In the Beginning

Author : Tom Kepler

A large, rectangular container slid silently through the air, a dull, umber metal box, utilitarian and featureless except for the alternating pattern of raised and lowered slabs of metal that were the connecting construction of the rectangle—all the world like a wooden shipping crate.

Above the rippling, endless pattern of trees the freight crate, large enough to hold a hundred units, slipped with perfect equilibrium until it reached a meadow green in the dawning light. Lowering until inches from the meadow grasses, one section, six units wide on the long side of the container facing the meadow, whispered open, sliding back alongside itself, revealing a gridded cage front.

The container then began to rise on the end away from the opening, and a stumbling rustle of sound from inside the container indicated movement. The units moved to the caged door as the acuteness of the angle of the container increased. Twenty units stood in dull stupor, squinting into the morning light.

“Each stand within a consecutive square on the grid on the floor, one standing on the red square at the corner. No one must stand in a square that is completely surrounded by empty squares. Obey, or the sequence will repeat.”

The units complied, shuffling to rectangles, the directions simple enough even in their fatigue. A new voice spoke.

“Outside is a mown section of grass where the grid upon which you stand is duplicated. One square is also painted red, and the two grids are aligned so that the red squares of the grid upon which you stand and red square in the grid outside are in the same place. You will move to the grid outside and enter and remain in the square corresponding to the square within which you now stand.”

“Identify now the units next to you,” the first voice continued. “Proceed to your designated square, lie upon the good earth, cover your heads with your arms, and whatever happens, do not leave your designated square.”

The door noiselessly slid open, and the second voice said, “Get!”

Naked forms leaped from the container and, as if no voices had spoken, ran through and past the grid etched on the mown meadow grasses, ran into the tall, uncut grasses, ran on legs sweated dirty from long confinement into the silent, shadowed darkness of the forest.

They ran, feet beating stubborn rhythms until they were gone—gone, all but one who staggered last from the container, fell to its knees as it stepped from the drop to the mown meadow with its pattern. Staggering to its feet, the unit staggered to its designated space and collapsed, face down upon the grass.

It did not notice the fragrance of the cut grass or the birdsong at dawn or the blue of the sky or the warmth of the morning sun. It did not hear the sudden silence after the trampling of feet. It did not hear the subsequent screams and cries and moans from the forest—or the silence that followed.

Brighter light approached the unit that had collapsed on its perfect square.

“What is this unit?”

A pause. “Adam.”

“This behavior has occurred only once before.”

“Deactivate the guards, and let us depart. We leave it to its fate.”

Light caressed the face of the man unconscious upon the earth.

“Who knows, perhaps the woman still lives and shall meet this man.”

“Perhaps. And may God bless.”

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Frothing Water

Author: Alex Sventeckis

“Have you ever skinny dipped before?”

Raheleh winked with his second eyelid, and Rian tried mightily not to blush. She hid reddening cheeks underneath her mop of blonde hair streaked with magenta. While she held her own in the colony pool, she couldn’t move like the Water Folk. Raheleh and his kin gilded through lakes like the colonists’ skiffs slid on jet streams.

The damp loam of Kepler B-626 squelched when she turned toward his silver eyes. She swore that scarlet sunbeams bounced off his glistening chest when he breathed. Nervous glances exchanged like they did between rocketry equations and calculus differentials at the academy. For many weeks, while cloistered with mathematics at her desk, she had disappeared in the daydream of this moment.
Lake Tiq’qua lapped at their feet with playful waves. He splayed his webbed toes, grays blending into indigoes, and sighed.

“Mother said we couldn’t go…” Rian’s mind summoned Mother’s Tales of the Lake: ‘Don’t listen to them water peoples, that mountain’s dangerous! Y’know that peak blew when your daddy and me first landed!’

His belly laugh floated through five octaves and could travel a league underwater. Butterflies stormed her stomach when his slender fingers neared her hand. “And Grandmother said an angry mountain goddess made this lake bubble. Do you always listen to your elders?”

“No!” Her trembling shout skipped across Tiq’qua’s bubbling surface as she flew to her feet. The wet ground tripped her, and embarrassment followed her face into the dirt. She stayed there, her gut icier than the mountain’s peak a mile further up. Maybe she could dissolve into the earth and hide from his gorgeous eyes.

Instead, her hips shivered with electricity when his soft touch brought her back up and then to the lake’s edge. Rian squinted as fuzzy pterosaurs flapped overhead, and she felt light enough to swim through the air with them.

“I’ll start then,” he purred while unfastening the strap on his silk tunic that shimmered like iridescent moonfish. “But no peeking.”

With a smirk, she complied, though her disobedient eyes wandered to his bare back while it sank below the surface. A miniature mountain range ran along his spine and fractured the water when he dove.

“Come on in, scaredy-cat.” Ribbons of steam carried his human-gleaned taunt, and Rian ogled as he wrapped himself in the translucent turquoise lake.

Clothes slid off, and one shaky foot punctured the surface tension. Whiffs of popping bubbles tasted like the bad eggs Mother had thrown out yesterday.

On the water’s edge, Tales of the Lake made her throat clench. But her burst of fear dissipated when he unleashed his hypnotizing smirk and splashed. Beads of mountain water glistened in the maroon sunset as she entered.

They floated through the frothing water, bubble patches disintegrating in their lazy wake. Pure, joyful heat swaddled her. When her head dipped below the waves, Mother’s admonishments dissolved in his laugh that made the water sing.

Once she locked curious arms around his waist, she discovered the softness of his lips. Her sighs splashed between their bodies, buoyed by ecstasy.

She didn’t feel Tiq’qua’s shudder. Rian’s skin, dyed the color of sunset by the lake and Raheleh, didn’t sense the rising boil. Too lost in his silver eyes and the weight of his fingers on her back. They embraced when steam thickened to a blanket, and they vanished in turquoise froth as the mountain goddess unleashed her fury.


Author : Tanmaya Dabral

The Earth was dying. And all the genius of human beings couldn’t do anything about it. They had terraformed even the most uninhabitable regions of Earth: the Antarctic enjoyed lush green forests and loam covered the entire Sahara. And yet, it was not enough for a population of 38 billion. More Earths were needed.

Shay looked to the heavens for the millionth time that morning: clouds, birds, planes, drones, the Sun, and of course, the Arc. And for the millionth time that morning, the sight filled her with motherly pride. It still seemed a bit unreal to her. It had taken an immeasurable amount of human genius distilled over seven centuries and several generations to birth that colossal structure.

In 1994, when Miguel Alcubierre had first suggested the possibility of faster-than-light travel without violating General Relativity, the world had laughed at him. The absurdity of the proposal aside, the logistics had made it utterly unthinkable. A dozen solar masses worth of energy was required to set up the warp. But the humans found a way, like they always do. Seven centuries of tweaking the shape of the warp bubble had finally brought the required energy down to a few thousand kilograms. Compared to her predecessors, Shay herself had played a relatively minor role in it. And yet, it was under her leadership that the physical construction of the Arc took place. It was her secret guilt. But she knew that it couldn’t have happened at a better time. Terraforming of Kepler-186f and Tau ceti B had to be started now, if the human race was to have any chance of survival. She cursed the fragile human body when she realized that she would be dead millennia before the terraforming completes.

Hearing her name called out from the numerous floating loudspeakers broke her out of her reverie: “… only be fair to welcome the director of RAM, Dr. Shay Snow, to say a few words on this momentous occasion and initiate the launch sequence…” She sighed inwardly as uncountable cameras targeted her. This is not what she signed up for. She stole a glance at the Arc for the million and first time that morning, then shifted her gaze to the terra-pods, ready for launch, before finally settling it on the biggest camera she could find. “Thank you, Dr. Greyjoy”, she started. “My fellow humans, as we all know…”

From the other side of the event horizon of V404 Cygni, the Watchers observed their favorite universe. Their countenance twisted into what a mortal could only decipher as lament. The cancer had metastasized.

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New Under the Sun

Author : Janet Shell Anderson

All our executions are political. Of course, that makes them right, and no one rich or well-connected dies.

The poor man’s on his knees in his orange jumpsuit, with the red waves of the pitiful surf of this prison world, Kepler 435b/Gilgamesh, behind him, a red pseudo-gull that doesn’t know what’s going on overhead, and the tall masked figure in black with the knife, sword, whatever, beside him. I don’t look. It’s live, popular on homeWorld. Millions watch.

Here, not so much.

Back in the cells, Joker watches and laughs, although next dawn, out in the red desert, he dies. Joker’s a politico, hard to like.

Being a woman, I have to be a guard here (unless I’m a prisoner which would be unthinkable). Or at least I don’t want to think it.

Gilgamesh’s the best prison planet, has big-time criminals like Joker and nobodies like Freddie Graywhale. Our trials are fair; our executions quick. Now, though, this new information about time, what it is, how it works, makes the death penalty problematic. My cousin has proved time is circular. So if someone is executed, what’s the point? Do they come back? Can they sue?

The new physics had to come from Kepler 435b/Gilgamesh of course, not the homeWorld, because my cousin George Poorbear’s here. Why is he here? That’s another story. I’m here because I’m his cousin; it’s an honor. Doesn’t feel like an honor.

George shows all the worlds that time is not as linear as we think. Past. Present. Future. Lined up? No. George replaces Albert Einstein. Knowing George like I do, this is hard to believe.

We’ve got problems on this clean, well-packaged, well-presented, low-populated prison planet Kepler 435b/Gilgamesh, with its red star dunes, a thousand years old, and its sitcom lizards, who can talk but never say anything worthwhile.

We’ve got believers and unbelievers.

We avoid them. Some believe time is circular; some don’t.

I’d like to deal with George face to face, but having created both the believers and unbelievers, George is holed up in some fortress on the edge of the Anvil of the Heavens, a wasteland no one wants to travel. The believers and the unbelievers are getting ready to have a war, George thinks.

My prisoners cry, beg, offer money, every kind of sex, diamonds which will melt in your hand, pizza. You can’t imagine. Some of the other jailers get so tired of it they hang the prisoners before their due dates.

I won’t watch another death. I’m disgusted by it. My Somalian cat, who can talk but won’t, helps me patrol this afternoon. The sky’s red and dim, and the desert’s bitterly cold.

I’d like to have a universe that makes sense.

I go among the prisoners to one cell.

“Hey, Freddie. I’m going to let you out. Your wife sent the money.” I push the button, and my deeptime keyless lock pops the door open. One click. It’s important not to do more than one click. George was very specific about that. More than one click does something else.

Freddie Graywhale grabs me around the neck, kisses me. I walk him to the exit toward the transport.

The desert’s serene in the slanted light. The cat and I patrol; puffs of red dust rise. Somebody killed a man I loved in these low red hills. I don’t know who killed him. Somali knows. Maybe someday she’ll tell me. Probably not. Our somedays are running out. We need a change.

I’ve got the deeptime keyless lock. George talks about Calabi Yau Manifolds, pieces of space so small you can’t imagine them, where time goes backwards, sideways, upside down, for all I know. George’s always talking about things like that, and when I ask him about my lover, it’s more Manifolds. No answers.

I walk with Somali out in the red desert. Maybe George’s right. Maybe not.

I’m letting all the prisoners free. I may even talk to the cat Somali. The deeptime locks open everything, change everything. Will anyone remember the past? Will anyone find the future? Do they even exist?

At the very least the deeptime locks will open up the Calabi Yau Manifolds. It’ll be fun.

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Author : Beck Dacus

Earth is largely habitable. There are some places that are especially hot, cold, dry, irradiated, and toxic. And, sometimes, the entire Earth is subjected to extreme conditions; mass extinctions, periods of volcanic activity, Ice Ages, snowball Earths, and so on. But this does not happen often. To be direct, the chance of one of these things happening to an exoplanet just when humanity wants to colonize it is extremely low.

But it happened anyway. Not only had Kepler-438b been recently hit by a magnetic pole shift, it was also in the middle of a snowball planet phase. As I looked out at the cold, irradiated surface of this goddamned, supposed-to-be-beautiful planet, these were the infuriating thoughts that raced through my mind.

Over the radio, I’m pretty sure everyone else could hear my labored breathing. They definitely saw my clenched fists and the shaking of my legs, as i was about ready to fall to my knees and start screaming.

“This had 100 times less of a chance of happening than winning the lottery,” Arida said from behind me.

“What are we going to tell Earth?” Vonan asked.

“We almost did it,” Shalla added.

“We won’t be able to live here for thousands of years,” Irnen.

I wanted to scream. I wanted to pound on the ice until one of us broke. I wanted to slaughter everyone around me.

I wanted to die.

But I knew none of those would solve the problem. Nothing would. So, against all my natural instincts, my nature, and my pride, I turned back to the ship… and set us on a course home. Wounded. Defeated. Deprived.


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