Thursday, February 22, 2018

2/22/18

As Stars Begin to Fall
By Bruce Mundhenke


As stars begin to fall,
The time has passed
To change sides now.
The fear that's in your eyes,
As fire is raining
From the sky.
No one left alive,
Fire and smoke,
Hot stones of thunder.
Spirits still alive,
Escape the spell
That they were under.
On and on they go,
Learning more
But never knowing.
The seed remains alive,
Not bound by space,
Not bound by time.
The sower also knows...
He waits and watches
As the seed grows...


- - -
Bruce Mundheke has worked as a laborer and a registered nurse. Now he is making tons of money writing poetry. He lives in Illinois with his wife and their dog and cat.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

2/15/18

Red Wonder
By David Castlewitz


Astride the saddle, feet dangling and both hands gripping the ring embedded halfway in the plastic neck, Sam Lepper felt like a kid again, instead of a 32-year-old cog in Spaceways Transport and Salvage Industries. Mentally, he ran wild in the arcade at the mall while mom shopped the bargain basement. He enjoyed his fantasy and let the automatic monitoring buoy scan for intruders.
As Station Master at Gray Point, a sub-station in an array of such auxiliaries across the asteroid's landscape, Sam commanded a lonely console of glowing lights, switches he never touched and monitors that showed him a scene that never changed. Constant knobby rocks and unvarying distant mountains, none snow-capped. An expanse of brittle ground and dark sand pits. Same empty space. Same horizon. With a single star in the black sky. A star that never blinked, never changed intensity, and just glowed to the point of burning into his retina.
Which it would if he let it, if he didn't blink now and again. If he didn't find past times, such as Red Wonder, a VR game that plopped him into the action, with caves to explore, traps to avoid, puzzles to solve, and monsters of various size, shape and killing capacity to slaughter.
So far, he'd successfully traveled across a lava pit, climbed a mountain face while skeleton birds pecked at his back and he fought them off with a killing spray. Until he dropped the bottle and the contents exploded a mile below him. As needed, he collected color-coded badges and used them to open locked doors. He answered riddles based on the game's back story and survived three forced trips to the Arena of Madness.
But, sadly, he admitted, not without multiple rebirths each time his character died. The spawns wasted precious points; they required he invest more money in the game than he'd ever invested as a kid fighting nasty bugs in the mall. Of course, these days, he could afford it. There wasn't much else to do on this rock of an asteroid. There was his twelve standard hours on and twelve-off job, barracks life during the two week furlough he enjoyed every six Terran months, and one free hour of extended reality treasure hunting once during those two weeks.
As he rode across the game world's dangerous plains, fire lance at hand, heavy duty rail gun bouncing in its holster and – virtually – hurting his leg, an alarm sounded. The game shut down. The view in his visor went black one moment, stark white the next.
Sam tore off his VR helmet and looked at the monitors. From past experience he knew that buoys sometimes gave false readings. A rock jarred loose by a very distant excavator could have rolled in the airless void without stopping. Not probable, but not impossible. Less likely, he knew, a miner exploring the underground tunnels could have popped up to the surface, his or her "friendly" button not set.
Which meant trouble for Sam if he didn't react.
He'd lose more than points in a game if he didn't follow standard operating procedure – the holy SOPs. At least he didn't have to suit-up. Minor alarms didn't warrant the extra expense on the company's part. Major ones wouldn't be resolved with a mere man or woman venturing into the void.
Sam watched the monitors. A level ten intruder filled the center screen and lapped at the edges. It bristled with rods and dish-like antennae. It glowed blue around its middle. Neither cigar-shaped nor saucer-like, the intruder pulsed. Which Sam found odd. Why pulse? And not actually change size?
He knew he asked too many questions. He had to act. React. Report this intruder to Base Station Gray.
He checked the toggle switches on the console. Yes, he was remote Gray. So Base Gray should get the report. Yes. All the toggles lined up as required. Yes. Okay.
His hands shook. He looked again at the monitor, with hope in his heart that the intruder would be gone.
It lingered, pulsing. And then a red light glowed and rushed towards him on-screen. Red and nasty and terrible.
Spawn now, he thought, as though in a game of Red Wonder. Odd, he thought, the similarities here. Red glowing light that would annihilate Sub-Station Gray. Red for the color of the Wonder he sought in his time-killing game.
His chair shook. As did the console. As did the floor and the walls.
Sam shut his eyes. Cautiously, he opened them. The level ten intruder was gone.
"At least you notified your base station," someone said.
"Late or on time?" Sam asked, relieved that he'd passed the test. A test. It had only been a test. He'd had them before. He would have them again.
"On time. So there's a bonus for you."
Sam smiled. He knew how he'd spend that bonus. He deserved extra hours playing Red Wonder, which let him pass the time while waiting for the next test.


- - -
After a long and successful career as a software developer and technical architect, David has turned to a first love: writing fiction of all sorts, especially SF and fantasy. He's published stories in Phase 2, Farther Stars Than These, SciFan, Martian Wave, Flash Fiction Press , Bonfires and Vanities (an anthology) and other online as well as print magazines. Visit his web site: http://www.davidsjournal.com to learn more and for links to his Kindle books on Amazon.

Thursday, February 8, 2018

2/8/18

Throw In The Tigers And It’s A Deal
By David Barber


Franklin was directed to a room somewhere inside the mountain-sized Jirt lander, itself tiny compared to the vast Jirt craft in orbit.

It was like being inside a cool, translucent glass egg, with curving floors, a glassy table and cold, glassy chairs. Franklin sat down cautiously and laid out a stopwatch, the folder and his fountain pen.

The jirt forbade all recording devices in their ship, and though not everyone heeded the rule, tape machines burned out as surely as pinhead bugs, and implants combusted regardless of those who hid them.

He discovered the table rocked on uneven legs.

Time passed.

You paid for questions.

Franklin jumped at the voice, then tutted and started his stopwatch. He opened the folder. The first of the questions concerned free will.

It depends on what you mean by have, free, will and mean...

Wearily, he was reminded of his own student essays.

Franklin's university was venerable but poor, unable to afford shiny jirt science. But it had a benefactor in the Milburn Foundation, which optimistically offered the annual Milburn Prize for Progress in Philosophy. A small quantity of the rare-earth element erbium was paying for this conversation with a jirt.

Dr Franklin was the last-minute compromise when the Regis Chair of Philosophy and the Lady Hall Professor of Ethics disagreed on who should go. But it was their folder of philosophical conundrums on the table, an answer to any of which would keep the subject limping along for another generation.

He remembered he was supposed to be taking notes. He groaned inwardly, perhaps not even inwardly.

“For a small price," he interrupted. "I will explain my theory about your dealings with humanity.”

The jirt put a price on everything. It seemed the most human thing about them.

What price? asked the voice.

"That we trade unimportant facts costing little.”

What of the questions you paid to discuss?

“I’ll make something up.”

Refreshing.

“Let’s assume that was your first question. This prohibition of recorders, the way it forces all the frantic scribbling."

Technically, not a question.

“This table for example. Do many shove folded paper under one leg? Like those Germans in here before me?”

Oh yes.

Franklin grinned.

I believe it is my turn. Explain this theory of yours.

“You insist we pay with erbium, but it has no value to you.”

In the silence, Franklin jotted a note, then toyed with the table, idly rocking it backwards and forwards, backwards and forwards.

Wise economists had warned it was a trapper economy, with humanity swapping beaver pelts for trinkets and knives. We were eager to buy abstract mathematics, cosmological insights and incomprehensible artefacts from the Jirt. The problem was the extinction of the beaver. Reserves of erbium dwindled.

As a species, you value what you pay for.

“But why choose erbium?”

Some suggested tigers instead. Still, it is not clear what you gain from knowing this.

Franklin smiled wanly. “I’m not talking to a Jirt at all am I?”

You came in the tradesman’s entrance.

“So what are you? Just a computer program?”

Please. Even silicon has its dignity.

“At school, I was the butt of practical jokes. I was a figure of fun. Do you understand the concept?”

We have excellent language routines.

“I wasn’t quick with an answer, nor violent, so I kept my mouth shut. I imagined it was a dignified silence. I gave them as little pleasure as I could.”

And the relevance of this?

“If our governments knew, perhaps they wouldn’t play your games.”

You have no proof. And we could deny everything.

Franklin held up his beautifully written note:

Proof

Denial

Accident

Yes, you might have an accident.

"Though you can’t know who I’ve already told.” He judged there was no hint of threat in the silence that followed.

There is another option.

Franklin seemed not to hear. “You’re elegant thinkers. Your choice of erbium would be more than a private joke.”

Erbium is used in the commonest interstellar engine developed by cultures with your technology. Taking it reduces the long term competition.

“Should I worry you’ve told me that?”

Modelling predicts you haven’t shared your thoughts, or even if you have, humanity couldn’t manage to cooperate against us. Still, none of this is certain.

The room lurched. Franklin grabbed at the table. “What’s happening?”

We’ll soon be in orbit. Only your collaboration is a win-win strategy. What would you want in return? Gold? Reproductive success? Tigers?

“There is a name for such a bargain.”

Many of the philosophical problems in that folder evaporate in the light of knowledge you lack.

“I would like that knowledge,” admitted Franklin. “Why do the Jirt treat us like this?”

The Jirt barely know we have stopped. They are a lofty kind. This is an afternoon off for the hired help, to visit the local market. We were fashioned to interact, to be a cleverer version of yourselves.

“I’d be selling myself. Betraying my kind.”

You would start as cabin boy. I’m afraid it would mean immortality and a higher IQ.

In the silence, someone watching Franklin might have thought he was debating with himself, but it was only the last stand of his conscience.

“Throw in the tigers," he said. "And it’s a deal.”


- - -

Thursday, February 1, 2018

2/1/18

The Selfie
By John C Adams


Matt heard an eruption of amusement in the common room as his classmates found another target for their banter. The door crashed open. Seventeen-year-old Del threw herself onto the sofa next to him and buried her face in the scarlet silk cushions. Matt stretched out to pat her shoulder, hesitated and withdrew.
Del snuffled until Matt handed her a tissue. She flung her personal information provider onto the sofa between them.
It had been over a hundred years since a PIP had resembled the phone handsets used by their great grandparents. Now everyone was given one for free by the Corporation and encouraged to read their own emotions, and that of others, using this device. Their presence had become almost universal. For Matt's generation any attempt to read people using just their brain was considered laughably primitive. Lines of code monitored body temperature, heartbeat and neural functions. And analysed the data to tell them everything about the world around them and about themselves too.
Del instructed the PIP to bring up the selfie section. It tried to access Matt's emotional response to the first picture, process his level of engagement and move to the next image as soon as it detected boredom indicators. He resisted, knowing exactly how long the PIP would persist before giving up.
Finally, Del's PIP gave Matt the option to swipe across from picture to picture using his finger. It also generated a message:
"We have detected your liking for retro and have updated your preferences accordingly."
Matt smirked at the jaunty tone, with its patronising hint that some people just can't recognise change for the better even when the Corporation explains it time and again. Typical PIP. It thought it understood everything but really it understood nothing. It was there to manipulate you into buying stuff. And it understood that perfectly.
Matt swiped from picture to picture. They were all selfies of Del. In some of them her friends were hanging on her shoulders and grinning. In the later ones, Del was more isolated. The body stances were tenser: hers and those of the dwindling number of buddies who were in the shot. The smiles seemed more forced and in the most recent of all Del was solitary and unsmiling. She didn't make eye contact with the camera as readily and she appeared to have put on quite a bit of weight.
Matt glanced over at Del. He ignored the PIP's buzzing prompting him to continue looking at the pictures. When it became too insistent, he accessed the system and overrode the Corporation's security to put the PIP on mute.
Del looked tired and pale. Her eyes were red and puffy. She looked thin.
Matt frowned. He looked at the selfies again. His gaze flashed back and forth from the pictures to the real thing.
"Just look at how awful I am in these pictures! And in the mirror function I look rubbish, too. I feel like I'm going mad. I'm falling apart!"
Del burst into tears again.
"It isn't in your head. It's on your PIP."
Matt hacked into the PIP's core code and recalibrated it. He switched it on again. The selfies now looked more like the young woman sitting next to him. He explained how the Corporation had been manipulating her image to make her look less like her friends.
"This wasn't about you. The Corporation! Just came down to making money. They wanted to you buy the same shit the other girls do."
Del gave Matt a hug.
"Thank you!" she said.


- - -
John C Adams is a Contributing Editor for Albedo One and the Aeon Award. She also has a new review column with Schlock! webzine. Her debut novel Souls for the Master is available from Horrified Press. Her short-story anthology Blackacre is forthcoming from Oscillate Wildly Press.


Help keep Farther Stars alive! Visit our sponsors! :)




- - -

Archive

The Thunderune Network:

TTC

Weirdyear Daily FictionYesteryear Daily FictionClassics that don't suck!Art expressed communally.Von Singer Aether and Steamworks.Resource for spiritual eclectics and independents.Pyrography on reclaimed woodartists featured weeklySmashed Cat MagazineLinguistic ErosionYesteryear Daily Fiction