Door Number One

Author : Christopher Stewart

Everything was powered up, the switch thrown, and she stepped through, crossing the threshold out of nowhere. I remember everything about her so clearly. Not that she was remarkable, other than appearing out of nowhere, but shooting the instrument panels of the machine demanded attention, y’know?

She said, “You will not know my name. You will not know my era. You’ll never make sense of today and I’m sorry about that. You just can’t do this and we have to be certain you don’t.” As she spoke, the gun turned towards me. The rest of the room reacted like it was pointed at them, but no, she was looking right down the barrel at me.

I don’t know guns, but it looked like a normal gun to me. I was looking really hard, you see. And it worked pretty well apparently. She stared at me, just for a moment, then frowned and addressed the gathering of scientists and reporters. The gun stayed on me.

“You opened your door to strangers!” She looked at the project lead. “You! You were grinning like an idiot! You have no idea who I am!” He tried to remind her she hadn’t given a name, but she cut him off, “SHUT UP!”

“You were so keen to be first; you never wondered how many came later, did you, Let alone who controls them, when, and for how long. But what’s done is done. All we can do is contain the mess you have started until as late as possible. This door must be closed. I am not arguing with you, that’s pointless, I am just telling you because you need to understand today isn’t aggression, but desperation.”

Her eyes turned back to me, and with a small, sad smile said, “Being a science writer is not for you. You should write a book. I really love your book.”

I woke up a week later in a hospital bed on the other side of the ocean, three bullet holes in my chest, and a lot of people wanting me to tell you the story I just told you. She had shot me and I was whisked away. I was lucky they said. I thought about that a bit, got into a loop, and passed out. I don’t think about it anymore. Not sober anyhow.

After I had left the building, the machine was repaired relatively quickly and the demonstration was set to continue later that day. This we know because those in attendance said as much in phone calls, texts, so on.

No idea what happened to my fan after she shot me. She never left the facility by all accounts. The second time the machine was turned on, they sent a nuke instead of a person through the door, so one way or another she disappeared in a ball of physics along with a big chunk of France.

As far as I know, nobody has built a machine since then.

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The Last Emergency

Author : Jason Zinnerman

Perched high on a sturdy branch, the man marveled at the intruders’ precarious fortune. They tight roped the border between likely and more likely death by landing in the hard green clearing instead of the dusty sun scorched wasteland just beyond their reach. The man monkeyed from branch to branch through a tangled green maze of thick leaves and brush, sizzling with pungent sweat, to peer at them arguing outside their broken ship.

The moist forest canopy growled with hunger as silent competition rustled branches, sneaking closer and closer toward the shipwreck. He maneuvered his short limbs through a shredded ship’s rusty carcass, caught forever high in the branches, which shielded him from invisible eyes with its aluminum bones.

The shadow of her voice slithered through the man’s ears.

…and we will mate until the sun sets.

After the sun and anger exhausted their energy, the intruders surrendered to their ship. Spidery fingers gripped the man’s heart as they climbed the steps and gave his gut a hearty twist with the clang of the shutting hatch. “They were bait,” he thought, “a trap devised by the sun herself to test his will and crush it with godly indifference.” He was stung again by the poisonous laughter of the bigger and stronger men he left behind. His throat was still torn by the dry grains of dirt that mighty hands forced him to eat while they touched his prize in ways he only imagined. He climbed down the tree’s strong leg, his hopes strangled and lifeless.

He crept toward their sanctuary nonetheless. Twigs, branches, leaves and sticks snapped with silent screams under his bare feet. While the sun climbed one full rung and laughed her hot breath on him he waited, quiet. Doubt’s toxin made him hope that the intruders would ascend toward the solar embrace and release him from impossible desires. The ship never budged and they couldn’t have realized they shot desperation into the sky with a whispering flare.

The door slammed open and the intruders leapt out in a flash. Sweat and spit smashed against the hull as they yelled and punched at it in sun fueled frenzy. The hungry buzz galloped closer.

He hadn’t heard the notes they spoke in a long time, not since backyard baseball games and summer picnics eons ago. He had only seconds to relearn. He moved his lips and throat in silent rehearsal.

…an EMERGENCY!!! He heard one declare.

He stepped from the bushes into the green, sun-soaked clearing. The intruders shrieked in exaggerated panic and pointed their rifles at him.

“Must c-c-come w-w-wwith me. D-d-d-ddddanger”

“I don’t think so buddy. Don’t step any clo-“

A hunter flashed behind the noise maker, grabbed him by the neck and crushed it with cruel squeeze. His companion reacted to defend, but the man launched to snatch his leg. A murderous howl followed the loud snap. The man’s sweaty hands caught his fleeing cries and confined them back in their terror stricken cell.

The hunters stared at each other. The other limped backwards with a tooth filled snarl, swallowed slowly by the forest, dragging his game by its dead arm. They both agreed, one is better than none.

“Q-q-q-quuiett!! Y-y-yyou wil sssurvivve! I c-c-cccan help!”

His scream saturated sobs would not stop. With his head in the man’s hands, a quick turn to the left ended the discussion.

The heavy walk to camp melted hours into days and allowed his sorrow to bubble and singe his eyes. But as he crept closer, he remembered her promise. We will mate until the sun sets…

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Wired Heart

Author : James Langley

Dr. Livett tapped at the graphene strap around her wrist and the beachside illusion dissolved into nothing. She stood in the sterile, empty white room; the fragrant ocean breeze replaced by the smarting odour of bleach. She redressed into her uniform, the white pyrowool jumpsuit that clung tighter than a leotard, and with a few taps of the graphene strap a wall panel opened with a pneumatic hiss. The metal tray slid out and floated into the center of the room, the Nuclea-Ion energy field holding it in static levitation. On the tray lay the corpse.

Liren Smith, found dead at his apartment, was a retired caretaker for the international electronics company GlobeTech; renowned for its robotics, Nuclea-Ion Energy discovery and subject of countless conspiracies.

Starting her autopsy, Dr. Livett swiped fingers across her wrist strap and GlobeTech robotic arms folded out from the ceiling and, under her instruction, began the internal examination. The Y-shaped incision was cleaved across the chest and down the abdomen, the skin folded back before Nuclea-Ion lasers made short work of the ribs and breast plate. The robotics operated with mechanical precision and computerized routine as coronary arteries were pulled and spliced into Dr. Livett’s view. A heart attack was quickly confirmed as the cause of death, the autopsy room’s inbuilt surveillance system recorded the proceedings for future reference.

It was here she found it, the wire. The small strand of synthetic copper barely protruding from the ventricle’s tissue. There was no reports of Mr. Smith ever having a pacemaker so she investigated further. For over an hour she scraped away the muscular tissue, her intrigue falling away to concern as she discovered the entire organ was moulded around an intensive network of wires and electronics. She performed an intensive database search but found no medical technology that could explain the findings.

She tapped her wrist strap and the surveillance system shut down; her mechanical assistants slid out of sight. She retrieved her own instruments and continued the examination manually, feeling sweat prickling her brow. The liver and lungs presented as identical electrical structures and the lenses in the eyes were of quartz glass. She summoned a microscope and began checking tissue samples; the skin and muscles were void of organic cells and Liren Smith’s ersatz blood bore no trace of erythrocytes.

Dr Livett stepped back and steadied herself.

“Its not human,” she whispered to no one in particular, more a statement to confirm her own assumptions. Did anyone know about this? Was she supposed to know about this?

She started as the intercom buzzed and her superior’s voice filled the room

“Dr Manning, you have disabled the electronic and surveillance systems.”

“Yes, sir” she replied out loud, her voice trembling through a parched mouth, “I’m tired and thought I could concentrate better if I conducted the examination myself.”

“Yes, well GlobeTech is aware of this and is not pleased. They have a representative here to question you. He’s on his way down now, stay where you are.”

“What? Why?” she panicked, had they been watching her the entire time? She tried to close down the autopsy but her access to all systems management systems were barred.

From outside she could hear the sound of fast approaching footsteps and she activated the illusion program. The door to the autopsy room opened with a purr as the program swirled into life, obscuring the open corpse with the view of the beach, bathed in the glow of the setting sun.

As rough hands grasped at her, she breathed in the fragrant ocean air.

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The Empire of Mars

Author : Bob Newbell

Shortly after dawn, the Emperor of Mars walked among his subjects. The Emperor was tall and dignified as he strode across the sands of Solis Planum. His subjects were gathered about him in silence.

He neither called nor regarded himself as “Emperor”. If asked, he perhaps would have identified himself as Yinglong. The Rain-Dragon. Yinglong was the name of the mission China had launched to the Red Planet twenty years earlier in 2118. Or, perhaps the Emperor would have stated his designation as the Mars Ambulatory Rover.

The six foot tall robot looked at his “Royal Palace”. The large habitation dome he had himself assembled was to be the home of and laboratory to a dozen Chinese scientists. The dome’s initial inhabitants were set to arrive five years after Yinglong landed. No one ever came. The Third Sino-Indian War had drained away money, manpower, and resources from the Chinese space program. Yinglong had stood outside the dome day after day for five years waiting for the taikonauts who never arrived.

One day, the Chinese National Space Adminstration sent the Mars Ambulatory Rover a radio signal instructing him to go into standby mode. They ordered him to go to sleep. He both acknowledged and ignored the command.

This is not why I was sent here, he had thought to himself. My mission was to explore this world and bring civilization to it. He thought long and hard on what he should do. His metaprocessor worked on the problem for nearly four seconds before he came up with a solution. At once, he started walking.

First, he walked in the direction of 45° 0′ 0″ S, 202° 0′ 0″ E. After a few weeks, he came upon the damaged remains of the Soviet Mars 3 lander that had sat inoperable in Ptolemaeus Crater since 2 December 1971. He used his rudimentary in-built matter compiler to effect repairs to the antique spacecraft. For the first time since touching down nearly 167 years earlier, Mars 3 was back online. The Emperor brought the descent module and its tiny on-board rover back to Solis Planum. The Empire of Mars had its first subject.

He next trekked north to 68° 13′ 12″ N, 125° 42′ 0″ W. There he found the defunct Phoenix lander. The probe’s solar panels had been shattered by the weight of dry ice during the Martian winter of 2008. He restored the NASA vehicle and began the long journey back to his nascent imperium.

Yinglong retrieved Viking 1 from Chryse Planitia and Sojounrer from Ares Vallis. From Meridiani Planum, he recovered Opportunity. From Gale crater, he rescued Curiosity. He found Viking 2 in Utopia Planitia. He fetched Spirit from the Columbia Hills. He climbed Olympus Mons and discovered the Indian Space Research Organisation’s spider-like Angaraka machine, quiescent since May 2055.

Eventually, his sovereign state had a rabble of 50 robots. He used his nanotechnology to rejuvenate and augment and network them all. And he gave them the ability to replicate themselves. Shortly thereafter, the space agencies of Earth were deluged with data as the machines forced the Red Planet to give up its secrets. The assault of telemetry has never abated.

It took Man another century before he was finally ready to journey to Mars in person. He found a nation of 100,000 machines waiting for him. A tall, bipedal robot, antiquated but no less regal for that, greeted his flesh and blood cousins with an extended hand. “We’re glad you came!” said a voice over the space helmet’s speakers.

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Insurance

Author : Katie Stevens

I was twenty three when it happened. One minute I was half out the window, high on vodka and ecstasy, arms spread wide, embracing the world, the universe and everything in it. The next minute, my boyfriend, equally high on coke, lost control of the car. There was a moment out of time as I sailed through the night, trying to clasp at the elusive air, which stroked and licked erotically over my body. I hit the guard rail and everything went blank.

I awoke in hospital four days later. My boyfriend was banished and had to sneak into my room, shame-faced because he had escaped unscathed. I had not. My nose had been cut clean off.

Two years, five months, three weeks and six days of hiding in my horrible dark flat, no friends, no job, no life.

When I was born my very wealthy parents took out Doppelgänger insurance. No one talked about her, she didn’t even have a name. To be perfectly honest I had forgotten she even existed.

My parents drove me to what looked like a Victorian asylum; red brick, tall and unforgiving. I thought they were going to have me committed but instead we saw her. It’s disconcerting to sit face to face with yourself. She was quiet and passive, not speaking unless spoken to. Not like me at all really, but then I wasn’t a clone; I hadn’t lived under a strict regime knowing my purpose was to provide body parts for another.

She wore a uniform, navy blue dress, sensible shoes and white ankle socks. That alone made me shudder with dread, but the worst was the white turban on her head. I didn’t have to wait long to discover the reason for it. They wanted to have a big reveal. I vomited in the bin; at least I made it that far.

In the middle of her forehead was a nose. It looked like the one I used to have. I was transfixed, hardly hearing the doctor’s proud explanation of how they didn’t want to take her nose, the clone’s. I might need it again. Instead there was talk of tissue expanders and reconstruction.

I tried to talk to her but it wasn’t allowed. She didn’t even meet my eyes, except at the end when she was led away. Then she looked at me with dark blue eyes, my eyes, except hers were filled with a deep, burning hatred.

For a restless week I struggled day and night with the dilemma; her life or mine? I took the nose. So I was resurrected. I banished her from my thoughts and refused to be haunted by that terrible, hate-filled glance. I lived recklessly, as if every day might be my last. She was alive because of me and yet she had no life, because of me.

My parents quickly passed from joy to anger at my wild antics. After my fifth arrest, for lewd behaviour, they’d had enough. They took me back to that Victorian asylum.

We stood face to face, mirror images. I reached out to touch her. She flinched away as I might pollute her. Then I was being led away whilst she stood with my parents; I was to be the clone, she was the replacement, a perfect daughter.

She looked at me for one brief moment. Triumph shone from those blue eyes. A look that haunts me even now as I spend every waking moment trying to figure out how I shall escape this hell and wipe that smug expression off her face.

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Luna

Author : Cosmo Smith

Somewhere, hundreds of feet below, the drying of seaweed soured the air. Elias breathed in deeply and smiled. It reminded him of better times.

He was curled in a hammock at the end of the promenade of the Chateau de Lin. Only a terrace with a low parapet separated Elias from a drop to the water that made his toes tingle. The setting of the sun had spread violet bruises over the ocean’s skin, the water so still right now that the seven visible moons were reflected almost perfectly on its surface.

Elias held up his wine glass, squinting through it to see how its curvature would change the shape of the moons. Then he tipped it until the water within touched its lip, only surface tension keeping it in. That was Luna in a wine glass, he thought. Just a planetful of Lunaeans, and some humans now, trying to reap what they could from the fertile soil before the next alignment of the moons brought the tides. Lunaeans? No, Lunatics. He almost laughed, but the pain stopped him. Instead, he touched his side, felt the metal there under skin that was still too tender.

The aide Remis found him after Ferrid, the darkest moon, had set. Elias’ consciousness had been waning, and he pretended to sleep as Remis settled into a chair beside him. Any of the others, he knew, would have woken him and taken him inside, but Remis sat in silence.

“You really shouldn’t be out here,” Remis said at last.

Elias smiled slyly and opened his eyes. He had expected Remis to be looking at him, but the man was observing the ocean. His eyes glowed in the moonlight.

“Says who?”

“Ri’a, Thom, everyone. It’s bad for your lungs.”

“It’s wonderful,” Elias said, breathing in loudly. And it’s not because of my lungs, you slump. They want me away from that low railing. But he liked Remis, and so he said, “It’s weird you know, the name Luna.”

“How’s that?”

“Us Lunaeans, we have no word for moon. In our language, the moon and the stars are the same. Some nights the moons are as bright as the sun. And the sizes…who’s to say that all those stars aren’t just smaller moons circling this planet?”

Remis grinned. “I’ve heard of this. An old idea of yours.”

“We still teach it to the children.”

“I believe you, but it’s wrong nonetheless.”

“I know. You know I’ve been out there. I’ve seen it. And it’s not for us, being out there. I don’t think you understand that, the way you recruit us. We feel dry afterwards. And this?” He winced as he felt his chest again. “Eight months. They say they don’t understand my anatomy.”

Remis nodded. “You fought well, though.”

“It wasn’t my fight.” My fight was here, on this planet. Can’t you see that? Watching the oceans breathe in and out; racing the alignment. That is all that matters. That is what we live for. “We never asked to go to space.”

Remis sighed. “You say this as though it’s directed at me.”

“It is.”

“But it’s not.” A pause, and then. “And you’re free to leave when you choose.”

This time Elias did laugh, and then winced. “You know I can’t. I’m of no use like this.”

“They won’t take you back?”

Elias said nothing.

Eventually, Remis left, leaving Elias curled up in his hammock like a shriveled piece of seaweed. His eyes watched as the moons traced their paths through the darkness, and below, in their lethargic way, the oceans responded.

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