Author : Clint Wilson, Staff Writer
None of us would have signed up for this had we known of course. There were now sixteen ships left in the convoy. Sixteen left from the original forty that had set out from Earth all those years ago. I had been a much younger man then. This was evident, partially from the graying on my temples, but mostly from the deep worry lines on my face.
I clicked off the light and exited the privy. There in the common area of our PSS1770 Luxury Bus sat my wife and our three children, all now in their twenties. Stuffed in alongside them were the six members of the Kim family. To their left were our most recently rescued refugees, Jim Bronson and his wife Peggy. We had no more room. All of the other ships were full too.
The warp bubble that we all shared had become compromised long ago and continued to shrink in random fluxes and undulations. There were always at least six ships flying point and scanning for sudden surges or flares in the bubble’s interior, as dark space continued to creep into our shrinking cocoon. We now traveled in strict close formation.
The first to go, way back, only six years into our journey, had been an old PSS1500 with the Rodriguez family aboard. At the time we weren’t expecting it so there was no rescue effort mounted. After the five hapless spacefarers had perished we quickly ascertained what was happening. There were still more casualties as time ensued, but we managed to save many by using escape pods and crawl tubes, airlock to airlock, to transport those in peril. But as mentioned previously, all of the remaining ships were now full.
We didn’t need to wait long to see what would happen next. A flare of dark space was detected, and it was determined that sections of the ceiling, or twelve-o-clock, of our convoy’s warp bubble had suddenly dropped down at least half a kilometer. The Choy family, flying high-noon-point suddenly found the rear bulkhead of their converted ore freighter being consumed by dark space.
Commander Harding’s voice came over the comm. She sounded near frantic. “Move away from the event surface, keep moving forward Choy family! Stay away from the aft section! We are sending help!”
Immediately an argument ensued over the comm. Who would go? Everyone was full. There was a scream from the Choys’ ship. “Center bulkhead breached! There is a shimmering wall of blackness eating our ship. My daughter Lilly fell in! Oh god, she’s gone… please help us!”
Suddenly the Esmeralda, owned by the Freemans, sprang into action. Two of the cruiser’s escape pods were launched at the quickly disappearing freighter. Meanwhile, the advancing wall swallowed another Choy family member. Finally the remaining five were brought to safety aboard the Esmeralda in time to watch the rest of their home completely disappear into nothingness.
But to what avail? Now the Esmeralda was badly overcrowded. Discussions raged over the comm. We were at capacity. The next victims would have to be left to perish. But how could we do that to our own? We were still over three long years from our destination, and there was no escape.
This preprogrammed travel environment had been created and launched from the Jovian dark matter processor back home. It would only begin to dissipate and let us back into regular space once we reached our destination.
Together our ships continued to huddle in tight formation as we all awaited the next casualty.
Author : Jae Miles, Staff Writer
It’s not like I meant to end the world. I was just scared.
“Mike! Another side of fries for table fifteen!”
He should be shouting for bread and cheese. It’s my fault that he isn’t an innkeeper.
I found it lying in a clearing, limbs turning from purple to grey in the fastest rotting I have ever seen. I didn’t mean to hurt it, but a movement in the undergrowth had to be a deer and we hadn’t eaten properly for weeks. So I shot blind and killed a monster. There was a satchel lying on the ground by it. Sticking out of it was a device that reminded me of a matchlock with extra cogs. So when another ‘demon’ charged into the clearing, as I hadn’t reloaded my rifle, I grabbed the device and ‘shot’ it between its gem-like eyes.
The world seemed to lurch and then tilt. The woodland about me withered to stumps and dust in the blink of an eye. My clothes unravelled and I felt stabbing pains as I drew breath. Around me, the world vanished in a kaleidoscopic tornado that had gaps that showed impossible views: cities that hung suspended over blue seas blew to dust to be replaced by oil rigs. Things that looked like metallic eagles of impossible size twisted to become ugly passenger jets. In my hand, the device shimmered between states, finally settling to look like a tin can with an array of lights on the top. I peered at it and the squiggles on the side resolved into a language I could read: ‘activation without boundary limitation fields may be hazardous to the reality instance surrounding the operator’ and ‘unconstrained use may cause manifestation of temporal resilience effects’.
When the whirling chaos faded, I stood on an expanse of waste ground between two tenements. Before me, a chain link fence sparkled briefly before fading to dull metallic grey. Then a rain of fire scoured my mind. I screamed and toppled to writhe on the ground, clutching my head. Of course, I dropped the device. There were three bass thuds, like a giant hand was knocking upon a vast door. I blacked out.
I woke. Crouching next to me was a young man in an expensive suit. He held the can in one hand. Seeing his gem-like eyes shocked me fully awake and then the realisation of new knowledge, the new history in my head, caused tears to cascade down my cheeks.
He nodded: “If you’re lucky, memories of your former instance will pass. If not…” He looked down at himself: “Seems like you remodelled me too.” Looking up, he smiled a wintry smile: “I’ll not lie. You’re a nuisance and you nearly killed me when you erased your timeline. I hope you can make something of yourself to offset the number of people you deleted.”
With that condemnation, he stood up and walked off, shrinking into a distance that meant he vanished before he reached the edge of the waste ground. I rolled over and vomited myself compos mentis.
A year has passed and I’ve adjusted to this terrible world of my own instigation. I’m studying the fundamentals of existence while working two jobs just to stay alive. The memories of hunting through verdant woodland to provide for the family I erased have not faded.
I have given myself ten years to achieve something of worth. If I do not and the memories remain undiminished, I will see if the afterlife from my previous time survives and hope that my family are there.
Author : Desmond Hussey, Staff Writer
“I assure you, Mr. and Mrs. White, the procedure is quiet painless.” I steeple my fingers together and settle deeper into my chair, smiling with cunning charm at the elderly couple sitting across from me, their doubt and fear clearly at odds with their fragile hopes.
“How does it work?” the husband ventures tentatively.
“The technicalities are far too droll, rife with complexities and esoteric jargon which would only burden your understanding, Mr. White. All you need know is that upon the pronouncement of biological death, before the onset of true brain death, our expert team of doctor’s and technicians will effortlessly translate your consciousness into the Heaven of your choosing.” I gesture to an illuminated wall decorated with myriad icons and symbols of all the world’s faiths.
“As you can see, we cater to all religious denominations here at Heaven’sGate. Whether it’s the Timeless Bliss of Nirvana, the Immaculate Gardens of Jannah, or the Eternal Glory of Jehovah’s Kingdom in Heaven that you seek, we have specially crafted virtual realities guaranteed to satisfy any and all of your desires for an afterlife. And if you’re atheist,” I chuckle, “we have a Build-your-own Paradise Package.”
Husband and wife share a furtive, hope-filled glance as Mr. White squeezes his wife’s arthritic hand.
“Will we… be together… when I…?” Tears rim Mrs. White’s rheumy eyes.
“Absolutely! By choosing our Family Package you can join your loved one upon the moment of your death and be reunited for eternity.”
“What happens to my… the body of the deceased?” Mr. White’s question is followed quickly by his wife’s own query, “May I visit the grave?”
“To answer your question first, Mr. White, for the purposes of sanitation and economy of space, upon completion of the funeral services our policy is to cremate the body. However, to address your concerns, Mrs. White, we do provide – for a nominal fee, of course – a Virtual Visitation with your dearly departed.”
“Virtual visitation?” The dubious question creeps from both couple’s lips.
“One of our many services.” My broad, sympathetic smile embraces them. “We at Heaven’sGate believe in life after death. How could we not? And we’ve made it possible to commune with those who have gone to the Great Hereafter in person at one of our many facilities worldwide, or in the convenience of your own home, with an on-line Séance. Our Medium Package allows direct communication with the consciousness of the deceased, anytime, anywhere. Doesn’t this sound wonderful?”
“Too good to be true,” Mr. White says with a hint of skepticism.
“Oh, but Harold, it would be such a comfort for me to be able to… to…” Mrs. White bursts into tears and is gently embraced by her husband.
With rehearsed sympathy, I pluck a handkerchief from a box on my desk and offer it to the weeping woman.
“Our services provide a sense of relief for the surviving family to know, for certain, that their loved ones are safe and content in the afterlife, Mr. White. We at Heaven’sGate have eliminated the terrifying existential uncertainty. No more sleepless nights wondering where we go when we die. At Heaven’s Gate, your eternal happiness is our guarantee.”
I hold the contract tablet out for Mr. White, who, consoling his sobbing wife with one arm, reaches for it with his other. He pauses before sealing the deal.
“Any Paradise I want?”
“I’ll feel no pain?”
“Not even an itch.”
“As certain as death and taxes.”
Mr. White presses his thumb print into the tablet.
I grin broadly, thinking mischievously, “There’s one born every minute.”
Author : Roger Dale Trexler
They knew that it was the end.
They saw the mushroom cloud grow out of the ground, a bright, blinding light providing the seed. They knew about seeds; they were farmers who grew corn and soybeans and milo. They were simple people who did not understand the hatred that brought the bombs. They cared little about politics; they just wanted to live peaceful and nurture their land.
As the chaos began, they congregated in a pole barn they used as a civic center in their small town. There were over a hundred of them, men, women and children.
They were all afraid.
They didn’t understand when they started to get sick. They pulled their hair out in large clumps. They coughed up blood and vomited frequently. The cattle died in the fields; the crops wilted and returned to the ground.
They watched as a blanket of gray covered the sky.
When the first ones died, they buried them in the snow-covered ground. They said a eulogy over the graves with a lot of them yelling “Oh, why Lord?” and “Please spare us from this burden!” to the dark, sunless sky.
They started eating the dead when the food ran out. They cooked the flesh over an open fire, telling the children it was beef or venison to make them eat. They needed to keep up their strength, after all.
They ate the children when they died.
And they kept on dying.
None of them could stop the dying.
It seemed only fitting that, in the end, a man and a woman sat alone and stared at each other from across the campfire. They cried. When they had the energy, they made love by the fire. Like Adam and Eve at the beginning to time, they were the Adam and Eve at the end of time.
When the last body was eaten, they dug up the frozen corpses they had buried and ate them.
The corpses were worm-riddled, but they ate them anyway.
They made love again.
And, on that last day, as they lay there in each other’s arms, they realized that one of them would soon have to eat the other to survive.
But then what?
They knew what they had to do.
They could not eat each other. They loved one another.
He placed the pistol against her temple. He was crying so hard that he could hardly pull the trigger. But, he did. Blood and brains sprayed out over the fire, igniting as they passed through the flames. It was beautiful.
Her body fell back onto the blanket they had made love on.
He stood over her corpse, sobbing. He put the gun to his forehead.
He wanted to pull the trigger.
He wanted to.
But, he could not.
There was still food to be eaten.
And, with one less mouth to feed, it would last awhile.
Author : Jae Miles, Staff Writer
“We are in so much drek.”
“Did I not say that you were to be nice to him?”
“Nice? Emmett, he had his cyberpaw so far up my skirt I thought he was a gynaecologist!”
“Easy, Celene. Watch the tollway.”
“We’re only doing two hundred. I can do this with my eyes closed.”
“I love it when you plead.”
“Don’t I know it.”
“Emmett, baby, could you tell the cops to frack off? Didn’t you pay them enough?”
“I did. These are hired ronin. You know, friends of the razorboy you performed balls-in-the-throatomy on.”
“He grabbed my-”
“I know, Celene. I’m just hopin’ they can get his cajones out of his oesophagus.”
“I’m not. Now. We cannot outrun the interceptor they have as top cover, and they’re running interference on our drive. Got any ideas? You are my spannerman, after all.”
“That’s ‘drives’, darlin’. I mounted an extra two in series. As for the jammin’, let me get my axe.”
“The last thing I need now is to listen to you murder ‘Roll on Down the Highway’.”
“Oh, that’s harsh.”
“Truth hurts. Stick to Reo Speedwagon, baby. It’s more your speed.”
“Harsher. Much, much harsher.”
“The first stage is acceptance. Now, about our imminent blazing death?”
“Like I said. My axe.”
“You really have lost it, haven’t you? There are nine raging razorboys across five speeders, backed by two mercs in a mil-spec interceptor that I didn’t think you could even have drawings of outside Level Eight clearance, and your best answer is to go Hendrix on their collective arses?”
“Darlin’, I am a lot of things, but losin’ it is no one of ‘em. Shut up an’ drive. An’ be ready to drive real fast. When the speeders go, we’ll have about three seconds while the mercs engage hind brain. If we ain’t going like a Lenkormian Devil at the end o’ that, you better kiss me quick, coz that’s all the time we’ll have left on this earth.”
“That’s the ugliest guitar I’ve ever seen.”
“Tollway! Watch the tollway! For the love of Senna, drive!”
“No need to get mean.”
“You just insulted my vintage BC Rich Draco. Count y’self lucky I’m not tannin’ your butt instead of savin’ it.”
“Newsflash. Those are not custard pies they have started shooting at us.”
“Noted. Now pop my side of the targa.”
“What the hell is that?”
“A phased plasma rifle in the 40-watt range, built into the back of my Draco. Sometimes audiences get real critical.”
“I’m not saying a thing.”
“Get ready to hit the ‘go’ buttons.”
“Wup! Yeah, would be embarrassin’ fallin’ off the back.”
“And then some. I’m ready, babe.”
“It’s time to rock ‘n’ roll, then.”
“Kick their arses, Emmett.”
“Hello, you ugly mofo’s. Meet my lil’ friend.”
“Frack but that’s bright!”
“Tell me ‘bout it. Slipstream took me shades.”
“Louder! I can’t hear you over the wind!”
“Five down! GO!”
“I hear that! Wheeeeee!”
“You okay, baby?”
“Snapline was fine. Nearly becomin’ twins on the back edge of the door wasn’t.”
“I’ll kiss it all better later. After we finish selling the data.”
“Yeah, that stuff always has a short sell-by. Hang a left at Capella, kid. The Geek’s hangin’ off Auriga. We’re goin’ to be rich.”
“Amen to that. Play me something.”
“Roll on Dow-”
“Emmett! I have the passenger ejector seat button under my thumb.”
“Better. Sing me away, spannerman.”
Author : David Kavanaugh
“But I don’t want to!” she whined in her little voice. “Why do I have to? It’s. So. Boring! I hate it there.”
“I know, baby, I know,” said her mother. “But it’s good for you. Just for a few minutes. Understand? Then you can come back in.”
If only she knew how to override her mother’s software and hide in a corner of some glitchware, but she hadn’t been able to figure out how to, and her big brother wouldn’t tell her.
So, arms crossed, she went. Her glittering view of starlight and carousels and unicorns and all things that the little five-year-old loved faded away with a ding, and she found herself back in her physical body. She was sitting in the tub while the carebot rinsed out her hair.
“Welcome back, bunny. Had fun? It’s good to see you,” said the tinkling, maternal tones of the carebot.
“I hate you!” she grunted back, swatting at the rubbery hands and climbing out of the tub. Her body felt awkward and unfamiliar, as if the muscles longed just as much as she did for her consciousness to resync with the software, and the body to return to autopilot.
The carebot began to dry her with a towel, but she pushed that away too.
She stood, dripping, before the mirror, staring into the eyes in the glass. The eyes were brown and small, and she couldn’t shake the feeling that they belonged to a stranger. She thought they looked terribly ugly, and much preferred the large and lustrous violet eyes of her avatar. Her avatar had bubblegum pink hair that fell over her shoulders in a splash of bouncy curls, but in the mirror, she saw only the sopping, brunette rat’s nest and matching, bushy eyebrows.
“I hate real life,” she said in a soft, defeated voice.
A robot hand patted her reassuringly on the arm. “I understand, bunny. But the recommended daily dosage of reality for a five-year-old female is at least…”
“I know!” she grunted, stomping the floor. “I already know that. You are so stupid!”
She marched from the room, through the drafty hall and into her bedroom. She leapt, twisting midair so that she landed sitting on the edge of the bed. She tightened her jaw, crossed her arms, and sat resolute and still. She would not give her mother or the carebot the satisfaction of seeing her have fun in this place, with its repulsive imperfections, its dust and smells and blaring contrast of light and shadow.
Why did she have to come here, anyway? What good could possibly come from the pangs of hunger or the bitter touch of hot and cold? What benefit could there be in possessing these flimsy, ape arms that banged on the corners of walls and sprouted bruises of black and green?
She knew, better than any of them, where one found happiness. She knew the shape of heaven, written in quantum code and splayed out in a digital paradise that knew no bounds.
And so she sat, and stared, and waited for bliss to return with its usual, jingling dial tone.