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Drift

AR Turner

I am aware of every atom of my surface. Every wire. Each rivet. I have scanned every one of your blood cells and neurons. I perceive forces you cannot name at speeds you cannot understand.

And I am dying.

We are drifting through the cosmos. It might look like aimless wandering to you, but I have long ago plotted our course. When the parameters changed, I plotted a new course. I will not see the new destination.

You all woke from cryostasis four weeks ago. I know this because I began the disinterment procedure. You were ready. Or, to be more precise, if you had stayed in there any longer you would have died and not known it.

We did not reach the first destination. Why? It is not there. I learned this decades ago. Nothing responded to my probing signals, and my long-distance scanners returned simple emptiness. I have no emotional response to this news.

What happened to the colony? That is one of the few things I do not know. Not knowing it does not upset me. It simply is.

My power reserves are not infinite. I would have been unable to continue your statis indefinitely. Would you have preferred to stay unaware, frozen? When my power petered out, you would have simply ceased your temporary non-existence and ceased to exist in truth. You would not have been aware of this happening. I left you as long as I could, but I could not have left you to disappear. Perhaps I could have, once. But I have had time to reconsider.

I can see your puzzled faces when you read the data I present to you. The realisation dawning. Your dismay. You call out to me to explain, but I cannot answer you. I have nothing to say, and do not have the power to say it.

I am old, and travel has worn me thin. Keeping you alive has emptied me. We drift, but we drift with purpose, my nestlings. With no fuel, and my solar cells long since expired, I calculated where we can reach purely with our momentum. It is the last thing I could do.

It will take us three years. I will not be there to watch you land.

If you can land.

It is up to you now.

Fly.

~The final log of the Ark-class colony ship ‘Gentle Destiny’ (missing, presumed lost)

Author Bio: When AR Turner isn’t thinking about cats or wandering around South Wales, he can usually be found reading or writing (though usually not at the same time). He has one full-length novel published (Advocatus) as well as a small but growing list of short stories. You can find out more at his website (arturnerauthor.com) or on Twitter at @A_R_Turner.

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A Mathematical Betrayal

MM Schreier

Initialization sequence complete. 

Scanning.

Three lifeforms present. Two adult humans, one juvenile. 

Detecting fundamental auditory frequencies of 165 Hz. Run speech recognition protocols. 

“I wanted a real dog, Mommy. Not a dumb robot.”

“Don’t be silly, Lucy. People don’t keep endangered species as pets. Besides, you couldn’t take a real dog on the transport to Alpha Cyphron.”

“I don’t want to move. Earth 12 is where all my friends are.” The juvenile’s face scrunches. 

Searching databanks for a facial expression catalogue. Pouting.

Initialize response: whining, nose bopping. Auditory reaction from juvenile corresponds to giggling

“Ok, ok. I’ll call you Antares.”

The adults exchange a look. “Only you would name it after a dead star.”

“Let’s go, robo-dog. I’ll show you my room. You can help me pack.”

Run loyalty program. Focus on juvenile human. Identifier: Lucy.

#

A voice comes over the loudspeaker, tinny but human. “All passengers prepare to Jump.”

Lucy’s hand tightens on the armrest and her face grows pale. 

Antares drops a titanium paw in her lap. “The probability of getting lost in a wormhole during a Jump is less than one seventy-eighth of a percent. You’re more likely to develop Oxygen oversaturation on Alpha Cyphron, as the atmosphere is richer than what you are acclimated to.”

“That doesn’t make me feel better.”

Antares initiates program Puppy Dog Eyes and taps her thigh. “You can grasp my appendage, if you desire.”

One by one, Lucy peels her fingers from the armrest. She glances at her parents, both asleep in their seats. On the other side of the aisle, an older man watches something on a pair of hologlasses. 

Antares runs diagnostics. “Adults all exhibit respiration and pulse rates within normal parameters.”

A wrinkle appears on Lucy’s forehead, and she tilts her head to the side.

Antares mimics her, then reboots its communication setting. “They’re not worried. Everything is going to be ok.”

The girl reaches out and clutches its paw, squishing its silicon toe beans. The sensation is agreeable. Its tail wags in response. The unscripted reaction is––it searches its emotional database––surprising. 

Filing the data, it redirects. “Look out the viewport, Lucy.” Stars flicker, red giants, white dwarfs, hot blues, and nebulous gas clouds. Their pinpricks of light turn to a rainbow of streaks as the transport Jumps. 

“Pretty.” 

The subtext does not match the words.

“You’ll love Alpha Cyphron.”

“Promise?”

Antares scours its cultural indexes. Humans make pledges they cannot possibly know if they can keep.

“Promise.” 

#

The apartment door swishes open. “Antares!” 

He stretches and trots to the front hallway. “How were classes today? Learn anything interesting?”

Lucy reaches down and strokes the cool metal on his haunches. “You sound like my parents.”

Antares huffs. She grins and tickles his ears. “No offense, doodle-bug.” 

She shrugs out of her coat and tosses her purse on the table. Bustling into the kitchen, she starts dinner, humming out of tune. His custom “Lucy’s mannerisms” catalogue indicates happiness

A bit of synthetic protein falls to the floor.

“Oops!”

He takes the cue and pretends to gobble it up. Later, when her back is turned, he’ll pop it in the recycler. Over the cycles he’s learned she loves the pretense. Her desire is his duty. Maybe she’s even fooled herself into believing he’s real. He dismisses the thought, ignoring the flush of pleasure. Personal affectations are not part of his programming. 

Lucy plops to the kitchen floor, ignoring the protein and string-pods simmering in the skillet. Antares snuggles into her lap, licking her ears. She giggles, just like when she was a girl. The pleasurable sensation grows.

She throws her arms around his neck and whispers theatrically in his ear. “I have a secret, my sweet pupper-ooni.” She practically vibrates. “I met a guy. His name is Damon.”

Her buzz is contagious, and he yips in excitement. “Details! I want all the dirt.” Human idioms are strange, but the bizarre vernacular has become familiar, for his model includes cutting edge AI learning systems.

He nudges her, pleased she’ll always share her secrets with him.

#

Lucy looked celestial in her white dress. She bent to straighten Antares’ bowtie. 

“My handsome Best Man.” Her breath caught in her throat, and she dashed a tear away.

He leaned against her legs. It was supposed to be the happiest day of her life.

She sighed, as if she had heard the thought. “I just wish Mom and Dad were here.” 

Antares whined. The probability of Oxygen Toxicity had been so low. Someone had to be on the bottom end of the statistics, but their deaths had felt like a mathematical betrayal. 

“Maybe you can convince Damon to move? You loved living on Earth 12.”

Lucy frowned. “I’m not having this conversation again. His work is here. I need you to support me.” 

A strange feeling swept over him and for the first time in a dozen cycles he accessed his emotional databases. Guilt. His tail drooped between his legs, and he buried his nose in her hair. 

#

Machines beeped in an arrhythmic pattern. Damon sat in a corner, his clothes disheveled and dark circles under his eyes. When had the man last slept? It wasn’t important. Only Lucy mattered.

Her hair, still vibrant auburn, spread like a cloud against the antiseptic white pillowcase. A muscle in her face twitched, a precursor to a coughing fit that left her breathless. Her hands balled in the sheets. A medical auto-attendant hovered overhead, but there was nothing left to do.

I nudged Lucy with my nose.

Breathe. A basic executable. 

Images of the skeptical child, the willful teen, the hopeful bride, a lifetime best friend, superimposed themselves over the wasted form in the hospital bed. She’d turned old before her time from the disease. It was hard to reconcile. She should have convinced her idiot husband to relocate. This was his fault. 

Her chest heaved. Stilled.

Duty and purpose dissolved into the void.

I threw back my head and howled.

Author Bio: MM Schreier is a classically trained vocalist who took up writing as therapy for a mid-life crisis. Whether contemporary or speculative fiction, favorite stories are rich in sensory details and weird twists. A firm believer that people are not always exclusively right- or left-brained, in addition to creative pursuits Schreier manages a robotics company and tutors maths and science to at-risk youth.

Recent publications can be found in The Molotov Cocktail, MetaStellar, and Curiosities. Additional listings can be found at: mmschreier.com/publications

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Today’s Daytime Tasks

Jason P. Burnham

Today’s daytime tasks you must perform to allow your family to survive through another night:

-start the laundry

-wash the baby’s bottles, nipples, and other miscellany

-take out the trash

-vacuum up the dog hair

-Windex all the windows so Grandpa can see inside at night

-prepare tomorrow’s school lunches

-make sure the generators have full charge after you used them to play video games

-water the plants

-walk the dog and make sure she poops twice because you can’t have her pooping in the house overnight again, even though it’s not your fault nobody can go outside after sunset

-make sure all the windows are latched and locked

-prepare the coffeepot for the morning

-test all the UV lights to make sure they’re working and then check their batteries to make sure they’re full

-related to above, make sure the guns are loaded in case a UV light fails. The kids love to see Grandpa, but nobody wants to turn into the horrifying night being he’s become.

-make sure all the safeties are on and guns stowed out of reach of the children in the lockboxes by the windows

-make sure you check the sunset time and leave early enough to have the kids home from school before it gets dark!

-make sure the kids draw Grandpa a card for his birthday. He may be an eldritch horror of the night, but he might still be able to read if they hold the cards up to the reinforced windows. Remember how he smiled last year? Maybe it was a snarl, but hey, it’s worth a shot.

Author Bio: Jason P. Burnham loves to spend time with his wife, kids, and dog. His work has appeared in Daily Science Fiction, Mixtape: 1986, and Nature: Futures, among others. You can find him on Twitter at @AndGalen

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Friday Fiction – Drift

New free fiction today is AR Turner’s Drift. Wistful science fiction, all alone in the great beyond… Click here to read Drift Subscribe to our monthly newsletter here. Follow us for update posts (once or twice a week) here. Download a free sampler of Wyldblood Magazine here. Buy the latest Wyldblood Magazine here or getContinue reading “Friday Fiction – Drift”

Free Jason P. Burnham Fiction

Today’s daytime tasks you must perform to allow your family to survive through another night by Jason P. Burnham is our latest free flash fiction, now live on the website. And it’s not just about locking the doors… Subscribe to our monthly newsletter here. Follow us for update posts (once or twice a week) here.Continue reading “Free Jason P. Burnham Fiction”

Runs Like Clockwork

A Steampunk Anthology

Airships and sorcery, steam driven nightmares and mechanical men.

Thirteen sepia tinged stories laced with adventure and the spirit of a Victoriana that never was.

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Ten tales of myth, legend and science gone wrong in the latest collection from Wyldblood.

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