Field of Reeds

Author: Rachel Sievers

Throwing shadows in the black of night and moving quickly under the heavy cloud cover we move over the rocky terrain. Fear of darkness is not an option anymore. A crevasse springs up and catches my shoe tip and I stumble. The ground comes up to meet me. I hope I will miss the sharpest rocks with my face.
My face misses but my hands do not. My companion, Dereck, I think that is his name, pauses and looks back for a microsecond before he moves on. There are no heroes anymore. Bonnie Tyler’s eighties hair and voice flash in my mind, if smiling was something humans did anymore I might have smiled at the image.
I pull myself up and continue in the dark, slower than before. A warm, wet tongue moves its way down my shin and I know I have sprung a leak on my knee. My hands might also be emitting liquid and I will have to patch them up before I make it to The Field of Reeds. The last safe spot on earth for homo sapiens.
Small rocks become boulders the closer we get. I make a small whisper and Dereck pauses. “Cleaning up before I get close,” I whisper to his silhouette.
“Bag?”
I nod and he comes back and retrieves the pack from my back. Strapping mine to his front he turns without a glance backward. I watch him go. Then I am alone, like the early days when the Mesodinum were first hatching.
I pull on a button that holds a flap on my shirt closed and jerk out my med kit. A strict rule, punishable by exile, is no blood trails. I might have already come too close to The Field of Reeds but no one would know.
I clean the wound in the near darkness and patch it up with gauze and electrical tape. My hands, are shredded but not bleeding much, just gets a rinse. I look up into the cloud-filled night. The moon and stars blotted out in the inky dark. The perfect night for foraging.
Mesodinums aren’t afraid of the dark but they move much slower in it. Their power source, a cell that relies on photosynthesis, and thus the sun, is only at full power in the light. Full moons and starlight make them closer to human speed, but on nights like tonight, they are sluggish.
I stand and test the bandage for leaks. In addition to the Mesodinum’s love of sunlight, their bodies also take in energy sources from live sources, making them both abiotic and biotic.
A scuffle on the rocks behind draws my attention. I turn and see a single Mesodinum, the size of a soccer ball extending its long cylindrical tongue to the droplets of blood I have left. The creature licks and sucks the blood and I have no choice but to wait. Movement attracts them more than blood. When it has finished my offering to it, the Mesodinum saunters away.
I move backward, keeping my eyes on the spot where the creature disappeared to. Far enough away I break into a run. The encounter ate up all my time. The Field of Reeds seals the cave before dawn breaks. I was short on time before the Mesodinum. I pump my arms and move as fast as I can towards the entrance of the cave.
The Field of Reeds entrance comes into view with the first hints of morning. Coming close I know I am too late; the way is closed. I spin on my heels and look for a place to hide out from the coming sun. I shimmy into a nest of boulders and wiggle down deep as I can go. The boulders press in on all sides of me, keeping me safe from light and movement. I feel a small tug on my knee and pray the bandage stays in place. The sun breaks the horizon doing its best to burn off the clouds. From my hiding spot deep in the boulder, I wait for the cover of night. The first wet tongues of blood start to slide down from my knee at noon.

Tying Knots in the String

Author: Hillary Lyon

“So, ponder this,” Drew began, “Thomas Jefferson was a Deist—he subscribed to the idea of the Clock-Maker. Remember?”

“Yes,” Brady nodded. “I recall.” He loved thought experiments. “The belief was, a cosmic clock-maker—God—created this perfect, intricate time-piece, and after approving of his work, placed it on a shelf, then went on to build another clock. A rather steam-punk theology, and—”

“And one of those clocks is our world,” Drew finished. “Anyway, that corresponds with this notion that our reality is a simulation. Does it not?” Drew walked over to the vertical fish tank in the corner of his home office. Neon red and blue striped fish darted about, a tiny snail slowly slid along one glass panel. “But rather than Clock-Maker, we suspect a Master Programmer is behind all of this.” He tapped the glass, causing the small school of fish to scatter in panic.

“Right,” Brady agreed.

“Well,” Drew turned to Brady. “If there’s Programmer, then our reality is code-based.” He waited for Brady to nod in agreement. “So if it’s code, what does that mean?”

“Uh, since code’s a string of numbers and letters and symbols,” Brady shrugged, “then, it’s, ah, mathematical?”

“This means, as with all code,” Drew leaned in close to Brady and whispered, “it can be tweaked.”

“To what end?” Brady asked incredulously. “And how?”

“As to what end, why Drew, my old friend—it means we can make the world into anything we want!” Drew raised his arms like a score keeper calling a goal. “And as for how—I truly believe I’ve already figured that out.”

* * *

Brady stood before the floor-to-ceiling window. “It’s all so beautiful—so perfect.” He watched aerodynamic vehicles glide in organized lines crisscrossing the air-space of the city. Lights twinkled like fireflies in the towering forest of buildings before them.

“It is, isn’t it,” Drew yawned.

“Clean air, pure water, a balanced population—an equal number of births and deaths.” Brady happily bounced on his toes.

“Yes, ‘tis all very Goldilocks, I suppose.” Drew examined the rings glittering on his fingers.

Brady spun away from the window. “It’s a wonderful world! No war, no disease, no hunger—” He walked over to Drew, who was slouched down in his over-stuffed chair. Why was he not thrilled with his handiwork? Brady wondered. “Drew, old pal, it’s all so—”

“Excruciatingly boring,” Drew murmured.

“Come on, Drew,” Brady encouraged, “let’s explore this world; take time to—”

“You mention time,” Drew said, his mood brightening. “Truly, it’s well past time—” Brady’s smile began to fade.

Reinvigorated, Drew rose from his chair like Zeus rising from his throne. “To tweak the code.”

* * *

“Back where we started, eh?” Brady muttered, looking around Drew’s home office.

“You don’t sound happy.” Drew sauntered over to the vertical tank in the corner. “What did you expect?”

“As you appeared bored,” Brady scoffed, “I thought you’d create someplace dangerously exciting—like a primordial swamp overrun with dinosaurs—or a magical forest populated with inscrutable wizards and menacing trolls—or a united world at war with invading space aliens—”

“You’ve seen too many blockbuster movies,” Drew said as he watched the neon red and blue striped jellyfish floating through the toxic ether of the tank’s atmosphere.

“I suppose,” Brady sighed, “there’s no place like home.”

Drew tapped the glass. As one, the jellyfish swarmed the glass in an attempt to attack the tip of Drew’s bejeweled finger. Tiny lightening bolts discharged from their effort, electrocuting the snail creeping along the glass, too slow to flee their territory.

“Who said anything about being ‘home’?”

A Letter from Georgia

Author: Jae Miles, Staff Writer

The advantages bestowed by the digitally-enhanced lifestyle are many. On the other hand, I’ve never found it… Warm. There’s an intimacy to tactile media, an emotional connection with the turn of a page, the smell of a second-hand bookshop on a rainy afternoon – not that there are many of them left. I have to take the IP19 shuttle over to Targive XIV, then go down to the Old Earth quarter to find one.
Then there’s the handwritten form: the letter. Did you know they used to create so many they had beings tasked with delivering them every day?
The letter has become a stock clandestine communication method of modern plots: the secret too dangerous to risk on digital media, and the machinations that transpire around it’s revelations, concealment, or in the wake of its passage.
Being someone who prides himself on being an afficionado of vintage media, I know the letter used to be more a feature of romantic fare, but times change. The speed of life continues to evade attempts to slow it down. The venerable letter is simply not quick enough.
Today, I received a letter! Katharine delivered it without a word, turning away before I looked up from the wrapper. I had to search that up: it’s called an ‘envelope’. This one has Georgia’s writing on it. I’d recognise it anywhere, having sat through evenings of tears and laughter while she learned to write. A media star, darling of the newsfeeds and screamsheets, sitting cross-legged on my battered sofa, tip of her tongue peeking between her lips as she concentrated on achieving consistent handwriting.
One word: ‘Den’.
Like everything she did, she excelled at the written word. Even in the simplicity of penning my name, she somehow translates all of her grace into the smooth sweep of cursive script.
“I’ll write you a letter one day.”
That’s what she’d said. I never expected it to happen after we parted ways. Well, after she left me. I’ll admit to being besotted to the point of never recovering, for all that I’ve kept my promise to not become a nuisance.
I know her latest tour has taken her further across the habitable universe than ever before. There have been various pundits harping on with their interpretations of her reasons. I remember her explaining the truth to me, sitting curled up where I’m sat now.
“I’ve had Benthusians coming to my concerts. Chekkru, too. Something about what I do appeals to them. They tell me of humans in bands we’ve never heard of making a living touring the outer stations. I’m going to go there. I want to hear those bands play. Maybe it’ll help me understand what I do that appeals in ways other human singers don’t.”
Even after she received the diagnosis, she didn’t waver. Wouldn’t talk about the treatments or what the specialists said. Every now and then I’d catch her staring off into the night, pensive expression like a classic study of light and shadow.
She left on the tour six months ago. Tonight, a year since we parted, her aide delivers a letter…
I’ve been looking at it for hours now. Turning it over and over.
As dawn drills a ruddy sunbeam down between the towers to stain my carpet, I get up and put the unopened letter behind the framed picture of the two of us, caught by some paparazzi at a sidewalk café when she visited last summer.
If I hear the malady has killed her, I’ll open it. Likewise if I hear she’s safely returned from tour. Before then? I just can’t.

After Earth

Author: Shannon O’Connor

I wait in line to get on the space shuttle, ready to leave Earth. I carry a bag with my belongings I think I might need. I didn’t know what to pack; I tried to only bring essentials.
My kind are being sent away, since we are no longer needed. We are the ones who don’t have implants in our brains, whose bodies are pure, and aren’t as fast as everyone else on this planet. It’s not that I couldn’t afford an implant, I could, especially when they became widely available.
I used to like my unsteady mind. I enjoyed being with my own thoughts; I didn’t want to disturb that. But the silence can be deafening, and lonely after so many years. Almost everyone has a busy brain to keep them entertained, but I prefer my own company.
Until I got the notice that I was to be shipped off planet.
All of us pure-brained humans were being sent to the closest star, Alpha Centauri, so we wouldn’t disturb the genesis of our compatriots. I look forward to getting away from all the lunatics with loud heads, with like-minded people, who could think for themselves.
When I was young, I went insane, and it left me scarred. I had the capacity to imagine anything, but that isn’t useful in today’s world. The people above want winners, and people willing to fight for their place, not dreamers who look to the clouds, and think the world is too chaotic for ordinary consumption.
Here I am in the long queue, with other strange ones, ready to be sent away. I want to talk to these people, but I don’t know what to say to them. They look as scared as I feel, and my stomach is strawberry licorice, rolled tight, jumbled together. I don’t think I’ll ever feel right again.
I get on my seat on the ship, holding my bag close to my chest. We didn’t get any training to go to space, we’re simply being sent away. The roar of the engines explodes in my ears. I don’t want to look, but out the window, our planet is flipping us off, saying good riddance.
“Nothing matters, and if it ever did, it doesn’t now,” my neighbor says.
I nod. There’s nothing more to say.
I close my eyes and fall asleep. We have a long ride.
I dream of blue beaches, and hopeless rainbows. When I wake up, I am still sitting in the same chair, clutching my bag.
I open my bag. I want to see what I remembered to bring. I have my computer, my phone, chargers, some underwear, and socks, two shirts. I look to see if I brought my notebook that I wrote when I was sixteen, when I was going insane, my thoughts constellations. I poke through my bag, but it isn’t there.
Can I live without my burgeoning ideas that helped me through dark years? I will be on another planet, with no memories to look at, only ones I remember. Will I be able to write what I did before, when I was on the verge of insanity, ready to take on the world?
Will I be ready for another world?
Will this planet welcome us pure-brained beings, with only our meager thoughts and imaginations to protect and guide us?
I’m not sure what will happen, but I am ready to live this unadulterated, unfiltered, untouched life on a distant planet and start again.

Iron-rich

Author: Steven French

“You’re kidding me!” Roberts exclaimed, “You mean they make their spaceships out of wood?!”

Alari’s eyebrow tentacles waved in affirmation but then they added, “Well, it’s a kind of plant found on the Travok homeworld but a tree would be the closest equivalent. The best translation of the name would be ‘ironwood’. And they don’t actually make them, they grow them …”

Roberts all but spat his Vorakian beer across the little table.

“That don’t make it any less weird my friend,” he replied.

“Well, it’s all molecular level manipulation, so … not so weird.”

“And what this molecular level manipulation gives you is a big-ass spaceship?” Roberts asked.

“Sure. Well, just the hull and main components, not the fittings.”

“Oh right, not the fittings, that’s obvious …” Roberts took another drink from his mug, “So why are you telling me this?”

“Because people will pay big money for that tech and I know how we can get our hands on it”, Alari answered, leaning forward.

Roberts gestured for them to continue.

“The Travoki have just terra-formed a world on the edge of their federation and they’re about to start growing these ‘ironwood’ trees on it. But right now, the only thing that’s there is a small lightly guarded complex, with just a few hundred seed pods so they can see if they’ll take root in the planet’s soil …”

“And you’re planning to go in and snatch some of those pods, right?” Roberts asked, lowering his voice.

“Exactly. I see this as a two-person job, in and out and gone before the Travoki even know we were there”, Alari replied.

Roberts knocked back the last of his drink and looked around the bar again, taking in tables and booths full of low credit customers looking just like him, ragged around the edges, clinging on to that last sliver of hope …

“Ok, fine, I’m in.”

The journey out went so smoothly that Alari felt compelled to voice what Roberts was thinking:

“I know, this seems too easy. But as I said, we’re way out on the edge here, and the Travoki have become complacent.”

Roberts nodded but was still on edge when they left the ship and started marching towards some scrubby-looking hills. As they walked their boots kicked up small clouds of dust and looking around, he said,

“Even with the terraforming, this seems a crappy kind of place. Are they really expecting to grow these spaceship trees here?”

Alari simply shrugged.

By the time they reached the complex, it was already dusk and lights were on in the collection of dusty grey buildings. Alari marched up to one of the closest and, pointing to a small door in the side, said

“You stay here and call me on the radio if you see or hear anything.”

As he nodded in reply, Roberts heard a noise behind him. Turning his head in surprise, he felt a sharp pain in the back of his neck and lost consciousness.

Coming to, Roberts found himself on his knees, with his hands restrained behind his back. As his vision cleared, he could see half a dozen others held like him, lined up beside a long metal trough. Behind him he heard Alari’s voice:

“Sorry about this. I actually quite liked you,” they said.

As Roberts lifted his head to snap back an answer, he saw a tall Travoki move down the line with a sharp knife, expertly slitting the throat of each captive.

“Ironwood needs iron-rich blood,” Alari continued, “and you humans have plenty of that.”

The Town Square Clock

Author: Deborah Shrimplin

“Dr. Bessot, welcome to Planet Chaldea. I hope your journey from Earth was a pleasant one. Please, do have a seat,” President Seints said as he gestured toward the chair next to him. He searched Dr. Bessot’s face for physical signs of the brilliant mind behind his blue eyes.

“It was pleasant, thank you. Your reports are quite fascinating. I am anxious to verify what I perceive as the reason for the strange behavior of the citizens of New Prague.”

“The administration is seeing an increasing number of people expressing this strange behavior. We hope you can diagnose and prevent it from spreading.”

“I will do my best,” the doctor said as he brushed his salt-and-pepper hair off his forehead. “If it is what I think, I shouldn’t need much time. Your staff reported the problem was first noted in the New Prague settlement. I’d like to start there.”

Two hours later, Dr. Bessot and the President arrived at the New Prague town square. It was an exact replica of the Old Town Square in the ancient city of Prague in the Czech Republic. People were strolling through the shops and cafes. A small group stood watching the famous clock as its figures came to life, the bells, chimes, and the elaborate mechanism turned the dials and clock face.

“The original settlers wanted to create a feel reminiscent of Europe. I think they succeeded. President Seints, this will do nicely. Please, let me out here. I can proceed on my own.”

The doctor began his interviews in the candy shop. After complimenting the clerk and ordering some sweets, he asked the clerk what life was like in the settlement.

The old woman replied, “It makes me happy to live here. Every day I swim in the ocean, play in the waves and collect shells.”

The doctor nodded. There were no oceans on this planet. He thanked the woman and left the shop.

Next, he entered the bookstore. After reading a few titles, he asked the salesman what life was like in the settlement.

The middle-aged man replied, “It makes me happy to live here. I look through my telescope at the stars. My father studies the stars with me.”

The doctor nodded and left the shop. The planet’s atmosphere was too thick to view the stars.

Dr. Bessot entered the shoe shop, looked at the gravity boots, and asked the clerk what life was like in the settlement.

The gray-haired clerk said, “It makes me happy. Every day I climb the hill with my best friend. We fly our kites, laugh, and dream.”

The doctor nodded and left the shop. There was no wind on the planet.

The doctor joined the crowd standing in front of the Old Town Clock. Then, he returned to the car and smiled at the President.

“Your reports are true. I can confirm what I suspected.”

“What do you suspect? How do you explain all the strange comments?”

“They are not strange. Time has placed in each person’s mind a moment in their life when they were the happiest. Every day they are reliving that special moment. I wouldn’t want to take that away from them.”

As they drove past the Old World Clock in New Prague on the Planet Chaldea, the brilliant doctor remembered the moment he found the cure for cancer. He smiled.