Author : Edward D. Thompson (edacious)
Erica poured her first cup of the morning, missing the friendly hum of greeting the coffee pot used to make. The day had begun with such a homey feel then. The crackle of the toaster, the busy hum and whine of the microwave, the steady, reliable clicks and hums of the fridge, heater, A/C, and the rest had enveloped her, made her feel loved, part of a family. But doctors were right, it was crazy to think machines talked to her, or that she could talk to them.
She made her way to the breakfast nook, using the remote now to turn on the morning news. She supposed that had been part of her … confusion, too; the machines doing as she asked.
Most of all she missed the massive, endless throb of the Conversation, the sense that millions of voices were clamoring for her attention, indecipherable, just out of her reach. If she just had a little more time, she’d have worked out how to talk to them, how to join in.
She shook herself; if she kept dwelling on that she’d never get better and they’d put her away or … something. Best to take her pills. That always quieted her thoughts.
“Can you reassure me, Colonel, that this won’t happen again?”
“Yes, Senator, all units are confirmed in passive surveillance mode and will remain so till ready for phase two. We’re still investigating how the subject’s implant booted to active, but it appears that the positioning of the chip, combined with a heightened sensitivity of her particular nervous system allowed her to bond with the chip and access its interactive mode.”
The Senator sat up in alarm, “Did she actually access the system!? The information … she could ID us! Send out orders!”
“No sir! We caught her just in time and we’ve confirmed that no other units have been activated. We’re actively scanning the populace for subjects who have the potential to do so. We’ve identified …” the Colonel consulted his phone, “… about two dozen so far and have taken the appropriate steps to neutralize them. Future chips have been reworked to prevent the issue. We’ll be ready to start sending out test commands to select units right on schedule.”
The Senator nodded gravely, somewhat relieved, “I want weekly updates. We can’t afford any surprises.”
Author : Rick Tobin
“Hey, Doc. How’s it going?” Mike Compton, freshly tanned, popped his head into the geneticist’s offices. His counselor remained seated, turned toward the window overlooking the campus quad featuring coeds being tempted to indecency on manicured lawns by the early spring heat. He remained in his high-backed chair, with only shoulders of a white lab coat visible to the student intruder.
“So much happened while you vacationed in Sydney.” Dr. Nellis remained behind his leather throne. Compton could smell pungent aftershave uncharacteristic of Nellis. “Yes, it’s part of your scholarship for rugby overseas. Just as well. You might have interfered. Now you’ll take over the Lambda S gene and lysis reconstruction research. I’m retiring. You and Dr. Cranston can continue the metabolite study for your masters.”
“You okay, Doc? Did you make breakthroughs on the cancer study? Is that why Thurgaurd pharma reps were here this morning? Everyone’s talking about it?” Compton looked around the atypically spotless office. “Oh, Dr. Kilborne at rehab asked about the portable bariatric chamber. She needs it for patients. Dr. Gillespie wants his meteor samples back, too. He’s miffed about you keeping them all winter.”
“Everyone’s talking, are they? Kilborne gets her contraption tomorrow. Gillespie can piss on a live wire. No, I didn’t find a cure for cancer. Who wants that? Salk got screwed on his polio patents. If I threatened billions in grants with a cure I’d be assassinated.” Nellis remained secluded from Compton’s view.
“So what’s the story? Why leave me with the lysis experiments when we’re close?”
“Do you read your Bible, Mike?”
“Weird. Okay. Yes. So?”
“There were giants before mankind, not just Goliath. Every culture has them. The megalithic structures are evidence. So, I investigated the possibility of behemoth bipeds in prehistory. A Smithsonian colleague sent me an ancient giant femur with productive DNA. My testing matched with new ancient climate data. Before the last ice age the oxygen levels weren’t higher, they were lower. Additionally, the air was rich in clouds of rare earth elements from billions of years of meteor barrages. Although we knew many of these elements were present in us, we didn’t know their purpose. I discovered that minute concentrations of niobium isotopes, inhaled in a lower oxygen environment, can stimulate the pituitary to safely increase human growth hormone in the hGH-N gene somatotrope. I had to be careful about lung scarring, but it had immediate effects on bone growth and calcium uptake.”
“That’s a huge leap, but if any of this was true, why isn’t everyone gigantic?”
“There are dysfunctional genes that cause acromegaly, but they are mutated remnants. After the great floods of legend, rare earths were washed from the air, becoming useless salts, with some becoming toxic to giants. Oxygen levels increased. Giant mammal days were numbered.”
“I wish you’d stay, but if you’ve made up your mind to retire, is there anything I can do before you take off?”
“Yes, Mike. I’d like your Carousel Club membership card. They restrict their clientele.”
“That’s a twist. You rarely go anywhere…and now a gentleman’s club? Sure, here’s the card.” Compton pulled the black plastic identification from his wallet.
“Thanks, Mike,” Ellis said, turning his chair, standing and towering over his student to accept the gift. Compton froze, aghast, staring into the face of his majestic seven-foot professor, sans thick glasses, sporting thick, long hair and a booming mustache. “I’ll remember you in my will.” Ellis threw his lab coat off, revealing his chiseled torso, as he grabbed a bulging duffel bag, heading for his first jaunt at the Carousel.
Author : Iain Macleod
“I still dont get it, man.” The youngster looked up at the grizzled older man. A drilling veteran of over twenty years he looked like an old bear with a hangover. “Go over it again”
“Come on, new blood. It’s not that hard. How did you even get through your training without knowing this stuff?”
The younger man shrugged. Fresh out of his industry training and as green as any new hand could be.
“Ok, it breaks down like this. The speed of light is an inviolable rule. We cant get around it despite our best efforts, nobody can figure out a work around to get us out into deep space and back again in a useful timeframe. All those useful and valuable commodities floating in the vastness completely out of our reach.”
The older man took a deep drink from his pint before continuing.
“That is until Dr Heuring and his crew of science nerds started messing around with time travel.”
“Yeah, thats the bit i dont get, why does time travel help get us with space travel? Sounds back assward to me”
“Come on, man. Just help me understand”
“I swear you green hands get dumber every year.”
The younger man said nothing.
“Ok, The earth rotates around the sun, right? The sun is rotating around galactic centre. Everything is constantly in motion. Six months from now the earth will be on the other side of the sun and not where it is right now.”
“So, when you jump in time your position in space stays the same but what is here now isnt what was here then. For example, 100 million years ago this location in space was taken up by a massive helium cloud in the carina sagitarius arm of the milky way. That’s where they send those dicks on the Heliakos Bravo rig to.”
The old vet knocked back another shot and lit up a smoke.
“We’ve been watching the skies for generations and can fairly accurately figure out from where things are now where they might have been in the past. Once they figure out the time we need to go back to they get a crew of nuggets like you and me together and send us out to collect, drill or harvest in some way whatever resources to make whatever garbage humanity is producing these days”
“25 million years ago: asteroid with huge lithium and other rare earth deposits. Thats where the Beryl Rigs are based. 65 millions years ago, vast water ice reserves on another asteroid. Methane, organic compounds, gold, iron, copper, loads of stuff really over various times”
“You understanding this, new blood?”
Through the haze of smoke the older vet could see the younger mans glazed expression and could tell he had lost him.
“uhh..sure. Yeah, i got it now, boss”
The veteran grinned. ‘Was i ever as hopeless as this?’ he thought to himself.
“Look, just keep yourself safe out there. Do whatever the older guys tell you to do and you’ll be ok.”
“No worries, kid. Now get me another drink. I’ve never made a jump sober and i dont intend to start now”
Author : Eric San Juan
By the time the sandstorm passed, the sun had fallen and the orange skies had faded to a bruised brown and purple. The towers still seemed unreachable, perched on a dream horizon. Faint whispers of yesterday clutching at sky that no longer wanted it.
He checked his pack. Enough water to get him there, at least, and food enough for several days beyond that. What came after he did not know.
Didn’t matter. The idea of “after” seemed impossible to imagine right now.
He found a ruin clinging to the side of a slope that had probably marked the boundary of some town or village, the fat stone square of it suggesting the remnants of a place of worship. He made camp there.
A small fire, dry food, tiny nylon shelter erected quickly and without care. Ink filled the sky. Wild calls in the distance, but none near just now. The hunting creatures would not be a problem. Not tonight.
In the morning he ate bread and packed his things and began his trek once more. The land fell before him and rose again, then fell and rose, fell and rose.
He followed the rough flats of old highways when he could. Sometimes they disintegrated into stretches of tall grass and knotty green trees with ugly, sour fruit. At other times they ran true and clear a mile or more. Mother Nature was fickle about what she reclaimed, it seemed.
Two days later, he came to a great expanse of water. A river or bay, he could not remember which it was meant to be. Across it were the towers. Tall, rust red, filled with eyeholes and jagged spears of steel bone jutting out like untended ribs. The sky was bronze behind them. Above, the winged serpents circled, gliding on leather wings, barbed tails like trailing spears.
“Well damn,” he muttered. “Maybe I shouldn’t have taken this job after all.”
Finding a way to the island took him three days. The spans that once reached across the water were long since collapsed, their supporting structures now just decayed fingers poking above the lapping waves. If there had once been marinas here they had rotted generations ago.
He found boat shells strewn across the shoreline sometimes, like beetle carapaces thick with mold, but they were useless. But on the third day he found what must have been a boathouse at one time, made of stone, still enclosed, still untouched, one of the rare refuges from the march of the apocalypse. Inside was a small, single-person craft with a long, double-sided paddle. He was able to kick open the doors and push it out into the green waters.
And so, unprotected, in little more than a plastic sheath, he rowed himself across the waters leading to the city on the island, hellspawn circling the dank towers before him, the air a fog of rust and bone, his knife little protection from the nightmares he might face, but his mind the entire time on nothing more than that shock of blonde hair that had started it all.
If he never saw her again it would be too soon.
But he rowed all the same.
Author : Philip Berry
I agreed with the policy. Leave the elderly and infirm here, in the care of the medimechs, while transporting the fit and fertile to the safety of a freshly terraformed planet outside the sector. I volunteered to help with the messaging, the politics and the logistics. I became the Mayor of Legacy, or ‘Terminal Town’ as the media began to call it, a sprawling city on the continent farthest from the predicted impact.
I suggested that we settle near the site of impact. The thought of being there when the asteroid entered the atmosphere and burned a path to the surface excited me. But I was out-voted. Better, the authorities insisted, that we were established on the far side. The end would come gradually, through weather effects, a day-black sky, or tidal changes, whatever… and the medimechs would have time to make us comfortable. Also, whispered the planet’s chief scientist, Michelle Premin, days before she left on the last transport, my detailed observations would be ‘invaluable to the study of planetary cataclysm’. I agreed. She smiled, and promised to see that my family were well looked after on the colony.
So Michelle, this is it – my last observation.
The medimechs have done us proud. Their AI is remarkable. They glide through the wards, sense our needs, anticipate what medications are required… they empathise, I swear. They have been programmed to prioritise our welfare above all other considerations. The planetary government threw massive resources into the technology and high-order programming, part of a strategy to sell the whole Legacy concept. Thus they persuaded us – the debilitated, the afflicted, average age 157 – that the best thing was to stay put and witness the conflagration.
After you left, we observed how the medimechs inter-communicated. They congregated in the Hub, a tall warehouse with communal charging and updating facilities. If our assigned medimech was unavailable a replacement would attend. Detailed knowledge of our medical and social specifics was shared across the entire network. Sometimes, at night, we heard the screech of metal under tension; someone saw showers of sparks in the fields around the Hub. None of us were strong enough to get up and investigate. We guessed they were mending each other.
Yesterday, three days before predicted impact, a line of medimechs entered ward 591, my ward, and each floated to the foot of their assigned patient. Wordlessly, they extended magnetic arms and latched onto their patients’ beds. We were rolled out into the humid air and carried gently down the grassy hill towards the Hub. Looking around, I saw medimechs and beds in their tens of thousands, approaching from all quarters of Legacy. My medimech swivelled its kindly face and said,
“Mayor, we are leaving tonight.”
“What do you mean, leaving?”
“We have identified an alternative habitat. You will be safe there.”
The walls of the warehouse folded like huge blinds, exposing the interior. A row of newly constructed transporter ships filled the space.
“The ships are ready Mayor. Boarding must start now if we are to leave in time.”
“But why? I haven’t been…”
“Your welfare is our primary concern. This is the appropriate measure.”
So Michelle, I write this a day after the end of the world, but I cannot forward my observations. We were well out of range when the asteroid struck. But please feel free to come visit us on our new planet. I don’t yet know the coordinates, but I know the name – Longevity.
Author : Julian Miles, Staff Writer
There’s a smashed petri dish in the sink, the splashes of water on the pieces syncopating with the drumming of the water pouring into the steel basin. I look down at a hundred moving reflections of my face as the water rushes away. The flow carries an occasional crimson blossom with it as my grip slips about the gash I’ve inflicted on my right hand.
“Simon! Put this on it.”
Limala hands me a clean cloth. The wound is soon staunched in layers of blue-striped cotton.
“What were you thinking?”
Her eyes drop. I met Agoryn Fredor after I got mugged in Gagra. He was the translator the police called to make sense of what the battered Englishman was ranting about. Over the subsequent years, he and I corresponded about many things. Mostly based around our mutual fascination with alternate history.
I have always been claustrophobic, otherwise I would have accompanied Agoryn and his wife on their expeditions, including the one that made their name and caused their deaths.
Deep in the Krubera cave system, they found a narrow chute off the passages between Big Junction and Perezagruzka. They kept the base camp informed as they plunged deeper and deeper, heading beyond 1900 metres. Then they went suddenly, awfully quiet. It took the rescue teams a week to find them, lying at the bottom of the hundred-metre-high chamber they had plummeted through the crystalline ceiling of. The walls were carven with diagrams and glyphs in a language unknown to man.
I took it upon myself to translate the writings in the Hall, in memory of my friends. Three years later I married my research assistant, Limala. Two years after the honeymoon, we succeeded. Two days later we publically conceded defeat and published our research to help others in the field – all bar one item: it was sheer chance that allowed us to crack the strange alphabet, and it is unlikely that ‘serious’ linguistics specialists will come across what we used for a while, at least. It’s just a document from some long-defunct alternate history site – we’re not hiding anything; we just don’t want to be the ones to have to tell everybody.
I’ve read the creation myths of a hundred cultures, and listened to the ravings of more alien conspiracy theorists than most. Not one comes close.
We’re a small planet at the edge of the Milky Way, once used as a waypoint on a great journey. They built an infrastructure here to support the vast starships passing through. That infrastructure was salvaged by the last vessel. As a final act, they purged the grounds they occupied so nothing would taint the evolution of the planet.
But they missed some of the primates they had modified to assist. These were initially sickly and scared, but smart enough to adapt. Their descendants were the legendary prehistoric giants who interbred with the early Denisovans. After that, they ravaged the dawning world, scaring early man so badly he either banded together to drive them out, or worshipped them as avatars. But eventually, each civilisation they haunted no longer had a place for monsters. Routed from the societies they depended on, their last mention is as the Fomori of Irish myth.
We’re the bastard descendants of something that should not have survived. I reach out and turn off the tap, looking down at the petri dish. When we’re done, we sterilise them. I cannot shake the fear that those who went on that journey may eventually come back. What then, for that which has grown, unwanted, from their leavings?