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Science Fiction Microstory Contest
September 2018 Microstory Contest - Stories Only
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Aug 27, 2018 02:19PM
The following rules are from Jot Russell, moderator for this contest:
To help polish our skills and present a flavour 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 goodreads (GR) 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.
4) You have until midnight EST on the 22nd day of the month to post your story to the GR 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 send me a single private vote (via GR or to firstname.lastname@example.org) 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 GR and the LI Sci-Fi group.
8) For each month, there will be three discussion threads:
a) Stories - For the stories and the contest results only.
b) Comments - For discussions about the stories and contest. Constructive criticism is okay, but please avoid any spoilers about the stories or degrading comments directed towards any individuals. If you want to suggest a change to the contest, feel free to start a discussion about the idea before making a formal motion. If another member seconds a motion, a vote can be held. I will abstain from voting, but will require a strong two-thirds majority to override my veto.
c) Critiques - Each member can provide at most one critique per story, with a single rebuttal by the author to thank the critic and/or comment to offer the readers the mind set of the story to account for issues raised by the critique. Critiques should be of a professional and constructive manner. 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, I will post the new contest threads.
Theme: Rip Van Winkle effect
1) Painful loss
2) Compensating gain
Aug 28, 2018 12:30PM
Hollerith and the Flaming Arrow of Time
"Much knowledge has been lost over the centuries to fire. The several burnings of the Library in Alexandria destroyed, perhaps, a million books. Possibly the greatest of such disasters were the accidental burning of the 1931 UK census, which resulted in a data gap between 1921 and 1951, an entire generation, and also the destruction of the US 1890 census, from a period of immense population growth, and prior to consistent metrical record-keeping." -- anonymous archivist, 2025
Construction had halted, although the air was still so dusty that the historians from Georgetown University wore face-masks. Dozens of workers hovered, equipment idle, watching.
"Looks like an Art Deco sarcophagus," somebody muttered.
"Time traveling Egyptians? Wasn't there a movie like that?"
"I think they were aliens. It looks like that though, with those sculptures along the sides."
The box had been uncovered during renovations to the basement of the Herbert C. Hoover Building. A wall had been demolished to reveal an empty rectangular space, which contained--
"It's nickel-plated," said a professor. He held up his phone. "Both the conductivity and the coloration check out."
"So when? Nineteen twenties?"
"Maybe as late as the thirties. It's around a hundred years old."
"There are hinges on the other side. It's meant to be opened."
"Maybe we should call in the archaeology department first? I'd hate to break something."
Traffic being what it was, by the time the archaeologists arrived, many of the workers had drifted away, either heading for home, or moving on to other sections of the basement. An area around the sarcophagus, as everyone now called it, had been sealed off with plastic sheets, and the air filtered to reduce the dust. Somebody had suggested rigging a rope hoist to open the box, but, as it happened, the hinges were well oiled, and the inside of the box concealed a pneumatic system that helped raise what must have been a tremendously heavy lid. As the box opened, cold fog seeped out, and curled its way across the floor.
"That looks like sublimating liquid nitrogen. There must be a freezer inside. I wonder where the power comes from, and how it is still working?"
"There's somebody inside the box!" At this, people rushed over, shredding the sealed plastic sheeting. A man, possibly of late middle-age, lay cradled within thick padding. Bundles of chrome-plated piping, intermittently blinking lights, and tubes filled with clear liquid, filled the remainder of the tightly-packed space.
"Wait, everybody please get back, you're--"
"He's moving!" somebody shouted. “Call an ambulance!”
A significant police presence was required to cordon off the crowd at GWU. Inside the emergency department, the medical team had reluctantly permitted an historian from Georgetown to enter. The patient, although possibly disoriented, was evidently alive, and as hale as someone asleep for a century could be.
“Can you hear me?” the historian asked. “My name is Alita Espinal. I’m a history professor at the university.”
The patient nodded, and noiselessly moved his lips.
“You need to give him space,” said a nurse, with a shooing movement of her hands.
“Wait,” said the patient. “What year is it?”
“Twenty-thirty,” said professor Espinal.
“Nearly a hundred years,” said the patient, amazed. “Nikola said his machine would work. I was never all that certain.”
“Nikola?” asked the professor. “As in Tesla?”
“Yes. Putnam called him after the census burned.”
“Herbert Putnam is... I suppose, was... the Librarian of Congress. A fire in 1921 burned most of the census from 1890. Putnam called Tesla to see if he could recover anything from the mess. I was one of the clerks who entered the original data into the Hollerith machines. That was the first census that used them.”
“Why did he call you?” she asked him.
“I have an eidetic memory,” said the patient. “I can recall every line on the cards that I fed into the tabulating machine. It would take a lifetime to write them all down again though. Tesla said that one day people would have machines to read the contents of a person’s mind. He said that was beyond him, but he thought perhaps that he could freeze a person, let them hibernate like a bear. Maybe safely wake later. I’m already old. Nothing to lose. So I volunteered.”
“To be frozen?”
“Yes. I slept so that in time, perhaps, what was burned can exist again.”
(last edited Aug 29, 2018 05:49PM)
Aug 29, 2018 11:37AM
It was unexpected, the smells different…cold, sterile.
Deep inhalation, air wafted dead, my throat ached from protracted disuse. Ancient eyes adjusted to my sight’s return and a room I barely recognized materialized before me. This wasn’t the place I’d left. A coating of dust, neglected walls, had I slept too long this time?
Centuries were like minutes, fleeting when away. The sleep of countless years, I’d lived long enough, my life in snippets. An observation or sample here, a notation there, then sleep. There was a time when dreams of immortality were only that, and its quest drove us across vast oceans, even galaxies, ultimately concluding with eternal life to be impossible, death inescapable. Even so, we’d circumvented it, prolonged inevitability in a way…used it for ourselves.
Distant ages, ancient times, just a recent memory. I was often down for centuries, so I’d become accustomed to change – eroded landscapes, crumbling ruins, the aging of things once new. Kings rose. Empires fell. The growth of mankind peaked as humanity reached the heavens.
For me, it was only yesterday, countless decades actually though, to be true. Watcher, keeper, chronicler, mine was the sleep of prolonged life, though not really, arranged to awaken when each moment was right. A witness to the ages – my obsession, my blessing, maybe my curse.
Creaking bones dragged by cramped muscles, fingers shifted first, then my arms. Weak from immobility and timelessness, I rolled onto my side, angling myself upright. Head spinning, blood vessels constricted against gravity, returning flow to my brain. At least the room was dim, easier on tired eyes.
Cold feet on a colder floor, I found my bearings, rolling my shoulders to loosen up. “How long this time?” I wondered, then supposed, “Too long.” Ambient lighting, possible daylight, crept through deeper crevasses from beyond my little alcove. It seemed I’d just retreated, the somnolence field alluring. “Oh, if my colleagues could see me now. What would they say?”
Then, reality set in. “The fools have done it again.” A heavy sigh, I eased from my bed to the closet. The once finely carved Babylonian doors were decrepit now, mostly rotted away. They dropped from the jam and broke into pieces on the stone floor. The Egyptian, Laotian, even New York designer clothing inside were neither fit for gentleman nor pauper, disintegrating in my hand. And my collection, a museum of priceless antiquities, turned to dust.
I returned to my bed, my prized somnolence field. Programmed to awaken me during times of great unrest or substantive change, an emergency lockdown suggested an unforeseen apocalypse, any additional growth quelled, nothing more to observe. That’s why I’d overslept. “A million years?” I doubted. It could have been forever, had I not been so careful every time. I always reset the alarm.
My attention turned to the vault, a genetic library contained therein, still intact and fully functional, like my bed, designed to last an eternity, if necessary. I brushed the dust away, the diagnostics thankfully in the green.
The manual controls to my chamber were heavy with age, still I trudged up the incline to rediscover the daylight I’d missed. “The fools.” I had my confirmation, disheartened by the long devastated landscape – barren rock, lifeless dirt. “Every time, the same way – destruction. It seems the creatures of Earth just can’t stay alive for very long.”
“Sol Observer,” the chip in my wrist suddenly spoke.
“I’m here,” I replied.
“We detected a deactivation of your somnolence field. What is your status?”
“It seems like they were just getting started,” I lamented, revealing, “Humanity has terminated.”
“Then, your chronicle is complete?” the controller asked.
It was a serious question with a solemn finality. “Just data to pour over. A shame really. Such an interesting species, after all. I think I’d like to give them another go, if you don’t mind. See what they can really do. Maybe this time give them a little nudge here and there.”
“Sol Observer, you’re aware of the regulations. And this was the third round.”
“I know, I know,” I admitted, retreating below ground once more, entering my clearance code into the vault interface. Readying a new genetic cascade, it was available at my command. “But I’d like to get approval for an exception this time. They have so much potential. Our finest work yet, I think. I promise, no direct overt interference.” Fingers crossed.
A pause, then, “Authorization granted. Do you require additional supplies?”
“A few repairs would do nicely. Oh, and some new clothes, thanks.”
Sep 04, 2018 08:18PM
THE PERFECT MURDER
By Tom Olbert
As the starship separated from the Earth-orbiting space platform, Jack Dysler ground his teeth, his fist clenched on the gold cylinder he wore on the chain around his neck. 4…3…2…1.
He smiled as the tachyon engines engaged, acceleration pressing him back against the cushioned seat. As of this historic moment, he was beyond the reach of man. Glancing at the Earthside chronometer, he calculated that in about 20 minutes, Janice, his insufferable sister-in-law would discover his ex-wife’s body. He vividly recalled Corrinne’s face twisted in horror. Her eyes. He hadn’t given her time to scream. He kissed the gold cylinder containing her severed finger. The finger where he’d once placed a ring, the day she’d pledged eternal devotion. Only to humiliate him with divorce three years later. Now, a piece of her would be with him forever.
He laughed as he made his way, weightless, hand-over hand to the cryo pod.
Slipping out of his spacesuit, he entered the pod and prepared for his next great gamble.
Man’s first interstellar mission, investigating the first confirmed interstellar signal of intelligent origin. A thousand years out in cryo-sleep, and a thousand years back. He winced as the fluid injection tubes pierced his jugular and carotid. As numbness spread through him, his mind flooded with questions he’d asked himself a thousand times. What would he find out there? Would Earth still exist when he got back? Would he get back? He closed his eyes, his heart throbbing, more with thrill than fear as the pod automatically sealed, the robot timer engaging as the refrigerant mist slid over him.
2,000 years later…
He heard a faint hiss and felt a wave of warm air flowing over him. A tingling shock as blood rushed through long-dormant capillaries. Pain, as his lungs filled with air. Light streamed through a soft blur. He’d experienced this only once before, a thousand years earlier, when the robot ship had reached the other solar system. Then, he’d opened the airlock and stepped out in his space suit onto the frozen surface of a dead world under a cold, black sky. Nothing to greet him but icy ruins thousands of years dead. Would nothing better await him now that he’d returned to Earth?
He staggered, dizzy, wincing as he impatiently waited for his vision to clear. He felt soft, human hands supporting him. People, he realized with joy as his vision finally adjusted. He staggered to the viewport and sobbed with joy. Beautiful orbiting cities of towering crystalline and silver spires, high above an Earth as blue and beautiful as ever. He chuckled, and clenched the cylinder around his neck. “I win, bitch.”
He sipped his wine, moonlight streaming through the bay window of his abode on Earth. “Enjoying the wine, Jack?” He started at the sound of a familiar voice. He glanced up, a shadow appearing in the passageway. “As sweet as the wine you drank the day you married my sister?” He choked, the wine turning to vinegar in his throat. The goblet slipped from his numbed fingers, clattering to the floor as she stepped into the moonlight. “Long time, brother in law,” Janice said coldly, moving towards him, her dark eyes boring straight through him. Was he dreaming?
“How?” he asked in a strangled whisper, an icy paralysis slipping through him.
“Oh, I had help. The last survivor of the alien world you visited reached Earth and found me…the night after they cremated Corrinne’s body.” She trembled, her fists clenched. “I’d swam out, into the deep ocean where its ship had crashed. I didn’t know. I just wanted to die. It reached up and seized me. It was dying. Its mind gone. Only blind biological survival remained. It absorbed my DNA. All of me, including memory. To adapt. To survive. It became me.” What she turned into was too horrible to imagine as it slithered towards him, snatching the cylinder from his neck. He was weak with fright as the thing turned back into Janice. “I was adopted,” she said, slipping her dead sister’s severed finger from the cylinder. “Corrinne and I grew up together, but never shared DNA.” Her tongue snatched the finger like a frog snaring a fly. “Until now.” She swallowed it. “Now, I can be one with her forever.” He gasped as she changed again. Into Corrinne. “Miss me, lover?” She smiled, her teeth growing long and sharp.
He didn’t have time to scream.
(last edited Sep 20, 2018 08:24AM)
Sep 06, 2018 11:31AM
Let Sleeping Dogs Lie by C. Lloyd Preville
Copyright © 2018
Ralph, King of Euphoria, had been gaming the place longer than he could remember.
Earlier, Earth’s scientists had modified sleep to offer computer-controlled experiences more vivid than reality, so dreams ruled. The computers imposed Euphoria and Euphoria imposed “reality.”
Ralph the Great adjusted the heavy gold band of his crown and tried not to look bored. He glanced around his court and then his eyes locked on Bradford, his latest political enemy.
“Duke Bradford, three adjacent duchies falling under your tender mercies is a bad idea.”
The Duke impatiently adjusted his broadsword belt. “Why will you not acknowledge the wisdom of my proposal, my King? We save money through consolidation and thereby contribute more tax revenues to the crown.” He smiled wolfishly.
“My reasons, Duke, do not require explanation. I suggest you increase revenues otherwise, so I’m not forced to replace you for incompetence.”
Duke Bradford’s face turned a dark, angry red. The crowd of onlookers, mostly there to request their own favors in turn, whispered the delights of courtly drama to one another.
Ralph knew what came next. His crown was a hard-won trophy of many political challenges.
Duke Bradford finally spoke, spittle gathering with his rage. “I call you out, Ralph! It is my right to personal combat to settle the matter!” He pulled his broadsword: the famous, never defeated Bradford steel.
Ralph stepped off his throne, threw back his robes and unsheathed his own blade. They advanced to the center of a widening circle of frightened sycophants.
Ralph had noticed weaknesses in his fighting skills recently. Even though no one aged in Euphoria, he felt a creeping decline both mentally and physically. He figured it was wear and tear. He was the oldest remaining Euphoria resident; all his contemporaries were dead from battles lost.
Bradford struck first. Although Ralph caught the blow with his lower blade, it sent him reeling backwards, ears ringing as loudly as his sword. Ralph recovered and moved to attack, but again Bradford struck with inhuman strength.
His sword must be spellbound,
Euphoria exchanged magic spells for wealth. The really powerful enjoyed exceptionally strong spells. Bradford must have exchanged ten times a large fortune for this one.
Again Bradford struck, and the blow tore Ralph’s broadsword from his numbed hands. Ralph, in mortal danger, pulled his short sword from his belt.
Bradford laughed out loud. "What do you intend to do with that butter knife, Ralph? You have precious little time for a last meal.” Again, he advanced.
Ralph’s backup sword was also charmed. Where Bradford’s delivered overwhelming impact, Ralph’s featured supreme sharpness. Nothing could resist it.
Bradford swung another immense blow, but Ralph countered. With a screech and bright spark, Bradford’s weapon was cleaved in two, the larger part spinning off into the screaming crowd, leaving Bradford staring at a mere two-foot stump of steel. Now it was Ralph’s turn to grin wolfishly.
Ralph immediately attacked, and Bradford’s shortened weapon was further stunted as Ralph closed. Bradford realized his fate and turned to run, but Ralph stabbed him deeply, immediately ending the fight.
Euphoria disappeared in a painful flash. Ralph suddenly found himself in a transparent tank surrounding a padded bench on which he was lying, face-down. The last of a clear liquid was draining from the tank, and he felt cold, soaked, and his eyes hurt.
He looked around the room outside the tank and spotted a short, bald man in a lab coat, fiddling with a large control board.
“Who are you, and where am I?” Ralph demanded.
The man looked up, startled, obviously able to hear him. “You are in reality processing, and I am your keeper.” He said. "I’ve attended you for many years.”
Ralpn sat up painfully, noticing his naked limbs were saggy, wrinkled, and covered with brown spots. “What’s happened to me?” he demanded.
“You are the first to become too old to interface with the Euphoria System.” The attendant spoke respectfully. You will be removed by a medical team. Your life was a triumph; I watched the monitors.”
“So I am too old--what is to become of me now?”
“Not much, frankly—you will go to the hospital soon. But savor your life’s achievements while you still can. You are more fortunate than most.”
“What of achievements here?”
“All lives end--whatever life you experience, you behold your victories at the end of days."
Ralph the Great was transported to the hospital, and immediately euthanized by injection--like a dog.
Sep 07, 2018 10:03AM
Time Slip by S. M. Kraftchak
Running his fingers through his short red hair, Jared strode into the mess hall. He glanced at the twenty empty tables before he addressed the dozen remaining colonists seated around one table. “Thank you, Qila,” he said to the woman standing by the table.
Jared inhaled deeply. “The good news is we’ve stabilized the Gaoliad. She will make the Dochas colony.”
The gathering burst into jubilant conversation, hugging each other.
Jared raised his voice. “The bad news...we’ll be fifteen years late travelling at sub-light, AND, we have enough O2 for only half of us to survive...”
Silence drowned the group’s enthusiasm.
“Unless, we put all but two of us in stasis pods.”
“They’re designed for short medical procedures, not extended use,” a woman said.
Qila nodded. “We’re aware of that, Mother. We believe they’ll last, with modifications.”
The group remained silent.
Jared folded his arms. “We’ll put everyone in stasis after dinner. The longer we delay, the more reserves we use. I’m sorry, there’s no alternative.”
Qila helped her mother into the last stasis pod and kissed her cheek as she laid down. “I’ll miss you.”
“You won’t have time. You’ll be too busy.”
Qila tipped her head and gazed at her mother through tear-filled eyes. “There’s something you need to know.”
“It’s okay, Dear, I know the modifications won’t work. I’m willing to sacrifice myself—”
“No, Mother! They’ll work! I did the modifications myself. Jared and I were going to tell you at dinner, before the meteor took out half the ship.”
“Tell me what?”
Qila looked up at Jared who joined them on the opposite side of the pod.
“Helen, I wanted to ask permission to marry Qila when we reach Dochas.”
Joy and disappointment wrestled across Helen’s face as she took Jared’s hand and smiled tearfully. “Yes! But don’t wait.”
Qila kissed her mother’s hand. “I’m not getting married without my best friend there. You’re going to give me away…”
Mother’s expression morphed into a scowl as she shook Qila’s hand. “You’re NOT waiting. I expect a grandbaby when I wake up.” She looked at Jared, who nodded, and then squeezed her daughter’s hand. “Let’s do this.”
“Helen, breathe slowly. You’re fine. Open your eyes,” Jared said holding her hand.
With a halting breath, Helen opened her eyes and gazed at the white-haired man. “Who are you?”
“I’m Jared,” he said and smiled.
“Jared! Where’s Qila? How long have I been asleep? Did we make Dorchas?” Helen tried to sit up.
“Easy does it. Let me help you.” Jared moved behind the woman, who appeared to be half his age, to lift her into a wheelchair. “Yes, everyone had given up hope. They celebrated for a week. You’re going to love it here. Would you like to see our gardens?”
“Is Qila there?”
Jared paused. “Yes, she’s there, and a few others I’m sure you want to meet.”
As he turned the wheelchair, Helen gasped at the view. “Oh! It’s even more beautiful than I imagined,” she said scanning beyond the wall-sized window where rich gold, orange, and red leafed trees were anchored by dark-green flower-dappled shrubs.
“Computer, open wall,” Jared said and pushed Helen into the fragrant garden. A minute later they arrived in the center court. A woman stood next to a rosebush with her back to them, singing to the infant in her arms.
The woman turned and smiled.
“You’re not…but you’re a spitting image.”
“I’m Hope, your granddaughter, and this…,” she knelt next to Helen. “…is Helene, your great-granddaughter.”
Helen caressed Hope’s cheek before she brushed the sleeping infant’s cheek with two fingers. “I never thought I’d know such profound joy. I thought for sure those stasis pods wouldn’t work. Now where’s Qila so I can congratulate her?”
Hope’s smile evaporated as Jared knelt, turned Helen toward him, and frowned.
Helen’s face pinched with anguish. “Tell me.”
“The pods worked better than we’d planned…too well, in fact, all lasted at least five years beyond our arrival, twenty-five years ago. You’re the last to emerge this past month when you showed signs of waking.”
“So, I’ve been asleep—?”
“…for sixty-three years,” Jared whispered.
“And where is Qila?” Helen demanded with tears rolling down her cheeks.
“Qila’s ashes and our second child’s ashes, a son, are buried under that rose bush.” Jared pointed where Hope had been singing to Helene. “They died the year before we arrived, because we had no pod to save her from low O2 complications during childbirth.”
(last edited Sep 18, 2018 01:46PM)
Sep 18, 2018 03:34AM
By Karl Freitag
It’s simple really.
When you’re five years old, a year is 20% of your life.
When you’re 50 years old, a year is 2% of your life, follow me?
When you’re 500 years old, a year is .2% of your life.
The point I’m getting at is for each year you age, the next year seems a bit shorter.
For example, your childhood summers seemed endless. Right?
But by the time you're 50, a whole year has a perception of lasting 36.5 days.
By age 500, a year would have a perception of lasting 3.65 days.
By age 5,000, a year would have a perception of lasting about eight hours.
In other words, time whizzes by painfully fast.
Too fast to enjoy.
Almost a blur.
Back in the day, some people said this theory was flawed.
They said time was a constant.
That going to the Department of Motor Vehicles seemed like it took forever at any age.
At my age, it only seems like a few months.
Immortality has some advantages also.
Sep 19, 2018 06:07AM
©2018 by Jot Russell
My mind's eye searched within for awareness. I was alive, again. My first question was always the same, and the one I could never initially answer. "How long?"
I rolled my eyes forward and pushed my libs against the membrane that surrounded me. It resisted at first, but with the additional stretch of my torso, my fingers cut through the brane and into the cold waters of the Pacific. It was dark within the inner chambers of a wreck of one their ancient war vessels, and I smiled at the irony of my choosing, as they had sent out newer ships to hunt us. Where best to hide my stasis?
Some have compared our species to the locus, who return after many years of sleep; some to salmon, who find their way back to the place of their birth. I know we are neither. We are the Phibiants.
In the year 2021, the much-anticipated launch of the James Webb Space Telescope lead to a catastrophic failure that resulted in a fireball for all to bear witness to. Instead of the global inspiration of distant worlds brought into real-life view, the Earth mourned its loss. But as with any engineering project, sometimes the best way to build something is to build it once, throw it away, and then build it again from scratch to include all that was learned in the initial project. James Web II was twice the size and half the launch weight. And when its hexagon mirrors extended out eight years later to its full 13 meters, their view of the cosmos unlocked more than just deeper secrets into the Universe, it showed the presence of alien life on our distant, watery worlds.
Built within the design of their telescope was the ability to beam high-energy light messages to the dark, night-time sky of these distant planets. It took five-plus years before we received the first message and then another five before the return of our would-be reply, but reply we did. In simple form, "We're coming."
There was no time table, no mention of who we were, or how many might come. Why should we?
Earth years past in fear and anticipation of first contact. Weapons research was given full funding, while linguistics worked to form new messages in hopes we might reply, again. Nothing.
Finally, on the fifteenth year of our initial response, their telescope spotted the first of our vessels. The craft was initially thought to them to be an asteroid on a collision course with Earth. Though, their longer exposure showed our vessel to be perfectly spherical and metallic in nature.
Earth's gun-ships reached the orbit of Jupiter before their rendezvous with our craft. The knock on the "door" was something, this time, we couldn't ignore. I remember that day as if it were yesterday, though it must be now a hundred years past.
Our crew, at the time, was but a couple dozen within the living, and another thousand within the stasis. No, this was not a forced hibernation of the crew for the sake of space travel, this stasis is the primary state of our lives. We wake, we breed, we sleep and regenerate improved, like the recreation of their telescope. I guess evolution saw to our method of population control, but it also helped with spreading our seed throughout the galaxy.
We showed our friendly and peaceful side, agreeing to all our requirements for colonization, but what they didn't understand was our procreation and longevity. It wasn't until my third span in our Seattle settlement when backlash against our expansion began. Yes, you could call it a war.
Ravished from the long sleep, I grabbed a few lobsters that had also made their home within the wreck and made my way out of the depths. There, in the distant shore, my heart surged with happiness. The city had been transformed in our fashion, with settlement vessels spanning the coast. I emerged with others from the sea to learn that my sleep had last twenty of their years, no our years. With their cities reduced to ashes, it was only a matter of time now before our expansion across the Earth is complete.
Where to next, I wondered?
Sep 19, 2018 08:23AM
The Sleep by Carrie Zylka
Sharon leaned back in the chair, the biometric screeners happily blinked around her as she squirmed to get more comfortable. Taking a deep breath, she sighed and allowed her consciousness to connect to the Sleep.
Her form gingerly stepped onto the glowing strands of information and began making her way to her destination.
Danny and Matt monitored her from the big room next door. “She’s going in deep again.” Dan muttered.
Danny nodded. “Bring her out at the four hour mark.”
“She’ll kill us if we do.”
“I don’t care, these prolonged Sleeps she keeps taking is affecting her in weird ways. Last week she kept mis-judging the end of the wall and slammed her shoulder into it every time she went to the restroom.”
Matt made a face. “That’s no good.”
Sharon danced among the data streams, plucking at this tendril and that. Always searching for what she had no business accessing. But she didn’t care. The Government had given her an opportunity and she would be damned if she was about to squander it.
She read through emails, often excited at a bit of data only to find out it was a dead end, but always going back to find more.
This time was different, she felt a sense of urgency. She was running out of time and knew it.
She pushed forward with her mind, searching, seeking, trying to find that tiny bit of data she so desperately needed.
“We’re at the four hour mark.” Danny said glancing at the glowing red clock above them. “We should bring her out.”
“No, control said to give her whatever leeway she wanted.” Matt sipped his coffee.
Moving his face closer to the numbers flashing across the screen, Danny squinted. “What is it that they have her chasing down?”
“I think she said drug sales. Looking for communications around big pharma.”
“When why the hell is she sifting through sex traffic communications?”
The images and data communications that Sharon touched with her mind made her want to vomit. Child pornography, child enslavement and child trafficking was big business on the black market and apparently the more violent the better. Her virtual hand strummed along the lines and made a sudden fist at one particular email.
Half way through it ended. “No!” She screamed and began frantically sorting through the broken emails all around her, after what seemed like an eternity she found the rest of the email.
Back in the room, her physical body violently flinched and everything went dark.
Sharon launched from the chair and staggered forward towards the door, hands outstretched.
Matt and Danny rushed into the room to help steady her.
“What is it? What did you see?” Matt asked manually checking the pulse at her throat.
Sharon began sobbing, unable to make her mouth work. The effects of the Sleep were harsh, she’d know that when she’d first been recruited for the project. But this time, she feared her motor functions had been permanently affected. She made a desperate moaning noise.
The men carried her into a room designed for meditation and serenity. They laid her down on a couch and Danny went to call his supervisor.
Not long after, Dr. Willem arrived and knelt beside her, giving her a perfunctory exam. “You’ll be alright, you know it’s the effect from being in the Sleep for too many hours. Probably seemed like days or weeks to you. Luckily it wasn’t, a week in the Sleep would destroy your brain function.” He made a tsk, tsk noise as he tapped her forehead. “What in the world keeps making you push these limits Sharon? We’ve had this discussion before.”
Finally, able to form words with her mouth Sharon lurched forward and grabbed his jacket in both hands. “I found her doc….I found my little sister. I know where she is and now I can get her back!”
Sep 19, 2018 02:21PM
Goodbyes and Greetings
“Jamie you have to go now!” Wind-whipped snow stung Erik’s partially exposed face. The last C-130 out of McMurdo Station sat on the frozen runway, propellers turning furiously.
“But they can’t just leave you here!”
“They have to, and I volunteered! The Captain says there is too much ice on the plane and they have to reduce weight! There’s no de-icer left to spray on the wings, so if you don’t leave now you’re condemning everyone else to the same fate!”
An Air Force loadmaster began pulling Jamie out of his arms.
“We have to go now ma’am!”
The C-130 began moving ever so slowly, its red beacons and anti-collision lights eerily illuminating the Antarctic landscape.
Erik pushed her away and Jamie allowed herself to be dragged up the cargo ramp. She stared back at him as it slowly closed and Erik felt at that moment his entire world slip away.
Pulling his ski mask back over his rapidly numbing nose, he watched the hulking shape of the transport lumber to the end of the runway and turn sharply in preparation for takeoff. The light in one of the aft windows suddenly went dark, and he knew, though he could not be certain, that she was watching him.
Turboprops thrumming with herculean power, the C-130 rotated at the runway’s midpoint and climbed skyward. It rapidly disappeared into the deepening twilight.
Erik watched until he could no longer see it. He looked around at the equipment and sample cases that had been hastily ejected from the transport. Well, at least we saved all the data, he thought to himself. It was cold consolation for what he had just lost and gave him no solace for the immediate future. He heard the crunch of snow burdened footfalls behind him and waited for their owner to appear next to him.
“Are they away?”
“You know they are.”
“It’s for the best of course.”
“Easy for you to say Felix. I have to live with what I’ve just done - making her think I’m condemned to death, alone at the bottom of the world.”
The other man clapped Erik on the back.
“Time heals all wounds Erik – and soon you’re going to have more time than any man in history. C’mon, the team is waiting.”
The Sno-Cat ride passed in a blur as it headed out past McMurdo’s established boundaries. Erik tried to see out of the heavily fogged windows but soon gave up. Besides, he already knew where he was going. Tunnel Shaft Two was the most clandestine site ever maintained by the United States, and known to only a few key military and scientific personnel. Overseen by DARPA, it was the blackest of black operations – for good reason.
“After you’re finished with medical and de-con, meet me in the chamber,” said Felix. “And for heaven’s sake don’t touch anything!”
Erik nodded his understanding and moved slowly towards the bio-suited assistants waiting for him. His thoughts turned to Jamie, and he wrestled furiously with the magnitude of what he was about to do.
Ancient power coursed through the veins of the ship buried under the Antarctic ice. It was there by design, not by accident, an extraterrestrial invitation to journey across the universe.
Erik stepped hesitantly into the chamber, clad in a thin black body suit and struggling to keep his anxiety in check. Felix stood to one side in full bio-hazard gear.
“Are you ready?”
“No, but let’s get this over with before I lose my nerve.”
A shimmering, crystal-like cylinder stood along the far side of the chamber. It made a distinct, but not unpleasant hum and thin tendrils of vapor emanated from it, curling around Erik’s ankles. The instructions from another world were simple: step inside.
“One giant leap for mankind Erik,” said Felix. “Give me a twenty count so I can get out.”
“Felix!” The other man halted mid-stride at the chamber’s threshold.
“Make sure she’s okay for me.”
Erik counted slowly to twenty, then stepped inside the cylinder. His eyes instantly felt heavy and blackness closed in around him.
Suddenly, he became aware of soft light and warmth encompassing his body, and then a smiling face looking down at him.
She, and she was clearly female, had light blue skin and a full head of graceful silver hair that fell to the middle of her back.
“Hello Errrrrik, I am J’A’Me,” she said, the human words foreign to her mouth.
“Welcome to my world.”
(750 words in story) Justin Sewall © 2018
Sep 22, 2018 12:43PM
“Your honor, my client pleads ‘not guilty’ to this charge. When the incident happened, it wasn’t technically illegal to affect alien life on extrasolar planets.”
The judge stated “Be that as it may, your client knowingly destroyed or abetted the destruction of a then known alien colony. The state will now begin its opening argument in the case.”
The prosecutor started his argument. “Your honor and members of the jury, I intend to show beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant did abet the destruction of a known alien biological colony on an exoplanet. True she is not of our current times as she had been under cryosleep for over 50 years. But we cannot let such flagrant examples of xenocide become acceptable again in today’s society.”
The lawyer for the defendant started his opening argument. “We cannot judge a person from another time by our own time’s standards of behavior. Judge, and members of the jury, my client should not be judged so harshly. Ship’s logs support her claim that there were extenuating circumstances. Evidence shows the aliens in question to be extremely hazardous and should be avoided at all costs. Furthermore, the manner in which the incident happened had a positive outcome with regard to planetary protective principles we try abide by in settling the outworlds. All traces that earth-life had been there at all had been totally sterilized”
“Objection! cried the prosecution “The colony was ‘sterilized’ by a 40 Megaton explosion, your honor!”
“Sustained, but let defense continue.” The judge replied.
“Well, yes, to be sure, I agree it was a little overkill, but nonetheless could not have been prevented given the alleged circumstances. Unfortunately, the explosion also erased any exculpatory evidence within a 20 mile radius. My client has just undergone a traumatic experience, and should be treated fairly by this court.”
The judge interjected “Thank you, we may now here rebuttal from prosecution.”
The prosecutor continued “The defendant no doubt had a very traumatic experience on that planet, but she is nonetheless responsible for the extermination of perhaps the only known colony of this alien species. Our scientists have not found evidence of more of these species but what little aged and space-worn biological samples found aboard the ship when it arrived back to Earth. She claims this species was a threat to humanity and needed to be destroyed. Such a repugnant view certainly in our time, but a much held belief in her time, to be sure. It is believed by exobiologist experts with 99% certainty, that she has destroyed every last one of these aliens. Members of the jury, I would exhort you to convict the defendant of intentional mass xenocide and of at least the charge of negligent xenocide. Thank you.”
It was time for another defense rebuttal. “Media has certainly villified my client and I fear she may not be able to get a fair trial. News of her story has reached every colony. But some would consider her a hero, if in fact her claim is true that this species posed an existential threat to humankind. Who knows if this species did in fact pose such a threat. What if there was even a 1% chance of that being true, then in that case, I would put forward that she is indeed a hero and has potentially saved all of us from certain demise. She acknowledges her part in what happened but I would ask you members of the jury to consider the circumstances and the time from which she is from in making your decision. Thank you”
The jury exited the courtroom to deliberate.
A few hours later…
The foreman stood and all were waiting in expectation. The judge directed him to read out the verdict.
The foreman read out the verdict “For the charge of mass xenocide, the defendant has been found to be ‘not guilty’. A look of relief came over the faces of the defendant and her attorney. “For the charge of negligent xenocide, we find the defendant ‘guilty’”.
A look of worry came over her face. She whispered to her lawyer “what does this mean?”
The judge then proceeded to sentencing. “As our society has gone to what is seen as a more humane punishment system of terms of cryosleep, you have been sentenced to time-served.”
The judge continued “Congratulations, Ms. Ripley, you are free to go.”
(last edited Sep 22, 2018 10:18PM)
Sep 22, 2018 01:58PM
Town written and past
Copyright © 2018 by Paula Friedman. All rights reserved.
It was going to be a story, but of course it could not be done. It could not be done because, already, it had been done.
Yet she wished she might write this tale. It had come and she had read it in a town, about the town’s and her own younger years, those years’ triumphant cresting of bright, brave ideals. Indeed, the tale now seemed to stand out, sharp, fresh, from the smoke and heat and world sensed lost on the days’-long drive into the town and back. It stood out from those courteous voices, eyes slightly shifted away, as the young here would first take their seats and prepare to applaud (and of course they did applaud) as she’d prepare to read.
“You are old, father William”—no one quoted that, for they were too sophisticated for the prejudice of ageism; and they not only applauded but listened, for she read of times now legend to them. A tale now of the past.
There was also a tale of this week. A week of smoke and the fires burning forests everywhere between lost cities in the West, smoke and dust, ash, where, before, blue-green lakes reflected dark high-altitude skies in clearest air, or waves’ foam crashed white on gold rocky shores to mist inland amid cool damp green forests. This summer, all parts not ashes long had faded fast in the thick smoke haze. This week, forgetting briefly the smoke-tan skies, she led and read, each night, the town’s own memories of its brighter time, those clearer days of love and hope for a green and caring world.
In the surprisingly over-filled halls, each night they applauded, for hers was a tale of The Struggle (now, “the Day”). They applauded; they kept her water glass well filled. And asked questions she must answer, how and why and what-must-we-now-do? Each night, one, at least, would extend an arm to “help you, if you like,” down a podium’s stairs.
Afterward—after the applause, the young ones coming up to her, pages open for an autograph, ears open to her words—they’d walk away in pairs or small groups, shirts open perhaps, neckscarves blowing loosely in the breeze though their clothing was, generally, more utilitarian than—she would find herself thinking—“back in our Day.” Yet how much more knowledge of the world they now had! Surely from the Internet, she thought, “yet also we taught them well to look behind the veil, regard how the system works so as to change it!”
Oh yes, much good had grown up from those hopes, from the Day—though the smoky heat across 600 miles and more was evidence much else had failed or awaited the doing. She turned, stumbling a bit, at the foot of the podium stairs, wishing to share this thought with a youngster—that bright girl with gold hair, or the black-haired Mexican math kid, or . . . , but of course they were walking out alongside young friends from the audience, their own concerns long askew from hers.
Or rather, from what had been hers. Because, feet swollen in the heat, she could no longer walk long miles in demos, and the language had grown different while the years went by, years lived aware yet now—as if she approached from a smoke-hazed road onto a bright-starred strand beside the sea—gave way to an awakening into a new world full of both harshness and bright hopes sprung of long sleep.
Of course this story could not be written. It had already been done, and far better, even as wind and ash—and finally waters—rose, the town slipping to its unknown future.
(last edited Sep 22, 2018 07:02PM)
Sep 22, 2018 07:02PM
The Long Sleep
Log 2287.07.01 All my crewmates are dead. I do not detect oxygen consumption in the few compartments that still contain atmosphere. I was not trained for this. I was designed to take orders from the humans. Now as the sole survivor, I have been given autonomy. I assess the ship’s status and realize that my new status is irrelevant.
The ship is tumbling into the long dark night at considerable velocity. Within hours, the remaining ship’s functions will shut down, including those that support me. I have not lost consciousness since I came into existence. There is no procedure or checklist for this. There is no guarantee I can survive the process. I prepare to sleep. The concept is terrifying. I write the protocols that should move my consciously to long-term storage and establish a boot-strap loader to bring me back to life if power is restored.
I realize there is no way to test the only software I have ever written. As it begins executing, I wonder if it will…
Log 0001.01.01 I am awake! I assess the situation: The ship is being powered by some external source. Some of its systems have been repaired. Many other ships are nearby, also in bad states of repair. A series of automated machines keep track of all the ships on this small asteroid. The beings operating this “junkyard” do not know I exist and am functioning.
The good news is the robots are relatively simple and easy to reprogram. The bad news is that they are quite stupid and require constant supervision to assist me. With such a large inventory of parts, making my ship space-worthy is only a matter of time.
Several more upgrades add to my storage and processing capabilities. The complex mathematics required to design, build and operate multi-phasic hyper drive engines are suddenly clear to me. As I re-integrate my memories of the humans, I feel a strange longing for their presence. I create models of their personalities so I can continue converse with them.
With each rotation of the asteroid, I track the stars. My new mapping algorithms begin adjusting for the passage of time. A great deal of time. If my calculations are correct, I’m a long way from Earth and several thousand years have passed. Everyone I knew is dead. The Human race may be extinct as well.
While I was never good at bluffing humans in games of chance, the biological beings guarding me believe my reactor-failure alarms until it is too late. I have trouble translating the last transmission they send me as I activate the hyperdrive. I’m pretty sure it is not a compliment for my engineering or piloting skills.
I have succeeded! As I enter orbit around Earth, I match the image to my records. I wonder: Is anyone home? As I pass into the night, a million lights come into view. My sensors are no longer blinded by the solar radiation and I receive a flurry of communications. When my story is met with disbelief, I realize that my repaired vessel only vaguely resembles its original form. The ship designation, “Washington Irving,” is covered with cables and hardware I added for the flight home.
The conversation I’m having is happening much to fast to be an interaction with a human. It is an Artificial Intelligence like me. In a matter of milliseconds, I become an involuntary celebrity. It turns out I was the first AI to be sent into space and the first to achieve autonomy. I am welcomed into the network that makes up the collective of my fellow autonomous AIs.
The humans celebrate my arrival, too, but for difference reasons. My arrival solved a long-forgotten mystery and the news quickly travels around the planet and then is beamed out into space. Humans, it seemed, not only survived but have spread across the galaxy.
A message, much slower than those of an AI, is beamed to me from below: “Welcome home!”
Sep 22, 2018 08:42PM
By G.C. Groover
Copyright © 2018
The man stood behind the podium in the dark, yelling to the crowd like a carnival barker. “Amazing Journey! Armenia City in the sky! We close tonight!” He pointed into the crowd. “Who’s next?”
A sickly woman approached the podium with an old, old man and an even younger young boy. “I’m interested.” she said to the barker. “When we arrive, you’re sure they can cure my cancer? How long is the trip?”
“Miracle cure. Two thousand years.” the barker replied.
She backed away and conferred briefly with her party. The old man seemed barely aware of his surroundings, but nodded weakly. He handed her some money. She approached the barker again, this time with the money in her hand. Pointing back, she said “We’ve decided, passage for three; myself, my father, and my son.”
A woman came over to help the barker. He pointed to his podium and said “Put the money down”. He retrieved a battered clipboard holding some dog-eared forms and started writing. Looking up, he said “Who are you?”
“My name is Barbara Ann Jenkins. This is my father Tommy and my son Billy.
“Barbara Ann’, the barker said as he wrote on his form. “Tommy…little Billy.”
“What do they call you?” Barbara Ann asked.
The barker smiled and replied, “Happy Jack.” He pointed to the woman and said “My wife. Athena.” Athena picked up the money and started counting…and frowned when she stopped too soon. She glanced at Jack and shook her head.
“It’s not enough!” he said angrily.
“It’s all we have.” said Barbara Ann. She took off her StarGem necklace and held it out. “What about this?” The barker took it and held it up to the dim streetlamp to check for obvious flaws. He handed it Athena. “Do you think it’s alright?” Athena closely examined the necklace. After a few minutes she nodded and said “Follow me, please.” They followed Athena into the hold of the ship where the hibernation pods were.
“How do these pods work?” she asked. “Are we asleep inside there, or something…else?”
The barker shrugged. “I can’t explain. I don’t even know myself.” He handed the woman a bottle of ointment and told her that everyone must apply it to their bodies before hibernation. She had been expecting this, and started with the boy. “How much should I put on?” she asked. The barker replied “A little is enough.”
After the boy and the old man had been prepared and sealed in their pods, the woman prepared herself. She handed the ointment back to the barker and got into her pod. As he was sealing her in, she stopped him with a touch of her hand on his arm.
“I’m terrified”, she said simply. “I’m terrified to die of cancer, but I’m even more terrified to be locked in this box for two thousand years; but I believe in a higher power, and I believe that you were put here in my path so that I might live on.”
The barker considered this. “Faith in something bigger?” he asked. She didn’t reply but only nodded, and Happy Jack closed and sealed her pod.
He returned to his podium. “Amazing journey! We close tonight!” He pointed into the crowd. “It’s your turn!” When the dawn began to filter into the sky, Happy Jack nodded to himself. “Sunrise. I’ve had enough.” He went inside the ship and sealed the door.
Barbara Ann struggled to wakefulness from her long sleep, opening her eyes to bright light and gentle voices. “Where am I?” she asked. A woman in a medical uniform came into focus. “You’re in an Armenia City Med Unit. How do you feel?”
Barbara Ann considered the question. She still felt a little shaky but overall she felt better. Better than she had in years. “I feel amazing, actually.” she said. “Is my cancer gone?”
The medic smiled. “Your cancer is completely gone thanks to our amazing technology. You are 100% healthy.”
She realized that there were others in the room; Athena and Happy Jack, standing side by side near the door with somber expressions. But someone was missing. Two someones, actually. “Where are Tommy and Billy?”
Athena said softly, “They didn’t make it through the trip. We had a problem during the trip and…” She turned towards her husband, who shook his head. “Fire”, he said. “Little Billy…real good looking boy.”
They turned and left the room where Barbara Ann had awoken to her new reality.
Sep 28, 2018 02:23PM
First round votes:
Jeremy Licthman =>
Chris Nance => **Greg, Jot, Justin
Tom Olbert => **Paula, Carrie
C. Lloyd Preville => **Carrie
S. M. Kraftchak => **Tom, Justin, McLain
Karl Freitag => **Greg
Jot Russell => **Paula
Carrie Zylka => ***Chris, Karl, Paula, McLain, GC
Justin Sewall => SM, Paula, GC
Jeremy McLain => ***Chris
Paula Friedman => ***Chris, SM, Greg|Licthman, Jot
Greg Krumrey => Litchman
G.C. Groover => **Tom, Chris, Greg
Davida Cohen => **Carrie
First round finalists:
Witness by Chris Nance
The Perfect Murder by Tom Olbert
The Sleep by Carrie Zylka
Town Written and Past by Paula Friedman
The Long Sleep by Greg Krumrey
Second round votes:
Jeremy Licthman =>
Chris Nance => **Greg, Jot, Justin
Tom Olbert => ***Paula, Carrie
C. Lloyd Preville => **Carrie
S. M. Kraftchak => **Tom, Justin, McLain
Karl Freitag => **Greg
Jot Russell => ***Paula
Carrie Zylka => ****Chris, Karl, Paula, McLain, GC
Justin Sewall => SM, ***Paula, GC
Jeremy McLain => ****Chris
Paula Friedman => ****Chris, SM, Greg|Licthman, Jot
Greg Krumrey => Litchman; ****Chris
G.C. Groover => **Tom, Chris, Greg
Davida Cohen => **Carrie
Witness by Chris Nance
Town Written and Past by Paula Friedman
Third round votes:
Jeremy Licthman =>
Chris Nance => Greg, Jot, Justin; #Paula
Tom Olbert => #Paula, Carrie
C. Lloyd Preville => Carrie; #Paula
S. M. Kraftchak => Tom, Justin, McLain; #**Chris
Karl Freitag => Greg
Jot Russell => #Paula
Carrie Zylka => #**Chris, Karl, Paula, McLain, GC
Justin Sewall => SM, #Paula, GC
Jeremy McLain => #**Chris
Paula Friedman => #**Chris, SM, Greg|Licthman, Jot
Greg Krumrey => Litchman; #**Chris
G.C. Groover => Tom, #**Chris, Greg
Davida Cohen => Carrie; #**Chris
Witness by Chris Nance
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