Thursday, May 25, 2017

5/25/17

Cat and Mouse
By Bill Hackenberger


Lola opened her eyes, but didn't get up. Normally when cleaning the house I'd find her in one of her usual places: the sunny spot under the front window or curled up on the couch. Lately, however, she would just plop, head down, on the bed where Cynthia had loved to pet her.

Lola had bonded with Cynthia, and it seemed her primary mission was to entertain her by springing out from beneath the furniture when least expected and then dashing away to plan her next surprise. Cynthia would laugh whenever ambushed in this way. "LOL cat," she'd exclaim, and that was, in fact, how she'd given Lola her name. Without Cynthia to care for, we both had lost our purpose. While I could keep busy dusting and vacuuming, I could see Lola needed something to do, so I ordered a robotic mouse.

The mouse wasn't cheap. But I could get by with a little less in the household account, so I placed the order. It arrived by drone an hour later. Once I had charged its battery, it scurried about mapping the layout of the furniture and then disappeared under the coffee table.

When I picked Lola up and brought her into the living room, the mouse's eyes flashed red and it scampered across the floor and into the dark recesses beneath the couch. Lola's ears rose and swiveled like parabolic antennas locking on to a signal. She jumped from my arms, crouched, and with slow exacting steps circled around the side of the couch. She waited, crept closer, waited, then sprang like a steel trap. There was brief scuffling and a metallic squeak, but then silence. A moment later Lola reappeared and traipsed back to the bed to flop there as before.

With a broom I retrieved the mouse from under the couch. It tumbled out, inert, its eyes dark. It didn't appear damaged, but it wouldn't respond even when plugged into its charger. I could've called for a drone and returned it, but it has always been my nature to fix things, and given some mechanical skills, I decided I'd try to make it work.

Brushing back the mouse's fur, I found a tiny dimple at the nape of its neck and pressed a small screwdriver there. A metallic catch clicked, and its case opened like a clam. Its few internal components seemed simple enough. Each articulated leg was driven by its own minute motor, and a single processor board no bigger than a thumbnail held the neuromesh chip that housed its adaptive logic. I traced the circuit and found a cold solder joint where a wire had separated from the power cell. Such a simple thing. Here was, at least, a problem I could fix. A touch of a thermal probe revived the contact, and the mouse again sprang to life. Cynthia would've been delighted.

For the next hour Lola and her mouse raced about. She was fast, but the mouse was just fast enough to evade capture. It traced a path beneath tables and chairs while Lola had to leap and circle around them.

Eventually the mouse scooted from beneath a table into the little cubby of its charging station. I found Lola lying in a circle on the living room floor exhausted. It was late and we both had little energy left, so I carried Lola to the bed and set her down on her favorite spot, released the little catch behind her right ear, and plugged in her charging cable.

It seemed right to be of use again, even if just for Lola and her mouse. I needed to be ready for the morning when they would again scamper through the house, so I went to the utility closet and stepped into my own recharge alcove.


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Bill Hackenberger works in the computer security business where he's had a front-row seat watching plodding humans collide with accelerating technology. A few years ago, he decided it would be fun to write stories about both of them.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

5/18/17

FIRST MORNING ON ALTAIR
By John Grey


I wake under three receding moons.
Through one, half-opened eye,
I dote on the blessed gift
of six strange soaring creatures.

Fresh silver lakes, shadows given notice,
mountains, half-hatched by light,
hum with cadence,
strident or bell-like, screeching or rasping.
Strange noises don't know where to settle,
always another snap, creak, cry,
darting in, uprooting curiosity.

A sun stands sentry at the outskirts of the colony pod,
heat triumphant,
rays frisking the upper rungs of ladder-like trees,
the windmill blades of foliage eager to be named.

Bellies grunt from distant, gray-tinged meadows.
a dull, raw canticle
for a morning of such promise.
Decaying wood snaps under unseen talons.
An odd birdlike beast droops a claw
into the lake water,
slowly roils the muddy bottom.
Flowers, red, blue and gold,
gather at the tip of zigzag breezes,
chatter like cousins at a wedding.

Radio crackle drifts in from the next room.
It's mostly Earth music, Earth news,
Earth weather report, Earth religion.
In this colony, sound mates like rabbits,
noise upon noise dripping with nostalgia.
The old days are dead in me.
Why this constant funeral service?

But in some parts of this planet,
scientists are already out collecting weird botanical samples,
catching, tagging, bizarre wildlife.
I learn those skills in my sleepiness,
empty out old thoughts,
collect the new, tag the unforgettable.
WAY OUT IN THE OUTER OUTER QUADRANT

I have a name, that's what I'm trying to say.
Consonant, vowels, syllables,
all the necessary fuel.
And I can say it any time I want.

So here we are, name,
out where void too has a name
Silence is one thing
but when there's no Earth to back it up,
then it feels more like the end of everything
than just me keeping my name to myself
for the time being.
Out here, there's no world to contradict,
nothing solid to balance a billion light years of nothing,

Still, I have my name.
I can tell myself who I am if need be,
I'm too far away from everything
to speak to anyone else in the universe.
But, at least, inside my head the reception is still clear.
It's the linkage I'm worried about,
the threads that connect me to the rest of human life.
Sure, there's memories,
and their reels are rolling through my mind now,
but they come with a label warning that
they contain space wind, star showers,
meteorites, crash landings and computer malfunction.

And there's always God of course.
So I pray to the provider of all this emptiness.
Did He run out of ideas I'm wondering?
Or was He just bloody-minded,
knowing I'd be blowing by this way some day.
I start to say my name but the silence won't have
any of that blasphemy.
It bites hard down on my word.
Lost is the scientific term for my situation.
And it's the only name I answer to these days.


- - -
John Grey is an Australian poet, US resident. Recently published in Schuylkill Valley Journal, Stillwater Review and Big Muddy Review with work upcoming in Louisiana Review, Columbia Review and Spoon River Poetry Review.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

5/11/17

End of Uncertainty
By Frances Gow


The day the exploration robots landed and began scraping the surface of Grelathae for signs of life was the beginning of a new Age of Uncertainty.

Moon date: 24th of the 156th bypass.

Dr Wren says I should not be so obsessed with dates, as once we reach Earth, I will have no use for Grelathaean time. Waking from deep slumber, my joints groan with age, crystallised by the frost of a hundred-thousand moon passes. The waters run free now, defrosted by the humans’ robots. My kind has all but disappeared; those remaining were preserved in stasis, awaiting the End of Uncertainty. But our sleep was disturbed before time and most of us woke up too quickly to survive the transition.
Dr Wren lives on a moon called NASA. She talks to me from a distance and explains the rescue operation. I have to wonder why they feel the need to rescue us from our natural habitat. I have to wonder what kind of life they hope to provide for us on this place called ‘Earth’. The robots have flat faces with shiny moving pictures, which show me visions of Dr Wren and her people living on Moon NASA. We have conversations that go something like this;
“Brath, Brath? Can you hear me?” she says. We’re on first name terms now, you know.
“Sophia,” I say. Spoken through the translator, it sounds like the kind of gargle you get in the back of the gilleypipes when travelling through the moon rushes. “We’re fast moving into Uncertainty down here.”
Now, Uncertainty to a Grelathaean has a completely different meaning to Uncertainty in Dr Wren’s world. To us, it is the force of nature that allows us to be ourselves and to feed on the nourishment of the universe. Dr Wren says that such a complex organism should not be able to live so far beneath the surface of the planet and that we defy all known biological rules. How little she really knows about Uncertainty.
Most of the surface of Grelathae is ice, below which we have an intricate network of rivers, interconnected with swathes of ocean. The first Age of Uncertainty forced us to hunker down and live most of our lives beneath the surface. We sleep for sometimes two or three hundred moon passes at a time. I don’t think Dr Wren really understands. We don’t like being woken before our time; it makes us cranky. When the robots first landed and started drilling through the surface ice, some of my sisters pulled a couple of them under. Some unusual tasting minerals, but it meant that a few more of us survived the awakening.
During the first moon pass after their arrival, Dr Wren asked a great many questions. What did we look like, how did we feed, reproduce and breathe? I projected the images into the NASA moon and they duly returned some images of themselves; ugly looking creatures with snub noses and long bare limbs. But, who am I to rebuff their solicitous advances? We are after all in an Age of Uncertainty. I asked if she could send us some more robots; the first lot had tasted odd but were surprisingly satisfying. I didn’t hear from Dr Wren after that for at least three moon passes. We knew they were still up there, but maybe they didn’t want to share their robots.
“Brath. I’m securing the final location. We can take you on board and leave the robots to complete the cleanup operation,” she says. I should tell Dr Wren that her observations are quite correct. We are indeed able to live for thousands of years due to our uncannily slow metabolisms. I should also tell her that once awake and feeding, we could move faster than her NASA moon’s ability to observe and record us. I really should tell her.
The moment comes to leave the depths of our home, helped by the NASA moon. The humans learn a little too late what the Uncertainty Principal means in Grelathae. We rip through their moon, devouring the minerals like we haven’t eaten for a thousand passes; which is almost true. Dr Wren’s mouth hangs open. I loom in front of her like some phantom of her human nightmares. I wonder if some of her personality will be absorbed by my waves. I hope so; we have an understanding.
“Brath,” she says. A trail of smoke escapes her lips, carrying my name as though it really means something to her; maybe it does. “I guess we got the measurements wrong. The universe really is full of uncertainty.”
It seems that more of Dr Wren’s personality is preserved in my casing than even I or my brothers and sisters could have first anticipated. Indeed, we have all absorbed a little more ‘human’ waves than even Sophia had calculated. This moon is no longer in orbit. This moon, called NASA, is on a trajectory towards its home planet, Earth. We are going home.
We had a glut on robots when we first embarked on the NASA moon, but as time moves on, my brothers and sisters are wandering around sniffing at the flat-faced food source with increasing disgust. The robots prove more useful than simple nourishment as we discover how they can operate this moon and navigate it towards its resting port. How hungry we will be, once we finally reach our destination.


- - -
I have previously been published in a variety of magazines, including: Liquid Imagination, Aurora Wolf, The Lorelei Signal, Bewildering Stories, The WiFiles, The New Accelerator, Electric Spec and New Realm. My first two novels have been published by Double Dragon Publishing.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

5/4/17

The Cry of Methuselah
By Jonathan DeCoteau


For five-thousand years, I’ve stood sentry in a pale desert forest of bristlecone pine,
Situated between sisters of equal years, watching the great mobile ape that is mankind—
Indifferently—
as the sloping neck of an ambling black bear might a hill of sagebrush to the right.
My gnarled tongue of white density reaches to Mesopotamian heights,
Shaping words lost to scattering seeds of time as the occasional cloud
fingers its wispy way through the rock-like cobalt of an ancient sky.

Oh, yes, I have spoken words of such weight they rattled the stabbing white plumes of a condor in flight,
Yet they have gone unheard; smashed against cloud and rained upon granite peaks of forgotten night.
Alien you are to me, harbingers of a lesser earth:
You move constantly, yet go nowhere, dig incessantly, yet ply no roots,
conquer sky, only to fall back to stale and lifeless dirt.
I thought you like a squirrel or rat nosing about foliage that is not your own,
Overturning purple sky pilots on the rainbow-bloom of ridge,
Careless children of fumbling feet and eyes sewn shut at the lids.
I have been patient as a grandmother watching little ones play,
Crying out be gentle to each other as you turned stone to spear
And fashioned war paint from my sacred clay,
Giving of the earth to you as I might to a passing family of deer—
Yet you dug deeper, searching for the iron you use to kill
And now, in the last one-hundred years, the story my brothers and sisters the world over tell—
Of the putrefying air that stains our barks,
Of weapons that create endless fires that might decimate all life—all life!—after just one spark.
And now, the seasons through which I’ve measured what you call years, change,
almost imperceptibly at first, but now as loud as bighorn rams
sharpening antlers against crumbling shale.
The wind is not the mistress I once knew, nor is the light—
The sky is more sallow, and the winds betray infidelities with strange chemicals that poison
Lakes older than you were when you hung from the maternal branches of trees
That once sheltered your species like makeshift nurseries.
And now, my tangled roots tell me of my own demise—
In just one-hundred short years, I will not be able to speak; in another hundred, I will die.

I’ve almost given up playing prophet to you, scurrying animals who proclaim your blinding sapience
as you search the stars when you cannot even listen to the beating heart of your own Earth.
Did you consider that, from what algae tell me, whales and dolphins are superior intellectually?
Did you even think, in your child-like hubris, that there might be a sacred wisdom to the plant?
Did it even occur to you that you are not separate—that everything on this planet has life?
For five thousand years my brothers and sisters and I have talked in peace,
And while we’ve competed for the last silver sliver of sun on the edge of a glacial mountain,
Never have we killed one another in wanton abandon.
Learn from us, and you might live on.

In the blue desert night, I worry: what of when my sisters and I are gone?
Who will inherit the mantle and carry earth on?
Like all prophets, I must speak, even as my words are incomplete:
Learn, my lost children, from what it is to be a tree.
Never fly so far that you lose your roots, which spread like arteries
reaching to the buried heart of soil to remind you that only the earth is immortal.
Know what it is, even for a day, to really experience,
as you might through needles or leaves, painfully, all that life is,
From the tiniest burrowing black beetle to the midnight ocean’s most ancient crustacean—
Life is beauty, and it has its own way.
If only each one of you could sit upon the heights of desert, as I do, for five thousand years,
When the earth is all there is, all there ever will be, when you stand in complete dependency,
You’d find it impossible to think of yourself as separate, or above, even the smallest atom.
Isn’t it obvious from my words, those of a mother scolding her wayward child—
I am in love with all that is, and that includes even you, strange squirrels?
It is my prayer that sometime, maybe in the next thousand years,
you’ll discover not just how plants communicate,
but how to stand still and listen to all that is.
It might not be so bad to return to our branches as when you were monkeys
And remind yourself of what it is to be vulnerable
As a shrieking baby hung above a hungry incongruity of yellow-fanged wolves.
But to you I am just a tree, a quirk of nature, yours to cut down,
an obstacle in the path of yet another highway to nowhere,
A stupid, mute creature not cognizant of life.
So you will not listen to my words;
You will be willfully deaf to Nature’s song.

But I am a tree
And to be a tree is to be strong and patient as the first cold of dusk—
And so for the next hundred years at least
I shall cry out; I shall become the element of voice.
And as you fly to the dead basalt rock of Mars or take in the great, swirling red eye of Jupiter,
Think of the miracle of this supposedly small and common Earth.
And after you fly so many millions of miles you can’t count them all,
Return home, to our nestled branches, on a beautiful day in Fall—
Where peace comes from togetherness,
Where you have always belonged,
Where you will always be a part of all that is,
As we rock you to sleep singing the same ancient song.


- - -
Jonathan DeCoteau is a teacher and the author of one published novel, The Naked Earth, named 2008 Book of the Year by The Online Journal of News and Current Affairs. His work has been published in Reader's Quarterly and The Story Shack. This is his first foray into science fiction.


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