With my attention focused on the main screens, my eyes glued to the free plasma levels, I barely heard the door to the command deck slide open. Indeed, I might not have heard it, even if I hadn’t been distracted. Chief Engineer Hansen had just been through last week with a can of atomized graphite, complaining about “the infernal squeaking every time it opens.”
Instead, I kept every bit of attention focused on the screens, watching the readouts. All I had to do was make sure I didn’t miss seeing- Continue reading
“Jerry, how’s this one look?”
I glanced over at the poster held in the receptionist’s hands, trying to smooth out the frowning creases in my face that threatened to become permanent. “Actually, that one’s not so bad,” I said after a minute’s reflection. “Very retro.”
The receptionist nodded, biting her lip as she looked down at it. “Our windows aren’t that big, though,” she pointed out.
I didn’t need a mirror to know that the twitch was back in my jaw. “Maybe they’re kids looking out the window, so they’re smaller. Whatever. It’s just an ad, Sherry.” Continue reading
Staring up at the smooth, featureless, curved gray surface, I couldn’t help but marvel at the plasticity of the human race. Show us the greatest miracle to ever come to Earth, and we treated it as a sideshow attraction, grew bored of it in a week.
Actually, that would make a good opening line for my next article. I pulled out my iPhone, turned on the dictation app, recited these words carefully into its speaker.
Sentence recorded, I put my phone away with a sigh, looking back up at the huge object in front of me. Off to the left, a couple dozen feet away, two guys in plush, fluorescent green alien costumes were posing with the eager beaver little families from Iowa that still flocked here.
“Damn thing’s a tourist attraction, now,” I sighed, settling back on the bench that I’d claimed as my territory. “Hey, honey, let’s grab the kids for Easter break and fly them out to New York, see that big ol’ alien spaceship that landed there! Won’t that be a treat for them?” Continue reading
The three figures stared at the crackling little fire, watching as a log occasionally split and sent a shower of sparks flying upward into the sky.
“Getting low on wood,” one of the three finally spoke up.
The other two didn’t move. They didn’t even look around, didn’t take their eyes off of the flickering flames. They especially didn’t look up at the rather strange architectural geometry of the sky above them, how the pinpricks of starlight in the night sky seemed to warp, as if they viewed the world through a fisheye lens.
The first figure waited another minute, tapping his fingers on the side of the log he’d drawn up as a makeshift seat. “I guess I’ll go get some more, shall I? Again,” he added pointedly. Continue reading
Sometimes, at the heart of night while the rest of the world slumbered, Ada stepped out of her house to listen to the emptiness.
The adults thought that she didn’t notice, didn’t pay attention to their hushed talk when they met for coffee or wine. She’d play in the living room as they gathered around the kitchen table, using foreboding tones to make predictions about how the world would look if the exodus continued, whether they were making the right choice for raising their kid. And indeed, most of the time, Ada kept her eyes on her dolls, not looking up or paying much attention.
But children are sponges, and Ada absorbed, if not the exact words spoken by her parents and the other adults of the neighborhood, their general gist. She felt that vague sense of foreboding, settling in at the back of her mind and making itself at home.
And it was that sense of foreboding that drove her, some nights, to step out of the house and climb to the top of the hill in the middle of their street, up to stand in the center of the road and gaze out at the world beyond their neighborhood. Continue reading
Hansen’s radio crackled in his ear. “Hey, captain?” came the voice of Jirra. “We’ve, er, got some heat signatures moving in towards you.”
“Captain?” called Jirra’s voice again. “There’s one big one, sir. Right in front of you, almost on top of you. Do you read? Can you confirm visual on it?” Jirra paused for a minute, musing. “It’s weirdly hot,” he said, more to himself than to his ship captain, down on the planet’s surface. “Almost like it’s on fire.”
He didn’t hear anything from the other end of the radio connection. “Captain?” he tried again. “Are you there? Can you confirm that the planet is inhabited?”
“Yes,” came the response finally, a single, terse word. Continue reading
I groaned, rubbing my hands over my eyes. It didn’t really make the aching go away, but I knew that, by the end of my shift, I’d feel worse.
A couple seats over from me, Ricky, the junior technician on duty, looked up with sympathy. “Hey, Dana, I’ve got some aspirin in my bag if you need one,” he offered gallantly.
I managed to give him a weak smile. “Thanks, Ricky,” I told him, “but I’m okay for now. Just getting ready to tackle the next batch of messages.” Continue reading
Continued from Part I, here.
Out in deep space…
The prove beeped. Its scan reported new activity.
Of course, it paused for a few nanoseconds for a second verification scan. After all, it was designed to avoid false positives. A hundred false negatives were better than a false positive, as they could always be corrected for at a later date.
But the second scan revealed the same presence. Sentients with the same subcomputational patterns were now present on a second planet within their star system.
The probe’s criteria for activation had been met. Continue reading
The probe arrived fifteen days after the first humans set foot in the colonies.
Of course, the colonies were already there and waiting. They’d been there for a while, sitting idly on the surface of Mars, occasionally powering up at regular intervals to perform preventative maintenance and keep their surfaces clean. There were, after all, always more tasks that the robots could carry out. The solar panels needed to be swept clear of dust daily, the supports that anchored the habitats to the thin Martian soil beneath needed to be bolstered and checked to ensure nothing had torn loose, the atmospheric synthesizers that would, one day, lead to Mars possessing a breathable atmosphere had to be maintained, the generators needed the occasional check-up…
So the robotic “minds” of the colonies passed time, waiting for their first inhabitants to arrive.
And somewhere else, out in deep space, the probe waited as well, watching the developments in the Sol system with endless patience… Continue reading
Continued from Part 1, here.
Cassie frowned at the P’tchar, watching him move with such prissy, fussy little movements. She’d never actually met one of the renowned traders in real life, but the purple-tinged black exoskeleton, the long and slender limbs, couldn’t belong to any other species.
A praying mantis, she thought as she watched him carefully seat himself at her table. That’s what he resembled. A purple-and-black praying mantis, with large, worried eyes, on the verge of breaking down over some internal source of stress.
But he had money, and he wanted to hire her. So she was willing to listen. Continue reading