumbling around with the power cord looking for a plug in, that vacant expression made up of what goes into it. While empty it represents nothing but potential.

Barrel plugged in the console. With a spark, it lit up its circuits.

The console couldn’t be commanded. It couldn’t be controlled or directed. It could only be trusted. I put the headphones on, let them settle comfortably around my ears.

I plugged them in.

Silence.

I let the console work, let it figure up the complex algorithm behind the method of creation. Barrel was in my line of sight, asking questions. I couldn’t hear him beyond the mute sensory deprivation but I saw his expression, his excitement and anxiety visible in the shifting focus of his eyes.

The console heated up long cold components and pumped lifeblood electricity through stiff circuits. Within the headphones I heard something building. Something creeping up the wires. I heard sound.

Not the sound of language but the sound of expression.

I handed the headphones to Barrel. He slipped them on, slid into pure ecstasy. Sunk to the floor and closed his eyes, opened his mind.

There was a heavy pounding on the door. They were here.

I stood up, shaky and nervous. Altered, like an executed program, unable to erase the data log of my experiences, unable to close those forever open logic gates.

I knew who they were. Towering figures of authority, coming to investigate the electricity spike. Coming to sniff out the outdated illegal electronics of an era of art. I kissed Barrel on the cheek. He never opened his eyes, again. Then I answered the door.

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