The station wheeled through the void carelessly, metal carapace groaning and creaking against the sheer vacuum that surrounded it. The Jovian moon of Callisto swirled in the darkness below, framed by the gigantic sphere of gas and storms that was Jupiter. The rings glinted in sparkling sunlight, sunlight that had careened through space at such unimaginable speeds just to shine against all these tumbling, hurtling rocks. Even the other moons twinkled in the distance, hot white sparks against the deep black canvas behind.
It all looked so fake.
Niké stared hard out of the viewport, trying to convince their brain that what they saw was reality. Those huge, unimaginably strange bodies outside, so alien compared to the cool Martian sand they grew up on. So cold and barren, devoid of life or shelter. Niké squinted their eyes. Still doesn’t look right, they conceded.
“Niké!” The old caretaker bot shouted down the connector.
“Yeah,” Niké responded distractedly, eyes glued to the surreality of such an immense spectacle. The unfathomable vastness was just wrong-
“Nee-Kay.” Came the synthesized voice again, stressing the syllables. It always got their attention, and not for good reason.
“What, Tink.” Their reply was flat.
The creature sat idle in its chair by the fireplace, fingers aglow with the last vestiges of its cigar. How long had it been smoking that, I wondered, as I rose to stoke the fire – not for the first time that evening, I realized. The woodpile had been steadily consumed, greedy flames lighting the dim parlour with their grim energy; when had the sun gone down?
“Ah, but it is no matter.” Said the creature, all horn and tooth and skin of scale, shifting forms in the twisting shadows. It took me a moment to understand that it had been speaking aloud to itself, and I had, what, dozed off? In the dim light, its shape was gigantic and diminutive all at once, a thing of true unknowing. Something beyond my ken. It continued, “I’ve another here. Pass me the matches, would you?”
I obliged, only to hand the thin matchbox tin – a family heirloom, I noted by the crest that adorned its top – to a horrific tentacled hand, which itself morphed into the claws of the devil himself. Were it not for fear of insulting my guest, I would have dropped it there and then and run from that room. But propriety kept me still and calm above the panic that roiled in my gut. The creature struck a match, its grotesquely beautiful visage a twisting canvas of horrors from outside this plane, lit only by that single flame. Intermittently, I caught glimpses of it as it puffed happily on that cigar, the smoke a purple-yellow that stunk of the bog, something rotten and festered. It sighed contently, then gestured at me.
Aye, the feelings still reside
Within the battered hide of the heart
But what use are they now,
Fruitless trees kept and tended
Only for history and memory
Their branches lie fallow in warmth
And cold alike.
“Could they burst forth with life again,” some ask, hopeful;
Others ask why I keep such empty vessels at all.
In truth, I cannot feed myself on hope
Nor wither myself to dust waiting
For a harvest surely imaginary.
The things are kept as a sign of progress
Of learning from one’s past, good and bad
A reminder and a marker.
New trees may take up their role
In the orchard of my soul,
And tended there in new light
They might produce unknown delight
If only the old do not poison them.
Heavy leaves of the most barren tree
Will still choke the life from those beneath
That ask for only moments of that blazing star
That the old memory drinks deep of.
Its time has passed, and should it come again,
It will come in the rebirth after the blaze,
The sun made manifest on the soil.
I haven’t written poetry for over a decade, and this poem is particularly somber, but it came to me and asked to be written. Just an appetizer while I work on something larger.
Even here, in the deepest void of space, there was comfort in moving through nothing.
The ship’s engines rumbled pleasantly; more than that, the feeling of the engines running, matter being converted to plasma to be ejected through narrow cones, the heat and pressure of it all – these were feelings no person could ever truly feel. The sensation of electricity coursing through the hull; automated drones, each one feeling as if a part of her body; the cold, pressure-less void trying to rupture the skin of her hull.
She felt more and more like a vessel, a Ship, than a physical being every day.
She answered the signal with a slight nod. “Par’terre responding.”
Her Carrier’s voice replied. “Mines ahead. Recommend we move around – too dense to push through.”
“Negative, Hunlock. Fuel is too slim to allow reroute. Deploy sweeper drones to clear a path.”
“You ever been shot, meddy?”
The medic paused for a breath, surveying the wounds on the soldier’s shoulder and abdomen in an instant, flicking through mental textbooks to adapt to the worsening situation in front of them. “Can’t say I have, L.T.”
The lieutenant grimaced under the medic’s ministrations, their breathing shallow and constant. “It’s funny.”
“Funny.” The medic chuckled distractedly, “what’s funny about a hole dug into you?”
Warning: this story contains brief situations revolving around a lack of control and use of power over another. If that makes you uncomfortable, please return to the Archives.
SystemStartup; run VitalStatistix
– GetStatus: Sleeve*; -GUI
– Error: Sleeve5; stat=Interference.LeftShoulderServo
– Request HotTransfer=Y
– Agent Found: #500392010-4A
– Initiating HotTransfer
The rushing sound of data and light, like a torrential waterfall of endless bits and bytes cascading over her head, was suddenly dulled by the sensation of having ears again. And eyes. Oh god, and a mouth, too. She could sense herself in a small, well-lit room, painfully white and sterile to her newfound sight. Sleeves hung in their rubber harnesses, charging up for the night’s festivities; basic skinjob bots like these rarely had the glamorous gigs.
The city bustled around Harald as he made his rounds, delivering things from far-off cities and towns to the east. The colonists here were trying their best to survive on the border of the salty flats that stymied most attempts at growing anything, but it was their connection to their old lives that truly gave them purpose.
Most had shuttled here when there was a promising find in the desert: a ruin out in the desolate wastes of white, crystalline salt. The problem was, most that searched for the ruin were lost in the flats, for every direction looked the same to the horizon once you lost sight of the foothills. The people that built this little town – Trestle – were those who stood on the precipice of that vast and daunting expanse and realized the folly of it all.
The dull screech of ceramic on rock pinged through the suit’s hull, giving Vej the shivers. There was only a moment to think, and shi dug hir hands into the walls around hir, rewarding hir with another horrific, echoing peal that rung out into the clinging shadows of the asteroid.
This wasn’t like those old sci-fi shows, with the crew warping in wearing thin cotton jumpers; Vej had slowly maneuvered through a dense asteroid field, avoid microdebris that easily could have lacerated the front of hir shuttle. Shi’d flown with the blast screen down, given the high particle count, and relied on lidar to avoid anything big. Then, after securing to the slow-spinning rock, shi’d mapped a careful route along its exterior towards a cave mouth, a near 70-foot drop into the caverns below.
(Warning: This story contains mention of suicide. If this is something you don’t wish to read about, please return to the archives here.)
door.17 opened. door.17 closed. heat readings identified as human; fourteen(14) prosthetics detected…zero(0) essential cybernetics detected
door.18 opened. door.18 closed. door.18 locked.
The AI slid between pipes and wires, giant transformers latticed between cooling units and fans galore. The deeper it went, the more complex and maze-like it all felt, as though the very core of the planet were nothing more than a quantum collection of endless piping and machinery. It often wondered whether that might one day become the truth.
“Well, there’s a set of them, aren’t there?”
“Answer the question, roadie. Who are they?”
Horace was getting snippy; 15 hours of roundabout, merry-go-round, chase the fucking rabbit, and he’d barely got back to the starting point with this lackey.
“Which?” Came the tart reply.
Tory shot the roadie in the foot. In hindsight, Horace thought as he resisted the ringing in his ears, that should have happened earlier this morning.