Author : Matthew Velez
I miss the rain. It’s been years – I’ve long since lost track of how many – since I saw it last. Since anyone saw it last. It’s been so long that no one really remembers it anymore, except for what you’d find in dictionaries. I remember rain as being so much more than those bland descriptions. I remember falling asleep to it, listening to the soft, even sound of running water, distinct from yet blending into all else. I remember sitting by windows, letting my mind wander while tiny droplets formed patterns on the glass, ambient light casting tiny shadows. I think I’m the only one who remembers, but all I have are faint flickers of memory.
I live in a city of mist. An endless fog blankets the entire city, providing moisture without the need for rain. A fog that is unobtrusive, casting what it hides not in opaqueness but in shades of gray. No one remembers the onset of the mist; it simply was and now is. All that we remember was that before the mist, there was rain, and now there is none. With the mist came a loss of knowledge; we lost contact with the world, with our own history, where we came from. No one, save for maybe the City government, knows where the City is, what country it is a part of, how old it is, or even what its real name is. All we call it now is ”The City.” We know of nothing else.
One day, I tried to leave. It wasn’t because I was dissatisfied with City life; it’s a laid-back place. It was due to wanderlust, an urge to see what was beyond. I wasn’t really doing anything else, anyway. So, I packed my things and walked on the main road for hours. The City was big, but it wasn’t infinite. Eventually, all that was left was the road itself, with no other ground I could see. The only sounds were my lonely footsteps upon the asphalt. Gray-white mist surrounded me, blanketing my clothes with a faint dampness I couldn’t feel. The road kept going. I looked back to find that the City was out of sight, hidden by the now-opaque mist. I knelt down by the side of the road and reached for the ground beside it. It was a hard, unnatural substance, the same color as the mist. It felt almost like the steel used in buildings, but somehow more organic. It was wet with condensed mist seeping down into cracks I could barely feel.
I continued. Nothing happened for ages, until I heard a sound. A steady, even sound splashing in the distance. A sound that I identified immediately, even though I hadn’t heard it for countless years. My pace quickened as I heard the rainfall from my childhood. Eventually, I saw it: a shimmering form breaking the opacity of the mist. The white fog gave way into more color, a sickeningly gray-brown earth extending beyond the horizon. It was entirely featureless. The rain fell unceasingly, causing faint wisps of smoke to emerge with each impact. I slowed my pace, until I felt a thick pane of glass in front of me, barring my progress. It bore no seams or faults. There was no way in or out. Its only peculiarity was a plaque etched in the glass. It said, in large, plain text,
“The City is all that is left. There is nothing else. Turn back now.”
The acid rain continued to fall on the remains of the world.
Author : Patricia Stewart, Staff Writer
Horatio Kiddleson stared open-mouthed at the turbulent accretion disk as it swirled into the ergosphere that surrounded the bottomless gravity well. “Dammit Schwarz, you didn’t tell me our destination was a black hole.”
“Quite right, young man. And believe me; it was not easy finding a licensed pilot that didn’t know V404 Cygni was a black hole. I wasted a year searching for someone as unenlightened as yourself.”
“I may not know every celestial object in the quadrant,” Kiddleson rebutted, “but I know how to jettison your sorry ass out the airlock. I’m getting us outa here. They don’t call them things ‘widow makers’ for nothin.”
“Hold on, son, that’s all about to change. I’ve invented a Quantum Gravity Shield, which will make this ship impervious to the effects of gravity and hard radiation. But you don’t need to take my word for it. How about a simple demonstration? I’ll activate the shield and you can take us in for a closer look. Just drop down to one AU. This old plasma burpper will still have plenty of power to escape if it doesn’t work. I’ll even sweeten the pot. I’ll double your payment if I’m wrong.”
“Double you say? Hmmmm. We can do one AU on half impulse. Okay, Schwarz, it’s a deal. But I’m pullin’ out at the first sign of trouble.”
Schwarz activated the Quantum Gravity Shield, and the ship descended to 93 million miles in a matter of minutes. “Wow,” said Kiddleson, “we don’t even need a radial velocity to maintain this distance. I think that thing may actually work.”
“There was never a doubt,” replied Schwarz with an arrogant smile. “How about dropping us down another 60 million?”
“Sure, why not. This excursion will make me famous, not to mention rich.”
Again, the ship plummeted like a geosynchronous space elevator on steroids. But at 40 million miles, something started to go wrong. “Hey, Professor, I don’t feel so good. I’m getting light headed.”
“It looks like the graviton compensator is out of alignment. You better take us out so I can fine tune it.”
“No can do, Professor. Whatever’s happening, it’s preventing me from activating the ion drive. If you can’t fix it on the fly, we’re crashing into the event horizon.”
“Don’t be an idiot, Kiddleson. The event horizon isn’t a material surface. You can’t crash into it. It’s just a dimension where light can no longer escape the gravity well of the singularity. We can pass right through it. Of course, if the generator’s imbalance gets any worse, we may get Spaghettified first.”
A few minutes later, the ship passed through the event horizon without incident. In preparation for escape, Kiddleson rotated the ship outward, into the overpowering brilliance of the incoming photons. He frantically began manipulating the controls. “How much longer?”
“Got it,” Schwarz replied. But Kiddleson didn’t need to be told, he knew it the instant his body wasn’t being pulled like taffy. He rammed the throttle to full, and initiated the warp drive a few seconds later.
Safely back in space, Schwarz looked up from the shield generator toward the cockpit. “Oh my God,” he exclaimed. “Where are the stars? Crap, it must be time dilation. While we were within the black hole, time stopped for us, but the rest of the universe aged a trillion years. All the stars have burnt out. The universe is dead!”
Kiddleson began laughing. “Now, who’s the idiot? I shut the iris when light started pourin in. Stop worrying.” Kiddleson opened the iris and stared open-mouthed out the viewport. “On Shit,” he said, “no stars.”
Author : Roi R. Czechvala, Staff Writer
“Allright men, listen up.” Even without the aid of his complant or the voice magnification of a batt’suit, First Sergeant Lesimov could easily be heard over the scream of drop ships as they streaked through the atmosphere. “True to their kind, the little bastards are holed up in caves in the mountains. It’s up to us to go in and burn ‘em out. SUIT UP.”
“I hate my suit,” whined Private Kitchen, as he donned his helmet and subvoked the HUD panel, “I know it was fitted for me and I’m the only guy who has ever worn it, but it smells. It smells like farts. Somebody else’s farts. I know my own farts.” He lifted his visor and took a sniff inside the suits torso. “Yup, those aren’t my farts.”
Slowly he shrugged into the torso while the gauntlets extended and assembled themselves. “I’ll bet that Spanish guy, Rio, or whatever his name is farted in my suit,” He grunted as he bent to apply his greaves. Placing them against his shins, they expanded and sheathed his feet and lower legs in nearly indestructible plasteele.
He watched as his cuisses wrapped and joined with his greaves and codpiece. “Ow, that hurts. I wish I’d never joined the infantry. I don’t want to fight. The recruiter lied to me. He said there was a chance I would never see combat, but here I am. Lying bastard. He promised me I’d never see battle. When I get back… I’ll show him. Who does he think he is anyway?”
Pvt Kitchen stood and stretched to check the seals of his batt’suit. He powered it up and checked the readings as one by one they came to life in his visor. “I guess its okay. This thing was designed by a moron. I could do a better design job and I dropped out of university. Smells like cabbage in here. I know somebody farted in my suit.”
He took a few tentative steps to check the gyros. “I should have joined the Navy,” he sighed. “That would have been fun. Sailing off the shores of Europa and Ganymede. Watching as the Marines made their drop while I was safe and snug with all my buddies on the carrier.” Kitchen smiled at the thoughts of the good times he’d shared with his Navy friends. The rest of the Marines considered the Navy as somewhat effete to say the least, but not Kitchen; he bore a special affinity for the boys in blue.
“I always thought that a few months afloat with the sailors would…”
“PRIVATE KITCHEN.” First Sergeant Lesimovs voice came pounding through Kitchens complant so hard that he thought the device might actually burst out of his skull. “You do realize that you had your ‘plant voked on the company freq the whole time don’t you?”
Pvt Kitchen said nothing as his suits thigh pads began ‘cycling a sudden gush of urine.
“Care to shake the sand out of your vagina Kitchen and join the rest of us?”
“Ulp… yeah Top, right away, Top.”
He began loping to the assembled group of Fleet Infantry Marines. They stood immobile as their orders and directives were downloaded to their ‘plants. “Bastard. He thinks he’s such a badass just because he has that diamond. Why if I thought I wouldn’t get thrown in the brig, I’d take him out behind the barracks and…”
“KITCHEN. Your ‘plants still open.”
The faecal reclamation pads in Pvt Kitchen’s suit began functioning.
Author : Duncan Shields, Staff Writer
The world demanded immortality at gunpoint from the ones who had it already. A transfusion of the nanotech-laced blood from the wealthy was all it took.
For those without access to transfusion equipment, it wasn’t long before the rebels realized that merely eating the flesh or drinking the blood of an immortal would transfer the tiny machines over to their own bloodstream. A vigorous bout of sex would also work, consensual or otherwise. Those were dark days for the rich.
The problem with taking death out of the equation, however, was that a dam of life formed. The population grew exponentially faster without the mitigating factor of terminal illness or disease. The already glutted seas and landfills overflowed with garbage.
Then the babies started dying. It was what happened when nanotech flourished among the stem cells of the newborn. The nanotech didn’t know what to do with these unfamiliar cells and so they were treated as a disease and shunted out of the body. A new form of cancer, it could be said, caused by health gone wild.
The machines at this point had iterated to a point of their own evolution. Reprogramming them was tried but the majority of the machines already in the bloodstreams of the world merely found the new machines and destroyed them.
A monopoly of machines that could protect themselves were in the blood of the world now.
The trade-off for immortality was humanity. With nanotechnology humming through the bloodstream and repairing all damage to every organ, the only thing needed was the input of raw materials. Anything worked. Food was preferred but if one wanted, one could eat splinters or small chips of iron. Sand washed down with salt water.
Humans had become a finite resource. They were like extra-hardy locusts without the ability to reproduce. The population of the earth had nowhere to go but down.
Author : Steve Smith, Staff Writer
Robert rifled through the stack of sketched notes and diagrams, some he vaguely remembered making, some he’d simply found under his tired and aching head upon waking; pen clenched in cramped fingers, the writing forgotten yet clearly in his own hand.
Above the main work surface was pinned a sheet of acetate on which he’d rendered half a woman’s face, hair curling down past her shoulders, eyes clear and bright. Beside the partial portrait was another coloured drawing, this of a teal blue door set in a white stucco wall on the edge of an ocean.
He had no idea how they were related, or why they had come to be transcribed by him with such clarity. Neither could he explain the gravity the sketches held for him, how they propelled him to channel all of these other images; schematics and blueprints for a device the purpose of which was beyond his comprehension.
It was the beauty in her face that held him captive, compelled him to build it, begging and borrowing what he could, buying or stealing what he could not. He knew it was complete only when he no longer had instructions left to follow, and even then he had no knowledge of its purpose.
Robert picked through the pages one by one, mentally checking off the completeness of each component, pausing only on the last page, a sheet filled with columns of numbers. These he entered via an old keyboard, watching as the green phosphor display above swallowed each set of digits, blinking tirelessly at him in anticipation of the rest.
With the last values keyed in, a low hum began in the coils of tightly wrapped wire he’d lined the inside of his workshop with, each a perfect half of a squashed circle. The noise was barely audible at first, more a feeling than a sound, but it grew slowly until Robert’s teeth vibrated and his right ear drum crackled in protest of the pitch.
At the point where the noise had become almost unbearable, the air in the focal point of the construct began to shimmer, first blurring the room beyond and then thickening and taking on a familiar colour and texture of its own.
“Stucco.” Robert spoke out loud, in his mind’s eye, he could already sense what would follow.
A depression formed in the middle of the wall, the stucco here softening, changing texture and shape and colour until the panelled wood door he’d drawn formed, weathered teal blue with a white porcelain handle.
Before better judgement could stop him, Robert had reached the door, turned the handle and pushed it open.
He was greeted by waves crashing on sun bleached rock. Where the other side of his office should have been, a natural pier extended a short distance, then blue ocean stretched off to the horizon.
She was standing there looking sideways along one shoulder at him, sun dress catching the breeze, its hem dancing around her knees.
“How…”, he started, unsure of so many things now, “are you trapped? Am I here to help you escape?”
She laughed, eyes sparkling. “No, I’m helping you escape silly, I’ve been waiting for you.”
Robert stepped through the door, blinking against the sunlight. The smell of salt flavoured the air before him, behind him the air filled with the stench of burning metal as his fabrication began to incinerate itself and everything contained within it.
He closed the door, paused just long enough to feel the handle cool beneath his grip, then let go and turned without a backward glance to join his future.