Thursday, February 26, 2015

2/26/15

A Contradictory Artifact
By John Laneri


An unusual blip suddenly appeared on my scanner's interface and alerted me to action. At the time, I was preforming a beryllium activated ground scan that was capable of delineating objects from over five hundred meters. It was one of the many ways we repeatedly searched for artifacts in remote areas that were impossible to search on foot.

Banking hard, I executed a sixty degree turn, feeling the pull of gravity weigh against me. Then, carefully nudging the controls a fraction, I leveled my hovercraft over a strange cone shaped object in an attempt to get a better look.

From what I could see, the thing was leaning to the side with its base buried in the soft sand common throughout the southern reaches of Planet Morika.

As usual, I again wondered if I had come upon viable evidence of a prior civilization. Most likely, I was looking at either a meteorite or another piece of space junk that had survived a fiery plunge through Morika's atmosphere.

Morika is a small planet. It's located only a few light years from Earth where it orbits a main sequence star in the FRN-469 Sector of the Milky Way Galaxy.

The planet proper was originally colonized by a contingent of our ancestors who arrived here centuries ago as part of a research project focused on learning whether or not a mixed race of earthlings could unite on a distant planet and create a harmonious, worldwide civilization.

As of today, only a small handful of people have ever elected to return to Earth. We enjoy a thriving society that is economically and socially sound. No wars. No famines. And, best of all, we have a climate that allows us to produce substantial agricultural products that help to boost our standard of living and essentially live stress free lives.

As to me, I'm an archaeologist. My duty, as an investigator for the Bureau of Antiquities, is to search for artifacts that could possibly indicate the presence of prior civilizations on Morika.

So far, our findings suggest that we are its first and only human inhabitants.

Once on the ground, I carefully approached the thing unsure of its nature. A portable xenon scan had already suggested that it was probably just another metallic space object, so I eased closer to study a series of vague markings on its side.

Most had either been lost due to weathering or burned away during entry. A single character, though, near the capsule's apex did stand out just enough to suggest the Latin symbol M.

Intrigued, I moved to the opposite side and identified what appeared to be a hatch of some sort that was almost completely hidden under the sand.

Using my hovercraft to lift the thing onto solid ground, I was then able to fully visualize a distinct hatch cover and began cutting through the opening using a photon knife. By then, I was certain that I had discovered something important.

Carefully, so as not to disturb any relics inside, I lifted the door away and discovered a humanoid skeleton clothed in what appeared to be a tattered space suit that bore a faded shoulder patch vaguely reminiscent of a flag.

Further examination revealed a metallic identity tag that hung loosely around the bones of the neck. Moving into the sunlight for a better look, I was able to read the inscriptions and learned that the bones belonged to a Major James O'Keeffe, United States Air Force – a title that led me to wonder if the man had been associated with one of the early space programs on Planet Earth several centuries prior to our colonization of Morika.

But how did he end up here?

My excitement growing, I returned to my hovercraft and logged into Morika's Global Information Sphere in hopes of finding some clue that would explain my discovery. After a thorough search of historical data regarding early space programs on Earth, I was still unable to grasp the significance of my find simply because the facts did not correlate with the reported history.

Returning to the capsule, I began a detailed inspection of the cabin that produced more information. To the side, I spotted a small storage panel and located a logbook that indicated his date of launch had been October 21 in the earth year, 1959.

At that point though, something still seemed wrong.

I again returned to the hover craft and repeated my computer search, looking for specific dates and times of each Mercury Project space flight. After a careful study, I learned that his date of launch had actually been two years prior to the first reportedly successful Mercury launch with a human subject in the year 1961.

With that last bit of information to consider, I returned to the capsule and spent many minutes staring into the man's empty eyes, my thoughts jumping from one contradiction to another.

I eventually decided that Major O'Keeffe had probably been an original Mercury astronaut whose mishap had been quietly hidden from the public in those early days of the American space program. His coming to rest on Morika, in my opinion, most likely represented pure chance.

Further conclusions regarding his presence on Morika, I knew, would be decided by a panel of experts within the Antiquities Bureau, yet I was certain that he had died a lonely death due to oxygen deprivation.

As to how and why his capsule had been able to escape Earth's gravity and then travel for centuries through the cosmos before finally coming to rest on Morika was a project that would likely interest researchers for years to come.

Later, as I returned to base with both him and his capsule in tow, I began to wonder how many others of his generation were still drifting through space, their sacrifices buried in the silence of secret government files.


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A native born Texan, John currently lives near Houston. Publications to his credit have appeared in several professional journals as well as a number of internet sites and short story periodicals.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

2/19/15

Virtual Sacrifice
By Peter McMillan


"You got nothing to worry about," the man said. "He's gotta chew off my arm to get away."

The screen was grayish-white, and the intro music faded. It was dead quiet in the theater.

Nothing happened right away, so naturally I started imagining what was going on, what was coming next.

My first thought was that the guy with the speaking part had a muzzled dog on a biker harness—it was that kind of voice—and was taking it for a walk in the park. But that was boring.

Then, I pictured two men locked into a single set of handcuffs. It wasn't clear which had spoken or why. Maybe they were in a diner, ordering at the counter? Better, but hardly original.

Recalling a recent story I'd read that may or may not have been in theNewerYork, I conjured up a geeky little git with a Disney watch knock-off that featured holograms for sociopaths or sociopath-groupies. Now, that WAS different.

The last one came alive, and as I was inching back in my seat to avoid the watch hologram's grasping hand tentacles, a woman laughed heartily. That's twisted, I thought. Behind me two voices gasped—in horror, excitement, I really couldn't tell, though it seemed more appropriate. In front there was sobbing, muffled—a bit premature I felt—and on my left two young children were squealing precociously. I was shocked and repulsed by these reactions, but frankly I was a bit preoccupied with keeping this monster's fangs or claws or whatever they were from ripping me out of my seat.

Shrinking as far back in my seat as I could I banged heads with the person behind me who must have been trying to help but didn't. I collapsed, fell forward, and when I came to the monster had disappeared. My visor was on the floor. The screen was still empty and the audience was getting impatient. In the back of the theater it started—the stamping of feet and the chanting—and like a huge wave it rolled to the front.

I was just about to leave, having had my fill of this absurd theater, but I was promptly stopped by a beefy couple standing between me and the aisle.

“You can't leave now,” said the woman as her partner twisted my arms in their sockets.

“But—“

“It's you it wants, and it's coming back,” she said, picking up my visor and handing it to me.

“This is ridiculous. What are you talking about? There's no movie. There's nothing. Just a blank screen.”

“It's not the screen everybody's watching,” she added. “It's you. You're 'the sacrifice.' Kind of ironic, don't you think?”

“I'm not getting any irony, just a bad headache and sore shoulders from Vince, here.”

“Surely, you had some idea what you were getting into here? It can't be advertised and marketed because it's the underground. You must've heard though—and this is the thrill that keeps people coming back—that for every crowd that comes in one person doesn't come out … quite the same.”

“Besides,” the guy who looked like a Vince added, “yours is the best yet, and everybody's dying, so to speak, to see how it ends.”


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Thursday, February 12, 2015

2/12/15

Sigma Berkey Duran 76j
By E.S. Wynn (on Zero Dusk)


When between-space opens to stars and void, your eyes immediately catch on a shining white world all snowy, glassy-smooth oceans and towering, icy peaks. Scans triggered by your ship's integrated intelligence pick up unusual metallic signatures in orbit almost immediately, but it takes the system a moment to make sense of the readings. Trash, you realize, almost the instant your ship does. A thin layer of space debris rattling through the darkness, all of it primitive, alien.

The mote-probe carves through the darkness as you sink into the feeds, reach out with digital sensor suite feelers and finger through incoming data. Most of the debris seems to be several thousand years old, registers mostly as fittings and connectors similar to bolts and screws. Shards of solar panels, flat steel paneling, gold foil– all the remnants of a simple civilization's early grab for the stars. No life, though. No energy signatures. No infrared or radio reaching out beyond the few powdery clouds skating through the planet's upper atmosphere. Nothing.

Descent comes easy– readings show a nitrogen-xenon atmosphere, skies clear and open from the thermosphere to the snow below. Ten meters from the surface, sensors reach out and comb through the icy white, find nothing but barren wastes, a thousand years of snowpack piled over rock, over bare earth, rotting vegetation–

And that's when you see it. A spire of anomalous readings rising through the feed with unrestrained urgency– something other than stone, clusters and nodules of iron, cubic shapes and straight lines. By the time the snow yields to a field of bumps that turns out to be a cluster of skyscrapers buried up to their domes in the snow, it's obvious that this world was once home to an alien civilization, a civilization now long extinct.

Hive-like towers and machine-precise roads appear as a map slowly resolves within the feed. A city, you realize. A city lost in the snow, a city connected to other cities, connected to bridges that span the frozen gulfs between continents. An image, an idea of a global civilization begins to coalesce in your mind. A species taking its first shaky steps into the void beyond a cradle world just starting to feel a little snug around the edges

But something went wrong. Something happened that snuffed out this little light before it could even truly begin to glow. The ice, the snow– it came later, perhaps as a consequence of whatever great, world-spanning event wiped out the people of Sigma Berkey Duran 76j. Perhaps not. Even with the reams and reams of data you've already gathered on the world, there's no way to tell for certain.

Silent, sad, you trigger the return cycle on the mote-probe and rise out of the data feeds to take in the shining surface of that frozen grave world from your place in orbit. So brilliant with sun, so serene– and then a ping brings you back to the mote-probe's data feed, brings you back amidst readings of something that stands out among the orbital debris haze, something different, something you missed with initial scans, something that gives you hope.

It's a ship, you realize almost immediately. Beaten by debris, scarred by time and neglect, but still humming, still lit from within. Quick scans place its age within a handful of years of that of the cities under the snow, and then you pick up the signatures of an ailing fission reactor steadily pumping power into a handful of inconstant, flickering systems. Curious, you re-route the mote-probe to the ship, send it circling slowly around the hunk of plastic and steel. Ancient computer systems crackle to life at your digital touch, yield easily to translation matrices built and put forth by your ship's integrated intelligence. Within seconds, the whole history of Sigma Berkey Duran 76j's lost civilization opens to you, gigabytes upon gigabytes of art, music, sculpture, philosophy and tradition yielding themselves with incredible ease. Small sections of the database are inaccessible, lost forever to corruption, but the bulk of their legacy is there, passes easily though the uplink to the network, where it will be preserved for as long as humanity maintains its own data archives among the stars.

But there's more here than just cultural data, you quickly realize. The ship's original mission parameters were much more ambitious– frozen for thousands of years, a whole host of fertilized ovum from a hundred or more different species is also contained within the ship. The ship itself is an ark, you realize. Sigma Berkey Duran 76j's last, desperate gasp for life against the dying of the light. Its target was a distant star, empty and near perfect for the ark's passengers, but with engines disabled by debris, the ark never even managed to leave orbit.

A quick consult of notes within the network concerning the ark's target reveal that it's a virgin world, untouched and unclaimed. With the distance, getting there would be a fifteen hundred year journey for the ark's simple engines, but with a few minutes of modifications to your ship and the ark, you open a passage through between-space big enough to accommodate both vessels, make the jump to the target world in a space of seconds. Simple commands planted in the ark's systems set it into an orbital cycle immediately, and you watch like a proud parent as this tiny seed of life and civilization slips into the new world's atmosphere, cruises towards the largest, most temperate landmass and settles on rich, fertile soil.

It'll take decades for the automated systems to wake and grow all of the life within the ark, you realize, but at least the life of Sigma Berkey Duran 76j will have a chance to begin again. Pondering what wonders they might achieve in the centuries to come, you turn your ship back toward the void, slip into between-space and continue on your own journey. For you, many more worlds and many more wonders wait amongst the stars, wait to be seen, wait to be discovered, to be shared with the people of now and the people who will rise and look to the heavens in generations to come.


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E.S. Wynn is the author of over fifty books in print. Explore more alien worlds on Zero Dusk.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

2/5/15

(In) Vulnerable World
By David K Scholes


“These people had a dream,” I said as our shuttle detached from the mother ship “a very noble one.” Every one on board either nodded silently or quietly voiced their agreement

It was a short descent to the world below where we initially overflew our destination.
“That’s where they used to make the mark 7 indestructible residential dwellings,” Jason pointed to a totally flattened building below.
“And just over there,” piped up Andrea “was the main production line for their impenetrable armoured fighting vehicles.”

And so it went on, Jason, Andrea and others who had been here before pointing to various factory buildings within the vast industrial complex below. Factories that had once built the untouchable this, the unassailable that, the invincible something else.

All the factories shared one thing in common. They had all built supposedly near indestructible products and yet they had all been totally destroyed.

Vast though it was the sprawling industrial complex below was only one of a number of such complexes in this particular conurbation (technically faccomplex 9 of Conurbation 3) and there were other such conurbations on this world. Rumour had it the conurbations had once, almost quaintly, been called “cities” before they became too large.

“We’ve seen enough.” I called a halt to our over flight. “Let’s take her down near that very large building.”
“Where they used to build the everlasting, unyielding space shuttles,” responded Jason, “where, in fact, this shuttle was probably built. How appropriate.”

On the ground the destruction seemed even more total than it did from the air.

“I’ll call down the salvage teams,” said Andrea “assuming of course there is anything at all here left to salvage.”

“Not just yet Andrea,” I requested “let’s just take a look around first.”

“Such a contradiction in terms,” offered Jason. “These people built the most indestructible things in the galaxy and yet their own civilization itself was completely destroyed.”

“In a Universe full of destruction they wanted to build things that couldn’t be destroyed,” I said quietly. “To offer genuine solid protection not just to the high worlds but to everybody. In fact to make conflict genuinely less likely."

“What went so wrong?” inquired Andrea.

“The demand for their works was so great, that they didn’t take the time to build their own indestructible buildings, infrastructure, vehicles and other things,” I replied “they were too busy trying to provide that protection for others. Of course any one embarking on that course was bound to develop an awful lot of enemies.”
“All those who manufacture weapons of war,” offered Jason, in some ways stating the obvious.
“Yes,” I responded solemnly “the multi-star system weapons corporations, among others, couldn’t abide it. It had the potential to drastically limit their activities, even put them out of business entirely."

"This building may be destroyed,” said Andrea as we shifted through the rubble, “yet these partially completed shuttles seem fine.”

“Looks like they lived up to their name.” I laughed, having quietly expected this development. “These people did make things to last.”

“I guess the salvage teams are going to be quite busy after all,” chuckled Andrea.


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The author has written six collections of sci-fi short stories and two sci-fi novellas (all on Amazon). He has been a regular contributor to both the Antipodean SF and the Beam Me Up Pod cast sci-fi sites and has also been published on a variety of other sci-fi sites. He is working on a new anthology of short sci-fi stories and also a “Human Hunter” series for the Beam Me Up Pod Cast site.


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