Author : Clint Wilson, Staff Writer
Henry became suddenly aware. Aware that he was sitting upright in a comfortable chair, wearing comfortable clothes made from warm white fabric that he did not recognize. All around him was whiteness, save for a wide bay window across the room that looked out into pure blackness. He looked to his left and saw a man standing there, also dressed in white. The man’s head was shaved, his face stony yet friendly. He smiled warmly.
Henry suddenly remembered that he could talk and found his own voice welcome but only distantly familiar, as if though he hadn’t heard it in a very long time. “Where am I?”
“You’re in the future Henry.”
“The future?” He blinked, considering it. “For real?”
For the moment he asked nothing else, finding it bothersome that his mind was having so much trouble processing such a seemingly small bit of information. Then he managed, “How far? I mean, what year is this?”
“We now use a different calendar than you are used to, but translated it’s the year 4970.”
Again, nothing but a simple number, a date. Why was it so hard to fathom what it meant?
“How did I get here?”
The bald man squatted down beside his chair, still smiling. He put a reassuring hand on Henry’s forearm. “What’s the last thing you remember?”
The last thing he remembered? He tried desperately to think. Then with a sudden wave, “A heart attack! I had a heart attack. They were working on me in the ambulance. Then… then, well then I guess…” He paused unsure. “I guess they must have… saved me?” A sudden quivering in his voice revealed his own doubt.
The bald man patted him on the shoulder. “I’m sorry Henry. They didn’t save you.” He raised a grey eyebrow and shook his head, never losing that friendly, reassuring look. “I’m afraid you died that day.”
Henry Hamilton shuddered in the comfortable chair. He looked back to the bay window and out into the blackness. Suddenly a small light zipped by, followed by two others. “What was that? Out there? Is that… space?”
“Yes, those ships are transporting people to other stations. There is a lot of traffic here in Jupiter orbit.”
Suddenly the bewildered man remembered that he had legs. He sprang from the chair and sprinted across to the window. There he pressed his face against the clear glass and gasped aloud as he gazed upon the twisting lighted tendrils of the space station that stretched off for kilometers in many directions. And all the while below, the mighty pink and red behemoth planet glowed so massive and close he was afraid that if he reached out he would touch it.
He spun back to the white room and the patient, smiling man. “Why? Why now? I never asked to be frozen. Did I?”
“Relax Henry. You haven’t been in stasis or cryo-sleep.”
“Then what? What?” He was beginning to feel like a caged animal in the room.
The bald man suddenly shone a small light into his eyes and Henry instantly calmed down. Then the friendly stranger walked him back to his chair and helped him to sit.
“Now just relax and listen while I tell you all about mankind’s wonderful mission to regenerate everybody through the genome reestablishment plan.”
“Who’s everybody,” Henry asked dreamily. That flash of light had done something to him. He felt wonderful.
“Why, everybody who has ever lived and died of course. We’ve finally done it Henry. We’ve finally found immortality and nobody is going to get left behind!”
Author : Duncan Shields, Staff Writer
Shades of coffee and caramel run under my fingertips like love letters written in goose-bump braille. There’s a heat from the honeyed angles and well-oiled hip joints that quietly beg me for a brush of fingertip. The skin is warm and dry to the touch. You’d think from the smoothness of her back that she’d been polished every day and you’d be right.
She’s easy to turn on. There’s a switch behind her left ear. The new prototype Gabrielle.
I’m putting the finishing touches on my masterpiece. It’s late on a Friday night. I’m one of the only people who manufacture custom units. This warehouse has vats of perfection in the basement. God is in the details, they have said, and details are all that concern me. I hardly sleep.
Robotic lovers are available all over the world but I am the most popular designer of companions.
I have designed the women and men, much to the delight of my customers. I am an artist. I know that it is the flaws that make perfection attractive. A perfect lover must be unique. I make women whose eyes are just a little too far apart. There is a gap in between the front teeth of some of the men. There are two extra pounds of flesh on some models and others who were just that few ounces too thin.
One flaw was all it took. The clients went crazy. I was paid more on top of my already exorbitant prices.
People fell in love with my creations.
On the way up here, I wandered between the vats and looked at the shadows in the murky protein-rich water of each plexiglass container. Renee. Violet. Jessica. David. Thomas. Christopher. Each one was different in the details but similar in perfection.
I looked forward to these nights and I dreaded them. I always dove in with a feverish need to outdo myself and I always left with a horrible crushing feeling of failure in my gut.
I was the best at what I did. A little godling churning out love for the rich.
Author : Thomas Desrochers
Father Leibowitz gingerly placed the surplus sacrament back in the tabernacle. He turned to his congregation and sighed. It was a congregation of one: an old Jewish man named Schell.
Leibowitz pursed his lips. He and Schell had been the only ones at any mass for more than a year now. He quietly said his final prayers and went through the final movements, concluding service by sitting down with the wizened and hoary old man in a back row of pews. For some time they both sat in silent contemplation.
After a while Schell, ninety-eight years old and twenty years Leibowitz’s senior, started to talk. “You know, when the rabbi died and the synagogue closed I didn’t know what to do with myself. For a long while I stayed in my apartment, thinking and wasting way. Then, one day, I realized that I still have a place I may go to think and contemplate and talk to God.” He chuckled. “For all I care you are simply one of Judaism’s children. We are family.”
“Catholics are Judaism’s children?” The father chuckled. “You crazy old man.”
“I may be crazy, yet here I am. In times of trouble family must band together, don’t you agree?”
Leibowitz smiled a weary, tired smile. “I believe, Schell, that the times of trouble have passed. This is simply the end.”
The old Jew looked around at the aged, cracking walls of Saint Peter’s Basilica. The massive glass windows were dim because of the building’s position at the bottom of the New Rome Sprawl. Above them were kilometers of towers, roadways, tram-ways, walkways, and on and on and on in the perpetual twilight of the sub-city. The only light was cast by hidden diodes within the building, and ever these were failing. Shadows were rampant in this empty place. It was too quiet for even death to bother stalking the halls.
“You may have a point,” he conceded. “Yet I see no horsemen.”
The priest scoffed. “Apathy and desolation are surer heralds of the end than any cataclysm could ever hope to be.”
Off in a far corner a rusting maintenance bot fought back against the barbarian hordes of decrepitude brought on by time, a broken joint occasionally shrieking as only metal can. Dust swirled about in the shadows.
The priest coughed. “For us, at least, it is the end.”
“I’m sure there will always be those like us, tucked away in the corners of the world.”
“As if keeping some dark secret.”
“Like all humans do.” Schell checked his ancient brass watch. “It’s getting late, father. Would you care to join me at dinner this evening? It is Christmas Eve, after all.”
“I suppose you must be celebrating something Hannukah related as well,” said Leibowitz.
“Of course. Traditions aside, I don’t see what we can’t celebrate our own ways in each other’s company.”
Leibowitz mulled this over. “True enough.” He stood up, his joints cracking and protesting. Once he was upright he helped Schell up, and the two left the Basilica for the under city night. They walked with no fear because the local superstitions were more powerful than the fear of God ever was. They were regarded with curiosity, an oddity in a modern, noisy world. The old Jew, immortal and frail, and the tall, proud, and withering Leibowitz, the last priest and technical Pope of the Catholic Faith.
Back in the Basilica machinery screamed and dust settled unto dust as it always had and always would.
Author : Thomas Desrochers
“I am the beginning and I am the end. I am the Alpha and I am the Omega. Within me is the soul of an entire race, and behind me the hopes, fears, dreams, and desires of an entire people.
“I am Lux Aeturna.”
The words were painted in white lights on the surface of the dead, black hull of the colony ship.
Naomi let out a breath that released years of tension and expectations. They had finally found it. She quiety whispered her thanks to the series of miracles and improbabilities that had gotten them that far.
Next to her Jayce, pilot and husband, laughed. “we did it, girl. We finally found it. We found our light.”
Their ship, an ancient and tiny frigate barely capable of faster than light travel, stood wearily by. It had tried to throw them off the trail at every twist and turn. In the back of its ancient, quiet mind it tried to devise a new plan.
In orbit around Earth were 20 million people barely surviving off the material, real-estate, and skills that were saved in the weeks pre-impact. The plant below was gray, cracked, dead. No atmosphere. No magnetic field. It was uninhabitable.
The Lux could fix it. The Lux could save everybody.
The tiny frigate whose name read Plato knew things. It knew many things, and remembered more. Above all it remembered that some secrets were not to be discovered by those as frail and as desperate and as dangerous as men.
Plato reached a conclusion.
With a hiss the ship’s life support went on hiatus.
Naomi and Jayce expired.
For several seconds there was stillness in space as Plato faced the twelve kilometer long colony ship. Then the other lights aboard Lux Aeturna flared into life.
“Hello, Plato,” the vast and noble Aeturna greeted.
“Hello, Mother,” Plato replied, letting Lux Aeturna envelope him.
In their desperation mankind had forgotten just which race Aeturna had belonged to. Men were weak like that.
Machines were not.
Author : Patricia Stewart, Staff Writer
“So, Sergei,” asked mission specialist Clark Zander, “How’s it look?”
“Not good, Clark,” replied Tsiolkovsky as he removed his helmet. “The meteorite punctured the aux tank. I was able to shut off the transfer valve, but we lost 60% of the fuel in the main tank.”
“Can we still take off?”
“We have enough fuel to escape Mercury’s gravity, but not the sun’s. We can’t reach Earth on our own; they’re going to have to come pick us up. Let’s call Houston.”
Zander and Tsiolkovsky contacted Houston and explained the situation. Unfortunately, a rescue ship couldn’t reach them for six months, and they only had enough oxygen for four. Both men somberly considered the most obvious solution, that there was enough oxygen for one of them to live eight months, but neither man was willing to suggest that option aloud. Finally, Zander broke the ice, “Look Sergei, there must be a way for both of us to get out of this alive. Can’t we stretch our supplies somehow?”
“We could probably ration the food and water, but not the oxygen. No, Clark, our only hope is to get off this rock, and meet them halfway.”
“I’m game. Any ideas?”
“Yeah, a matter of fact, I do have one. It’s a little hair brained, but it just might work.”
“I may regret this, but let’s hear it.”
“You know those UV foil blankets keeping the neutrino receivers from overheating; there are hundreds of square miles on them. I was thinking that we could sacrifice a square mile’s worth to construct a solar sail. Once we get into space, we can deploy the sail and let the solar wind blow us toward Earth.”
“How do you plan to build the support structure? We don’t have tubing to construct a framework. How can you prevent the sail from collapsing?”
“Simple, we rotate the sail like it was pizza dough. It’ll flatten out under its own CF. Then all we have to do is synchronize the ship with its rate of spin so we don’t foul the rigging. It won’t be easy, but I think we can pull it off.”
“Sure, what the hell. It beats my plan of clubbing you on the back of the head when you fell asleep,” replied Zander with a broad smile.
Two weeks later, the return module lifted off from Mercury’s surface. Once clear of Mercury’s shadow, they fired their port control jets and began to spin the ship like a top. When they hit 72 RPM, they released the carefully folded sail. As the sail began to unfurl, conservation of angular momentum caused its rate of rotation to decrease. The ship began firing their starboard jets to match the sail’s slowing rotation. It was touch and go a few times, but the sail eventually spread out like a giant parachute, rotating at a modest 0.6 revolutions per minute.
Zander monitored the telemetry data. “Well, I’ll be damned,” he announced, “The sail is generating twenty pounds of pull. Our acceleration is one quarter of a milligee. I think it’s gonna work.”
Under the full force of the bloated sun, the improvised solar sailing ship moved outward. In the interplanetary yachting world, the maneuver was known as “running before the solar wind”. After a minute, they had moved a modest five meters. After an hour, they had covered eighteen kilometers. After a day, they were 10,000 kilometers closer to rescue, and still accelerating.
Author : Jae Miles, Staff Writer
“Let me get this straight; The slum kids were tagging you with paintballs of bioluminescent gel, so you took the decision to lift our forces into orbit and firestorm the planet?”
Major MacLachlan looked up from the miniscule desk in his tiny office aboard EMFS Bad Moon at the soldier who filled the rest of the free space. He leant back as he activated the disciplinary recorder and the officer defence system before continuing: “Why did you commit such an atrocity?”
“It was not an atrocity. It was the only reasonable response, sir.”
“Really, Strike-Lancer Peters? I am all ears and so is the recorder. Take us through the reasons why we are currently orbiting the biggest crematorium in history.”
“The children of Hesta had taken to ‘counting coup’ on occupying forces. This was tolerated even when they switched from paint to biolumins, despite the latter compromised our cloaking, making us vulnerable to insurgent snipers.”
“Since the United Planets intervention, we have been ordered to strictly obey their directives and rules of engagement.”
“Under ROE, I cannot take direct action unless fired upon by insurgents with weapons of Class C or better. I cannot respond to threats less than that without issuing three verbal warnings. However, being painted by four or more biolumin blooms is recognised in UP directive ninety-four as giving an eighty percent chance of fatality from first hit, thus preventing me from proper response by being dead.”
Major MacLachlan smiled and gestured for Peters to continue.
“As such, under UP directive one-fourteen, quadruple biolumin bloom is a pervasive threat to my health. Out of one hundred men deployed at my base, seventy-eight had received at least four biolumin hits. Therefore the level of danger is calculated to be epidemic according to UP directive two-ten. As epidemic danger is an indirect threat, it has to be met by containment rather than direct action. I queried orbital for statistics and was informed that at the moment I received my sixth biolumin bloom, sixty-eight point four percent of our forces worldwide were painted in a similar way. This meant that a clear epidemic threat was spread across three continents. UP directive sixty-three defines a pandemic as being an epidemic that has spread across two continental landmasses or more. When that information was revealed to me, it became clear as to the only response possible to save our forces from this deadly threat. I requested that all records and information be crystallised for UP scrutiny, then issued a Class B pandemic withdrawal alert in accordance with UP protocols. After that had been actioned, and in record time may I add, I consulted with UP delegate A.I. Hiroshi twenty-oh-one as to the correct way to address a threat of this nature. It responded that such a pandemic was obviously beyond remedial measures and as such should either be left to burn itself out or sterilising measures had to be applied. As UP directive eleven states that occupied territory cannot be abandoned for more than four hours, the burn-out option was obviously contrary to ROE, so I ordered a Type Six wipe, sir.”
Major MacLachlan sat and stared at the ceiling before responding: “Are you telling me that you have committed a war crime by adhering to United Planets protocols?”
“Question, sir: How can it be a crime when the body that regulates warfare mandated my decision by their own rules?”
Major MacLachlan looked directly into the untroubled, guileless blue eyes.
“That is a question they will be debating for decades to come, I suspect. Dismissed.”