by submission | Mar 31, 2015 | Story |
Author : Thomas Desrochers
Mao found it very curious, this third planet from the sun. Blisteringly hot and unbearably humid, shaken hourly by violent storms like a wind-up toy wound too tight. The only living residents left were clustered at the southern pole, hidden in the crags of the antarctic mountains and keeping an eye on the weather. Mao spent long days watching after them, cleaning and fixing their tools and labs, listening in on their conversations.
The weathermen were a superstituous lot, so naturally when a signal came stumbling in through from the old America del Sur the investigation fell to their stoic guardian and janitor: Mao.
A week into the journey to the old continent Mao found the third planet equal parts curious and frustrating. A dozen times his surface craft had rerouted itself around massive ferrous objects it believed were drifting across the ocean surface. Floating crypts, the weathermen had called them, but even with the enhanced optical suite Mao couldn’t see anything in the hazy orange mists. The pounding of the waves against the sides of the vessel never ceased.
By the end of the second week Mao had made landfall and, trailed by a pair of steel mules, began the trek inland. The soggy coastal swamps gave way quickly to mountains pitted and scarred by centuries of torrential rain. Waterfalls came and went in the haze – visibility never reached past 50 meters. Mechanically and pharmaceutically aided by a hefty exosuit, Mao’s progress was quick. He made his way up through a dozen upredictable canyons and across along a handful of flooded valleys, each step as steady as the splintered rock beneath it. The haze turned dark, then orange again as the hours passed. The mules always followed, gathering data, watching. At times Mao thought he saw them jump in surprise, but wrote it off as an artifact of the treacherous conditions.
On the 20th day, at the height of the daily thermocycle, Mao descended into a long dead caldera: the signal’s source.
He came out of the haze into a scene he remembered from a storybook from when he was growing up on Titan. A grotto. A clear pool of water too deep to fathom and surrounded, impossibly, by dwarf trees bearing golden fruit. Two fish, white and orange, circled eachother lazily, distorted by the ripples of flies on the water’s surface.
Mao turned to see if the mules were there to see what he was seeing, but he was alone. He turned back to find dust swirling lazily at the bottom of the caldera. The grotto – and the signal – were gone.
There are ghosts in the old world, the weathermen had said as they huddled together and smoked spindly hand-rolled cigarettes. They would spend long nights in the community space, smoke blurring the sky-lights and mist beyond, and would whisper about the dead machines: Hawthorne hidden away in the Paris Underground; Melville tucked beneath the ruins of MIT; Thoreau chiselled into the Appalacians. Old places still haunted by an implaccable anger at the intrusion of the garden into the domain of the machine.
Mao found it, half buried in the dust. A metal skull polished by the weather, eyes filled with grit. An arm lay nearby, half buried, joints corroded and bundles of synthetic muscle frayed and useless. A single crystal egg was clutched in its hand, ancestor to the data storage devices the researchers used. Mao picked up the egg, cradling it in his hands.
He had spent decades listening to the weathermen whisper about ghosts, never wondering if the ghosts might whisper back.
by submission | Mar 30, 2015 | Story |
Author : Will Shell
The lieutenant staggered closer to the viewing window, each drag of her left leg adding to the blood smear that trailed a half mile through the ships corridors. Emergency floor lighting pulsed indolently, the waning breaths of the backup electrical system. She knew it wouldn’t be long until the emergency oxygen pumps ceased.
From deep within the ships bowels, vibrations of a distant explosion rippled outward. The stars in the view window began to sink, and the steel ship groaned as it gradually capsized. The rising slope of the floor made each unsteady step progressively painful.
Her injured leg gave way, the slope too steep for a steady grip atop the oily blood. The ship tilted more, making every effort to pull the lieutenant away from the window. The pilot’s chair was almost within arm’s reach, if she could drag herself there, she could climb her way back onto her feet.
She lurched forward, kicking with all the remaining might of her battered body, but the pooling blood allowed no traction. Flattening her hands, she pressed them hard into the cold floor. Slowly her elbows bent and she slid forward. Harder she pulled, gritting her teeth and groaning until her forearms rested under her ribcage. Reaching forward, her fingertips grazed the chair. Again she forced her hands into the floor and pulled. The ship continued its slow, steady tilt.
Her muscles tensed into iron from fingertips to abdomen. Again she crept forward until her arms convulsed. Muscles exhausted, gravity overpowered her body and dragged her away from the pilot’s chair. Bellowing with pain, she lurched one arm forward, throwing all her weight and power into the opposite side. Three parched, discolored fingertips slapped around the base of the chair, just enough for some leverage. Pulling with white knuckles and straining, popping joints, she inched herself forward until a full fist clamped onto the chair. With a sturdy grip she slid faster now, until her arms embraced the base of the chair; a trifling, temporary salvation.
The lights pulsed slower and dimmer now. There wasn’t much time left.
Pulling herself back to her feet using the chair for leverage, she breathed deeply and took a step forward.
Ten more steps to go.
Abandoning the support of the chair, she had nothing for leverage between herself and the view window. Every step had to be perfect; she wouldn’t have the strength or the time to pull herself up again.
Her body leaned forward, trudging against gravity. A pale blue glow began to form at the bottom of the view window.
The glow intensified. A vibrant blue curtain trickled its way down her face, spilling over the lieutenant until her entire upper body burned a radiant sapphire.
The ship trembled under another explosion. Her knees buckled and she stumbled to all fours, barely holding herself up from collapsing full-sprawl to the floor. She let the tremor pass before making a methodical and painful return to her feet
The emergency lighting quietly died away, which meant the oxygen pump was no longer respiring.
Radiant blue and swirling white now filled half the view window. She stretched both arms outward and staggered forward.
One final, desperate step.
Her hands crashed into the window. Her breathing fogged and cleared the thick glass. The entire planet filled the view window. One wide strip of lush, ripe green wrapped around the center of the planet.
Tears quietly streamed down the lieutenant’s face, bending around a wide, open-mouthed smile.
She sighed happily, “..Second Earth”
by submission | Mar 29, 2015 | Story |
Author : Art Klein
The moon looked bigger than ever. That shouldn’t have surprised him. He knew it was bigger because it was closer than ever. He also knew it was getting even closer. But how big it looked tonight really did surprise him.
“How long do they think we can survive after you leave?” she asked.
“I don’t know. They said a few months, but the quakes are more violent and the tidal waves higher than they originally predicted,” he answered. After a short pause, “I don’t want to go without you. I’ll stay.”
“Don’t be a fool,’” she snapped. “You were selected for the team because you’re a Level 12 scientist. Why die here with me when you’ll be much more important where you’re going.” It wasn’t a question. It was a statement.
He looked away as he felt the sting of tears forming in his eyes.
“Don’t go sentimental on me,” she said. “You still have a lot to do before you leave. All the equipment you’re taking still needs final testing. You’re going to be an important part of building a new world.”
He looked at her for what seemed like a long time. She was right. The team of scientists and engineers didn’t know very much about the new world to which were they would travel. They knew the new planet was in a habitable zone around its star and that it’s about the same size as their current home that was coming apart because of the increasing pull of its nearing moon. He didn’t want to think about the final collision.
“How soon will you be leaving?” she asked.
“They said we’ll need to go sooner than they originally thought because the moon’s orbit is decaying faster than before,” he answered. “Now they’re saying two weeks or less.”
He heard her sharp intake of breath, but she said nothing for a moment. Then, smiling at him as she slipped her arm around his waist, she said, “Then let’s get home. We have better things to do where no one can see us.”
He nodded quietly as his thoughts drifted to the planet on which he and the team were going to build a new life for a select few; a planet orbiting its sun in the company of seven others.
by submission | Mar 28, 2015 | Story |
Author : Suzanne Borchers
Xoman yearned for the vast world outside the gates of her private hell. Her life was: follow the regulations or face the consequences, eyes in the back of your head, and sour-faced guards. She rubbed her temples where each day electrons purred positive messages into her brain and shocked negative waves of disobedience.
She had stolen, on a dare, a pair of antique pink panties from the museum that she never got to model before she was placed in the Reclamation Redemption Center.
The day she was finally released, she was shown her image in a mirror. She was no longer herself. The long, straight fiery red hair was buzz cut and white, the athletic figure was rolls of fat, and her skin lay in folds. Xoman turned to the force field and waited for the scowling guard to cut the juice, allowing her to exit. She hesitated until the sullen guard pushed her out the door.
Xoman looked around.
The world outside had changed. Where were the blue skies, songbirds, trees, grass? Hell, there wasn’t even a gray ugly pigeon waddling on the sidewalk. Where were her friends waiting to greet her? She had sent the messages. Where was her world?
Xoman shivered in the dry heat that rose up from the concrete. She stuffed her hand in the plastic pocket of her out-of-prison suit, to feel the hardness of plastic tokens. A plastic map showed her new rooming house, new life.
Xoman trudged the 12 blocks full of gray buildings and vacant lots of concrete to her new home. She stopped in front of the graystone. She climbed the broken steps, knocked on the metal door, and was shown her space.
She recognized the dull colorless bed. The covers, pillow, and sagging mattress had been hers for years. Faded floral patterns peeled in strips from the bare walls. One dangling light glowed faintly in the windowless room. A mouse or rat skittered across the floor and out the door.
“Don’t blame you,” muttered Xoman. Purr.
She sat on the bed to bend over, propping her head in her hands. “I can’t live here,” she murmured. “I can’t.” Purr.
She thought about leaving the city. Sure, she could trade a ride for favors. She looked at herself and sighed. “I wonder if I can make it out of this town,” she muttered before she felt the zap. “Ow!”
Xoman looked at the map showing a plastic factory. “I don’t want to work an assembly line.” Purr.
“Damn it, I’ll use these tokens to buy a rope and hang myself.” Zap! The headache made her lie down moaning. She slept.
Early the next morning she reached a decision. She had pictured each sullen, scowling, sour-faced guard. “No wonder,” she sighed. “Of course.” Purr.
Xoman marched the 12 blocks to the Reclamation Redemption Center. Before she could ring the bell a frowning guard opened the gate. “You’ll find your uniform in Room 714, Seventh Floor South. You are responsible for watching the inmates’ chow lines. Be tough and don’t let them see you smile.”
And then a smile tickled the guard’s mouth. “Welcome home.”
by submission | Mar 27, 2015 | Story |
Author : Gray Blix
“At that point, the technology was reliable, but human factors still caused failures. To continue manned missions, they had to modify us. News headlines screamed ‘Astronauts Mutilated.’ The public hated NASA, but we willingly submitted. All of us, in perfect health, had our natural teeth extracted and replaced with implants and our joints swapped out for motorized prosthetics. Appendixes, gallbladders, and other ‘non-essential’ organs were removed. Females underwent hysterectomies. Our gastrointestinal, vision, and cardiovascular systems were ‘enhanced.’ And physiomaintenance, computational, and communication modules were surgically attached.”
“You and that one were the Bionic Man and Bionic Woman.”
“Yeah. Wait, where’d you get that term?”
“We acquired every bit of accessible memory on your ship and carefully reviewed it.”
“You watched all those old TV shows? Did you like them?”
“We reviewed them. We do not understand your second question. Please rephrase it.”
“Never mind. Sometimes I forget what I’m talking to.”
“Please continue with your history.”
“What’s the point if you’ve already ‘reviewed’ all the memory on board?”
“We are not permitted to acquire your biological memory.”
“You mean what’s in my brain?”
“Correct. To do so would damage the containment structures irreparably. Will you permit us to acquire that memory?”
“NO! How could you even ask me that? Are you out of your mind?”
“We do not understand your questions. Please…”
“Rephrase? OK. Will you permit me to destroy YOUR ‘memory containment structures’?”
Of course not, you’d be out of your mind — your programming, your decision-making algorithms, would be faulty — if you permitted me to do so. See?”
“To be analogous, it is you who would be out of his mind for even asking us.”
“Uh, right. But you understand what ‘out of your mind’ means.”
“Yes. Please continue your history.”
“Well, you won’t understand a lot of what comes next, because you’re not sentient.”
“Based on our review of the definition and usage of ‘sentient,’ you are correct, but please continue so that we can better appreciate that concept.”
“‘Appreciate’? Not likely. Is there anyone on your ship of fools who appreciates beauty, who experiences happiness or sadness, who feels pain, who has been overcome with love for another, who has empathy…”
“No. We have already conveyed to you through the ambassadorial robot that we do not meet your definition of ‘sentient.’ Please continue your history.”
“In your long journey of exploration, have you ever discovered biologicals, or robots for that matter, who were sentient?”
“No. Please continue…”
“Were the beings who created you sentient?”
“Were the beings who created the beings — if you go back to the beginning of your history, were there sentient beings?”
“There must have been.”
“Because robots don’t just spring up out of primordial pond scum!”
“There have always been robots.”
“No! First biologicals, THEN robots. Then hybrids, like me. They tried to make sentient robots, but couldn’t achieve it through artificial intelligence or uploading digital copies of minds. So they kept modifying us until they had replaced everything but about a third of our brains — a pound of neocortex, a crucial ten billion neurons — with robotics. They went further with some of the other astronauts and ended up with zombies. You know what zombies are?”
“Is that one a zombie?”
“Yeah, she is. Several of our years ago, a power surge took out her brain.”
“You keep her for parts?”
“I keep her for love. See, SENTIENT.”