Author : Damien Krsteski
“So, will you finally tell me why we’re here?” The ice cubes rattled as Jane drank the remaining drops of her orange juice and vodka cocktail. “I hate it when you’re so secretive.”
Nick smiled and slurped his vodka. Krylania was a wondrous place. With its small size, even surface and perfect distance from Sol, it was most certainly his favorite asteroid. A place he often called his own.
One he used to visit in times of doubt or when he lacked perspective, to acquire a sense of belonging, marvel at the immensity of the cosmos, to think things through.
But mostly, he used to come for the distance it provided between himself and the others. Something he inherited from his father- the desire to be left alone.
The day before he’d met her was his last trip to the asteroid. He had never told her a single word about Krylania, or what it all meant to him.
Now, two and a half years later, they were there, tanning on his yellow beach chairs, drinking alcohol with cute umbrellas in their glasses. Above their heads, space was dark and endless.
“Jane,” he said softly, “when my father left the Swarm and erased himself, I realized something.”
She stopped chewing her straw, and set the glass down.
A clumsy grin stretched Nick’s mouth and he said, “I realized I hate this place.” He got on his feet and scooped up the vodka bottle, clutching it firmly by its neck. “He never understood our society, Jane. Never.” He waved the bottle around a bit, then took a sip. “He thought it’s good to be alone. He told me I should be a distinguished individual. He never bought the whole nanotech hivemind hocus pocus.” He poked his chest with his thumb. “Heck, even I didn’t back then.”
Jane eyed him sympathetically. He dragged his chair next to hers and sat down.
He passed her the alcohol, then said quietly, “But after all that’s happened, I think I finally do.” She drank.
Then he did too.
“I brought you here to show you something,” he said, got up and pulled her to her feet. “Come.”
The two walked hand-in-hand on the asteroid’s dusty surface, barefoot and naked, their artificial bodies unscathed by space radiation, minds separated by a great distance from everyone else, isolated, alone. For the time being, they were only with one another.
A short distance later, they arrived at a large irregular bump on the surface, and climbed on it. Before them, preceded by a neverending gap of vacuous space, was Sol, shining brightly their way.
“Once in a couple of years this rock passes through a much bigger asteroid cloud,” said Nick, hand raised up before his eyes. “It is happening now.” He pointed at the empty space before them. “Watch.”
As he spoke, the blinding rays of sunshine were interrupted by a massive cluster of small asteroids in all shapes and sizes. They sailed graciously by, as if riding on the crest of a giant lightwave, soaring faster and faster until they blocked out the sunlight in its entirety. Jane ducked instinctively, as the group of rocks cast a cold shadow over them. It was sunset on asteroid Krylania.
Nick put his hand around her shoulder.
“Thanks,” he said. “For being you. For being here. And for being a part of what we are.”
It was over as soon as it began. The cluster of rocks passed quietly out of view, and the sun was back up. Jane nodded, and leaned over to kiss him. Moments later, both of them rejoined the rest of their race, leaving the asteroid far behind.
They could hardly wait to share the experience with the others.
Author : Jason Verch
Fred sat quietly as they finished attaching the myriad of sensors to him. Dr. Samuels, the man in charge of the experiment, fitted an oxygen mask over his face and said, “That’s everything.”
“Don’t worry,” Dr. Samuels said, “we’ve got everything covered. Heart rate, respiration, brain activity, real time blood analysis. If anything goes wrong we’ll know immediately and bring you out of it.”
“You know Doc,” Fred said, “when I joined the space program I thought I’d be visiting Alpha Centauri or something. I didn’t think I’d by lying in a hospital bed on Earth.”
“Oh come on, all that ‘space – the final frontier’ stuff is so cliché’. We send men into space every day, that’s not pioneering any more, this is exciting, you are entering the inner frontier” the doctor assured him. He picked a needle up off a nearby table and injected a milky substance into the IV bag attached to Fred’s arm. “Try the relaxation exercises we talked about, they should help.”
All his training in the space program, all his time in combat with the special forces, and what did they want him to do? Lie still and try to relax. He tried the breathing exercises. He tried counting backwards from a thousand. Hell, he even imagined he was in his happy place. Anything he could do to relax, but he still felt fully alert, and tense. Finally, despite himself, the drugs started to take hold. He slowly felt reality slipping away. Just as everything went black, he had one final thought: This must be what it is like to die.
In the next room, an assortment of doctors and scientists watched the sensor outputs. “Respiration and heartbeat steady. Look at the pattern of this brain activity, it’s unbelievable. We have definite success.” Dr. Samuels said. A few of the other men in the room exchanged handshakes; some patted the doctor on the back. They all seemed relieved.
“Doctor, are you sure we should continue?” the program director asked. Nearly an hour had passed since the start of the experiment.
“He is in no danger. He appears lifeless but his brain and body are functioning perfectly. Remember, there was a time when sessions of 10 hours or more were considered quite normal.” Dr. Samuels responded.
“Yes but that was thousands of years ago, nobody has tried this in recent history.”
“Exactly, so every minute of data we can collect is incredibly valuable.”
“Another 15 minutes, then bring him out of it. We can extend it for the next session.”
“But sir if we -” the doctor cut himself off. The argument was moot; the monitors went crazy with activity as Fred shot up in his bed and shouted, “It’s coming right at us!”
Dr. Samuels rushed to his side, “It’s ok Fred. It wasn’t real. You are in the hospital, the experiment was a success, just relax. Here, drink this,” he handed Fred a cup containing a hot black liquid “It should help with the after effects.”
Fred took a few tentative sips, he didn’t care for it much, it was bitter and earthy, but it did seem to help clear the fog from his mind.
“What is this?”
“It’s an ancient traditional remedy made from ground beans. It is called ‘coffee’.”
“Interesting.” Fred murmured.
“So tell me,” Dr. Samuels said excitedly, “What was it like? How did it feel? You are going to be a famous man you know. Just think, you are the first human being to sleep in over two thousand years!”
Author : Roi R. Czechvala, Staff Writer
“… as well as outstanding valour…”
He stood unmoving before the division. His dress blues, marking him as a Master Gunnery Sergeant of the Northern Confederacy’s elite Marine Corps, stood out under the brilliant lights against the muted grey of the NCS Carpathia’s hanger bay.
“… facing overwhelming numbers…”
His great-great grandfather had watched as flamethrowers were used to rid the caves of Guadalcanal of their Jap defenders during the Great Patriotic war.
“… facing not only an entrenched enemy…”
His lips twitched into a barely perceptible smile as he mused over the delicious irony of history’s repetitiveness. He himself had used a similar device, a plasma projector, essentially a plazer with broad band dispersal. Not particularly useful on hard targets, but remarkably effective against battle suited combatants in methane ice caves.
“… the distant shores of Europa…”
He nearly lost his military bearing as the thought of the Jap soldiers of the Asiatic Alliance spilling out of the ice cave after his initial blast. He almost laughed remembering how the environment suits dissolved from the bodies, how the flesh was rent from the bones leaving behind nothing but a carbonized skeleton.
“… saving the lives of not only his own men, but the lives of hundreds of colonists…”
Saving lives my ass, he thought to himself. He just enjoyed mowing down those soldiers.
“… a contingent of Japanese on Europa…”
“Fuckin’ Nipos,” he muttered under his breath.
“It is my honour and privilege to present the Medal of Honour…”
Clearing his thoughts, he straightened his back, and stood even taller. The epicanthic folds of his eyes becoming more pronounced as the angle of the light changed on his grave face.
“…bravery and fortitude far above and beyond what a proud nation can expect of any of her sons. Ladies and Gentlemen, distinguished guests and dignitaries, please allow me to present; Master Gunnery Sergeant Chiang Kai-shek III.
The four star general and commandant of the Marines fairly glowed as he applauded the slight man who stepped off with his left foot and took the podium.
“Sir, thank you so much. I don’t know what to say… I guess it’s just a family thing.” He beamed.
The assembled crowd rose to their feet as one, roaring their approval.
Author : Jason Frank
He fumbles at the door and we, the Thomases, look over even though we know it’s him (even the human’s speculative fiction hasn’t imagined the technologies that hide that entrance). Our door opens and the Outside Thomas shuffles in, looking much the worse for wear. He doesn’t make eye contact with a single Inside Thomas, but he does find a spot on the couch devoid of other Thomases to collapses on. He sighs deeply, a sigh not unknown to any Thomas.
Sometimes a Thomas needs time to collect himself. We give him that. Then we crowd around with overloaded trays of our best tasties and fill up his glass with our best mess-you-up. A few backslaps and drinks drunk and the Outside Thomas perks up. He’s smiling and taking off his suit and relaxing into standard Inside Thomas-ing. I stand apart, watching. I am next in the rotation; I am to be the new Outside Thomas.
The music gets louder as the Thomas welcoming festivities lurch towards full boil. The dispenser is nearly silent as it produces my outfit, correct to wrinkle and stain of the Outside Thomas when he came in. I put it all on and look in the mirror and see that I look very Outside Thomas. I go out the door and nobody says goodbye or good luck or anything.
I take in a deep breath of outside air and head off towards The House. We Thomases set it up so that it wouldn’t be a far walk, but far enough to let a Thomas get his mind right. Walking helps with the standard Outside Thomas mental exercises: I am the Outside Thomas (x 15), I am the one true Thomas in the eyes of the world (x 15), (in the eyes of Youngstown, Ohio anyway (just once, just for me)).
It is what non-Thomases call a lovely day. No Earth days can compare to the worst day back home, but no Thomas expects a non-Thomas to understand that. I hardly notice the weather, or thoughts of our once home. The face of the last Outside Thomas crowds my mind.
At the door of The House I pause. No technologies mask its presence; entrance is given to anyone with a simple (easily duplicated) bit of metal. Several more deep breaths go in and out of me before I use my bit of metal and enter.
The shock of activity is immediate. It puts to shame even the more rowdy efforts of the Thomases. Several of the half-Thomases run about randomly, somehow avoiding the toys that threaten any foot fall. The youngest of the half-Thomases bolts by, pantless (though closely pursued by Viv, pants in hand). All thoughts of the last Outside Thomas slip away as I yell out, “Honey, I’m Home!”
Dinner is a delight. All of the half-Thomases have begun to show hints of rascality that any Thomas would approve of. Viv’s cooking is amazing. Viv has gained some weight (A Thomas likes some meat on his Viv). A Thomas likes to sit at the head of the table sometimes. A Thomas can be happy as the only Thomas around.
The little ones go to bed then we go to bed. I can’t keep my hands off of Viv. She asks what’s gotten into me. I tell her I’m more interested in getting something into her. She starts laughing and we do it and she laughs most of the time then she falls asleep. I hold her in my arms and can’t imagine what could exist on the outside that could bring a Thomas down.
Author : Harris Tobias
I knew they were lying.
“Don burry Bill, ebry thing bill be all bright,” in that crazy accent of theirs with their “B’s” and “W’s” crossed.
The house was a horrible mess. The furniture was dirty and old. What pictures there were were crooked and not of anything anyone in their right mind would hang on a wall–a photo of a toilet seat, a painting of a crumpled sheet of paper. The yard was littered with trash; the lawn was some sickly tufts of wiry grass; the gate was hanging by a single hinge.
“Ebry thing bill be just the bay it buzz,” he had said.
But it buzzn’t…er, wasn’t..
It wasn’t just that the house was a mess, it’s what lay beyond the gate that really stunned me. Desert. There were a few forlorn little houses like mine and then nothing but scrub and dust and tumbleweed as far as the eye could see.
“You call this the way it was?” I said to Bork. The alien stood a full seven feet tall and grinned down at me with its idiotic grin and its shiny suit. It looked human but you could tell he wasn’t really.
“Bell, it buzz harder den be thought. Wut, all in all, not too wad.”
I could only groan for what was once a lovely Midwestern town in the corn-belt. Put through Bork’s analyzer it was supposed to be digitized and reassembled exactly the way it was. But it didn’t take a genius to see that the reality that went in wasn’t what came out. In went my gorgeous sofa with the art deco arms and the fabric I searched all over Chicago for; and out came this dumpy Sears hide-a-bed I wouldn’t even sit on. In went my little dog, Muffy, and out came this cat-like fur beast.
“Stop” I yelled. “You’re getting it all wrong.”
“Don burry,” Bork said and squirted me with something that knocked me out for a week. When I came to, things were pretty strange and Bork and his pals were gone. He paid me though, just as he promised. I have a stack of hundred dollar bills in the basement. Every one has a picture of George Bush on it.