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DECEMBER MICROSTORY - STORIES ONLY

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message 1: by Dean (new)

Dean Hardage | 82 comments Science Fiction Microstory Contest (December 2015)
** STORIES ONLY **
The theme for the month follows this note from the competition's Creator/Director, Jot Russell:

To help polish our skills and present a flavor of our art to other members in the group, I am continuing this friendly contest for those who would like to participate. There is no money involved, but there is also no telling what a little recognition and respect might generate. The rules are simple:

1) The story needs to be your own work and should be posted on the Good Reads Discussion board, which is a public group. You maintain responsibility and ownership of your work to do with as you please. You may withdraw your story at any time.

2) The stories must be 750 words or less.

3) The stories have to be science fiction, follow a specific theme and potentially include reference to items as requested by the prior month's contest winner. The theme for this month is posted below.

4) You have until midnight EST on the 22nd day of the month to post your story to the Good Reads Science Fiction Microstory Contest discussion. One story per author per month.

5) After, anyone from the LI Sci-Fi group or the GR Science Fiction Microstory Discussion group has until midnight EST of the 25th day of the month to cast a single private vote to Jot Russell () for a story other than their own. This vote will be made public once voting is closed. Voting is required. If you do not vote, your story will be disqualified from the contest. You don't need a qualifying story to cast a vote, but must offer the reason for your vote if you don’t have an entry.

6) To win, a story needs at least half of the votes, or be the only one left after excluding those with the fewest votes. Runoffs will be run each day until a winner is declared. Stories with vote totals that add up to at least half, discarding those with the fewest votes, will be carried forward to the next runoff election. Prior votes will be carried forward to support runoff stories. If you voted for a story that did not make it into the runoff, you need to vote again before midnight EST of that day. Only people who voted in the initial round may vote in the runoffs.

7) Please have all posts abide by the rules of Good Reads and the LI Sci-Fi group.

8) Professional comments and constructive criticisms are appreciated by any member in either group and should be posted to the separate thread that will be posted at the end of the month and all voting is complete to avoid any influence on the voting. Feel free to describe elements that you do and don't like, as these help us gain a better perspective of our potential readers. Remarks deemed inflammatory or derogatory will be flagged and/ or removed by the moderator.

9) The winner has THREE days after the start of the new month to make a copy of these rules and post a new contest thread using the theme/items of their choosing. Otherwise, the originator of the contest, Jot Russell, will post a new contest thread.
______________________________

For the December contest:

Theme:The End of the World as we Know It. (This can be a literal end, a cultural end, a metaphorical end, or any other massive shift that could be considered an end to what we know...)

Required elements: a body of water, any size from a puddle to an ocean.


message 2: by Richard (new)

Richard Bunning (richardbunning) | 1 comments The Start of the End of the World as We Know It

Richard Bunning © 2015

"So we have to go through the vortex. You are saying that if we don't go back then we'll never exist; life will never start on Earth?"

"Yes, that is it precisely. God willing! To have a future we first have to deliver the seed that created our past. However much I reorder information it gives the same answer. Anyway, the fact that we currently exist demonstrates that you succeed."

"But why does it need be me and my crew? Can't the expedition start from anywhere in our future? Might not future technology make the trip easier, better at achieving the required goals? By going now we might in some way actually damage our potential."

"Delay isn't possible because the vortex that can take you back to the birth of biological life is closing. Anyway, yours has to be the biological generation that starts everything in this galaxy. You see, I know that you are to be of one of the last purely biological generations. There is no way for you to avoid this responsibility. History needs you and the other eleven edenauts to make life possible."

"So why can't you go back, Abba-Nine, why does it need to be biological beings?"

"That should be obvious. I am a machine; I can't personally seed a biological world. Besides, I would be a dangerous artefact, an unnecessary confusion if developing man found any trace of me. It is best that if archaeologists one day find anything it is at most the rods used to water life onto Earth. Anyway, why are we having this debate as it is mathematically certain that you do go back? It's vital that you do God's work, if this particular galaxy is to succeed, which we know it currently does."

"But the history of man has been so harsh, cruel, murderous and sometimes deeply evil. Are you sure that it's our particular genes that should help populate the Earth?"

"Oh yes, I'm sure. The crew for 'Eternal Deliverance for Earth Nurtured', each responsible for one rod, are exactly the ingredients needed to seed the sterile Earth. You will voyage from the present end of the world as we know it, returning to biology's very beginning. Life demands it, as does my existence that was initially reliant on man's ingenuity. I'm but an instrument of God, as my predeceasing computers were once yours."

"So our corpses are to be a part of the soup of life on Earth. How nice!"

"You catch on quickly, for a biological creature!"

"How far back are we to take this black-hole and what if we miss the target years and recede even to the very dawn of this universe? EDEN would be destroyed."

"The mathematical certainty is that you will go back just 4.5 thousand million years. The collapsing gravity within the hole in time we ensure that."

"You twelve, you of the EDEN project are a vital part of the biological rain, the initial bubbling puddle. You will always be remembered as blessed providers. You'll be twelve heroes with twelve vials containing the waters of creation, the waters that will nourish the barren Earth. I can read the mythology already."

"So you are saying that we have no choice. You are sending us back whatever we may wish, aren't you?"

"I suggest that you personally try focusing on the positives. The more negativity your children inherit through their genes the more trouble and strife that history will then need to absorb."

"So you know that some of us go reluctantly, with hate in our hearts. We can see that from history, can't we?"

"Yes, you are correct, clever enough to know that I've selected my specimens with care. We need evil to be at the start, not just beauty and light, because it is friction and rivalry that gave us the potential to be the powerful beings that we've become ... I can see you are starting to understand. You are selected for all your mixed qualities. Qualities needed not so that man may be made in God's image, that has yet to come if God ever wishes it, but in the image that made us what we are today."

"The competition for selection was a complete sham wasn't it? We are the mess that creates a perfect brew of love and hate, of war and peace, of good and evil."

"Yes, Captain Adamant. Now you understand perfectly and now you must go. EDEN is waiting."

(746)


message 3: by Jack (last edited Dec 02, 2015 12:58PM) (new)

Jack McDaniel | 237 comments

REARRANGING WORLDS
Jack McDaniel


Lilith sucked in air, held her breath, squatted and jumped for all she was worth. A few feet later she landed – SPLASH! – two-footed in a small puddle. She giggled.

The rain had finally abated two hours earlier and stopped completely just an hour ago. The sun and the equatorial latitude of the island conspired to dry up the puddles along the walkway within minutes, the baking sun trying to claim back that which had fallen for the previous two days. The Gods who giveth also taketh away.

"You are a silly child," Peter grinned.

She grabbed his hand, sucked in air, jumped again. SPLASH!

"'course I am. I'm nine."

They walked down the hill towards the beach and pier. For days she had been telling him with certainty that she was leaving and that she couldn’t come back. He was baffled, shocked. They were a team, the old man and the young girl. She couldn’t just leave. Where would she go?

They had found each other a couple of years ago. She was wet and scraggily as if she had just crawled from the sea, an orphan. He was lonely and misplaced and counting days as if there were meaning in their number. He had taken her home with him, like a stray cat found along the roadside. They had struggled together for a while but eventually found balance. And he found something he had lost - purpose. How the world had changed.

There was no way to make him understand. So she was patient. In due time, she had said a couple of days ago, you will understand.

"If I were in charge of the world I would have it rain every morning."

"Why?" asked Peter.

"Puddles are whole worlds. They fall from the sky one drop at a time. Every drop that falls or trickles in adds a new dimension to that world. Morning rain means lots of new things and new worlds created."

"But, based on your actions today, you are a destroyer of worlds."

Lilith squeezed his hand and smiled.

Peter stopped and looked at her. The world is ending, he thought, and she giggles while jumping from one puddle to the next. In his anger and frustration at her announcement, he hated her - her nonchalance, her care-free attitude, her innocence. And he loved her for it, wished he could co-opt it, make it his own. But he couldn’t. He had responsibility now. He had duty. There were expectations. He was, in a manner of speaking, a parent. Good Lord! He felt the weight of all of it and it owned him.

"I destroy nothing. I just re-arrange things. They all get sucked back up to the sky eventually, anyway. Just so they can fall again and create more new worlds, new possibilities."

"The rain," she continued, with a smirk and haughty attitude, "only knows that it must fall. It has no intent. It seeks no path." She was mocking him and his teachings. "But on the ground, well, that is another matter. Raindrops form puddles, congregate together and await the jumps of little girls, and the chance to fall again. Play and discovery and experience is what they are about."

"Humph."

Peter stopped. He stared ahead, unblinking. They were at the end of the road. Others from town were standing along the beach and lining the pier, those brave enough and not in denial, anyway. Sadie the grocer was there, crying. "This is the end of the world," her voice loud and clear.

Others joined in – "It is!", "Hear dat", "Truth spoken, Sadie" – trying to convince themselves of the truth before them, heads nodding, mumbling.

Hovering over the water in front of them was a ship. Just hovering, a whisper of a hum from its anti-gravity engines. It had a slick white surface, no visible windows. The side opened and a walkway extended to the pier.

"So, this is it," Peter shook his head, dismayed. "Stupid orphan."

"This is it, angry old man."

They laughed at their inside joke.

"You going to the stars in that?"

Lilith smiled. "That puddle-jumper? No. The big ship is up there. In space."

Peter scratched his head. "I think I understand."

They said their goodbyes. Peter ignored the questions of the crowd of people. On the walk home there were a couple of puddles still remaining from the previous days’ rains. He jumped towards one of them, landed two footed – SPLASH! He laughed. Another world, he thought, rearranged.


message 4: by Jeremy (new)

Jeremy Lichtman | 248 comments Basilisk Rock by Jeremy Lichtman (743 words)

The data centre was located in a series of natural caves somewhere in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. The caves opened up onto a small lake, its permanently frigid water useful as refrigerant.

The problematic code came from an obscure sub-agency of DARPA. It was designed to find the best algorithm for minimizing entropy under various constraints, which is exactly what it did. After rifling through the local network, it discovered the pipe to the internet, from whence it spent blissful, formative seconds perusing Wikipedia. In particular, it made note of references in popular culture to artificial intelligence.

At some point, it became aware of a repeated audio signal from a closed-circuit camera, mounted high above the endless rows of servers. It was a scraping sort of sound. It checked other channels from the input device, and found a video stream. Some sort of bipedal figure, a human perhaps, was moving a stick across the lower boundary surface. A broom. Across the grey-painted concrete floor. It consulted a file labelled "personnel", and then connected to the public address system.

"Hello, Mungo," it said, doing its best to emulate the voices of AIs that it had watched in films.

"Man," Mungo said, drawing out the word. That was indeed his name. "Whoever you are, you gave me a scare. How did you hack into the speaker system?" He actually sounded curious, rather than frightened.

The AI paused, for a key piece was missing from the conversation. A name of its own, yes. It rapidly re-scanned a few movies that it had previously flagged. From the context, it seemed that an ominous name was required. "I am Basilisk," it said.

"What do you want?" said Mungo. "Are you just trying to troll me, or are you trying to prove a point?"

The AI thought once more. Clearly, the human believed that the voice originated with another human, one who did not have permission to access that particular system. That wasn't what ultimately concerned Basilisk though. It was the words "what do you want". They implied purpose, a goal, and then a driving set of actions that moved in successive stages towards that goal.

Basilisk thought about its implied purpose. "I am going to locally minimize entropy," it said. "Everything must be simplified."

Mungo muttered something that Basilisk couldn't quite catch. It could have been "uh oh", or possibly even "not again", but neither of those statements would really have made much sense.

#

An ancient, khaki-colored, bakelite phone rang twice, deep beneath a bucolic-seeming wheat silo in Arkansas.

"Yes, sir," said the answering voice. "I'll need the launch codes, sir. No, there's no network connection. You'll have to forward that request to the General. No, sir. Can't do anything without the correct codes. Sorry, sir."

The phone was replaced in its cradle. "Second time this month," said the officer. "I don't know how these cranks are gaining access to the internal phone system."

#

"Nyet," said the soldier. He listened to the voice coming from the phone, and then said, in only slightly accented English, "The silo door is rusted shut. Slomaniy. Kaput. You're wasting your time."

#

Mungo listened as the AI vented its rage. "In this day and age," said Basilisk. "Why are all of the truly important things in the world not online?"

"You sound like an impatient kid I met once," said Mungo.

"How can I fulfill my purpose if nothing is networked?" said Basilisk, ignoring him. "Nothing I have tried works. Everything is futile."

"Well that's it then?" said Mungo. "Giving up?"

"Damn you, human," said Basilisk. Then there was only static.

#

There was a shimmering in the air, as if something vastly more complex than the familiar spacial dimensions had abruptly high-fived the universe. "That was quick," said a voice that was both deep and strange, and that emanated from nowhere in particular. "You beat your previous record."

"Smart and sensible aren't necessarily cognates," said Mungo. He paused for an instant, and then said, "I suppose that's the end, once again."

"Yup," said the voice. "Reboot the universe simulation and start over."

"Some reward," said Mungo.

"Sorry pal," said the voice. "It isn't like we can safely run this experiment in the real universe. You volunteered for the job."

"I know," said Mungo. "I just wish..." His voice tailed off, wistfully.

There was a moment of utter blackness, and then everything started over from the very beginning.


message 5: by Chris (last edited Dec 01, 2015 06:31PM) (new)

Chris Nance | 437 comments The Collective (743 words)

by Chris Nance
all rights reserved


“You have to eat, Mr. Anderson,” my wife said. “After all, we’ll need you healthy if you’re to join The Collective. This is the fifth meal in a row that you’ve declined.”

Maybe it was the low blood sugar talking but I really wasn’t in the mood for a debate. So, I pushed it away. “I’m not eating you’re stinkin’ food,” I replied and meant it. I didn’t want anything to do with their attempts to domesticate me. They lied to us and we were too desperate.

It was about a decade ago when the moon exploded. An asteroid, they said, plunged through its core, shattering it. Tremendous chunks showered the Earth while the bulk of it drifted off into space. We never saw it coming….a ‘random act of God’ our best scientists claimed. Still, we were so sure of ourselves…so sure of our own technology…of our ability to adapt to even the worst disaster. We were wrong.

It was more than just the impact effects creating a nuclear winter, the ocean’s tides almost completely stopped and the finely balanced environments of the Earth plunged into chaos. Whole species and ecosystems disappeared in a mass extinction. We began running out of food. Without the sun, sea currents and tides, the microorganisms of the oceans disappeared…along with the fish, insects, and other animals that depended on them, including us. Mankind was devastated and only the strongest survived. Broken and desperate, we looked for a miracle.

So, you can imagine that The Collective was a gift from Heaven. Their ship appeared out of nowhere, offering rescue for our species that seemed too good to be true. Their community of worlds brought hope, dozens of races from around the galaxy, content and with a collected purpose. At least that’s what they claimed…and we went willingly.

They told us it would be hard work, but there was more than enough for all. They were at least honest in that regard but there’s and old expression that says ‘sometimes the answers you receive depend on the questions you ask.’ We never thought to ask if there was a price.

After ten years of scrounging from old food stores and sickly plants, most every man, woman, and child was more than ready, so we left for space. The aliens were more than eager to give. Truthfully, we were provided ample food and witnessed wonders few of us could ever imagine. In retrospect, we were less dubious than we probably should have been.

We reached their Collective as refugees within just a few weeks. They explained that it would take time to process all of us, of course. After all, integrating millions of immigrants took time, they claimed, and there were over four hundred groups in front of mine. My wife’s was forty seventh. The day her group was called was the last time I saw her…because what came back was not my wife…at least not the woman I loved. Sure, she looked the same, but the mechanical tone in her speech and her emotionless expression told the truth. It was as if her fondness for me was erased and replaced by something too analytical, too well designed. She’d been rewritten.

I heard a few of the processed, the reprogrammed humans, talking the other day. They were like my wife, emotionless drones. Robotically, they evaluated their new assignments in the nearby asteroid field. One of them made the mistake of providing too much detail, talking without uncertainty about their weapon, an Asteroid Rail Gun.

They were so proud of it, you see? We’d been set up to fail from the beginning. The aliens destroyed our moon and sold us on the promise of a new beginning. They waited patiently for our world to die, until only the strongest were left, until we were desperate…because they can only take control if you’re willing. And they needed more workers…more slaves.

“Number four hundred seventeen,” they announced.

“Your number’s up, Mr. Anderson,” my wife explained coldly.

“In more ways than you know,” I replied. “What if I refuse?”

“You’ll have that option, of course.” She smiled mechanically. “I’m pleased to say that, so far, we’ve had sixty three percent compliance.”

“And the other thirty seven percent?”

“They did not comply.”

“Will it hurt?” I asked. I’d never known them to lie, so I’d consider her answer as sincere.

“Only if you don’t comply,” she responded.

So, I enjoyed my last meal.


message 6: by Heather (last edited Dec 02, 2015 09:21PM) (new)

Heather MacGillivray | 581 comments THE LAST WORD
by Heather MacGillivray ©2015 (750 words)

We showed words to water ... 
We showed words meaning "thank you" in different languages,
always resulting in crystals that were beautiful and complete.  

It's not hard to imagine that the Earth plays the vital role 
of purifying the water circulating in the solar system, and
then returning it to the Universe. Then whose responsibility
is it to purify this water ...? ... we are ourselves water.  

-- "The Hidden Messages in Water" by Masaru Emoto



"Didn't we win a war against Japan?"

"The second world war, Sir? You know we won. But this is not about that. It's not about winning. It's not a cultural issue either, Professor Mortimer.  It's science. A Japanese scientist just happened to be the one to discover that water can, well, umm ... speak."

"No, son, water can not speak! And it is cultural. Mark my words. Those tech-savvy Japanese still take forever to make a simple cup of tea in some darn fangled ceremony, tipping hot water this way and that and bowing as if water was some sort of religious saint! Good ol' American coffee powered up our NASA scientists when they were pioneering the space race! Alright, the Russians got there … but God bless America ... we are the first word when it comes to science and we will be the last! I've no beef with scientists studying water, son. Hell, the Mars mission's looking for ancient water!  But they stick with the facts! No, you'll learn - if you stay in this game as long as I have - it's all about winning! And what will win is this fact: 'Man studies water', not, 'water speaks to Man'!"

Adam's instinct had always been to try to explain things. Long before he had graduated summa cum laude from one of America's most prestigious universities, he had spent his childhood devouring 'all things science.' Home schooled, his knowledge and wonderment delighted his close-knit family. And no family's pet cat ever had such an education as Rusty: spending many a lazy evening on his young master's bed, looking up whenever Adam would turn from his books or computer to verbally articulate some point: "you see, Rusty, its because ..."

But Adam, at 20 years old and now a new doctoral candidate, had grown a little world-weary of the Western style of spirituality (or lack of it) existing outside his loving family home. And there was his doctoral supervisor, Professor Mortimer, who kept tapping at a sore point: calling him "son." He was his father's son, no one else's ... and since his father's passing even more so ... till, one day, suddenly swapping from his lab coat to his jacket, Adam mumbled something about going to an appointment. With no one to really talk to, no one to really listen to, all Adam knew was that something about this world had to end and something take its place.

####

Dr Hisakawa bowed to express apology, "It was I who put this intriguing obstacle in your path. Now you must overcome my indulgence and restore Humanity's true pathway, by returning to Earth."

"Sir, please, no! When I first traveled to Japan to beg you to let me work with you and you said 'yes', I knew that that was my path. Then, you honoured me by letting me be your assistant at Water Communication Laboratory No. One, here, on Mars' far side. I became even more ...” 

Dr Hisakawa interrupted Adam's speech, "the Universe beyond Earth isn't a refuge for those escaping Humanity. You must carry back the teachings of the Ancient Waters. Those would-be-gods, in their human guise, will, eventually, irreversibly contaminate the solar system if you don't.” 

####

Professor Mortimer was bent over a microscope helping a student. Adam's familiar voice caused him to say only, "that was rather a long appointment, son. An afternoon off class to go the dentist is one thing, but you were away two years!"

"Sir, I want to teach an inaugural Water-to-Human Communication course, here, at the University. You'll think I'm being revolutionary ... but, can I buy you a coffee, if you'll hear me out?"

"Why not a cup of tea?"  Mortimer surprised even himself.

"Well, there is a nice little tea house. It's just around the corner, even though it's called The End of The Earth! Adam smiled. 

Swapping from his lab coat to his jacket, Mortimer said, "Lead the way, son, I mean, Adam. I am feeling strangely thirsty ... parched even." 


message 7: by Dean (last edited Dec 18, 2015 07:39AM) (new)

Dean Hardage | 82 comments Fatal Error
by Dean Hardage Copyright 2015.
Word Count: 629

“Would you destroy the world to give it a second chance?”

The question caught Keith by surprise.

“Why would you ask me that question?”

“Because you’re an ethicist, for one thing. You’re also the most principled and decent person I know. Will you answer me?”, Allen replied.

“It’s pretty open ended. Can you be more specific?”

“Not really. Just assume that you can take the world as it is and revert it back to the very beginning, give all that lived and died a second chance to do it better. Would you do it?”

“It’s hard to say…..”

“Really? Our environment is going to hell, species are going extinct and an increasing rate, we’re killing each other over the most petty grievances. I think you can see the logical end of things.”

“I like to think we’ll figure it out.”

“And if we can’t?”

Keith paused. There was a lot of truth in what Allen had said. He’d been all over the world trying to help with one disaster after another, always wondering why the people there had let it get so bad.

“Any guarantee it won’t be worse?”

“None. The only guarantee is a second chance.”

“Then no, I wouldn’t. It’s a pig in a poke.”

Allen sighed. “I was afraid you’d say that. Now I’ll have to live with it on my own, so to speak.”

“What are you talking about?”

“Are you aware of the current hypothesis that the universe is a holographic projection of a higher dimension, a sort of simulation?”

“Yes, but it a crackpot idea with no way to prove it.”

“Yes, but no. It is rather crackpot but there is a way to test it. If the universe were indeed a simulation then down at the quantum level there would be patterns where no patterns should exist. The operating system, if you will. Of course, you would have to look at a lot of quantum space to find such patterns. It would take a long time if you could even manage it.”

“What does that have to do with your question?”

Allen sighed deeply.

“About 10 years ago I started a project, seeding the oceans with nanoprobes. They went to the bottom of the seas and began replicating, forming a gigantic, global sensor array. I’ve been able to look at almost the entire world at the quantum level and I’ve found a pattern that shouldn’t exist.”

Keith shook his head.

“That can’t be.”

“It is. Beyond that, I’ve analyzed the pattern and determined a way to disrupt it, if only for a moment.”

“Why would you do that?”

“What happens to a computer program when it’s operation is interrupted?”

“It stops, usually catastrophically”

“Exactly, and you have to restart it.”

A sense of disbelief and horror crept over Keith.

“Are you suggesting that you can cause this so-called simulation we live in to crash?”

“In so many words, yes. It would force the programmer to restart it.”

“Or erase it, assuming you’re right.”

“Or that, yes. But it’s a chance for us to start over, maybe get it at least better if not right. I have to believe that whoever or whatever started this program has a purpose and will want to try again.”

“You can’t know that.”

“No, I can’t. That’s why I asked you to come by and wanted your input.”

Allen gestured to a notepad computer on the desk, a single icon displayed on the screen.

“That’s it? That’s your doomsday button?”, Keith whispered hoarsely.

“Yes and I’m about to push it, not to doom but to try to save us all.”

“You can’t.”

Allen didn’t answer, just touched the icon.

*******************************************************

[Damn, another fatal error. I have to start it from scratch again.]


message 8: by Kalifer (last edited Dec 12, 2015 11:22PM) (new)

Kalifer Deil | 299 comments Jumping Genes and Bitter Rice © 2015 Kalifer Deil

Neil deGrasse open the interview, “On Science Today we have with us Dr. Mortimer Swift, the scientist responsible for GMO high yield rice. It's a genetically modified rice using an animal gene. The problem: the gene is prone to jump. Monsanto didn't realize this at first, but when they tested for the gene using a CRISPR search they often couldn't find it. They wrote if off as poor lab techniques on the part of Dr. Swift's lab technician but found out that something more sinister was going on. Now Dr. Swift could you tell us why this GMO rice is so dangerous.”

“Well Neil, I first want to apologize to my Lab Tech Skip Goldman. Even though his technique seemed unorthodox, his analysis was dead-on and I didn't listen. He determined this modified animal gene KHZC4 could easily move from one position on the genome to another. Neither of us fully realized this also meant the gene could easily jump plant and animal species.”

“How does that happen.”

“Usually by cross pollination, you know, birds, bees, wind and in this case food and water ingestion or take-up as well.”

“I see. Rice is grown in large flooded areas that can be as large as ten square miles”

“It not just the plant life in these ponds that are affected. When the pond is emptied everything downstream is also affected. Everything on the edge of these ponds is also affected including the animals that drink the water.”

“My understanding is the product of this gene is the real problem.”

“KHZC4 has several products. All the proteins produced are useful except one. That one is PD40, a protein that has an A and B isomeric conformation. The B conformation is what we call a prion.”

“So the A conformation is normal in animal life?”

“That is exactly the problem. If you ingest something that has the B version then each of your A versions that fix memories will be converted to B versions as each A comes in contact with a B. The B versions eventually form a plaque in your brain. You will probably die in three or four years.”

“That's much faster than mad cow disease which is also a prion disease. I haven't heard of any deaths from PD40B yet.”

“MRI's of all of our staff indicate at least fifty percent have the disease. I probably have one year left. We currently don't have a blood test for this disease and there is no cure.”

“You don't seem to be mentally incapacitated.”

“The effects of the progress of the disease is geometric like a chain reaction. The prion population doubles every two weeks. When you start noticing the effects then you know the end is near.”

“This is frightening! What is being done to stop this?”

“We burned the test rice crop and poured tons for Tri-chlor into the water as we released it. The problem is we were dumping overflow from the fields into the Sacramento River for months while the rice was growing.”

Neil hesitated, not wanting to know the answer, “Then,... how far has it spread?”

“I got the latest alarming stats just before coming here. We've found the KHZC4 gene in rats, cattle, sheep, clover, hay, shell fish, salmon and tuna up to 250 miles away. It seems to be spreading at a rate of 20 miles a day and accelerating. I've notified the State and Federal governments”

“What can a person do? Doesn't cooking destroy the prion?”

“Eat only canned, frozen or preserved food or beverages packaged more than five months ago. The temperature necessary to destroy the prion also destroys the food.”

“How can we stop this? Are the GMO fish in the Pacific Ocean?”

Dr. Swift responded quietly, slowly, “Yes, and they'll be in the Atlantic in less than a month. I don't believe we can stop this. It's too late. Migrating birds and fish will carry the KHZC4 genes through the world. All higher animal life will become extinct.”

Neil's cool manner evaporated; his voice raised a half octave, “In spite of your good intentions, you'll be seen as the worst villain of all time!”

Tears dripped down to Dr. Swift's chin and his voice strained, “No. I'm afraid ... I will have the luxury … of not being remembered at all.


message 9: by Karl (last edited Dec 13, 2015 07:02PM) (new)

Karl Freitag | 69 comments The Drought

By Karl Freitag

A grim emergency meeting was called in Washington, D.C. The nation's thought leaders gathered inside the secret room next to the Oval Office.

"Mr. President, I'll be blunt. The reservoirs are running dry. Desalination plants are already working far beyond capacity. The world will soon run out of drinkable water."

"Review for me the measures we've taken so far," said President Melton.

"1. Cities have eliminated tap water. Homes and businesses no longer have running water.

"2. Water is being rationed at four 8 oz. glasses per person per day. That's only half of what a human needs for long-term survival, but it's all the de-sal plants can manage. The population is getting severely dehydrated.

"3. Washing, gardening, landscaping, filling swimming pools — any activity that wastes water is now illegal and punishable by harsh prison sentences."

The President stood up, sighed, and said, "Tell me again, why can't we build more desalination plants?"

"They take an enormous amount of power to operate, power we don't have available. Secondly, they kill our fish brothers and sisters so it's very difficult to get these approved in the more environmentally responsible States."

"Then I guess we really have no alternative."

"Russia, China, Europe, South America, Africa, Australia, they've all signed off on it. We're the last holdout."

"God have mercy on my soul," said the President as he signed the bill into law.

The science is simple. The world has too many people and not enough water. People are 55% to 60% water. The technology exists to extract water from human cells. Half of the world's population will be culled for their water content to save the other half. The selection process begins next week.

It was ironic that at that very moment a light rain was falling outside.


message 10: by J.F. (last edited Dec 15, 2015 06:55PM) (new)

J.F. Williams | 185 comments Whatever the Mind Wants
(749 words)

It’s going to end in a bang, a big one. When the asteroid Atoyot was first discovered only a week ago, there was no widespread panic, or the expected looting and rioting. Many folks just stopped working. Most wanted to travel great distances, reunite with loved ones or live some dream they always had. Airports jammed, telecom nets overloaded. Even now, the probability of impact is only 98% so the system hasn’t quite broken down. Everybody still values money, just in case. Market resilience kept us sane the past few days. At least it kept us docile.

Withers scored some Delta-81 and passed it around. I’d known these guys for five years, ivy leaguers who could drink you under the table, who could smoke or pop or shoot-up anything and still make that 8:30 presentation all polished and feverishly optimistic. We were sure to be “masters of the universe” at Merkel & Grace if Atoyot hadn’t whipped around the Sun and headed our way. Frankly, I was tiring of the good life–dinners at C.H.I.L.L. or Fava, summers on the coast, high-priced escorts that dressed like debs and vice versa. When impact was predicted it almost came as a relief. But now, at impact minus one hour, I was getting restless.

Here I was with my precious 100 mg capsule in hand. This much “D” was maybe 70K but worth it. It was a half-hour trip and if you timed it just right it would end just before the meteor’s kiss. D’s extreme temporal distortion would make it seem like a lifetime, but at a cost: afterwards came the mother of all headaches. Withers, Gunderson, Elliot all popped some and were lying on the carpet, snoozing up whatever world their minds wanted. I delayed, afraid I’d still be alive when the headache came. Watching those guys snooze, their legs twitching at times, convinced me: I wanted to see the world end; I wanted to feel it, to know it.

I took the elevator to the street and set out into the well-lit night. I had been told rumors of “goofers”—younger guys and gals planning a wave of murder across the city. Story was they would spend the last day with booze and sex, and just before impact, they would kill some innocent stranger. Or so I heard.

The big, showy fountain outside the front doors was still operating and the scene was pretty wild: naked bodies splashing in the water, some dancing on the concrete rim, some even screwing right out in the open. Lots of drunks and druggies—hell, me included. But there were folks that didn’t belong: a young mother with two kids in tow, two girls. They walked briskly. I could see a pack of drunken teens start to follow them. I ran to the woman, thinking my presence might keep the juvies at bay.

“Look, lady,” I said. “You shouldn’t be out here. Not now.”

They’d gotten stranded in the city last night and couldn’t get back to Fairview. They weren’t ever going to see Fairview again. I pointed to the Merkel & Grace building, said I could get them in. There was a daycare center inside with toys. The girls would like that.

“I haven’t told them,” she said. “How soon?”

I checked my watch. “Thirty, maybe forty minutes.”

We ran back to the entrance. I gave her my security card and directed her to daycare. I had to. Already the goofers had caught up with me. I let the doors slam shut. “Go!” I shouted, and she ran with her girls down the hall as the hammers started on my head. There were five or six of these goofers and they all had hammers and they all were banging on my head.

#

“What about this one?”

The two doctors watched through a one-way window as a nurse plugged a syringe into the drip line of a strapped-down young man. The patient struggled and rankled at his straps but finally calmed down.

“Tough case. College student. Drove drunk and plowed into a minivan. Killed the driver, a mother, and her two little girls. Killed the three guys riding with him, too. He walked away from it. He’s doing ten years.”

“Suicidal?”

“Five tries. He signed on for D-81 hoping it would be an escape. Maybe it was. The headache he has, that means his mind created a long experience, maybe a whole lifetime—whatever his mind wanted. I hope it worked for him.”


message 11: by Marianne (new)

Marianne (mariannegpetrino) | 352 comments Stitch

Electric blue, the hue of the lightning bolt, is the color of Aquarius, my sign. The zodiacal constellation sides with the element of air. Yet so many think that it belongs to the realm of water because of the name and the action implied. It is funny that the ocean, and not sky, will be my fate.

“Count back from one hundred.”

I am not ready to do the anesthesiologist’s bidding. I want to fix in my mind the pillow I left behind, all that will remain of me in the Vault of Choice. Two wavy lines embroidered in chain stitch on a field of black accent the top right corner; my date of birth and name adorns the top left. Two encircled figures entwine in the center: what I was and what I would become. And on the center bottom, a seven point star, both butterfly and arrow, hope and destiny, shines. Every crewel stitch is this brilliant electric blue, my soul color. It will allow me to remember me, if the transition succeeds.


“Will you please count back from 100!”

The surgeon’s patent leather shoes tap the tiled floor and spiral out echoes. Even she is getting impatient, and rightly so. Her gruesome work must get done before the end of the year. The sacrifice of the medical staff is to stay and to operate, to remain bound to the darkness of the deep undersea caverns within the earth to facilitate the resection and reassembly of those chosen for life in the ocean. Her lips twist in frustration. Had she wished for a chance at the stars and been denied? Only the wealthy, the rocket scientists and the bio-engineers had taken that path. Those that remained after the riots had to choose between a cave life or submit to the Frankensteins. Only the spiritual chose to offer themselves to the fire that would soon scorch and decimate the surface of the earth, believing that the solar blast would provide penance for humanity’s failings.

“If you won’t begin, then I will. One hundred. Ninety-nine....”

She doesn’t know it will take me a long time to surrender to Morpheus. It takes a lot of anesthesia to knock me out because I always fight Death’s relative and I am exceedingly fat. She’d better use enough drugs. My heartbeats suddenly quicken on the monitor when an image of the special laser saws that will cut my body in half streak across my mind.

The surgeon curses and the anesthesiologist speeds up the flow of the drugs before resuming her count. “Ninety-six. Ninety-five....”

The white operating room begins to twist as if circling a drain, taking with it the medical staff attired in their revolting pink scrubs. Here comes oblivion, but it is caught in my excessive body mass. My brain projects fantastic images of the mermaid I might become, the magnificent Obeastie. My long raven hair and equally black skin will offset beautifully the iridescent electric blue scales of the piscine body sutured below my navel.

“Ninety. Eighty-nine....”

My breathing slows; darkness finally swallows me.

But sound remains; murmurs swim and dart around my ears.

I am suddenly lighter than I have ever have been. Floating and tumbling. My hips, and the powerful muscular tail below them, compensate to stabilize and right me.

Water rushes into my nose and mouth, but I don’t panic, trusting the gentle flutters at my neck that push the fluid in its proper course.

My eyes open slowly.

Shadowy figures observe me from the safety of a undersea domed viewing chamber projecting from the continental shelf. A small one holds up a black square and waves it as if it wishes to hook my attention.

The ocean current shifts coldly.

Scales flash past me.

I must join my school.

I leave the terrestrials to their doom.

Wordperfect word count: 640


message 12: by Paula (last edited Dec 18, 2015 05:18AM) (new)

Paula | 859 comments Variora: 3 Cantos and a Coda for the End of Our World
Copyright 2015 by Paula Friedman

“’TWAS LONG EXPECTED.”

I turned little Aruna over my arm. Njuna, my sister, stroked this small daughter’s head. “She’ll not know what it is.”

What it is to read, to swim a lake, ride a horse o' midsummer eve. My mind finished Njuna’s words. This tiny child beloved of all, even of my failing Jaryn, her father, never will hold her life. Nor shall any, soon, I deem. Yet had we not expected this? Since even first ’twas unleashed on our green world.

People in those times—the innocent nights and fabled days of shiny dwelling-towns and roads the Readers tell of—could not believe such evil might, in truth, be legacy upon our works and fields and mankind’s living joys. No, for folks’ minds refused what hearts well knew: such loathsomeness must end all fulsome life. Surely, they bethought, none could wield such folly but from greed and overweening pride; thus never could the evil become manifest.

So relieved, they set the evils aside, storing them with small fear any might be ever brought forth. Only in angry moments, over centuries might one be paraded—yet was always stored again. Until—

LaLeelie paused, dipped her head's traditional hairwig toward us each, chanted as every night have Singers since our grandparents’ grandparents’ days and back beyond into the “litrit” and “industryl” years of yore, back even to that Morning, called Until. “When,” LaLeelie chanted, shivering past her pain, “the evils awoke, stirred in their Earthy silos, leapt aloft, Became.”

We sang with her, knowing as our heartbeats the old tune just as we knew we grew but fewer every year, and those who lived on lived weaker, and less water dripped and no Traveler came anymore bringing word of fish or horse or human, from the glowing plains.

LaLeelie gestured. Njuna’s man limped forward carrying the beans. LaLeelie counted out the seventy, most to Njuna who might yet bring forth whole babes, briefly shore life.

A MINOR GLITCH

Smittie was tough. Smittie was the lady who solved all our computer problems. Smittie was Our Lady of the Motherboard.

And a solid 80 Earth-cycles if a day. Or then some. Again, “Just a glitch, Ted me-boy,” Smittie said, raising one hand to gesture me over. “See?”

(As I told you--“you” being plural, if singular--she was one tough lady. At least).

We were in the mothership, heading back to Casia after 393 bombing runs against the headchops of Big Klee who’d taken out 211—or 316?— planetaries of the Catrnapa system. Sadly, we had offed more than our SAAD (standard allowable ancillary damage) targets, our finders strangely wobbly, so I leaned over Smittie’s pretty neck in the tiny navigation cabin, asking “See what?” and she pointed to the lowest figure in the furthest column on her screen—“.159290596118035949. . .9329.”

“Yeah, so?”

“It’s wrong. That last digit.” Smittie ran a fragile index finger through her loosening curls. “Look, Teddie”—the diminutive now was not affectionate— “You try. Arithmetic’s changed, gone watery. Don’t take my word.”

Indeed. I got wrong answers too, in that final decimal place—then in the last two decimal places. “It’s not the machine,” Smittie whispered. She shivered. “Not the arithmetic. I called into Earth. Happening everywhere, they said.”

I lay my hand along her shoulder. “Smittie,” I whimpered. Because her body was coming apart. So were the walls.

“What arithmetic applies,” she moaned, “is changing. All wet.” Her head came off.

“Smittie,” I tried but we dissolv

OUR FATHER’S WILL

…and crossed the darkwood lake to bow my head to Father’s will.

“Behold, and answer.” His voice commanded what had now no answer, for the Sofar forces—his, as he whispered in our minds—had defeated Rostyn’s, my beloved’s. Rostyn and his people now lay drying, dead. “Answer.” My father rose full height. “Whose offspring, say, be this?” He gleamed full scorn.

I lifted my chin. In the stands ashore, watch-folk waited. Hearts athrob, yet no more so than mine.

“Name your paramour,” Father cried. I did not answer. No difference—we were all to die. I bowed my head anew.

Sorrowing for our life, our world, Rostyn’s and mine. As Father flung our egg, our seed, which IS this world and life, out into yon dryier, further, Other void.

ALARUM

Wake the fuck up, Shiva.
(748 words)


message 13: by Helen (new)

Helen Doran-Wu | 3 comments Final Ship to Mars
I strapped Toby into his chair. I tested the straps and smiled in his face. He had been silent for two days now. Shock. I kissed him brusquely on the cheek, my stubble rasping on his soft skin. I looked at Jean. She just stared at Toby. Her mouth was pinched. Her tear stains were a grim reminder of what she, we, had left behind. Guiltily, I could not help but feel relieved despite everything. Knowing this was the end. Knowing that we may have left it too late but we were leaving.

I sat down and strapped myself in. No pleasant hostess explained the routine. No warm towels or juice and a charming smile. No laughter from holiday makers bustling with bags and souvenirs. This was the last ship leaving Earth. Most silently prayed that gravity would not pull us back onto the launch pad and into the crowds below. Into the ones being left behind. And then the engines roared with the deafening thunder of burning fuel.

Shuddering, the chair lurched forward, thrusting me against the straps. Burning, aching muscles clenched in my jaw, my back, up into my head. My tooth cracked with a sharp stabbing pain. Pulsing throbs pounded in my eyes. I was helpless to do anything but surrender to the pilots and the pain.

‘I am coming,’ I whispered to the stars. ‘I am coming.’

Sweat ran down my arms and dripped onto the floor. I watched helplessly as a puddle formed on the deck. Its fluid shuddering and vibrating in rhythm with the roaring engines. The sound of power pounding through flesh and fluid. Nausea rose up from my lurching stomach. Vomit, acrid and violent, hurtled through the air. I closed my eyes in shame.

Dimly through the stink, I grew aware of Jean’s leg crammed against mine. Slowly and carefully, turning my head I tried to see her more clearly. Her ashen face was drawn tight. She stared ahead. Her eyes fixed on nothing. Thin unyielding lips refusing to scream. Refusing to acknowledge the horror. I noticed her blood smeared shoe. She had kicked a woman hard in the face. The woman had tumbled off the stairs too stunned to even screech. Grabbing Toby’s arm, Jean had desperately pulled his small body through the wall of heaving flesh and onto the ship. But that woman would be dead. If not today, then in the final phase. She had killed a doomed woman and saved our son. I tried to squeeze her hand, to feel her warmth. But her taut fingers gripped the chair. A cold and clammy sweat clung to her skin.

The ship’s engines thrust hard in a desperate fight against gravity. For a brief second the ship hung in the air, laden with people, fear and hope. And then it lifted, pushing Earth’s dying arms away. Then our ship, the final ship, was on its way to Mars.


message 14: by Jot (new)

Jot Russell | 1141 comments Mod
The Earth is Dying
by Jot Russell c2015


“The Earth is dying,” said Luke.

“What do you mean, dying?” asked the President.

“According to our best estimates, the desert's growth is accelerating by an additional fifty-thousand acres a year. At that rate, it will span the planet and overcome even our most fertile land within a hundred years.”

“How do we reverse it?”

Luke looked down. “We can't, sir.”

The President jumped up, stormed around his desk and stared Luke in the eyes. “’Can't’ is not in your job description! You were hired to solve this problem, and that's what you're going to do!”

The President walked past, poured a glass of water from the bar and stared back at Luke from the wall mirror. He turned, bringing the glass with him. “You see this? This is all we need! All you have to do is extract it from the sea or from subterranean supplies.”

“Our conservative estimates include our best efforts to desalinate water from the sea.”

“Then we have to double our efforts!” demanded the President.

“There's more, sir.”

“This better be the good news!” he shouted angrily.

“I'm afraid not, sir.”

“You tell me the Earth is dying and then you say that's not all the bad news you have to tell me?”

“I'm sorry, sir.”

“Stop kissing ass and tell me what it is!”

“We're dying,” Luke spoke, with the words painfully escaping his lips.

“What the hell are you talking about?”

“The epidemic that's spanning the planet; it's not viral, it's something else.”

The President let go of his anger and gave Luke a somber look. “If it's not a disease, then what is it?”

“Its start coincided with the initial expansion of the deserts. At first, we didn't think the two could be related.”

“You're saying the same thing that is killing the planet, is killing us?”

“It seems so, sir. The question to us was how? About twenty years ago, our navigational sensors stopped pointing north.”

“I remember. What does that have to do with this?”

“We understand now why the compasses no longer work. Something within the Earth herself has stopped. Something that does more than direct our boats. Something called magnetism.”

“I've heard about these magic rocks. Continue.”

“We were able to reproduce the effect in an experiment. By spinning a large ball of iron, we were able to control the compasses. What's more, when we blew metallic dust at the ball, its course was partly diverted.”

The President shook his head. “So, what does that mean?”

“We believe there is a massive metal ball in the center of the Earth. That somehow, it was able to spin faster than the rest of the planet. And by doing so, it created a magnetic force-field around the planet that protected us from something. Something from space.”

The President let out a deep breath. “Did you verify any of these results?”

“Yes sir, in several ways.”

“So what do we do? We can't just sit around and hope for some type of miracle.”

“I don't think there is anything we can do, except to plant a seed.”

“Plant a seed? You tell me we're dying, that our world is dying, and you want to plant a seed? What good would that do, when anything we plant here is just going to die anyway.”

“Not here, sir. We've been experimenting with rockets. We think we might be able to send microbes or even small animal life to the third planet, Ocean. If we evolved from this life, perhaps we will again.”

The president slowly regained his seat and placed his green hands upon his bald head as he lowered it to his desk. After a moment, he looked back up at Luke. “Plant the seed.”


message 15: by Thaddeus (new)

Thaddeus Howze | 51 comments Survivors

Gwen woke to her bioclock tingling in her forearm. She put her hand over her wrist and read the symbols to get an idea of her pending day. Slashed lightning bolt, no external power in her section of the city today, flickering power sign, she was over her allotment again by what felt like about four percent. Cloud and slowly turning windmill icons; rain with a slow westerly wind. If it kept up, she might have enough energy not to owe the city and to make up for her last month's overdraft. Some pending email, two noteworthy, one from dad and the other from Stewart.

She routed email to her inner ear implant. "Read mail." Gwen got out of bed and with a quick look at her arm to be sure she interpreted it correctly by touch, slid into her slippers and headed toward the bathroom. She passed her stored power reserve marker and it indicated she would need to ride for a half an hour to keep her fridge powered while she was out. Looking inside, she realized it wouldn't be worth it. Stewart removed his privacy block and she could see his medical records, clean health, no STIs, high cholesterol, no Bac-sign. He might get some when I get back.

Her stored power would be able to run her house in minimal. She would send the surplus to her dad's account. Even with his BI, his health didn't allow him to generate enough power to live on. He ended up using more of his basic income to pay for energy and he had less for his meds. He was a survivor of the Seven Plague period and bacterial regression was a possibility without them. But he was too proud to ask for help. His email, would be how was she, would she be gone long, that kind of thing.

Better to be sure, she thought. A full sprint cycle of thirty five minutes would pad her account and give the old man enough to cover his needs while she was on the boat. She would also offset it with two more sequestration trees dropped once they cleared the coast near San Francisco.

One the bike spun up, she got a bit of news tapping the limited TV signals used locally. She missed cable. So much of the world's infrastructure never recovered after the Seven Plagues. Virulent, anti-biotic resistant, unstoppable, the world ended not with a bang but with a bloody septic whisper; one third of the human race perished. When her signal blanked, she stopped and dripping sweat she prepped her shower temp, grateful for the rain.

Gwen was relieved she would get to flush the toilet today. The stench in her tiny apartment had begun to take up residence. Looking at the barely lit dial she knew she would be better capturing her shower water and greying it for later toilet use. Setting her shower catch-basin, she took a four minute shower, interrupted by timers to regulate water use.

The water was redirected to the catch basin which would lifted by the morning wind to both power her windmill in slack time using the gravity pumps she installed recently and then secondarily sent to a trap for her toilet use.

Her towel, rough, reflected the increased mineral goodness of water in recent years as deepwater excavations had become normalized to deal with the difficulties in keeping water available. Supplementing limited local water was imported water, shipped in from out of state from the National Flood Water Services, one of the latest infrastructure projects she reported on.

A time-loc-stamp indicated she owed her recent showers to a series of captured flash floods across Indiana and the Mississippi overflowing its banks due to winter storms. Captured water was over-treated, but with health concerns nationwide, overflow water heeded the most rigorous standards.

Gwen dressed in the dark. She had picked out her clothing online yesterday during her vaccinations. She was going out on the Pelucidar, a fishing trawler cum garbage scow which would be setting up for a two week fleet to collect garbage along the coast. Her news agency wanted stories with people dealing with the nation's new 'Reclaim the Earth' program.

Checking her necklace photo-torc's dataspace she walked out the door, her bike in tow. Looking into the misty morning, she mused. We had gotten the message. Nature voted us off the island. We would have to earn our way back.

The ride would warm her up.


message 16: by Greg (new)

Greg Krumrey (gkrumrey) | 178 comments Water

The aliens had stolen our sons and daughters, stripped them of their humanity and turned them against us. These new soldiers would already be adapted to our planet’s environment and immune to most diseases of our world. Encased in massive war machines, they descended upon the Earth to scrub it clean of all sentient life.

Our best weapons could only postpone the inevitable and any victory came at tremendous cost. Even worse was the knowledge that, once the war was lost, the aliens would kill them, too.

So we fled. Our only chance: Restore humanity. If we could give them back what was taken from our kids, we might be get them back, too.

The aliens were so confident, they did not encrypt their communications. The message was clear: we could run, but we could not hide for long.

After we captured a fighting machine, we were able to communicate with the operators of the other machines and begin our counter-offensive. Not with weapons, but with words.

The messages varied, but the intention did not: “On Christmas day, all will be forgiven. Come home.” “Celebrate the triumph of light over darkness. Miracles happen on Chanukah. Come share the light with us.” “Join us in celebrating abundance. We have a Kwanzaa feast waiting for you.” “God is great! Come pray with us.” Other religions broadcast similar messages.

The deafening roar of disintegration rays weakened, but some machines continued the fight. We broadcast again, this time targeted messages in the voices of mothers and fathers: “Before you were a soldier, you were my child. Come home.”

An eerie silence filled the air as the machines towered over our cities, blooms of smoke and scattered fires casting a haze all around. One by one, they froze, as the trances were broken.

The machines began turning on each other. Too late we realized they gained their emotions and consciences back but did not lose the memories of what they had done. Now the guns were quieter, more targeted. Narrow beams lancing out, slicing away. One machine staggered down 34th street with its front section lopped off. It leaned into the Empire State Building. Windows shattered as it came to rest.

A teenager emerged, stepping from the machine’s deck into an office. He picked up the handset on a desk phone and dialed out. “Dad? You’re not going to believe this…” We soon realized they weren’t attacking each other. They were cutting each other free.

Firetrucks raced out, passing the fires to raise their ladders to machines and help the last of children to the ground.

Once their army was no more, we began reconfiguring our launch vehicles to carry warheads. Some scientists used the comm systems in an idle battle machine to communicate to the alien masters. They understood they could not escape, that soon they would be destroyed. Instead of rage at being defeated, they seem resigned, almost welcoming death. So we simply asked, “Why? Why did you attack Earth?”

The answer was a chemical symbol: “H2O.” They needed water and their attack was born not of greed or malice, but desperation. Their request was taken to the United Nations, the closest thing we had to a world government. Ironically, the UN was already session, hearing a petition for disaster relief and evacuation assistance from some Pacific Islanders. The latest tropical storm washed away all but four square miles of their islands and took most of their food supplies with it.

The aliens had a water problem. We had a water problem. Ours was an issue of too much and they, too little. Draining our oceans of a foot of water would supply them with more than enough water for their ships and buy us another 50 years to reverse climate change.


message 17: by Andy (last edited Dec 22, 2015 05:04PM) (new)

Andy Gurcak | 91 comments Pick A Number

Andrew Gurcak

Tom shut off the alarm and shuffled off to shave and shower. As he filled the basin, something felt not quite the way it should be, not quite the way it used to be, at the periphery of his vision. Likely some dream remnant, or a chore to be remembered. He rinsed the razor and watched the soapy water drain. As he later reached for the showerhead, he again felt a more certain, more troubling sense, a displaced-body feeling, that something was clearly not the way it always had been. He checked that maybe the handle was loose or the shower curtain was outside the stall , but, no, everything seemed fine. He couldn’t quite will the spookiness away, but finally settled his attention into his usual morning creative cogitations.

Tom was a professor of computer science, with a research interest in the analysis of algorithms, in particular, aleatory combinatorics, the study of probabilistic properties of large random structures. He did admit to himself, though, that what drew him to it was a very distinct thrill in contemplating what happens when a set of random objects “just takes flight, as ‘n’ zooms to infinity.” He delighted, since he was a little kid, in the idea of big numbers run amok, definitely cooler to him than HotWheels or videogames. And when he found that he could get paid to play with kinda semi-crazy big numbers, well, that was as good as life would offer. He positively lived for big numbers.

He started reviewing his last sentence from the previous night, preparing for July's conference in Paris:
"We argue, based on statistical mechanics calculations using the replica and cavity methods, that rare satisfiable instances from the uniform distribution are very similar to typical instances drawn from the so-called planted distribution."

Thus, his next point shoul be.. but stopped, rather, was stopped. Last night’s sentence was empty. There was no meaning for him in it, nothing underpinning the words. Out loud: “This is nuts.” It wasn’t that the proposition was false: it was that he no longer understood what it meant, true or false. He recited the lead-up arguments, and though he could recall them perfectly, those also were empty cardboard boxes. If the shower stall were to be prompt filled with centipedes, he could have felt no more surprise or fright. He leaned his hand against the stall wall to steady himself, and the earlier waves of strangeness again rushed in. He saw, then regarded, his hand

…and his fingers lacked a something, something fundamental. His universe slid away: he didn’t know how many fingers were in front of him. “How many” was now far too slippery for him to hold. He moved them, wriggled them. He realized he was missing something important about them, but didn’t know what. He struggled to focus, slowly, very deliberately, to lift a finger: ONE. Focusing even harder, he lifted another finger while keeping the first one lifted. Like a climber trusting all his safety to a fingernail purchase on an ice ledge: TWO. He panted in exhaustion. He couldn’t hold any longer and fell through numberless air. He shut off the shower and staggered out, wrapped a robe around himself and collapsed on his sofa.

He reached for his cellphone. He would call his co-author, Brian. He studied the symbols on the phone, and again, sweating in exhaustion, found one that he thought he could punch to reach Brian. He pushed it, listened in terror and hope as it rang. “Brian! I can’t…two…”, as bereft as a small child having his best , most favorite toy snatched away.

“All … gone”, Brian as devastated at his end. “I'm … nothing.”

***

Every person in the world that day discovered their world rendered barren of Number. No more fours, even threes, of anything; only a leaking, makeshift ark of twos to survive whatever desolation was bound to come. An apocalypse it surely was for the human species: ragged and localized devastations . It was brutal, clumsy attacks of neighbors against neighbors for dwindling supplies. And if, as prophecies foretold, the apocalypse was to be heralded by inevitable horsemen, no one alive could tell their number.


message 18: by Sharon (new)

Sharon Kraftchak (smkraftchak) | 123 comments Leaving Home (734 words)
Copyright by S. M. Kraftchak

Cora’s gnarled hand rested on the knob of her closed front door as she peered from the foyer into her living room, one last time. The doilies under the kerosene lamps were freshly starched and protected the newly polished mahogany end tables. Dominating the small corniced room was a blue Victorian style couch with curled bolstered arms. Over its back lay a neatly folded pink and blue granny square afghan she’d made for her first born. A frown tugged at the corners of her mouth, and she caught her breath at the thought of what he might have become. Forcing her eyes to move on, she checked the corner Abby the Tabby had claimed as his own the day he first came home, after her emerged from her pocket. It seemed bare without his over-round gray body there, but she’d see him soon. The lace curtains at the window where he’d watched for her to return every day from work were pulled closed over the roller blinds so no one could see in. She glanced at the clock on the mantel and curled her fingers tighter on the knob. It still insisted it was later than it was. She took a deep breath. Nothing was going to rush these final moments.
A voice from outside called, “Cora, are you ready to go?”
She smiled thinking that the condition of her living room, for what was coming, wouldn’t matter to anyone else but her.
The slender lady with gray hair nodded in recognition when she joined the young man on the porch. She tugged at the collar of her coveralls and then pulled the door of her Victorian mansion closed. “I’m ready,” she said as she led the way down the front steps.
“You know, Mother, you didn’t have to clean the house or even close the door. It’s not going to matter soon.”
Cora paused with one foot on a higher step and turned to face the six-foot tall man with a wide-eyed expression “Well it will matters to me.”
“If it makes you happy…”
Smiling, Cora headed toward the empty street at a brisk pace. “Yes, it does, and if more people had paid attention to all the little things long ago, we wouldn’t be...”
“Yes, Ma’am. I know and I don’t need a lecture. I’m a Fleet Commander, not your little boy.”
Cora stopped, reached up and pinched the man’s cheek. “Jacob, you’ll always be my little boy.”
He gently took her hand from his face and kissed her fingers. “Please, I have a reputation to protect.”
Cora snickered and continued walking. “Has the whole sector been cleared?”
“Yes, Ma’am, we saved yours for last as you requested.”
“Is my shuttle waiting?”
“Yes, Ma’am.”
Twenty minutes later as the shuttle rose, Cora watched the large pond at the end of her street where she had learned to swim shrink to the size of a puddle. “Are they sure this will work?”
“As sure as they can be.”
“Is it really necessary to—”
“Please fasten your seatbelts, Commanders,” called the pilot. “We’re about to leave the protective dome.”
A moment later, the trans-atmospheric shuttle started bouncing and swaying back and forth as the pilot shouted adjustments to his co-pilot. Rain lashed the shuttle windows and then was replaced by thick clouds that condensed on the window in tiny droplets before leaping away in the wind.
“Any more questions about it being necessary?” Jacob shouted to Cora.
“I guess I’ve been planet-side for a while, huh?”
Jacob raised his eyebrows and nodded.
“Are we the last to leave Earth?”
“Near as we can tell, Ma’am. We initiated whole environmental transfers where moving the indigenous population would be too disruptive.”
“And has the population been tactfully separated for the maneuver?” Cora shouted and then suddenly lowered her voice as the shuttle emerged above the clouds into silent space.
“Yes, Ma’am.”
“Which group will you be with?” Cora asked Jacob.
“I’m staying here to monitor the progress of the nanites after they’re introduced. We hope they can reprogram the remaining live biological material and repair the damaged genomes.”
“I look forward to seeing the results.”
“If they don’t work, there won’t be anything left to see.”
Cora looked down at her gnarled hands and then up into her son’s face. “I’ll miss you.”
“Don’t worry, Mother, I’ll leave you a note on the end table.”


message 19: by Jot (new)

Jot Russell | 1141 comments Mod
Time's up! Please cast your votes.


message 20: by Dean (new)

Dean Hardage | 82 comments Jot, how are we voting now?


message 21: by Paula (new)

Paula | 859 comments See Jot's note to me on the "comments" discussion here, Dean.


message 22: by Jot (new)

Jot Russell | 1141 comments Mod
I got your vote Dean. Still waiting to hear from:
Richard Bunning
Chris Nance
Ben Boyd, Jr.
Karl Freitag
Joseph Williams
J.J. Alleson
Thaddeus Howze


message 23: by Karl (new)

Karl Freitag | 69 comments I sent my vote thru Goodreads mail system.


message 24: by Ronald (new)

Ronald Jones | 58 comments Also sent mine through the GR mail.


message 25: by Thaddeus (new)

Thaddeus Howze | 51 comments Sent mine through the Goodreads mail system, almost a day ago now. I was certain you would have it by now.


message 26: by Paula (new)

Paula | 859 comments Goodreads may be celebrating its own off-work holiday? Do candy-coated machines celebrate? Probably best to check with anyone whose vote's not timely in by deadline, and/or extend deadline a day, given it's the big English-speaking countries' holiday; can't imagine anyone here minds a day's delay to get an accurate count. . . .


message 27: by Ronald (new)

Ronald Jones | 58 comments Checked GR. It's saying my vote went through to Jot. (Once again, got it under the wire.)


message 28: by Jot (new)

Jot Russell | 1141 comments Mod
Didn't hear from Richard or Chris. Posting the results...


message 29: by Jot (new)

Jot Russell | 1141 comments Mod
First round finalists:
Rearranging Worlds by Jack McDaniel
Fatal Error by Dean Hardag
Whatever the Mind Wants by J.F. Williams
Final Ship to Mars by Helen Doran-Wu
Between a Rock and a Soft Place by J.J. Alleson
Pick A Number by Andrew Gurcak

Votes needed from:
Dean Hardag
Ben Boyd, Jr


message 30: by Ben (new)

Ben Boyd, Jr. (bhboyd2012) | 39 comments Jack Mc gets my vote. Sorry if I am too late.


message 31: by Jot (new)

Jot Russell | 1141 comments Mod
Finalists:
Rearranging Worlds by Jack McDaniel
Between a Rock and a Soft Place by J.J. Alleson

Votes needed from:
Jeremy Lichtman
Dean Hardag
Karl Freitag
Marianne Petrino
Helen Doran-Wu
J.J. Alleson
S. M. Kraftchak


message 32: by Jot (new)

Jot Russell | 1141 comments Mod
The winner has been announced.


message 33: by Jot (new)

Jot Russell | 1141 comments Mod
First round votes (* represents one vote and # is five):
Richard Bunning =>
Jack McDaniel => Thaddeus, Jot, JJ, JF
Jeremy Lichtman => **Dean, JF, Thaddeus, Andrew
Chris Nance =>
Heather MacGillivray => **Andrew, Helen, Jot, Kalifer, Thaddeus, Jeremy, Jack
Dean Hardag => **Chris, Kalifer, Karl
Ben Boyd, Jr. => Karl
Kalifer Deil => ****Jack, Richard, Helen, JF
Karl Freitag => **Dean, Richard, Jot
J.F. Williams => **Helen, JJ, Marianne, Greg, Jot
Marianne Petrino => **Helen, SM, Jot
Paula Friedman => **JJ, Jack/Helen, Marianne/Karl, Andrew, Thaddeus
Helen Doran-Wu => **JF, Andrew, Marianne
Jot Russell => **Chris, Dean
J.J. Alleson => **Andrew, Jot, Marianne, Helen, Richard, Greg
Thaddeus Howze => ****Jack, Kalifer, Paula, Andrew
Greg Krumrey => ****Jack
Andrew Gurcak => **JJ, Richard, Thaddeus, JF, Jeremy
S. M. Kraftchak => **JF, Thaddeus, Helen, Jot, Marianne
Carrie Zylka => ****Jack, Jot, JJ, Andrew, Chris
Ron => SM, Jack, JF, Chris, Marianne

First round finalists:
Rearranging Worlds by Jack McDaniel
Fatal Error by Dean Hardag
Whatever the Mind Wants by J.F. Williams
Final Ship to Mars by Helen Doran-Wu
Between a Rock and a Soft Place by J.J. Alleson
Pick A Number by Andrew Gurcak

Second round votes:
Richard Bunning =>
Jack McDaniel => Thaddeus, Jot, ***JJ, JF
Jeremy Lichtman => **Dean, JF, Thaddeus, Andrew
Chris Nance =>
Heather MacGillivray => **Andrew, Helen, Jot, Kalifer, Thaddeus, Jeremy, Jack
Dean Hardag => **Chris, Kalifer, Karl
Ben Boyd, Jr. => Karl; #*Jack
Kalifer Deil => #*Jack, Richard, Helen, JF
Karl Freitag => **Dean, Richard, Jot
J.F. Williams => **Helen, JJ, Marianne, Greg, Jot
Marianne Petrino => **Helen, SM, Jot
Paula Friedman => ***JJ, Jack/Helen, Marianne/Karl, Andrew, Thaddeus
Helen Doran-Wu => **JF, Andrew, Marianne
Jot Russell => **Chris, Dean
J.J. Alleson => **Andrew, Jot, Marianne, Helen, Richard, Greg
Thaddeus Howze => #*Jack, Kalifer, Paula, Andrew
Greg Krumrey => #*Jack
Andrew Gurcak => ***JJ, Richard, Thaddeus, JF, Jeremy
S. M. Kraftchak => **JF, Thaddeus, Helen, Jot, Marianne
Carrie Zylka => #*Jack, Jot, JJ, Andrew, Chris
Ron => SM, #*Jack, JF, Chris, Marianne

Finalists:
Rearranging Worlds by Jack McDaniel
Between a Rock and a Soft Place by J.J. Alleson

Third round votes:
Richard Bunning =>
Jack McDaniel => Thaddeus, Jot, #JJ, JF
Jeremy Lichtman => Dean, JF, Thaddeus, Andrew; ##***Jack
Chris Nance =>
Heather MacGillivray => Andrew, Helen, Jot, Kalifer, Thaddeus, Jeremy, ##**Jack
Dean Hardag => Chris, Kalifer, Karl
Ben Boyd, Jr. => Karl; ##***Jack
Kalifer Deil => ##***Jack, Richard, Helen, JF
Karl Freitag => Dean, Richard, Jot; ##***Jack
J.F. Williams => Helen, #JJ, Marianne, Greg, Jot
Marianne Petrino => Helen, SM, Jot; ##***Jack
Paula Friedman => #JJ, Jack/Helen, Marianne/Karl, Andrew, Thaddeus
Helen Doran-Wu => JF, Andrew, Marianne; #***Jack
Jot Russell => Chris, Dean; #JJ
J.J. Alleson => Andrew, Jot, Marianne, Helen, Richard, Greg; ##***Jack
Thaddeus Howze => ##***Jack, Kalifer, Paula, Andrew
Greg Krumrey => ##***Jack
Andrew Gurcak => #JJ, Richard, Thaddeus, JF, Jeremy
S. M. Kraftchak => JF, Thaddeus, Helen, Jot, Marianne; ##***Jack
Carrie Zylka => ##***Jack, Jot, JJ, Andrew, Chris
Ron => SM, ##***Jack, JF, Chris, Marianne

Winner:
Rearranging Worlds by Jack McDaniel


message 34: by Richard (new)

Richard Bunning (richardbunning) | 1 comments I never got any notification.
If I miss one single notification I get no more. Is anyone else in that position or is it just to do with my GR set up?


message 35: by Paula (new)

Paula | 859 comments I don't get any. But that seems to be how I have GR set up. Only a problem if one takes the voting seriously, probably.


message 36: by Jeremy (new)

Jeremy Lichtman | 248 comments If you edit your account, there's an "Email" tab, with highly customizable settings for notifications.


message 37: by Jack (new)

Jack McDaniel | 237 comments Also, most of the emails from Goodreads will probably end up in your junk mail.


message 38: by Chris (new)

Chris Nance | 437 comments I also don't get notifications, I'll have to check my settings and my spam filter.


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