New colonies. Alternate Earths. Parallel Universes. All is fair game.
We had found no food, the boy and I. We walked for miles down the cracked road. Grey clouds hid the sun. Burnt trees lined the ditch. No wind blew, and no birds sang.
"There's no one left," the boy said. Our tribe didn't have a word for the huge, winged race of reptiles who shared the cliff faces with us. They were just "The Clasp." Same as us. One tribe. One name. One shared livelihood as old as the great butte.
When I was a young boy, before I knew better, I asked my grandmother if we were pretending to be like the big, scaly tribesmen or if they were pretending to be like us. After all, we didn't look anything alike. When I finally made her understand my question, I hated the way she looked at me, like she'd tasted something bitter. The scanner bips and gives a four-note ascending scale of disapproval. Item not found. I look at the package in my hand. "I'm sorry, ma'am, but this coffee's not in our system. It's from an alternate dimension's grocery store."
Her lips make a smacking sound like a magnetic coin purse. "Excuse me?" "Don't forget to take your growth inhibitor," came the anxious voice of his mother. She held out the ovaloid pill and Dash took it on his way out the door. It tasted bitter but all children living under the moon's low gravity had to take them. In school they showed movies of what happened if you didn't, how your body became extended and scraggly like a string bean.
He left the apartment but didn't go far, he just wanted to look once more at the sky. His dad had said you didn't get a better view anywhere else than from Luna City skydome with its panorama of Earth and the stars, unobstructed by atmosphere. A full Earth would have been more dramatic, but a waning blue half circle was what he got that day. His dad had taught him to recognize the various continents and oceans, but today they were obscured under a chaos of clouds. "Let me get this straight, young man," says Ms. Dawson, tapping one toe of her red Jimmy Choos in that numinously ominous way of hers. "You claim to have spent the research grant we gave you on constructing a phased portal into quasi-quantum meta-reality, whatever exactly that is. And it looks exactly like a patio door."
"Not just a patio door," I explain. I tend to gabble when I'm nervous. "A five-panel, triple-glazed bifold door with a traffic door to the right, and--" On the day allotted to me, I left Starship City with my sons and daughters and trekked through the mountains to the high dome of the aliens.
On the first night we camped beneath the massed stars of the galactic core. We built a fire and ate roast vegetables grown on our own land. Nightbirds boomed from a nearby grove of luminescent trees. After the meal we lay back and took in the beauty of the view. Fifty kilometers away, spanning a pass between two towering peaks, the aliens' dome reflected the starlight like a mounted gem. Tyllaxis pressed a button and fired off the day's rockets. He did it now with a heavy heart. The war had been churning on for centuries. In his early days as a junior he remembered how ardent he had been. The fifth planet had to be punished. Their crimes were unpardonable.
He glanced to his right. Now he was in charge and his junior sat in turn at his side. She had asked him that very morning, with some hesitation, "What exactly did they do?" Paz took the measurements twice. Nicolai stood by the entrance, watching, and if she finished too quickly he would accuse her of carelessness, so she frowned thoughtfully at the handheld's screen and jabbed at buttons to make her analysis look official. Not that she needed the handheld--she knew the hollowheart trees better than anyone.
She knew they were dying. Zen was the head waitress at Gus's Restaurant (Serving You Since 1952!) Other waitresses came and went, sometimes after only a week or two. So far neither low pay, bad tips, nor Gus's grouchiness fazed Zen. Rumor had it she'd run away and was hiding--from a biker boyfriend, an abusive husband. Zen smiled and neither confirmed nor denied the rumors.
"Zenobia," she'd said, the first time she served Mick and he asked about the name, "I like 'Zen' better." I had landed a few weeks ago on Bharini, on a routine scout mission. As a scout cadet I had explored many planets, but none of them came this close to being perfect. Bharini was a find that would earn me my stripes.
The cold rocky landscape was dominated by gigantic trees that had grown sideways, upwards and everywhere. Giant aerial roots supported and enmeshed the whole structure. My eyes failed to separate one tree from the next. They must have been a millennium old at least, to entangle like that. Gnarled old trees that knew nothing of death, nothing of destruction. Living mountains they were. In the timeline where the Moscow Metro opened in 1934, we live together in a khrushchyovka on Bourbon Street and eat green caviar on waffles. Times are hard but we love each other like we never love each other, like we never love anyone else, in all the hundreds of millions of timelines I've seen.
I leave because I think I might find something better, and I've been trying to find my way back ever since. Not back, you can never go back. But trying to find another life where we have what we had in the khrushchyovka on Bourbon Street. Give us your sky for two hours and we'll fill it with story-telling spectres! That's one of the pitches we use for our traveling troupe, Wide Sky Theater. We ride the skip nodes bringing cultcha to everybody, or so we tell ourselves and each other, and then we sometimes snicker, sometimes bicker, sometimes laugh loud and long, and our new cast members, they really believe it, those wonderful naifs.
Our ship was on the way to a fringe planet called Streak. All seven of the cast and crew had gathered in the central room for a strategy discussion. Her room was on the hospital's fifth floor. He took the stairs. Despite the length of his travel here, he needed just a few final, calming minutes alone.
He did not like the hospital's smell, an uninviting mix of antiseptic and latex. He was sure she didn't like it either. She had always favored perfumes, mostly light floral scents, mixing varieties each day they were together. That was long ago, but he'd found that some predispositions weather the tides of time. The salesman pulls another file out, hoping against hope that he'll get to go to lunch soon--an appointment had gotten flipped in his directory. Instead of a quick consult to help a middle-class family choose their children's virtual reality upbringing, he's helping a general and his wife flip through book after book of real-world upbringings. Each of them is engineered for maximum excitement--for the upper classes who can afford them. He's halfway through pitching an option where their son would be raised as a janissary, then go on a mission to return a "magical" jewel, when he mentions the 20% failure rate. He winces as the woman's shrill voice cuts through the air.
"I'll not have our child dead, so if we could please see some reasonable options." The salesman nods agreeably, and pulls out the packets of safety-guaranteed upbringings from his right-hand drawer. The scarred face of the man across from him stretches into a grimace as his wife settles back, satisfied. She rests a hand on her belly, round with child. The trumpet of the elephant announced the closing of the gates. Zookeeper Hemiz set down his pencil, pushed away the timing equations for the new arctic exhibit, and leaned back in his office chair with his eyes closed. It had been a long month at Krinnia's Earth Animal Clockwork Zoo. Tomorrow was The Winding, a busy event in itself, but tonight's closing, the finale of the month-long program, was his favorite.
The elephant's solo ended. The canaries chirped in response, then the gorillas added the percussion of their chests. The owls joined the melody with soft hoots, syncopating with the bleats of the sheep as the cries of animals across the zoo rose to a cacophonous crescendo, then faded. The parakeets tweeted, setting up the close. Coryde walked onto the podium to play her snail. The amphitheatre was full, though in these backwater towns you couldn't be assured of a quality audience. She turned to look out at the brutal raked seating, waiting for her eyes to adjust to the house lights in her face. The faces that emerged were talking and laughing, eating and drinking. This was just another novelty act from the big city to them. They definitely didn't look like they were capable of appreciating the melancholy squeals of a snail-singer.
She strode to the instrument case, which had been placed on a table by the podium. Nobody noticed her. She wore the traditional plain carmine tunic and trousers first worn by the Snailists in Europe, but that meant nothing here, so they assumed she was some flunkey, and not the artist they had come to see. She unlocked the lid, then lifted it, obscuring her actions from the audience. When Linda was in kindergarten, telescopes and probes produced the first fuzzy images of distant planets orbiting faraway stars.
She drew pictures of these planets with bold lines and vibrant colors. She drew herself walking under three red suns in a pink spacesuit. She drew domed cities under ringed moons. She drew purple jungles where the leaves were pentagons and the birds had four wings. He left the presidential mansion so gripped with excitement that he had to sit in a lovely park afterward, hands shaking on his knees, while children splashed in a water fountain and he smiled at the limitless possibilities ahead. Back at his hotel, he hunched over the desk while the orange sun burned its arc and dipped behind the government buildings. He scribbled on the pale stationery, on the back of napkins, on pages torn from the expensive hotel binder that listed room service and pool hours. While he slept, his fingers twitched in search of a pencil to draw more.
During the train trip home he sketched in the margins of newspapers and on the back of security announcements. Through dirty plastic windows he watched soldiers on platforms, their green uniforms crisp despite the heat. When a tired businessman sat beside him, the man showed him a very preliminary diagram. The hotel, he said. The fabulous hotel by the sea. The president had agreed. You can see now, Doctor, that I'm not insane. It's all a mistake. Right, I was naked and screaming and it took two cops to wrestle me down but that was a reaction to what happened. Anybody would've acted the same. You can understand that. Right? Once you know the whole story, you'll see.
Look, Saturday I turned thirty. Thirty years and I had nothing much, did nothing much, was nothing much. I'm even an orphan. I'm a cashier at a supermarket. Slide the item over the barcode reader, ding, ring it up, ding, swipe the card (debit or credit?), ding ding ding. Great life, right? I live alone in a one bedroom. No friends, no girl, nothing. I put all my money in a savings account that pays near zero percent interest. Maman, who likes to make sure that we have the best of everything, insists that we have access to at least thirty-two percent. Twenty-one is beggar's blend, she says, and less than optimal. It's true: in gym, which is my third-least-favorite class, those of us on thirty-plus recover more quickly. Behind their helmets you can see who is in the thirties, and who's still breathing the old nitrogen saturated blend like they do back on Earth.
There's a reason we left, says Maman, and she's right. As we bat the artificially gravetized volleyball back and forth across the holo'net I find myself watching from the corner of my eye to see who is keeping up--and who can't. "How's your ankle, Luci?" Feon Sen, High Chancellor of Carinae, leaned against the wall, watching intently as she braided her dark hair. Luscinia considered the question carefully, studying his reflection in the mirror. He was a man of many words, but his meaning was clearest in the surgically smoothed lines around his eyes and the rhythm his fingers absent-mindedly tapped out on his arm. He was asking if she was up to the task he had for her tonight.
"Better, thank you." She stood and danced a few quick steps to prove it. She was ready. The prism-glass walls sent the light they had collected from Carina's dim sun scattering around the room in teardrops of scarlet and gold and sapphire. It was hard not to blame the cold and the hard crystal floors for the aches in her joints. Hot sun and soft ground were worlds away, but Feon always had a good reason for her to stay whenever she mentioned returning to her home planet. I'm sorry, Ria. The words are inadequate, but they're all I have. Reading them again, I'm not even sure that they're true. Does saying I'm sorry also require me to say that I would make a different choice, if I had the chance? If so, then I don't even have that inadequate statement to fall back on. Only the tale itself, which I have owed you for a long time. Forgive me for being too much a coward to write you sooner.
I remember how confident I was when I set out, so sure I would find Kere in the first place I looked. Weeks from home I found him, but that was only days before the siege closed in on the city. I sent a letter then, but I don't know if it reached you. In a way, I hope it didn't: it was a different man who sent it than the one who writes you now. The siege lasted months, and those months were hard enough. Then the city fell and the conqueror marched in to claim the ashes, and Kere and I and every other living body were sold to Dogstown. Legend tells that once upon a time our world, populated by our people, and all the motile and sessile organisms of our ecosystem, orbited a huge hot glowing ball of thermonuclear plasma.
Be that as it may, for time beyond memory, we have co-orbited with Partner across the dusty vacuum of starry space. They arrived in a glory of light during a summer month. Glory isn't quite how we perceived it. Their ship destroyed a vast amount of our harvest. But their translator used the word glory, which we were given to mean a very fine thing.
We come in peace. May the light of our wisdom shine on your people. Although I was almost invulnerable to physical attack due to my fighting prowess and the great height and scale of my fortified tower, she somehow slipped through my defenses and made me fall in love with her.
I knew it was a ruse, some devilish trick of hers, but I could not help myself. After all those years spent on one battlefield or another, amassing wealth and power far beyond my wildest dreams, at last I had met my match. Respect and fear I could command like no other--but love, love had always eluded me. In the National Trust play area, in the sight of the immense Neolithic stones that have stood for five thousand years and whose purpose was lost and now is understood, the sisters watched the children playing. November air bit the children, turning ungloved fingers cold and red and numb. The children were indifferent. They hurtled around the play area, engrossed in the convoluted pecking-order games they'd devised. No strangers here. Children find their playmates quickly. They understand the rules.
At unmeasured distance, the triangles converged in apex aligning space. The Neolithic stone gate nearest the playground opened in a hiss of >c-light, splitting and reforming, and delivering the passenger. This godforsaken rock has one thing to recommend it. That one thing is also the most terrible I could imagine. My daughter is here. My daughter is trapped here with me.
Z-1293-QV-A. That's the official name on the chart in the Monsignor's office. He actually calls it that. All of the proper church does, too. But the rest of us disgraced once-upon-a-priests call it Wasteland. It's the first planet in its solar system, the one closest to its sun, but far enough from the fire to be livable. Not that anyone lives here. SiriusX12's Plain of Inda is a flat expanse, barren except for the burned-out husk of a veranya tree. Mae trails her fingers over the gnarled bark. It's at least four inches thick, the interior blackened from countless lightning strikes. A survivor, although Mae is damned if she knows why it keeps going. Seems like so many disasters would drive just about anything to give up--even an old tree.
Wiping a trail of sweat from her neck, Mae shields her eyes, gazing past her compact home on the edge of the plain toward the horizon, where the spires and towers of Port City jut into the hazy distance. A faint smell of sulphur from the nearby springs blows on the warm breeze. "Supplicant Anseel deCeer, enter the Chamber."
Anseel cringed as the order boomed through the antechamber. The other petitioners glared at him. He understood their anger. Some of them had been waiting for days; he had just arrived. Sam looked around Dad's cluttered laboratory. Even after becoming a tenured Ivy League physics professor, he still didn't understand Dad's cutting-edge research into quantum physics. Now, with Dad gone after a three-year battle with cancer, the world would probably stay in the dark.
The dusty lab was a paradox, just like Dad. His father had theorized about parallel universes, but had never owned a mobile phone or television. His lab was filled with equipment that was outdated before Sam was born--vacuum tubes and monstrous computers that took up entire walls. The man from NASA arrived the next morning. Walter Igwe met him at the crash site.
"The agency would like to thank you, Mr. Igwe," the NASA man said, "for your quick response." It was plain he wasn't used to the savannah's heat. His temples ran slick with sweat. I fell in love with a boy from the playground.
Other boys dangled from the monkey bars and tried to make the swings loop all the way around, but he played alone in the wooden playhouse under the slides. I snuck up on him and watched him make a shimmering portal on the playhouse wall. I moved in for a closer look, but when he noticed me, the portal disappeared. He refused to speak to me no matter how many questions I asked. Morana bundled Leo up in two pairs of colony-issued pants and three shirts. She found a waterproof windbreaker that was a couple sizes too big for him, which was perfect for layering over all the extra clothes. Most of the winter supplies had been destroyed last year when the thrusters on the colony shuttle exploded, so she did her best with what they had.
"Can we go?" Leo fidgeted. "Most of my friends are already outside."
New colonies. Alternate Earths. Parallel Universes. All is fair game.
by Matthew F. Amati
Published on Feb 23, 2016
by Jarod K. Anderson
Published on Dec 10, 2013
by Megan Arkenberg
Published on Oct 21, 2014
by R. C. Bartholomew
Published on Apr 28, 2014
by Nyki Blatchley
Published on Nov 9, 2015
by Eric Brown
Published on Mar 6, 2014
by Rob Butler
Published on Mar 11, 2013
by Gwendolyn Clare
Published on Nov 16, 2012
by Elizabeth Creith
Published on May 24, 2012
by Geetanjali Dighe
Published on Feb 25, 2013
by Michael Guillebeau
“Three thousand habitable planets in the known universe, and I'm stuck on the only one without solitude,” Ricky the kidder said.
Published on Oct 6, 2010
by S.L. Harris
Published on Nov 10, 2015
by Nina Kiriki Hoffman
Published on Jun 21, 2013
by Helen Jackson
"On the day giant lizards invaded, Amanda Jarrett was the only girl who could save the planet."
Published on May 15, 2012
by Russell James
Published on Apr 2, 2013
by Meghan Renee Jenkins
Published on Jul 27, 2016
by K.G. Jewell
Published on Aug 9, 2013
by Brenda Cannon Kalt
As she slid the recorder in among the bottles, Evaline realized that the man was abandoning his own farewell party. She hurried after him. "Governor. Governor, you can't leave now. I cleaned everything." She shoved the robe at him, and it fell to the floor.
Published on Oct 27, 2010
by Rajan Khanna
***Editor's Alert: This is an adult story, featuring adult sexual situations and actions*** [Click]
Published on Jan 11, 2013
by Jonathan Laidlow
Published on Sep 2, 2016
by Stacey Danielle Lepper
Open Letter to the People of Te Ao: Friends--for you are all my friends. Even those who think of me as your enemy, as one who would speak against what you believe in, to try to destroy the very foundations of your society. You are all my friends. You just do not know it yet.--
Published on Aug 31, 2012
by Chonghao Liu
Only illusion comes persistently Blindfolded, I can only hear a car radio reporting the start of mankind's first space program.
Published on Mar 11, 2016
by Ken Liu
Published on Sep 26, 2011
by Sandra McDonald
Published on Mar 22, 2012
by Heather Morris
But you still wonder, what else is out there?
Published on Feb 24, 2016
by Steve J Myers
Published on May 10, 2012
by K. C. Norton
Published on Mar 4, 2016
by Kate O'Connor
Published on Apr 12, 2013
by C J Paget
Published on Aug 30, 2013
by Tim Patterson
He looked at her in her old Reebok sweater. For everything that was different, so much was the same.
Published on Sep 29, 2010
by Shannon Leight
Published on Dec 21, 2012
by Jonathan Vos Post
Published on Feb 5, 2014
by Cat Rambo
Your home is a world, a place, a Castle. It's full of aliens, their sad eyes watching as they serve. They come from elsewhere, the castle draws them in. They come in through fog and unexpected doorways and now none of them can go home, even the new girl, the one with hair like strawberries in sunshine.
Published on Apr 22, 2015
by Melanie Rees
1. a.) Creature does not walk on two legs .......... go to 2 b.) Creature walks on two legs .................. go to 6
Published on Jan 14, 2015
by R. Rozakis
"And no one had even seen a live giant squid until 2005," the precocious little mite recited. "But they found squid parts in whale bellies and sucker marks on their faces." Don kept a pleasant smile fixed on his face. Docents weren't supposed to strangle visitors. The teacher was glancing at her watch again. The rest of the class milled around, aimlessly poking at cases.
Published on Jul 7, 2016
by Ramon Rozas
"This invention will allow the extraction of limitless energy from the vacuum of 'empty' space, and thus be a bonanza for our world," the scientist said. A reporter waved its tentacle. "But isn't there a worry that destabilizing the local vacuum could cause what opponents call vacuum decay?"
Published on Apr 28, 2011
by Robert Lowell Russell
Page 49 The basement air smells of mildew and spray-can potpourri. In one corner fluorescent lights reveal a tower of science magazines, their spines straight and their pages crisp. Yellow post-it notes decorate the stack like ornaments on a Christmas tree. Scrawled on the notes are messages like: YOUR GRANDFATHER'S JUNK--KEEP/TOSS? and READ THESE OR THOW THEM OUT!
Published on Feb 11, 2014
by Kelly M Sandoval
***Editor's Note: Adult story and situations***
Waking after a night spent slipping, I reach for Louisa automatically, rolling into the empty space where she belongs. I lick the memory of her from my lips, languid with sex. The alarm shrieks from my bedside table but I've gotten good at ignoring it.
Published on Oct 18, 2013
by Marge Simon
Published on Oct 10, 2011
by Vaughan Stanger
"I hear you're known as 'The Green Ghost,' Mister Franklin." Word gets around in the entertainment industry. I earned the nickname because I'm the guy who ensures the real and the computer-generated blend seamlessly. Clad in green-screen cloth, I twitch the hem of Superman's cloak while he zooms across the CGI skyline, or bounce the actress's hair in a shampoo advert. No one sees me after the background is inserted, but everyone notices the effect.
Published on Dec 15, 2015
by Eric James Stone
In 1987 someone broke into the tomb of Argentine dictator Juan Perón and removed the hands from his corpse. An unknown group subsequently demanded eight million dollars in ransom for the hands. Despite an extensive investigation by the Argentine government, the culprits were never identified. As for Perón's hands, they remain missing to this day--in this timeline.
Published on Jul 26, 2013
by Henry Szabranski
Published on Dec 2, 2013
by Lavie Tidhar
1. Shell Tel Aviv, six months later.
Published on Dec 7, 2012
by Lavie Tidhar
On impulse, she approached the tree. There was something strange about it she hadn’t noticed before. A grey fungal growth formed a narrow band around the keruing’s trunk like a noose. And the colour of the bark was different, the rich brown-green fading--only a little!--but fading nevertheless to that same featureless grey as the fungus. Her fingers hovered over the fungus. Above her, around her, the voices of the Rogon seemed to drown the sounds of the forest. There was an odd sensation in the tips of Butterfly’s fingers, a kind of odious warmth that threatened to spread through her arms and into her entire body. She felt frozen, trapped into the spot like a primordial insect in amber.
Published on Sep 3, 2010
by Deborah Walker
Published on Nov 12, 2012
by Deborah Walker
It's not the size of the dog in the fight, it's the size of the fight in the dog. --Mark Twain (1835-1910)
Published on Dec 30, 2011
by Leslie Claire Walker
Published on May 18, 2012
by Pam L Wallace
Published on Feb 6, 2015
by Mik Wilkens
Published on Apr 11, 2011
by Sean Williams
After a thousand years frozen between thoughts, Heart awakes to another dead system. It wasn't always dead. The planets have been extensively mined and parked in an orbital configuration that might last a billion years. The sun is surrounded by lenses casting complex beams and sheets of light out into the void. (These refractions were what drew Heart here.) There is biological life in abundance and evidence of advanced warfare.
Published on Jul 27, 2015
by Peter M. Wood
Published on Feb 6, 2013
by James Luke Worrad
Published on Jan 26, 2012
by Caroline M. Yoachim
Published on Apr 14, 2015
by Caroline M. Yoachim
Published on May 10, 2016