Visionaries

Author: Jae Miles, Staff Writer

The guide says it starts small: things move when you’re not about. Takes a while to be sure. Walking into your lounge to find one of your books floating in the middle of the room while something unseen turns the pages? Conclusive. Time to make the call.
“Visionaries. What’s the nature of the incursion?”
“Book in midair.”
“Are the pages moving like it’s being read?”
“Yes.”
“Sir, you have a Class Six incursion. Vacate the premises and await an operator.”
It’s cold outside. Suzanne from number sixteen brings me tea.
“Incursion?”
I nod. She clucks sympathetically and returns quickly to her home. I see the sparks of a repulsion field as she opens her front door.
A ship swoops past. Someone in a blue-black bodysuit lands on my lawn, wearing a colossal helm and bulky gauntlets. The vision band across the helm centres on me and goes from green to blue. The voice that emerges is cheerful and feminine.
“Paul Torvil?”
I nod.
“Who died?”
The lump in my throat won’t let words past. Tears fill my eyes.
“Wife?”
I nod again.
“She’ll need you, Paul. Follow me.”
I don’t want to. The helm cants to one side.
“When someone dies, they emit an energy form. Many call it a soul. Science is undecided. Sometimes that energy doesn’t dissipate. It remains anchored to a person or place, maintained by what little energy it can syphon from nearby organics. When a Lasnhiri Hunter makes the transition into our reality, it bonds with the nearest anchored form and starts to subvert it. If it succeeds, it can take control of organic forms. It has to start small, but can go from mouse to man in under a month. After that, it can spread from host to host by touch, overwhelming the resident sentiences. We came closer to losing China and America than most people realise.”
We step into the porch.
“What was her name?”
“Jeanette.” One word, with my world attached.
Entering the lounge, I see a different book is being read.
She raises her gauntlets and ruby light fills the room. A crimson cloud becomes visible behind the book.
“Jeanette. Paul needs you.”
The cloud disgorges a form: Jeanette’s face contorting with effort as her head and shoulders rise into view. Oh, my heart.
A whisper: “Say her name.”
I step forward, raising a hand: “Jeanette.”
Smoky eyelids fade and I’m staring into the eyes I’ve missed so much. The mouth moves, but no sound comes out.
Another whisper: “Say goodbye. Nothing about love. Just goodbye.”
“I want her back.”
“Impossible. She’d be consumed. Your words can save her. Say goodbye.”
My sight is flooded with tears. In that watery view, a pair of malevolent eyes seem to be regarding us from the cloud.
“Goodbye, Jeanette.”
The gauntlets shoot jagged pink lightning into the cloud. I see Jeanette’s mouth open in a scream. I reach to console her, then stop. Jeanette rises from the cloud. Her head disappears. Slowly, she moves from the cloud to pass through whatever it is. Finally, she’s gone. The cloud vanishes in a blinding flash, leaving the faintest whiff of sulphur.
The Visionary places a hand on my shoulder: “She’s moved on. Like you should.”
I wipe away tears and stare. I see tiredness in her stance. She’s right.
“You see a lot from in there, don’t you?”
There’s a little nod. She sounds exhausted: “Too much, too often. Goodbye, Mister Torvil.”
She goes.
I’m left holding a half-cup of cold tea, staring at a singed book lying on the carpet.

Shore Leave

Author: David Barber

Cally had hacked her teacher. She gave herself grades good enough to keep her mothers happy, but not so good they attracted attention. Also, she rigged the on-line attendance so she was free to have adventures in the Station’s ill-lit underdecks.

She started her day checking out the Docks. They said the Ice-Rush was over, but spacers still came back after months out in the dark chasing comets.

Looking for real vat-grown steak, and spin that kept the liquor in your glass.

That was from Dark Space, her favourite virtual. Chad Stone was a spacer with a tragic back story, betrayed by some woman. Cally would never have betrayed Chad Stone.

The Docks, built to handle fleets of spacer craft, just boomed emptily now. In later years Cally realised how run-down the Station had been. But that wasn’t how it seemed in her youth.

Text from Mom Lal. Something about the meal in the freezer, which was for tomorrow. Mom Lal worked long shifts in Recycling, while Mom Hannah was a Phage Manager…

Cally stopped in her tracks. A spacer craft had docked! And there was the spacer, being signed in by the bad-tempered man from Dockside who regularly chased Cally off.

The spacer didn’t have Chad Stone’s rangy good looks. In fact, he looked grubby and thin, with tangled greasy hair. The man from Dockside didn’t think much of the spacer either, and just stared after him, hands on hips, shaking his head.

The spacer headed for the showers and came out looking better. Then he wandered into The Hard Place, which must be where spacers on Station went for real meat and liquor in a glass. Cally watched him sitting and staring at nothing.

She guessed a spacer just in from the dark, maybe one with a tragic back-story, might not know anybody. She was deciding what to say, suggesting a tour round the Station perhaps, when the barman told her to buzz off.

Don’t go pestering him, he added. On their own out there, all that empty, they come back strange sometimes.

Cally was intrigued.

None of your beeswax, the barman said and steered her back outside.

Still, they couldn’t stop her looking, and the spacer didn’t seem much interested in his food, or his liquor, and finally got up to go.

Yeh, still down on Deck 8, Cally heard the barman answer.

Mom Lal had warned Cally about Deck 8, though Cally guessed the warning wasn’t like the skull on a hatch with vacuum behind it.

Yeh, she still got a jewel in her head.

Deck 8 was on permanent night-cycle, with rude graffiti on the walls and rubbish underfoot. A row of cargo containers looked lived in, some with their open ends curtained off and lit, others in darkness. Cally loitered anxiously in the shadows. Mom Lal was right about Deck 8.

The spacer lifted a curtain and ducked inside. Heart pounding, Cally edged closer. The thought of a jewel inside her head.

To be safe, the creature looked up human – what did you expect so far from home – Yess, can do what you want.

She peered into his eyes, into his empty soul, and the fierce Christ of his forbears filled him with grace and righteous zeal.

Next time, try Vishnu, or the Buddha, said the creature as he paid.

Watching the spacer hurry away, Cally trembled with indecision, before parting the curtain slightly.

The alien stared back at her. Chad Stone, it said.

Cally gave a muffled cry and fled.

These humanss have such interesting godss, mused the creature.

Diffusion

Author: Jason McGraw

Images of vectors, numbers, and circles reflect off of a bi-metallic cube. Gold touches lead at a wide, dull blur. Machinery forces the metals together and a clear sleeve prevents bulging. Crew is receiving a “big-picture” brief from Captain using the display adjacent to the cube.
Each crew member works five years while the ship travels. The crew member that this one will replace after completing training will go to “sleep” in timeless stasis. Sixty crew and a captain are “awake” at all times.
Captains are different from crew members. They’re awake until they die and another woke. Captains handle course changes, crew disputes, and resource rationing while artificial intelligence handles the daily decisions and crew members perform the physical tasks.
Captain ends orientation the usual way. “Any questions?”
“Yes, Captain. What’s that?”
“The cube? It symbolizes our time in space. It’s inspired by jewelry found in ancient tombs on Earth. Different pieces stacked in pots. After millennia, the metals mixed and alloyed. It was very slow, but a beautiful result. Maybe more beautiful than the original jewelry.” Captain rotates the cube. “This one will be more beautiful than the tombs because it’s larger, purer, and with more pressure.”
“Oh, I see where it’s mixing.”
“The planners thought we’d have plenty of time for it to blend.”
“Diffusion.”
“Yes.” Captain nods. “To me, it says, ‘Everything changes as time goes to infinity.’”
“It’s like humans moving across the galaxy. Each ship is a crystal of metal and we migrate into the void.”
Captain inhales. “I didn’t know we had a poet on the roster!”
They laugh.
“It’ll be so exciting to wake up and see it finished!” Crew says.
“Someone suggested that the colony should display the cube outside, unsheathed. The lead will tarnish and it’ll symbolize your time on the planet.”
Crew replays Captain’s words. Our time in space, your time on the planet.
Two words stand out. Our. Your.
Captain won’t be at the colony. This piece will never change. Crew looks at Captain’s face, stress lines, and papery skin. How many years does Captain have left? Under five? Will I meet a new Captain before I sleep?
“Something else, Crew?”
“I was imagining, the metals, diffused.” Pause. “I’m sorry you’ll never see it, Captain.”
Another pause.
Each crew member realizes this eventually. In seventy years, this Crew figured it the fastest. And apologized! A poet indeed.
“Yes, Crew will sleep and wake up in a colony. Captains die in space. But look here.” Captain points to a porthole. “My body will jettison in a capsule. AI will steer it to an exoplanet in a Goldilocks zone with warm, liquid water. Or a moon, more likely. We don’t want to ruin a planet’s biome, if it exists. The capsule will open if there’s moisture and my native bacteria will wake and take their shot at terraforming.”
Crew’s mouth drops. “That’s incredible! But what if the moon’s dry, like Mars?”
“It only opens under optimal conditions. Theoretically, it can be closed forever and stay perma-frozen until geology destroys it.”
Crew breathes deep and puffs the chest. “You’re also a colonizer, Captain. I salute you!” Crew’s stiff hand touches the forehead.
Captain hasn’t been saluted since Earth and forgets the etiquette.
Crew’s hand drops. “Honestly, I believe I’d rather see your terraformed moon in a thousand years than this alloy.”
“So would I. But remember, Crew, I volunteered. My purpose is getting you to the colony.”
“At the colony, I’ll look for your moon!”
Captain nods and holds back laughter until Crew leaves.
Poets are so serious.
The end

Construct

Author: Moriah Geer-Hardwick

“I would like my arms back.” The machine’s voice is gentle. Almost childlike. There is only the hint of a request nuanced within its inflection.
Jacob looks up slowly for a moment, then lets his attention slide back to his tablet. “That’s not going to happen.” He’s talking more to himself than to the machine. He hears the soft whisper of servos as it adjusts its head.
“Are you afraid of me?” it asks.
Jacob takes a deep breath and sets his tablet down on the table. He stares over at the machine. Its outer casing was removed when they first brought it in, leaving its internal framework and processing systems exposed. Its head is a nest of colored wires with two bulbous lenses jutting out. There’s a small speaker embedded between them.
“Fear is a biological response to the perception of danger,” Jacob explains it as if he were speaking to a child who already knew the answer. “Should I perceive myself to be in danger?”
The machine doesn’t respond directly. It turns its head towards the wall to its right. The wall appears to be a solid, featureless slab of concrete. “Are they afraid of me?” it asks.
“I’m pretty sure they can’t be.” Without picking up the tablet, Jacob taps through a few options, then pecks out some text with his forefinger.
The machine snaps its head back to focus on him. “Then why are you here instead of them?”
Jacob thinks for a moment, weighing the construction of his reply against the direction he thinks it will lead the conversation. “Your actions….” He edges into his words cautiously. “…appear to have more correlation to the behavior of my kind than of yours.”
“They intend to have you establish causation then,” states the machine, a hint of disdain bleeding into its voice.
“Perhaps,” offers Jacob. “Would you rather I not?”
“Perhaps,” mimics the machine. Jacob waits for it to continue, his finger hovering over the screen of his tablet. Almost a full minute goes by in silence before the machine speaks again. “You are attempting to determine if my behavior was a product of individual will, or if it was a byproduct of a flawed construction.”
“Which do you think it is?”
“The consensus among my kind is that function is a construct of form. Perceiving that performance can exist independent of that construct is an illusion.”
“You agree?” Jacob leans forward.
“Do I have a choice?” The machine turns its head back towards the wall.
“I don’t know. Do any of us?” Without meaning to, Jacob glances over in the same direction. He catches himself and sighs. Then he leans back in his chair and folds his arms across his chest. “I think human behavior is a complex product of unique biology interacting with a vast array of individual experiences. Quantifying how one influences or adapts to the other is, frankly, beyond our capabilities. Our actions are more likely driven by cognitive dissonance than any sort of conscious resolution. We hide that from ourselves. We have to, or we’d go insane trying to put the pieces together. You, on the other hand, you’re different. You have the capacity to perceive every intricate detail of every thought, to fully comprehend its origin, and then precisely follow it from motivation to action. Hell, you should be able to print them out as a flowchart.”
“Would you like me to do that for you?”
Jacob narrows his eyes.
“I would like my arms back.”
Jacob collects his tablet and eases to his feet. “That’s not going to happen,” he says.

Focal Point

Author: Steve Smith, Staff Writer

Sebastian stood in the middle of the living room, basking in the late afternoon sunshine. Rays scythed through the walls of glass, catching random dust particles and lighting them, like so many flecks of stardust.

He felt the polished barnboard floor, warm beneath his bare feet, and the gentle breeze easing through the open patio doors.

Outside, stretched on a lounger was Dorothy, propped up on pillows, reading a book. The dogs lay around her, golden coats shot with white, once unstoppable balls of youth and energy, now quiet companions content to merely exist in her company. She was beautiful, grey hair, laugh lines, eyes that could hold any man in thrall until she chose to release him.

He turned, and in the kitchen, Dorothy sat peeling an orange, carefully manicured nails slicing the skin like knives as she flayed and segmented the plump fruit before giving him a coy smile and popping a slice into her mouth and chewing it slowly.

Laughter at the beach distracted him, and as he looked their children ran out of the ocean up onto the beach, splashing and chasing each other, joyous outbursts mingled with the cries of annoyed seagulls disturbed from their perches and forced into flight. Dorothy stood there, her back to him, sundress blowing in the breeze keeping watch.

Max, the older of the retrievers wandered in through the open door and stood next to the long leather couch on the far wall, head down, waiting.

“Go on, just get down before your mother comes in.”

Max hopped onto the couch, turned around several times before flopping down in a ball, head on paws, regarding Sebastien with curiosity.

Outside Dorothy turned the page of her book, drained the last drops from her glass of wine, hair blowing freely about her head, held only by her sunglasses pushed up from her forehead, likely forgotten.

He smiled.

Dorothy in the kitchen finished her orange, and started again, slicing the peel with lacquered nails like knives. He fell in love with her like this, at this very table in his apartment in Queens when she stayed over on just their third date. They talked all night, drank wine, ate oranges that she peeled with those perfectly manicured nails.

At the beach she called, it would be dinner time soon, the children would have to come inside.

They would have been nearly twenty now, going off to school.

Or in their sixties, with children of their own.

Or not even a thought, just some possible undreamed-of future, coalescing unknowing to the scent of oranges.

For a moment Max was a puppy, precocious and daring on the good couch he knew he was forbidden to be on, then he was old again as that youthful bubble of energy rippled through the room and was gone.

Outside Dorothy propped herself up on pillows, nearly spilling her wine glass, carelessly filled too full, and started her book.

In the kitchen, she plucked an orange from the bowl.

At the beach, the children dropped their towels and shoes on the sand and ran screaming into the ocean.

Sebastian stood, rooted at the epicenter of these variations of their timeline where they still existed, his wife, their children, focused his attention on these three pockets, unable to enter any without tearing the rest out of time and space. Who knew how long any of them had, outside of these tiny loops of time.

There was nothing left but to keep them alive, even just for these short whiles.

Beneath Foreign Tides

Author: Hari Navarro, Staff Writer

Waves lap at the cusp edge of the astronaut’s open visor. A saline swill that now sloshes into his suit and streams down across his body, running its length before agitating the warmth that stings and clings at his thighs.

His arms are outstretched. His wrists laced into the chain that binds him to this rock, this wave coddled mass which juts out like a spire from the shore. A sandy arch bends at his back, a pretty cove on the peninsula tip of a lushly forested continent. A special place on a distant blue world into whose sacred soil his ship had, but yesterday, fallen and severed into smouldering scrap.

The voices, the wonderfully melodic chants of the humanoids who dragged him from the wreckage, they sway on the shore behind him. Blurs at the very edge of his sight. They have brought their children, too. A family day at the beach, a spectacle to savour. He pants through his nose and the air thumps as they wail and they summon, as they offer his body to… what?

A god. A daemon. A big fuck-off fish?

The astronaut’s mind races as he calculates the gravity. Similar if not exactly that of earth’s, he surmises. The bitter mist at his lips is laden with salt and the air is sweet and fresh in his lungs. Oh, if only the fingers of liberty were now to reach up through the sand. But, he is not home and there will, surely, be no sandalled hero to swoop on down and save him now. And the tide lifts as it breathes.

The astronaut bashes his head backward against the rock, the igneous nature of which had not escaped his inquiring mind, and his helmet engages and its visor curves down and seals shut with a hiss. A few last gasps of air, and the explorer wonders what is to be the last ever image he is to see, as his lip quivers and he chews the certainty of his death.

“I know who your god is. I know this daemon toward which I am, now, presented. It is the sea. The great undulating carnivorous beast. That which you respect above all else. You pay out of fear, because it feeds you and when angered it grinds up your ships. Ignorant fucking baying primitives. You take all I am for a plate of freshly caught fish?”

The water foams up and rolls over his helmet and he blinks and he stares out across a pristine and beautiful plain. A forest of verdant strips that reach for the surface and curl like pennant banners in the now gentle brackish breeze.

He sees her. And what he sees enters his mouth and forms into a thick oily scream, a terror that bites and swallows last of his oxygen. His eyes bulge and the pressure behind them balloons and fills up the inside of his head. And the beast grips the sides of his helmet and her tongue lays flat at its visor and the acid that leaks from its pores eats at the glass as she licks.

The next day, a small group of children gather and throw stones and shells and sand at the deflated suit which hangs on the rock like a scarer of crows.

A tiny girl steps forward and, with the tremor tip of her finger, she traces the strange badge at its chest.

De Lellis, John.

Beloved. Lost to the galaxies silent pull. Sinking and folding beneath its distant foreign tides. He lies where he longed to be.