After The Fall

Author : Glenn Blakeslee

After The Fall Carlos was at loose ends and alone, so he hot-wired Daniel’s old Chevy, siphoned gas from abandoned cars and drove north. He hadn’t seen Daniel for a while and was sure he was dead. He saw people from the freeway but didn’t stop.

He drove the pass and the long incline to the high desert. There were cars along the way, some with dead people still in their seats and some not, and he took gas where he found it. The country was sere and without life but he found the way without trouble, remembering fishing trips with Papa long ago.

The country gradually changed and the air became cooler as the road ran alongside the mountains still with snow, the manzanita giving way to fir and bristlecone pine. He stopped at isolated gas stations and finding them abandoned helped himself to food still on the shelves. Once he found a store full of jerky and he took it without guilt. Further north there were no people, none at all.

Daniel’s Chevy stopped running as late shadows from granite peaks fell across the valley. Carlos looked under the hood, found dark oil running along the motor, dripping to the ground. He didn’t know about fixing cars so he took his pack from the seat and Daniel’s gun from under the seat and began walking north.

At dusk Carlos followed a road lined with trees up the slope to the mountains, thinking he’d find water. The road ended where it couldn’t climb higher, blocked by ridges and gullies, and there he found a building, big like a church, built of stone with a high white tower, fronted by a pond choked with weeds. He called but no one answered.

He forced the door like Daniel had shown him. Inside were displays and photographs, stuffed fish covered with dust, old stuff from long ago. In other rooms there were beds, and televisions which no longer worked. Outside he climbed stone steps to a low concrete wall.

Over the wall he found water, and in the water were thousands of fish. The concrete formed a long narrow pool and as he walked the fish followed him, boiling across the surface like a single thing, swimming over one another and submerging. The fish were dark, slick in the dying light, and they followed him.

He found bags of green crumbly pellets in a shed and he carried a handful to the pool, threw it in. The fish jumped for the pellets, flowed and gathered and followed him, and he brought more to the pool until it fell dark. He found a place in the building and slept.

Every day he fed the fish. He moved a bed into the tower and slept there. He’d never liked the taste of fish and forgot how Papa cleaned them so he ate jerky and food from the building. He watched the sun rise over the mountains and fed the fish.

One morning he heard a car. He pulled Daniel’s gun from the pack and climbed down from the tower. A man and a boy stood next to the pool, watching the fish. The man said hello. He was big with blonde hair falling to his shoulders, the boy a smaller version. They were smiling, happy to see Carlos.

“Here’s food!” the man said pointing to the fish, but Carlos knew the fish were his and he shook his head his hand on the gun at his back. The man reached into the pool the fish swarming to his hand and he pulled out a fish and swung it at the concrete, breaking its head, and so Carlos pulled out the gun and shot him and then the boy. He pulled their bodies to the bushes off the concrete.

Carlos sat on the wall of the pool in the morning sun, away from the slick of blood on the concrete, and he fed his fish.

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Time Stations

Author : Duncan Shields, Staff Writer

She set up a receiving station in her office. That receiving station was anchored at 3:45 PM, August 22nd, 2018.

As soon as she turned it on, the messages from her future self came pouring in.

Advice on theories, scores from sports games, inside knowledge on upcoming relationships and a thousand other subjects. Apparently, the future her had no respect for causality.

Reality shattered.

She set up more message depots ten weeks apart and gave them addresses.

She answered questions. She’d forward questions back to the proper message depots and an earlier self would try to find out answers and forward them back to the future.

She employed people. Her earlier selves employed people.

Every message station became a corporation. Every ten days, she set another message depot up. Her corporation would get to a deserted part of the world, set up a beacon, and turn it on. As soon as they turned it on, a building would materialize around it with an employee base that had always been there.

After August 22nd, 2018 at 3:45 PM, there were no more mysteries. Reality became as malleable as smoke in the air.

The thing that’s hard to imagine is that whenever reality changes, no one notices. It simply becomes the way it’s always been. The theory is that that we are shuffling through realities like an infinite deck of cards. We can’t tell. She either ended the universe or created the multiverse.

The only way to live here is to live here, they say. I tried making some bets on upcoming games but they never pan out. Something changes, I guess, and the score changes, so that’s that. I don’t make a fortune and then lose a fortune; I just never had a fortune. If you see what I mean.

I have to accept that what is real right now is all I’ve ever known.

I wonder if one day, someone will send a message back and successfully set the wheels in motion to assassinate her and put this world back into a place where her discovery never existed. I wonder if that’s even possible.

Not that I’d notice if it happened. This world would cease and I’d be in a world where her invention never existed. I’d never know the difference.

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Hibernation

Author : T. King

His eyes fluttered open. The hatch hissed as he pushed against it and steam began to swirl around the cold metal floor. Other than a huge kink in his neck and some joint stiffness, he was feeling fine. Evans had been sleeping for a long time. Now he got to see if the experts back home had done their calculations right.

“Computer, what is our current position?”

“Hello, Mr. Evans, I hope you slept well. We will be beyond the Oort Cloud in approximately 15 minutes.”

So, they had really done it. Evans was about to be the first person to see beyond the Solar System. This mission had taken years of planning, but it all was going to pay off.

“Computer, contact base.”

“I’m afraid I can’t do that, Mr. Evans.”

“And why not?”

The computer was silent. Evans slammed his palm on the control panel.

“Why the hell not? What’s going on?”

“Perhaps I should play for you the last incoming signal from base.”

The voice of his boss filled the room. There was plenty of static (not surprising, considering how far away Evans was at this point), but Evans could just make out what his boss said.

“Evans, look. I’m really sorry to tell you this–I mean, if I’d have known, we wouldn’t have sent you obviously–but I’ve got some bad news. Right after you settled down to hibernate or whatever, things back here at home got pretty screwed up. I mean, I don’t have a lot of time to go over the details–I suppose it doesn’t really matter why, in the end–but there was a huge nuclear arms standoff. Everybody had their trigger fingers twitching at the ready and some idiot fired off their missiles, which meant we all had to, you know? Anyway, I guess what I’m trying to tell you in what little time I have left is that this will be your last message from any of us, unless by some miracle Earth isn’t a barren hellhole when this is all over. Complete your mission, Evans. That’s all you can do.”

Evans’ mouth hung open in shock. As he looked out past the edges of the Solar System to the billions of stars that lay beyond, he didn’t feel a sense of awe or wonder.

He felt alone.

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Fingers, Itchy and Green

Author : Ken McGrath

I should have left it alone. But you know what it’s like you just can’t help picking at these things.

Remember when you were a kid and your mum’d tell you not to pick at a scab or stop scratching your chicken pox or whatever, well that’s exactly what it was like, but worse. I just couldn’t leave it alone.

Unconsciously even, without thinking, I’d find myself scraping rapidly at my arm, trying to dig it out. I’d get the itch without realising and all I’d do is scratch it despite knowing it was wrong. That’s what you do with an itch right?

The more I did it though the worse it got. That’s what spreads the infection or so the doctor’s told me when they took me in, did their tests and quickly isolated me. It’s spread out across my body now, like the branches of a tree decorating my skin. It’s like some crazy, fantastic tattoo, or it would be if it wasn’t killing me slowly.

They reckoned that the meteor show must have brought with it spores when it passed low across the skies because it was after that the flowers started to grow. Small little yellow things, similar enough to what we already had, began to pop up around the countryside. What other explanation was there. The scientists carried out experiments on them of course, but found them harmless, a nice gift from the stars and our first contact with an alien life-form.

That was four years ago. Since then the novelty had pretty much worn off, apart from people such as my wife, who was an avid gardener. She’d a plot out the back of our house where she cultivated them, tried to get me to take an interest but I wasn’t bothered to be honest.

I was out in the backyard with our son, Al, when it must have happened. He was kicking a ball around as toddlers do and it rolled into the flowers. I went to pick it out and I remember seeing some of the stems had these little thorns, something I’d never noticed on them before. When I asked the wife about it later she said that was new and it turned out she was right, the damn things were mutating.

That’s when I must’ve pricked myself, on one of those darn thorns. I didn’t notice though. Al went tearing down the yard you see, towards his paddling pool and I had to peg it after him.

It was only much later when the mark on my arm started to turn deep blue and I went to the doctor that I really put two and two together. I’d been scratching away at it for days by that stage, spreading the infection on my fingers. Passing it to everyone I touched or brushed against.

The doctor’s initially had no idea what was going on. That’s why I ended up in isolation, but they’ve figured it out now. It secreted some enzyme into me and that’s what’s causing my skin to change, to effectively rot. It’s turning me into plant food.

It’s apt in a way. I was always a big believer of recycling so I have to respect it I suppose. Even if it’s not of this Earth that little plant is her defence. Mother Nature finds a way you see. We often thought that humans were a cancer on this planet, strangling it slowly, but it’s found a use for us.

It’s turning us into food and no-one can stop the spread. You just can’t help but scratch that itch.

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That Golden Chance

Author : Joseph Hoye

A choice: the camp or the city. Carl would be dead within an hour if he approached the city without an offering for the Fathers – mercy and I.O.U.s have long since dried up on this world. An offering is not merely a representation of life. It is life. No-offering is death. Carl has no offering … yet. The camp beckons.

The sun is four hours away from its apex and already Carl feels moisture roll down his back, pooling just above his belt line. He reaches up to swipe the moisture from his forehead but his hand halts almost of its own volition before making contact. He lets his perspiration wash down his face and drip from chin and jaw line onto the catcher around his neck. It’s not enough for the offering but it’s a start.

He trudges north, hoping the camp hasn’t moved on.

Centuries ago, this land, this world was golden sand. It stretched further than the eye could see, further than imagination allowed. Now, the sand has become mere dust, clogging his shoe treads but doing nothing more. No wind disturbs it, nor rain turns it to mud. Just the sun, turning it into a mirror of sorts – a mirror for a vain god, unaware of lesser beings just trying to stay alive. Gold-dust, millimetres thick near the city, metres deep in the badlands and ever so slightly tacky to the touch; the glare could turn a man blind in less than ten minutes if he didn’t wear suntacts.

A scream broke Carl’s heat induced fug. Beyond the dunes, someone was in distress. Do for yourself before you do for others was the planet creed, so Carl waited, eyes scanning the horizon, feet glued to his patch of dust. Another sound rose from the dunes, a feeble cry instead of a shriek. Carl shuffled towards the sound. Opportunity called.

He skirted the dunes, preferring the security of the flats to the soft and probable death of banked dust. It took him twenty minutes to discover the cause of the commotion. A fellow traveller lay on the ground, one leg bent at an awkward angle at the knee. Carl wiped away the sweat from his eyes and licked the moisture from his fingers.

The stranger saw Carl and tried to raise himself … no … herself. Beggars couldn’t be choosers, Carl decided, and walked up to her.

She was young, maybe twenty Terran years and pretty, despite her pallid skin. Carl swore out loud before rushing to her. Her face relaxed, losing its look of fear.

She gestured down at her shattered leg, guiding Carl’s gaze to a slow bleed leaking on to the dust. Carl took out a dressing from his survival kit and pressed it none too gently on to the wound. She gasped but refused to flinch.

He grabbed a tourniquet from his belt kit and placed it around her thigh, tightening it to further slow the flow. She smiled. Then he took out the Needle and Filter. The screaming started again.

Half an hour later, Carl unhooked the Needle from her arm, scraped out the red dust from the Filter and stood up. He hefted the plastibag of clear liquid, judging it plenty to start up a small store and reap the rewards that a gold-dust planet could offer. The city fathers would welcome him with open arms just to get their hands on a fraction of this water. He began the trek to the city, the desiccated husk of a once beautiful woman already forgotten.

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Significant Difference

Author : Jacqueline Rochow

“Well? What’s it like?”

“Shut up, Dev, I’m trying to concentrate.” Nara squinted through the telescope, adjusting the focus slightly. “Well isn’t that something.”

“Let me see!” Dev strode over, only to be halted by Nara’s glare.

“I’ve just set this thing on two planets at a very good resolution over two hundred light-years away. If you so much as breathe near the focus I will kill you.”

“I’m not going to hurt your precious new telescope or knock it out of focus, Nara, just let me see.”

Nara shrugged and stepped out of the way. As expected, Dev’s confused questions began immediately. “They’re very different, but I don’t understand – ”

“That’s because you don’t pay attention, Dev. You might recall that when this project began, we seeded both planets with living cells?”

“Yes…”

“Right. Now, the one third from the sun, which was flooded with water and infused with iron to increase the density, is very busy, as you can see. I’ve managed to filter out the cloud cover because I am a genius. You see all that green? That’s life. The cells are green because they absorb certain wavelengths of light to make energy. There’s also life that can move around like us. Single-celled, multi-celled, with varying metabolisms – aerobic, anaerobic, some of them eat sulphur. Life that lives in ice and life that lives in thousand-degree hot water. They’ve changed the atmosphere dramatically. Now, using the preset focus and not touching a damn thing, if you look at the fourth planet from the sun in question, you will see an atmosphere that has also changed, but differently. Well, you won’t, because you are stupid and never bothered to learn how to read any of these instruments properly, but I assure you that this is the case. You would recall, I hope, that this was our control planet; similar to the third planet from the sun, with less iron and water. You might also notice that it is a lifeless hunk of rock.”

“But… there could still be single-celled life there, right?”

“It’s certainly possible that our instruments could miss something, which is why you’re going to go on a little surveying trip to the surface and get me some samples.”

“But that’ll take forever!”

“We’ve been waiting for billions of years to get results for this experiment and you’re complaining about a little joyride? Suit up, you baby, I have four sets of replicates to focus this telescope for.”

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