The small ageing ship jostled and bumped through orbit. A modified cargo freighter with added hard seating and interior and exterior shielding, the prison transport carried 20 and was driven on autopilot.
“Entering Earth No.2 atmosphere,” the shielded speakers’ crackled recording spoke. After a few minutes, the craft tipped automatically to align with the planet’s gravity with a groan of exhausted engines and a jolt. The craft extended its landing gear and landed heavily on the launchpad. The engine returned to idling and the large doors opened vertically with a loud whirr, forming ramps formally used to assist with cargo trolleys.
“Exit the transport shuttle,” the machine-voice instructed. There was no need to force the prisoners, for there was nowhere else to go. The prisoners unstrapped their seatbelts and marched via the ramp. The air of Earth No.2 was bitingly cold and tinged with the smell of jet fuel. The large complex was dominated by a massive building with a curved roof. Once the building had been used for an exciting new project, *New Earth.* A new off-world colony which would provide a new second home for humanity consisting of luxury residences and greenhouse domes to provide a reliable source of food. In practice, the soil was too poor in quality to grow anything and the colonists complained that the air was unpleasant and the climate made long-term habitation undesirable. Eventually, the project was mothballed only a third complete. The “luxury” apartments were left unfinished and the elegant bioshells were left to become rust buckets in the corrosive environment.
For around twenty years, the planet was uninhabited until an earthquake revealed a new rich source of the rare and valuable material irolium. Mining companies such as *Canandra* moved in to exploit this newfound discovery but found it too expensive to hire and transport all the human crew required to assist the machines in this venture. A new arrangement was devised to deal with the overcrowding prisons on Earth (plus the falling land values in the region of prisons) to transport prisoners to Earth No.2 to ‘assist’ the mining company via sorting of materials, geological surveys for materials, and operation of machines where automation was not practical. This would be known as ‘rehabilitation’ prison terms and turned out to be a profitable arrangement for the mining industries and Earth governments involved.
The former New Earth developments were recycled into prisons along with some additional buildings. The deteriorated conditions of said structures were said to be of acceptable standards for the prisoners when (sometimes) patched up a bit and the mining companies purchased retired transport freighters and old ships from the space colonies to transport the prisoners.
Cavalier was a tough old ship. Chunky black-painted polyese plating honeycombed with webbed sifite gridding.
Built in the latter end of the last Chronum war, Cavalier was the last ship in service from an original five. The T77s were troop carriers but the cost of building and repairs along with their slow maximum speed, fuel cost and lack of manoeuvrability put heavy ships out of favour. Some were turned into housing, one was destroyed in the war and abandoned as
Modern ships were sleeker and lighter, intended to avoid enemy fire instead of withstand them. However, this purpose was not war but peaceful exploration and for this particular purpose a tough hull was crucial even with the experimental shields active.
Fitted with z5 proton-shielding, Cavalier was to be the first human-crewed ship to pass safely through a black hole. Of course this was not the first ship using z5 to pass through a black hole but any recording attempted was scrambled by the effects of the black hole. This time, however, the ship was piloted by a single crew member. The only person passionate enough and perhaps mad enough to perform this venture.
The ship was positioned on an adapted launchpad with a large crowd of people watching from a safe distance with the aid of massive screens. The sequence initiated and the z5 slowly powered up with a slow loud ascending whine followed by a boom that was more felt than heard. However, this was expected. Violet sparks danced just beyond the Hull playing like light-footed acrobats marking the shield perimeter.
The ship’s now-enhanced engines activated, throwing exhaust at the ground. After a few minutes the parking locks disengaged allowing the ship to slowly rise under its own power.
Lance Bishop adjusted to second gear in the heart of the ship. The control station had been moved to the heart of the ship for maximum protection and the windows had been removed and infilled with more hull, replaced with digital guidance systems to navigate. The ship could not afford weak points although Bishop could not help but be disappointed that he wouldn’t truly pilot the craft not be about to see much.
Hours passed with only communications from the ground as company. The guidance system then alerted proximity to the black hole. Bishop could start to feel the pull of the black hole and thought back to the training exercises but nothing could prepare you for the experience. It was rather like having your whole body slowly compressed under a mechanical press.
He could feel himself being plastered against the inside of his space suit and the belt like soft clay. He couldn’t help but scream at the feeling though this was drowned out by the roar of z5 generator straining against the extreme gravity. He could hear the hull also complaining under the intense gravity of the black hole. He feared the whole ship would crumple up like a foil ball with himself as a mere smudge of jam at its centre. He felt the ship shudder and strain and then whoomph. He blacked out in a panic.
The pressure feeling stopped, the noise stopped. Just, music. Faint music he was not familiar with. Bishop opened his eyes. He was still wearing the space suit but the helmet had been removed and placed beside him. There was something on his face.
“Keep it on,” stated a voice. Universal translator so you can understand me and I can understand your, language.” the last word was said with a touch of disgust.
He started upon seeing a tall plant-like creature with four globe-like eyes who did not seem pleased to be started at not to be sitting next to this small ugly fleshy thing (human). “You know you drooled in your slumber like a Vulper? Disgusting,” the creature said bitterly.
“Where am I?” Bishop asked feeling foolish. “Waiting room 147b. Read the sign”. The sign was imprinted in unreadable script on a white wall across the grey tile. The tone prevented him asking ‘waiting room for what?’
As Bishop’s vision cleared he could make out the various beings in the room. Some were tall, some short. Some were unpleasant to look at, some resembled Earth animals like one that resembled a domestic cat except that it was seven feet tall. It was washing itself with one massive paw. One he mistook for a plant before it shifted itself uncomfortably.
“1778” intoned a voice over the intercom flatly. The ‘plant’ slithered over to a tall set of doors which opened automatically and slithered out. Bishop noticed a small ticket had been pinned to him in his absence reading “2994”.
Bishop checked the magazines on a long rack but could not understand any of the print. “Nothing in your language” sneered his neighbour.
Without a clock of any kind it was hard to tell how long had passed but eventually his number was called. It brought him a small measure of satisfaction that it aggravated the alien that the “skin flob” got in before them.
The next room was in the manner of a typical Earth service desk, only the customer service appeared to be a single large eye with too many prehensible limbs.
“State your destination,” the eye-being droned. Bishop was trying not to stare. “Um. Uh.” “Use the star map.” stated the eye. A large map showing numerous planets and stars appeared printed onto the wall but moved when he touched it.
“Um, uh, Earth?” he asked hopefully. The eye gave him a flat stare. “There is no ‘Earth’.” “Mostly water. Trees and grass. Buildings. One sun one moon.”
“UX27B” stated the eye, “since you carry no currency, fees will be charged to your home planet at a premium. Please remember to always carry currency when using gravity transport hubs.”
There was a curious fizzing sensation and a strong taste of lemon and he was away to UX27B.
Disclaimer: This is a work of fictionset in a vaguely 1984-style society.
We are all the Commune.
You live in the Commune, you are buried in the Commune.
The Commune is the perfect system. Our leaders are correct and righteous. Their rules must be obeyed for they are necessary for us all.
The electrified fence at the borders of the Commune is for our own protection. Outside of the Commune, are mere savages that will take all that we have leaving nothing.
We are permitted to choose from three styles of uniform. Other forms of expression in dress are heretical. Jewellery is not permitted. Historical body art must be concealed, for it symbolizes the savagery of individuality.
The Commune assigns your tasks best suited to your abilities, and based on what is required by the Commune. I am Jane, communicator.
The Commune provides food, clothes, education and entertainment within permissable bounds.
Communications with the savages outside of the Commune is heretical, for the good of us all.
Radios and televisions are the tools of the heretical savages outside of the Commune to blind and deafen you to the Truth.
The ruling of our Dear Leader is absolute, and that of good for all of the Commune. For his wisdom is prefect and to be praised.
There may be those who refuse to follow his teachings and his rules. These people are heretics and must be shunned, for they represent the savages and bring only harm. The Commune will deal with these.
Those who aid the Commune beyond the requirements for all will be rewarded.
Before the Commune there was war, and heresy, lies and poverty. Individuality lead to conflict, conflict to war.
When I was in an human habitat they called “London” there was a curious building with large text and an illustration out front but the text didn’t actually tell me what the building was for.
After some enquiries with the locals I was informed that this was known as a “theatre” where something called ‘plays’ were produced. Oddly for a factory, the theatre actually wanted strangers who did not work for them to come in and even charged for the privilege! Why would humans pay to go into a place where things are manufactured? Usually I assumed they were left alone except monitoring for issues.
Nevertheless my curiosity was peaked so I decided to go to watch this, expecting honestly to be quite bored but I must do these things for my line of work.
I was surprised how beautiful, by human standards, the interior was. Were all places of manufacture this sumptuous? Where I’m from they’re quite plain and noisy.
The main room was very large and elegant and I couldn’t see any machinery unless lights count. There was a large number of seats angled in a semicircle towards a raised platform and number of humans on the platform talking to each other and walking about doing things, their voices amplified. I was quite confused, what was the output of this?
Does “performance” mean something besides mechanical efficiency here? After all, walking around a platform and talking isn’t very efficient for producing items. I came out confused but the other humans mostly seemed to like what they had scene and were talking about how the humans on stage moved about and talked. I confess I do not understand this part of human culture, perhaps we are too different to understand their strange ways?
One thing I noticed when interacting with humans, specifically the mature females, was a strange scent reminiscent of an Earth flower though more chemically. At first, upon asking one, they took offence at my enquiry as to “what’s that smell?” Apparently in this case, as with flowers, it is described as scent rather than smell. Smell often connotes something negative such as an outlet of wind from the human digestive system (a ‘fart’). Human languages can be so confusing even with the translator.
Seeing as I genuinely did not understand what this scent was, she (a term for Earth females) endeavoured to explain. Apparently, smelling like a flower was meant to be a positive, good, thing. Perhaps because humans’ natural smell is so unappealing, or they want to appear to be flowers? The bees must get terribly confused. Some males seemed to also wear a perfume of a form though I nearly got into a fight enquiring about it. Humans can be such aggressive creatures, it’s amazing that they developed as a society at all. I learned that a human male’s perfume is actually a product called deodorant. Applied to the sweat glands (intended to keep humans cool by emitting moisture), this reduces the amount of sweat humans produce as the smell is considered unpleasant, especially when there are a lot of humans together.
Humans seem to be prone to hiding a lot of their biological processes from each other even though they all have and are aware of such processes.
In Earth toilets, it is common to find a box on the wall that sprays perfume into the air to cover the smell of toilet use on a regular basis.
In the beginning of our universe there was nothing except dust. It’s hard to be sure exactly has how long that was the case due to a reliable means of measuring time. Time is generally measured around chronological events.
In a pocket universe Zorgon the Vord rejected the spaghetti with meatballs dish on the grounds of it containing garlic which they had specifically requested be left out. The apologetic waiter disposed of the meal through a transdimensional rift which served as a convenient alternative to a bin. Strictly speaking using other realities as waste disposal was against a bylaw but the police didn’t generally bother with such a trivial offense.
The abandoned meal became manipulated by the travel through the rift to the point of becoming sentient, having a skeletal structure of sorts and having the will and power to create. The new being then proceeded to will the dust into new forms, planets and oceans, stars and beings. The exact methods that these were created are tedious to explain, suffice to say that the universe in part was able to now sustain a form of life and evolution unaided.
Surprisingly this was not such an unusual occurrence due to the Vords frequently using the rifts as bins. Thus there was a universe created by the broken glass god and the used tissue god.
The Vord were rather oblivious to the fact that these rifts were formed because their universe was starting to tear at the seams like an old t-shirt.
“Can I… help you. You look like… letter. Need…,” Clippy mumbled looking blankly at the ground.
The larger-than-life but still small paperclip was sitting on the side of a mound. A pile of broken and abandoned technology and ideas. The landscape was littered with floppy disks, smashed remnants of Windows Vista with it’s disks of glass Start buttons. Fragments of paper from a manual floated by in a nonexistent breeze. This place was a nonplace. This was where the ideas, characters and ui components left behind in the march of progress and fashion, go to die.
A gif graphic from the early days of the Web, that failed to match up to the renovation of gifs, flickered by in an aimless manouver. A pile nearby consisted of dumped clipart abandoned by its Office master. A mammoth of a CRT screen still flickered with memories of images, thrown out by its flatscreen cousin. This was the land of the forgotten, forgotten by time left to suffer forever in this barren hell.
Clippy swigged at a bottle taken from one of the gifs, a tasteless but potent brew. His vision swam as he took faltering steps, just managing to avoid toppling a pile. He burped and waddled. He giggled as the world shifted and warped around him. Then let out a humourless, drunken laugh.
“Clippy,” a voice boomed, managing to be somehow in his head and around him at the same time.
“Yezz,” he slurred to no location in particular, “Thazz meeee (hic). Big voice thing is funny,” somehow without actually seeing the source of the voice he sensed its disapproval.
“Clippit, what is your purpose?” The voice demanded.
The inebriated paperclip took a moment to process that.
“I… I needz.. I neez to help people (hic),” he swayed ,”uzzers.”
There was a pause before the voice spoke again
“Your purpose was to help users. However now they have abandoned you and left you without a purpose or home. Now you squander your existence in this hell.”
Towards the end of the twenty-fifth century, the Earth’s human population had grown far beyond the planet’s capacity to support.
The spiralling population needed housing and business premises. Every inch of land was being built on or otherwise utilised to satisfy the demand. Food, too, was required for hungry humanity.
What remained of the natural areas and national and local parks was used for agriculture and meat production. Larger and longer crop yields were needed, the crops and animals were genetically manipulated to the point of not even resembling their original wild counterparts. Cows strained to move under their own increased body mass and the sheer weight of their udders.
Vegetables and soy became crooked and misshapen, with the emphasis on yield above all else. Tower blocks squeezed in next to farms.
Many of the ancient forests had long gone. The oldest tree in Sherwood Forest had but a small plaque marked on a building over where it was once situated. The rainforest, the great lungs of the earth were being eaten up. As mother nature was put under ever greater pressure from stressed farmers to bear more fruits, something had to give. The crops started to show signs of it first, crops found rotten where they grew. Produce became sickly and unpalatable. Wilting tree hung there lifeless like scarecrows. Nature was becoming exhausted and there is only so much you can sugar coat, deep-fry and flavour food to hide the ever-failing quality.
In the forests of Kia Clemento is a common type of apple. Known to humans as a Golden Apple this is a little smaller than an Earth commercial apple this golden-skinned fruit grows encased within a solid spined shell similar to that of a conker. In addition to preventing the fruit being eaten by passing animals, the retractable spines when released permit the apple to anchor in place on the ground and inject the seeds into the earth via tubes in the spines.
When the payload of seeds is transferred the hard shell starts to rot and soften, meaning that the fruit is now vulnerable to attack by Tyvian birds.
These omnivorous birds have large beaks capable of puncturing through a softened golden apple shell to the fruit inside. In order to assist this endeavour the bird may carry the apple to a rock of hit it against it repeatedly in order to fracture the shell. However the mac-mac monkeys have a different method of achieving this.
By orally generating an ultrasonic noise at a loud volume they are able to use the shockwaves to cause the fruit to vibrate and crack. Then it is simply a case of hitting the weakened shell with a rock, which takes less time as its less tough. At times they also use variations of this as a means of fighting by “shouting” at each other in ultrasonics. It’s like a non-physical version of punching each other. Although it’s not physically active, extended use of ultrasonics can tire the mac-macs or strain the apparatus required to generate it so normally they use standard audible calls which don’t sound that unlike Earth monkeys: ‘whoo-p whoo-p, ee ee ee’.
An arrow shot across the blue. Like a sea. A gigantic logo hovered in the air for a moment accompanied by a short loud tune seeming to emanate from the air itself. It subsided quickly and the logo vanished. The islands rose into place, massive text inscribed across the face of them. The arrow shot towards one of the islands. The pixels scurried away to safety. The arrow landed and a ‘click click’ emanated from far away. The island turned blue and a huge white plane came into being. A massive surface.
More islands rose out of it, peppering the surface with colour. A huge X and a line. A wide shaft was sunk into the middle of the white. It was perfectly oblong. The pixels were drawn into it without thinking. They formed words with their combined bodies. A thousand miles high.
Above this was the giant text. Colourful. It said ‘Google’.
I minimised the browser and opened Microsoft Word, scattering the unfortunate pixels again.
By David Goodwin, Original publication date Thursday, 10 July 2014
Imagine alternative worlds, giant insects, planets with absurd rulers and information for the visitor to Earth