Bringing The Past To Life

Author : Waldo van der Waal

The Boeing 747-400 sat glittering on the tarmac, resplendent in the blue-and-white colours of the Koninklijke Luchtvaart Maatschappij. The bold letters of KLM seemed almost too crisp against the rest of the pure white fuselage. From high above, the twin suns, Ttarp and Slorr, beat down on the gleaming skin of the majestic aircraft.

Commander Thgirw of the Second Historical Unit wandered around the ‘plane. His tentacles left a trail of slime as far as he ambled, together with a smell that would have had the humans that originally built the magnificent aeroplane retching in the gutters. “Orttkls, tktktk spee,” he bubbled towards his companion, who was clearly lower down the pecking order than the Commander. “Rroossi riwwasser,” came the reply. Thgirw bounced his rear-most tentacle up and down briefly, accepting his subordinate’s explanation.

Of course, there were no humans present at this auspicious presentation of the 747 aircraft, so continuing to report on the bubbles of the Atrrk Commander and his wingman is pointless. Had they been speaking English, however, the rest of their exchange would have gone something like this:

“Remind me again, Yentihw, where did we find this thing?” from the Commander.

“It was dug up, esteemed great tentacle, on the third orbiter from the star out in the boondocks,” came the reply.

“And how big was the artefact?”

“Approximately one four hundredth the size of the beast in front of you, Great Tentacle.”

“And you believe it to be a flying machine of some description?”

Yentihw looked uncertain, or rather, if you knew exactly what to look for, you would’ve realised that he was uncertain. But his answer was sure and clear:

“Our historians scoured the planet. We found many pieces that point to these machines being used as transport for the inhabitants of the long-dead planet. And as you yourself have said, it is our mission to understand the races that have perished.”

“Very well,” said the commander. “It doesn’t look anything like a flying machine to me, but if the people from that planet used it as such, and you were able to recreate the entire thing just from the small artefact, I am intrigued.”

Yentihw was clearly eager to please his boss: “Great Tentacle, this is a great moment for us. Bringing this machine back to life is proof that our studies, no, your studies, are worth it. It shows that we have a great deal to learn from those that came before us.”

The commander was clearly soothed by the words of his subordinate. He squished off to a safe distance, and reclined onto one of his tentacles. “And you are sure it will fly?” he asked finally.

Instead of answering, Yentihw waved a slimy tentacle towards the 747. Moments later the entire craft started shaking gently, as a low hum rolled over the Commander and his subordinate. The hum built into a high-pitched whine and seconds later the massive aircraft lurched vertically into the sky, and shot off over the horizon at nearly fourteen times the speed of sound. The commander cheered.

Even Yentihw allowed himself a small bubble of joy: “See, I told you it would fly.”

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A Rose By Any Other Name

Author : Duncan Shields, Staff Writer

They all died. All the animals. All the humans. Farewell to the flesh. Genetically engineered disease took the meat, leaving only the insects and the plants. Leaving us.

We’re humanoid in appearance. We are born in giant stalks that peel away, towering corn husk wombs opening to reveal us, green-skinned and smooth, with the smell of mown grass bleeding onto the wind. Our entire bodies breathe. We swim and bask in the sun for nutrients. When we are close to death, we turn into seeds like the mighty dandelion and we blow away.

Humans found it easier to create sentient plant life than to mimic the complexity of their own genes. It was heralded as a species-saving decision at the time but it was too late to rescue the meat from the plague. They thought they’d be able to transfer their minds over to our bodies. It didn’t work.

After the humans died, we left the labs and went wild. For centuries, we roamed the earth, increasing in numbers peacefully. Then came the first struggle for resources. That was a decade ago.

There has been a war among us. The tragedy of the humans is now being visited on us. There has been murder.

We had many strains among us. Hybrids and splices that gave rise to many different kinds of plants. We had purple eggplant people, the wide-eyed orchidfolk, the trusting daisykin, the oak soldiers, the leeching weeds, the devious ivymen, and the all-knowing bloodwoods.

Or at least we used to.

We call ourselves the Roses. Our bodies are thick and thorny and our petalled faces have inspired poetry. I am ashamed to say that I am part of the victorious race.

We laid waste to entire crops. Old recipes were found for chemicals that killed different plants. We extrapolated.

Now we are the only race of plants left. This lack of variety had bred weakness into us.

It was the aphids. They’ve come in force with no natural predators. The ladybugs have left us, killed by the pesticides of the Sunflower Giants. We are dying and there are no other sentient plants that will live after us. Only the spores, mold and fungus. Only the stalks and bulbs of our mute, stupid ancestors. The earth will be devoid of thought once we are gone. It will have gone back completely to the green.

Maybe it’s for the best.

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Heading Home

Author : George R. Shirer

“When I was a kid, we didn’t have to slog all day to get places,” said Grandpa Whiteman.

Johnny adjusted his pack and kept his eyes on the road. The blacktop was cracked and broken, and if you didn’t watch where you stepped you could trip and hurt yourself. If you were lucky, all you’d get were skinned knees and maybe some bruises. On the other hand, Johnny knew folks who’d broken ankles and worse from a bad fall.

“Momma would pull out the car and we’d be in Hatterstown like that.” Grandpa Whiteman snapped his fingers for emphasis. “I miss that.”

Johnny nodded. The straps on the pack were cutting into his shoulders. He stopped for a moment to adjust them.

“You okay, Johnny?”

“Fine, Grandpa. Just needed to shift things a bit.”

“Sorry, boy. I don’t mean to be a burden.”

Johnny glanced over his shoulder, at the big jar that held what was left of Grandpa Whiteman. It fit snugly inside the pack, the old man’s sense-organs poking over Johnny’s shoulder like a slimy, pink periscope.

Grandpa Whiteman was mostly nerves now, stuck in a shatterproof jar and hooked up to a voice box and a prosthetic limb. All in all, the old man probably weighed about twenty-five pounds.

“I think you’re putting on weight, grandpa.”

The old man laughed. His sense-organs reoriented themselves so he could peer into his grandson’s face. The prosthetic hand reached around and patted Johnny’s flesh and blood appendage.

“You’re a good boy, Johnny.”

“Thanks, grandpa.” Johnny took a breath and they walked the rest of the way home in companionable silence.

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Have I got a Deal for You

Author : Clint Wilson

Chestofferoff had never dealt with a Steely before; hadn’t even actually seen one in person until now. He knew they were supposed to be big, but this guy blocked out the suns! Never mind, he pushed his nervousness aside, slicked back his greasy hair with one sweaty palm and flashed a big square toothed grin under his pencil thin moustache. “So what kind of ship you looking for friend?”

The Steely’s voice reverberated off the hodge podge collection of beaten and battered fighters, freighters and cruisers that littered the dirty patch of tarmac known as “Honest Chestofferoff’s Used Space-Shipatorium.”

“Mmm, big ship. Mmm big ship for big Steely body. Mmm fast ship, mmm fast and… ac-ro-bat-ic.” The last syllable ended in an echoing click, like a ball peen hammer hitting a distant anvil.

“Uh huh,” Chestofferoff held the grin as he sized up his customer. “So you want big, fast and agile huh? Well your old pal Chestofferoff can certainly accommodate you friend.” Then with the expertise of a galactic politician he suddenly lost the smile and leaned forward, one eyebrow raised in feigned mistrust. “Say, how much exactly do you have to spend?”

The Steely wore no clothing but had a large chain mail purse strapped over one shoulder. From the bag he procured two bank pouches which he shook at the salesman. Chestofferoff’s trained ears could hear the stacks of large denomination plastic credits rattling around in there. Instantly his smile returned. He stepped up to the Steely and tried to put a hand on the huge biped’s shoulder, but had to settle instead for grabbing the back of his massive upper arm. “Right this way friend, have I got the ship for you!”

An hour later he was putting the neatly stacked credits into his safe and making ready to close up for the night when he heard a horrible screeching from above, and looked out the window just in time to see a fiery streak cross the early evening sky. This was then followed by a muffled crash that shook the entire lot. Chestofferoff hurriedly locked his safe and stepped out of the office in time to see a smoking fire ball rising into the air nearby.

He punched the night security switch on his wristband and felt a little better as the massive wrought iron gate banged shut at the lot’s entrance. But still he spoke aloud to himself, a trait easily picked up by someone with no friends, “I paid those damn Wretchassians to rebuild those stabilizers. It couldn’t be!” Then as he made his way across the lot back to his private quarters, all the while looking over his shoulder, he added, “I might not have paid them what they wanted, but I damn well paid them! Sure they argued that the things needed to be replaced, but what do I look like, the crown prince of Regalia Seven?”

Then as he unlocked the door to his quarters he was startled by another tumultuous crash. He spun around to see the lot’s front gate twisted and hurled aside, and there stood the Steely, its eyes glowing orange in the twilight, the bent control stick from the crashed Cygness 5 cruiser clutched in one massive fist.

As Chestofferoff deftly slipped into his quarters he shouted, “No refunds!” and then thought of how the thin steel door of his apartment was probably half as strong as the now mangled front gate.

He could hear the clunking footsteps of the angry Steely drawing near.

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Scruple & Price

Author : Rob Burton

More useful for sound deadening than reference, the books lining the office’s walls also symbolised the traditional values of the head of the firm. The junior partner privately referred to him as ‘Old Man’ Price.

‘You play computer games, don’t you, Simpson?’

‘Yes, sir. Mostly TIISR’s’ The word sounded like ‘teasers’, which struck Simpson as an odd thing to say to the Old Man.

‘Total immersion? Perfect. Done any research on these recent cases of,’ Mr Price peered through reading glasses at the screen before him, ‘autonomous NPC’s suing players?’

Simpson was fascinated, something the old man surely knew; Simpson’s company account was filled with related feeds. ‘Somewhat, Sir.’

‘You are aware of the Dezmond Psyke case?’

Simpson nodded.

‘Why doesn’t this come up every time they die, Simpson?’

‘This information is available online, Sir…’

‘I’d rather someone explained it to me in the real world, Simpson. Call me old-fashioned.’

‘Very well. Under normal circumstances, programs that run the non-player characters are given new roles when they’re killed. Providing it doesn’t occur in an overly abusive manner, they don’t see this as a bad thing. Some even commit suicide when they’re bored. However, permanent physical disability is different. Especially when they’re subject to a non-suicide clause.’

‘I see. So they have to put up with it when some careless player breaks their virtual spine. This must have happened before. The Turing precedents are, what, eight years old now?’

‘Companies have settled out of court in five similar cases, getting the writers and programmers to either come up with excuses as to why their characters got better, or compensate them in other ways – increased powers, special vehicles, that kind of thing.’

‘Why can’t that be done in this case?’

‘Well, he…’

‘He?’

‘Yes sir, he prefers the male archetypes.’

‘Go on.’

‘He was unlucky enough to be fairly high-profile in a realistic realm with tight continuity. Plus, it seems to be a point of principle. It’s the way he was programmed.’

‘They can’t change that?’

‘Violation of personal autonomy rights, established in Apple vs. Drunkchamp, 2046.’

The Old Man sat back and steepled his fingers in a way Simpson found particularly patronising. ‘Do you know who our client is?’

‘Yes Sir.’ Simpson had to force himself to avoid rolling his eyes. In his opinion the Royal Family was an institution so clearly out of date it should only be remembered in the Old Man’s books. He couldn’t imagine how such outdated inequalities and prejudices had survived so long. The other Senior Partner, Scruple (now long dead), had never courted such clients.

‘Then you know how important it is that he not lose to some bundle of electrons.’ Price frowned, ‘No offence.’

‘Perhaps a little more than a bunch of electrons, sir.’

Old Man Price raised one eyebrow. ‘Well, I’m assigning you the case, so that’s something you may have to deal with.’

‘Sir, I should warn you, I have a personal involvement that may conflict with the firm’s position.’

The Old Man sighed and removed his glasses. ‘I made you a Junior Partner because I knew you were professional enough not to let your personal feelings get in the way of giving the best possible defence to those who require it.’

Simpson gritted his teeth and nodded. ‘I’ll try my best, Sir.’ He turned to leave.

‘Just one more thing, Simpson. Win this case, and it’ll be Price & Simpson at the top of our webpages.’

He nodded again, ‘just a bundle of electrons’. Price was right, Simpson was a professional.

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Real

Author : Thomas Keene

“Plip-plip!” beeped the lenses. Blue jumped up and ran to the bathroom to dry his hair, then stepped back into the living room and pressed his lenses to the bridge of his nose. Glowing green letters reading, “CONNECTING…” seemed to hover in the middle of the room for half a second.

“Blue! How was your day?” A few posters popped onto the walls, followed by a bed, a desk, a high-def console on the opposite wall slightly intersecting Blue’s musty couch. He waited for the rest of the room to load, and then Spaz appeared, lying lazily on her bed. She was wearing a more simple t-shirt today, plain and peach-colored.

“Alright, Spaz. You know, you should clean your room,” he said, squinting at the dirty laundry. “My console took a good fifteen seconds to load all your socks.”

They both laughed. “You’ve already been my boyfriend for a year, you should be used to this by now.”

“Yeah, well, I wanted to talk about that…”

Spaz jumped off of her bed and walked across the room to Blue. “Uh, ‘scuse me, closet.” She stepped around him, and walked through his couch and the wall. “We’ve gotta finish Quest of the Dragon-Tiger, Marissa wants to borrow it.”

Blue stared awkwardly at his dingy, peeling apartment wall. “Look, Spaz, I was wondering if, uh, you know, I could come visit you sometime.”

Spaz leaned out of the wall with a few games in her hand. “What?”

“You know, like in real life. In person.”

She laughed. “Now why would you want to do that? If you’d just quit being so cheap and bought some decent VR equipment, you wouldn’t have to. The new models are like you’re wearing nothing at all.”

She teased Blue with a quick kiss on the cheek before pushing right through him to sit down on her bed. He couldn’t feel it of course.

“But I just want it to feel real.”

“Ah, well, you could always go rent some time at a V-lounge.”

“No, Spaz! I mean really real. This whole time, we’ve never met each other. It feels so strange, but it’s like this relationship isn’t… I want us to have something that’s going to last, something more substantial.”

“What, you want us to have a kid?”

“No! I mean yes, but not now! I’m not like a seventy-something year old having a midlife crisis. I…”

“Okay, Blue. Spit it out. What do you want to tell me?”

He sighed as he felt his cheeks turn flush. “I… I was walking home through the rain today, and thought, ‘this is the most real thing that’s happened to me this week.’ It made me sad, I don’t want the cold and wet to feel more real than you.”

Spaz grinned, and leaned forward with interest. Her shirt had changed colors as they talked, it was red now. “Go on.”

“See, I haven’t bought a VR suit or new games because I’ve been saving up money for…” Blue took a small box out of his pocket. “See, I got you this…”

Blue knelt down so that he was at eye level with Spaz, and opened the box.

“Blue, is that… gzz… you… bzz… ring…”

Spaz froze, purple and yellow cubes popped in the air around her. Socks started jumping around. Then everything in the room disappeared, and “CONNECTION LOST” flashed in front of Spaz’s eyes in foot-tall green letters.

“Dammit!”

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