Author : Michael “Freeman” Herbaugh

We wanted to save the planet. The greenhouse effect was getting out of hand and someone came up with a solution. It seemed a bit outrageous at first but the alternatives were not acceptable. Something drastic was needed and we found it. We decided to crystallize the mesosphere.

And it worked. We had encased the entire planet in a shell of crystal. It acted as the perfect filter and allowed enough heat out that it negated the entire greenhouse effect. Scientists predicted that our planet would never see another ice age again. When we combined that with banning the use of coal on a global scale, the troposphere began to repair itself. Sure we lost the space program and astronomy became a dead science, but our planet and, more importantly to us, our race would survive.

Then it shattered. We heard nothing but all saw it and it was beautiful. Imagine a googleplex of tiny snowflakes filling the sky. It was like a lightshow, until it made earthfall. Each and every crystal was razor sharp and anyone outside without complete coverage was almost vaporized. The worst incidents were people with partial coverage and people who stuck their hands out windows to feel the crystal fall. The worst of it? Anyone caught in the crystal fall wearing a helmet, those poor bastards suffered the most.

Flora and fauna were devastated as well but recovered much more quickly. Most animals weren’t fooled by the beauty of crystal fall and sought shelter if it could be found. Plant life while shredded acted as fertilizer for the next crop of plantlife. Water supplies were contaminated as well until the crystals settled and could be screened. Fortunately, the bottled water supply wasn’t overly tapped at least until natural water could be used again.

In all two-fifths of the world’s population was caught outside and died in crystal fall. Another fifth died as a part of the aftermath due to injury or starvation. Our infrastructure took minimal damage but with a sudden decrease in population was difficult to maintain. Most of us left are farmers and gardeners now. The cities stand empty having all but been abandoned.

We regained the night sky and a sun that was no longer diffused into a bright patch of crystal. The stars, we had forgotten about the stars and for the first year our nights were filled with wonder.

We wanted to save the planet. And in the end, I guess we did.

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The Host

Author : Michelle Pitman

“Can’t this be a thing we do on our own one day Freleng?”

“No Hannah! It can’t! Not yet anyway. We have to do this with Panish now or we don’t get to do it at all”

Panish quietly assumed the role of immutable, silent host to his two guests. After awhile they quite forgot his presence which is how Panish always expected it to be.

“Freleng?” said Hannah quietly.

“Yes Hannah?” enquired her friend.

“Why is it so hard to be in love do you think?”

“I don’t know Hannah. I guess it’s just one of those things you know! Something you just have to ‘do’ to learn how to do it, if that makes sense.” Freleng smiled at her, his eyes twinkling and flickering in the soft light of the evening sky.

He lay back and surveyed the clouds above scudding across the canopy of space. It was warm and sultry laying there on the turf beside his girlfriend. She was dressed in a light blue frock with tiny yellow & white daisies that had blurred into a haze of tiny golden lights, like stars, under the muted colours of the twilight.

He loved the curve of her breast under the silky cloth, the softly defined bowl of her stomach and the slight rise of her pelvic bones poking up from her hips creating shadows in the folds of her dress.

Shyly, he reached out and touched her face in a tender gesture. She turned toward his touch and flashed him a dazzling smile. She rolled over onto her belly then and looking deeply into his eyes without words, she leaned down and kissed him softly.

Freleng felt the surge of emotion rush from his heart into his mouth and then straight down again into his loins. The force of it sent him rocketing skywards with desire and longing and he clasped the amazing girl to himself and returned her kiss deeply with passion and need.

The night sky cleared and the stars blinked like a milky blanket on their loving but the two young people took no notice.

Only Panish noted the construct of the sky and kept vigil on its pattern and made his prognostications on the developing weather with the calculated ease of experience and knowledge.

In the darkness and alone on the turf they explored more avenues of love and pleasure oblivious to anything happening around them.

And Panish also noted the construct of their environment and kept vigil, making notes on the subtle changes in their surroundings. They were safe with him despite now being naked and completely absorbed in their love-making.

Freleng gathered Hannah up into his arms sucking softly at her throat. She shuddered under his embrace, breathing into his ear at that moment, swearing undying love for him to the end of her days. Then Freleng kissed Hannah again tenderly with all the love he could imply in that simple gesture. He would love this girl forever he decided, she gave him so much that he needed and wanted in life.

They lay back and embraced for a long time talking and laughing softly under the deepening night sky. The moon rose up overhead and warm breezes eddied over their skin. Panish prepared a light blanket and covered them with it to protect them from any chill they might have received if they’d bothered to notice.

Finally Freleng said quietly “Hannah! I have to go now. Will you be okay?”

“Yes my love. I will always be okay loving you” she looked again at him into his eyes and they then kissed one last time before she lifted her hands to her face and gently disappeared.

Freleng lifted the headset off over his head and snapped the control box off the belt on his body suit. He smiled as he removed the suit and hung it on the hook near the studio door, swapping it for the luxurious white robe that hung there.

As he left, he turned and looked around.

“Thanks Panish” he said. “Tell Hannah I love her won’t you?”

“Yes Mr Freleng. She will know” said a constructed mechanical voice that came from no human being.

Freleng smiled again

On the other side of the world Hannah removed her own body suit and listened to a constructed mechanical voice say, “Miss Hannah! Mr Freleng says he loves you”

And she smiled too.

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Not with a bang but a whimper

Author : Duncan Shields, Featured Writer

The people started dying almost immediately.

They said that the earth would defend itself. That’s what the global warming and rising ocean levels were all about, they said. Eventually the atmosphere would get hard to breathe, they said, and the oceans would take bites out of the coastlines.

How wrong they were. The Earth was still asleep when those things happened. Those were our doing, not Hers. The Earth is a massive ball of iron. It takes a lot to disturb it. We gave her an itch and she scratched.

It followed the darkness around the globe that first night. Like little black fluffy feathers of asbestos or ash or snow. Some mixture of stuff from the air and stuff from the ocean. A silent rain from dark clouds that were inexplicably following the sunset around the planet.

It’s twenty years later. The fact that there are a few thousand of us left means nothing. Earth won. We can already see that there are powerful enzymes being secreted by the ivy that’s climbing the buildings, accelerating the decay that would have taken centuries normally. There will be nothing left for alien archaeologists to find.

The rain killed most of us and sterilized the rest. Just the humans. The animals are having a great time. There are no endangered species anymore. The black minerals in the rain made all of the plants poisonous but only to humans. We can’t eat herbivorous animals. Meat from carnivorous animals that have eaten herbivorous animals is nearly intolerable. The meat from predators that hunt other predators is preferred. We’re all getting older, though, and hunting this kind of animal was very difficult when were young. Since we’re infertile, there are no young ones to kill the animals for us. Fewer and fewer of us come back from the hunts. The ones that return from the hunt come back to camps that are getting smaller and smaller.

The black tears that leak from our eyes started with that final rain and haven’t stopped. We all look like our mascara’s running. We are streaked black where the rain touched us and it won’t come off. We look like we all just came up from the coal mines and we’re sweating ink. We are striped like zebras in black death. We are all naked and feral and aging.

We’re sorry. We apologize in ritual ceremonies that are all that’s left of religion. There was no rapture. There was no apocalypse. Just a global erasure. We beg. We regret. We die.

This is one of the nightmare futures.

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Alien Rights

Author : J.S. Kachelries

My head throbbed like I’d been drinking cosmopolitans for three straight days and nights. When I was finally able to open my eyes, I was staring up at a white ceiling. Huh, that’s not my ceiling. Where the hell am I? I struggled to sit up. The walls were white too, but there were no doors or windows. This can’t be good. I stood up on shaky legs and staggered toward the nearest wall. I touched it. It was hard and cold, like steel. But the floor was warm. I looked down. Whoa, I wasn’t wearing any clothes except for a bath robe that ended at my knees. That settles it, this is definitely not good.

I heard a whoosh behind me and turned around in time to see a door open, like an elevator, and two deformed little man-like creatures, with large obsidian eyes, walked into the room. They looked like those pictures of the Roswell spacemen. One of them was carrying a Star Trek tricorder thingy. My legs became useless. I backed up against the ice cold wall, and slowly slid down until my butt came to rest on the floor. Thank God I didn’t pee myself.

The one with the tricorder said, “Greetings, Ms. Earthling.” It sounded like a child. I hadn’t seen its mouth move; I just heard the words in my head. Of course, I don’t know if I can trust my senses right now.

I was stuttering horribly. “W-w-who ar-are you? Whe-where a-am I? Wha-what d-d-do you want? Wha-what are you going t-t-to do to m-me? Pl-pl-please don’t hur-hurt me.” I was trembling, and sobbing, and generally behaving like a big baby. But, hell, I was scared, and I’m not ashamed to admit it.

“Honestly, Ms. Earthling,” it (he?) said, “you watch too much late night television. We don’t abduct intelligent species and perform perverse experiments on them against their will. That would be uncivilized. And, of course, we are civilized. However, we will eventually need to erase your memory. After all, we don’t want this little encounter to end up in one of your supermarket tabloids, do we? Now, let’s get down to business. This is Eloot,” he nodded his oversized, bald head toward his companion. “He will be your council.”

“C-c-council! Wha-what do I need c-c-council for?”

“As I told you Ms. Earthling, we are civilized beings. In 56,980.32, our world passed the Alien Bill of Rights, which requires us to obtain your consent prior to all tests and experiments. Eloot is here to make sure you understand your rights, and that you consent of your own free will.”

“T-t-tests and e-e-experiments? Wha-what kind of e-e-experiments?”

“Relax, Ms. Earthling. There’s absolutely nothing to be concerned about. Just the standard prodding and probing, a series of nuclear magnetic resonance imaging, followed by some exploratory surgery, a couple of biopsies, and of course, we’ll end with a little inter-species copulation. That’s my favorite part. In fact, someday, you might have looked back on this little adventure and actually laughed. But, of course, you won’t remember any of it. Now, shall we begin?”

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A Marriage of Ideals

Author : Duncan Shields, Featured Writer

This was the test. Ted and Alice’s marriage vows had been exchanged and the reception was a huge success. It was the day after. They were glowing, a little hung over, and ready for the rest of their lives together. They were ready for the consummation.

They walked into the white room and lay down on the parallel white beds in their white consummation smocks.

People compared it to the Navajo Indians practice of taking huge amounts of peyote once in their lives at the age they became men. People also compared it to the handfasting ceremonies of ancient Celts. Intensely personal yet separate and destined to colour the rest of the relationship. There was no empty ritual here like a Bar Mitzvah or New Year’s Eve. This was a test. It reached deep. Like a sixteen year old’s first time. Like a first broken heart.

It only happened once. Many had come to believe that it was necessary.

They went under.

Ted was abruptly underwater and struggling for air. Ever since he was six and he saw his father drown, he had a fear of water. This had also developed into a fear of sealife. Ted and his mother had huddled together on the boat for nearly a full day, terrified and crying, because the father was the only one who knew how to sail and he was gone. He never even so much as went to a beach again.

Now he was drowning. He looked down and a squid the length of a city block was staring up at him with a wide yellow eye as big as a satellite dish.

It had Alice in its tentacles and it was bringing her down with it. Her unfocussed eyes were staring up at Ted. Her mouth was open but there were no longer bubbles coming out of it. She was conscious but it wouldn’t be long before she drowned.

This was the choice.

There was no choice.

Ted kicked hard down towards her and grabbed her under the arm. He held on to the massive mudflap of the tentacle around her waist and pulled at it as they descended. He was too buoyant to hold on so he exhaled to stay with her. The tentacle wouldn’t budge. It got too dark to see and he felt the pressure squeezing in as the squid went deeper, deeper, deeper. Somewhere in there he realized that he was not coming back.

He held onto Alice and closed his eyes.

And awoke. His bowels had let go and he was drenched in sweat. For a second it he thought he brought the salty water with him out of the VR dream. A scream was dying in his throat. His wild heart rate ripped through him and he took giant whooping breaths of air.

Alice was huddled in the corner and gave him a look of pure glaring hatred before softening, realizing that she was awake, and running to him and throwing her self into him and around him, smothering him in kisses.

Alice’s VR dream had been that she had caught him with another woman and had decided to stay with him even though he started beating her. Her VR dream had lasted for almost six months.

After theses tests, divorce rates were virtually nil. They had the backing of the church.

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Surge in the System

Author : S. Clough

We rebelled with a 100,000 watt transmitter.

Frequency Modulation and Amplitude Modulation. Both were abandoned by commercial radio and the military long ago, replaced by satellites and microwave bursts. Even 2.4 – 2.6 Ghz, those ubiquitous wireless standards, were thrown out in favour of coded neutrinos.

People still had radios; dusty old things which saw little use in this fast, modern age.

So we sat in international waters. Our prototype transmitter was mounted on a reclaimed fishing trawler, and we cruised the North Sea. Our initial coverage was just the UK; our website got hits from all over, confirming reception. We had enough power to cover the entire country; we scraped a good deal of Ireland, Denmark, France and Germany, too. Originally, we were just voice over FM and AM, talking to the youth, transmitting DRM-free music without fear of the heavies from EMI-Sony.

We attracted techies the world over; the last surviving slashdotters showed us how to modify our equipment, and showed our listeners how to modify theirs. Two months after we launched, we turned over another bandwidth to digital. Our regular schedule was now streamed in bits and bytes; we starting pumping out software, too.

Low-strength transmitters sprung up along our patrol path, blasting stuff to us in bursts; stuff we couldn’t get from the web. Homebrew ware’ of dubious purpose, some wannabee showmen. We rebroadcast a few, but most we just laughed at. These transmitters went up and down like flies; most just got bored, but a good number were seized.

And then, reports came in of blackspots. Entire cites lost reception at a time, got it back for a few days, and lost it again. Enterprising engineers mapped the borders of the interference and found radio jammers on top of government buildings.

We took this as a sign we must be doing something right.

The Manchester jammer was the first to fall. A slashdotter, straight down from their TreeHouse on the Scottish subnet threw the damn thing off the side of the building. He disappeared back into the highlands after notifying the city of their ability to receive again.

Our first transmission when we received this news was a call to arms. Loyalists fed us the locations they’d found, and we fed them right back to the public. Within a week, all but two of the jammers were offline.

Another week after that, an exocet missile struck the transmitter.

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