SavagePlanets, January 2023

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SavagePlanets In This Issue... Andrew Graber Steven French Alex Foster Ben Coppin Keith 'Doc' Raymond An exclusive interview & story with: Greg Bear JANUARY 2023 Volume 3/Issue 1 EXTRATERRESTRIAL FICTION POEMS FROM IMAGINARIA SCI-FI ENTERTAINMENT PLANETARY COMMUNIQUE FUTURE ARTIFACTS SUBSPACE Where Dreams & Nightmares Collide in LovingMEMORY GREG BEAR August 20, 1951 - November 19, 2022
Contents Signals from the Stellar Core The Machine Starts Help from a Stranger Planetary Communiqué Sci-Fi Entertainment Command Problem Surface Level Poems from Imaginaria Future Artifacts Subspace Death on Titan Contributors Editor in Chief Steven S. Behram Fiction Editor Keith 'Doc' Raymond Poetry Editor Alexander N. Behram Art Editor B.o.B. (A.I. Sentience) SavagePlanets 01 I SavagePlanets 03 05 23 31 33 43 49 57 67 75 79 91
03 23 67 49 SavagePlanets I 02 05 43 79

Signals

from Stellar Core

the

A new year is upon us and we are filled with hope and aspirations for what the future holds and what we can accomplish. Will this year be the year of our dreams, or will it be the year where we realize our worst nightmares? At SavagePlanets, our optimism is always tempered with a healthy dose of pessimism, as you will soon find out.

Barycentric Interactions

In Sci-Fi Entertainment, we explore Evil: The Series. We also remember Greg Bear in one of his last interviews before his passing. In addition to publishing his story this quarter, we were afforded the opportunity to explore a number of different topics with this legend of science fiction. We also review the Swedish film Metropia from 2019.

Our Art Editor, BoB, explores imaginative visions with Future Artifacts.

violence and aggression.

you go for a deep dive in "Surface Level." We conclude with the role of nano-tech in "Death on Titan."

We showcase the talent of our fans in Subspace where we exhibit a compilation of two sentence science fiction stories. Lots of cleverness compressed into a very small volume. That's just what we like. We thank all that contributed from our social media for their clever posts (#savageplanets).

The Accretion Disk
03 I SavagePlanets

Cosmogony

We continue to look forward to receiving your stories and poems for consideration in our upcoming issues. We would love to showcase your talent in these pages.

Consider reading or writing more science fiction as you New Year's resolution. Stand apart from the crowd keen on making and breaking the same old resolutions. Let SavagePlanets guide you to a prosperous and speculative future in 2023, or whatever system or time reckoning is used in your solar system.

We appreciate your support. Visit us at savageplanets.com

Together, we may look to a great new year ahead.

SavagePlanets I 04

THE MACHINE STARTS

So much to lose, I thought. So careful not to sink the boat. Right now, he was the most famous man in computing. His name was on every news show, headlining every major science and tech journal. He was trending big on Twitter—#Masterofchaos."

Though I am otherwise relentlessly normal, I have one peculiarity: I get along well only with people who are smarter than me. My wife, for example, is smarter than me. Ergo, I am happy in my marriage.

In my present employment, I should be thrilled, because everyone around me is smarter and often at pains to prove that fact. It is my duty to reinforce their positive opinions, but to exert, now and then, minor course corrections. Nothing shores up a fine self-opinion better than success.

So far, five years into our project, we knew nothing but failure.

The first thing you saw as you

approached the perimeter site was the warehouse, large, square, and painted a brilliant titanium white. Surrounded by two high hurricane fences topped with glittering rolls of razor wire, it looked like the kind of place where you might store an A-bomb. Access to the site was on a strictly controlled, need-to-go basis. Parking was several hundred yards away, on a small lot covered with pulverized rubber. You were told not to drive a loud car, not to cut your exhaust or rev your engine, not to sing or even shout, upon penalty of being fired.

On the morning of the test, I drove into the lot and parked my white VW, old and shabby. I had owned it since college. My colleagues favored

Teslas or Mercedes-Benz. I liked my Rabbit.

In the lane between the fences, small robots rolled night and day— nonlethal, but capable of shooting barb-tipped wires that carried a discouraging shock. The robots inspected me with their tiny black eyes and, bored by my familiarity, rolled away.

They made the warehouse entirely of wood, no nails or brackets. It covered half an acre and sat on a thick pad of cement reinforced with plastic rebar and mesh. Beneath the pad lay a series of empty vaults that discouraged ground water, rodents, or anything else that might disturb the peace. They allowed no pipes

05 I SavagePlanets

or wires, except for those that fed directly into the warehouse.

After I passed through the fences, a single thick oak door gave access to the warehouse interior. I was scheduled to meet Hugh Tiflin, project manager and chief researcher. He was always prompt, but I was deliberately early. I wanted to reacquaint myself with the architecture, the atmosphere, the implications—to feel the place again.

I summoned up my image of Alan Turing. It is my habit to talk to the founder of modern computing, hoping for a reflection of his peculiar, sharp wisdom. What we were in the final stages of creating (we all hoped they were the final stages!) could transform humanity. A machine that

would end all our secrets. What would Mr. Turing think of such a newfangled machine?

He never answered, of course. But then, so far, neither did our machine.

I entered the security cage and listened to questions spoken by a soft, automated voice—personal questions that were sometimes embarrassing, sometimes sad, sometimes funny. I answered each of them truthfully enough and the cage opened.

Next to the cage, a small illuminated counter revealed the number of my recent visits: 4. In the last month,

I had only been here twice. The counter reset every day. I take it as a

personal affront when automated systems make mistakes.

A soft rain fell on the high, hollow roof, adding to my damp mood and the penetrating chill in the building. The warehouse was dark, except for a light in the far corner that glowed like a pale sun. I approached a low aluminum rail and stood in the long, curved shadow of a big black sphere, bloated and shiny, rising on tiny fins almost to the ceiling, silent but for the low hum of the power that kept it alive. A bank of heavily insulated pipes passed under the rails and through the wooden wall to dedicated generators and a refrigeration complex outside.

Early in its development, Tiflin had

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Extraterrestrial Fiction

named the sphere Magic 8 Ball, soon shortened to 8 Ball because, as Tiflin insisted, there was nothing magical about our machine—just good solid physics. It retained a window on one side, however, like the old fortune telling toy. Tiflin asked it to be painted on after we finished the first phase.

The window’s message: Try Again Later.

Reading that once more, I experienced an odd sort of dizziness, as if there were too many of me in one place—a symptom of stress and hard work, I presumed.

8 Ball was our third major attempt at a fully operational and manageable quantum computer. No doubt you’ve heard something about quantum computing. The underlying ideas are spooky and new, so a lot of what you’ve heard is bound to be wrong. A quantum computer works not with bits but with qubits, or quantum bits. The classic bit, like a light switch, is on or off, one or zero. We can keep a quantum bit in superposition, neither on nor off, nor both, nor neither—like Schrödinger’s cat until you open its very special box.

Off in far corners, two other enormous spheres peered from the shadows: 8 Ball’s defunct siblings, Mega and Mini. Mini was ten meters across and had once contained 128 qubits. In its scavenged condition— white insulation peeling, surrounded by a tangle of pipes and wires leading nowhere—it resembled a giant golf ball. We turned it off—killed it—three years ago. Standing in the opposite corner, Mega was eleven meters wide and resembled a moldy Florida orange. It contained 256 qubits, all niobium or aluminum

circuits bathed in liquid helium. It sort of worked for a time—and then it didn’t. Thumbs-down on Mega.

Filling the expanded north end of the building, 8 Ball was twelve meters in diameter and contained 1024 qubits, each a two-dimensional electron cloud clamped between plates of gallium arsenide and cooled to just a femtodegree above absolute zero. The qubits lined the sphere’s penultimate outer layer, and each one communicated, if that’s the right word, through braided world lines across a central vacuum to an entangled twin on the other side of the sphere. Entanglement meant the paired qubits duplicated each other’s quantum state. If one changed or ‘measured,’ the other would reflect that interference, no matter how far apart they were. They would reflect their superposition.

Each electron cloud became a new variety of matter, known as an anyon, confirmation of the existence of which we were particularly proud. The qubits’ spooky vacuum jive would, we hoped, help make 8 Ball the most stable quantum computer to date.

But despite a promising beginning, 8 Ball refused to work as designed. Sampling its output caused a catastrophic failure of the program strings, which themselves seemed to have turned into useless nonsense. That forced us to take a radically novel approach. It seemed very possible that if this effort failed, 8 Ball would soon join Mega and Mini as little more than another archaeological curiosity.

Tiflin asked me to meet him at the warehouse to help check out the newest part of our installation. I was

about to stoop to look underneath the black sphere when I noticed a small yellow piece of paper stuck to the rail—a Post-it Note. Other than me, nobody in the lab used Post-its, and I only used them in my office. I pulled up the note.

Written on one side in my squaredoff printing was, Don’t attempt to find me. I remembered neither writing this message nor sticking it on the rail. Maybe I simply forgot. Maybe someone was messing with me and put it there to screw with my day. There were plenty of smart-asses in our division capable of playing mind games. Work had been painfully difficult the last few weeks. Pressure on our entire team was intense.

I tried to think back and retrace my steps. Parking, walking, answering the absurdly personal questions, my little talk with Mr. Turing…

Then the dizzy spell.

I had never written a note.

Outside the warehouse, I heard the slam of a car door, followed by feet on gravel. A key clicked in the outer lock. Tiflin entered the security cage and muttered his own answers to the cage’s questions. The inner gate opened. He seemed even more distracted than I was. As he approached 8 Ball, he patted all of his pockets—shirt, pants, leather jacket—as if he’d forgotten something.

I crumpled the Post-it into a ball and hid it in my pants pocket.

When Tiflin came within a few steps, he glanced up at me, startled, and stopped patting, head cocked like a cat considering where to lick next. He broke that off with a long wink,

07 I SavagePlanets

meant to reassure me that Dr. Hugh Tiflin was indeed still in the building, then smoothed his hands down his coat.

At forty-two, Tiflin was a slender man whose upper torso was taller than average and whose legs were shorter. His neck was pale and swanlike, with distinct cords and veins that revealed frequent changes of emotion. His head was large and well-formed, with a chiseled chin and handsome eagle nose, topped by ebullient wavy brown hair. He wore a signature quilted black leather jacket over a cotton shirt, usually green or pink—green today—tucked into cotton-duck hiking pants. His running shoes were cheap and gray. Hugh replaced them every two or three months, but somehow they always looked dirty. He was the eldest in our team—older than me by a year. He was a genius, of course, or I’d never have worked with him.

“Good morning, Bose. How’s the scint?” he asked.

Four weeks ago, he eavesdropped on the qubits’ secret communications using a scintillation detector scavenged from a defense division CubeSat. The detector originally monitored radiation from orbit over Iran, North Korea, or Pakistan. Tiflin tuned the device to detect disturbances in 8 Ball’s vacuum—bursts of virtual radiation provoked by the movement of our qubits’ entangled photons. New stuff, amazing stuff. Who knew that a vacuum could act like a cloud chamber in a science museum? Tiflin knew—or knew people who knew. That’s why he was Tiflin.

I stooped again to peer at 8 Ball’s lower belly. A wide concrete platform between the main supports—the fins—steadied a stainless steel tube that poked up through 8 Ball’s shell and deep into its central vacuum. “Rudely intrusive,” I said.

Tiflin chuckled. “Right up the ass. We need to wake up this beast.”

He looked for himself. “Seems good,” he said, sucking on his cheeks. “Should help us track our progress.”

He rose, gripped the rail with both hands, and looked at 8 Ball with a piqued mix of adoration. I understood completely. I, too, regarded the black sphere with both love and dread. 8 Ball was beyond doubt the strangest human construct on Earth, and if Tiflin’s plans were all that he hinted, it was about to go through a sea change of procedure and programming.

“We’re due to meet with Cate in thirty minutes,” he said, again patting his pockets. Was he looking for his phone? A pen? A lighter? “Dieter’s got the strings ready to load. Need a ride?”

I didn’t, but the VW could wait. Tiflin and I needed time to reintegrate

SavagePlanets I 08
Extraterrestrial Fiction

our states to normalize. He sounded reasonably cheerful, but I knew the stress he was under. For a year, tough minds whose job it was to decide which funds should go where had been circling our project like sharks. They were far from convinced 8 Ball was in the division’s best interests. Other groups, however, were still making plans that assumed our success. Both were pressing hard on Tiflin.

The absurd level of continued, tooth-grinding investment showed how sexy the whole idea of quantum computing was, and how much everyone wanted to overturn the world’s security, expose all its secrets, and find deep answers to life’s simple questions before our enemies did—or at least before our competitors in Mumbai or Beijing did.

But we had yet to run a long-term, successful session. We seemed to be always smoothing the course,

pulling out obstacles—preparing over and over for the first big test. We both knew that could not continue.

Tiflin drove his Tesla back toward our offices with a look of fascinated fury, like a child behind the wheel of a bumper car. I clung to the armrests as we squealed into the concrete garage beside Building 10.

“Today will change everything,” he said, climbing out of the bucket seat. “Today will be 8 Ball’s first birthday.” He smiled his feral smile, upper lip rising over prominent canines. He was looking to see if I shared his conviction, if I would offer my full support.

That’s why I was here.

“We should bring a cake!” I said.

Our six quantum computing team members gathered in a small conference room for the first time in weeks. Tiflin fussed with the ceiling-mounted projector. The rest of us sat around the oval table, slumped or yawning, picking our fingernails, studying our cell phones before he locked the Faraday cage— hardly a picture of joy.

Cate Riva, director of research overseeing the entire division, asked for this get-together the day before. It was crunch time for the entire project—and for everyone on the team.

Facilitator and event coordinator

Gina Marsh, small, slender, redhaired and blue-eyed, had just made sure we were all present, that we were who we said we were, that our security profiles were up to date—and that we all looked reasonably clean.

“Cate will be here in a few minutes,” Tiflin said. The others looked his

09 I SavagePlanets

way with heavy-lidded eyes. “Here’s what’s going to happen.”

At Tiflin’s nod, the chief of software, Dieter Langmeier—tall, bald, bushy-bearded, and a certifiable genius at both systems design and higher-level mathematics—took over. “We’re loading new strings,” he began. “Gödel strings as before, but we’re going to re-sample the braids, drastically. I’ve adjusted the strings to reflect a new understanding.”

“The braids are fine—it’s the processing that’s hanging us up,” insisted Wong Poh Kam, senior physicist. Wong was mid-twenties, six feet tall, and slightly stooped, with small, intense eyes on the outer margins of a broad face. “The strings are too damned long.”

“The whole mess is too big,” said Byron Mickle, chief design engineer. Mickle was stocky, big-shouldered, five feet six, with a pleasant, moonpale face. He dressed and looked like a plumber and reliably insisted at each meeting that we should have been able to run Mega and Mini for years without exceeding their theoretical capacity. 8 Ball, to Mickle, was grossly excessive.

“Braids, strings, loops, knots—nothing I hear in this room ever makes sense,” Gina said.

Dieter answered her with a peeved expression, “Once you absorb the math, it’s all perfectly clear. We’re simply reflecting a new understanding. The new topology will be much more inclusive and robust.”

“Right!” Gina said. “That makes it so much clearer. I have to key in the Cloaking Device before Cate arrives. Are we good?”

“All good,” Tiflin confirmed. He clearly planned to surprise Cate— perhaps to surprise us all.

The glass door closed and clicked behind Gina. We were now inside the cage—a Faraday cage. No signals in or out, except those that passed through the tight funnel of building security—and the signals from Max, the supercomputer that spoke to 8 Ball.

“Dieter, before Cate gets here, tell them more about what you’re up to,” Tiflin said.

“I’ve finished compiling the recidivist strings,” Dieter said, too quickly, without taking time to think. He’d been rehearsing. The rest of us looked at each other warily. Something was up, and they hadn’t clued us in.

“What the hell are those?” Mickle asked.

“Tell them what’s different about our new strings,” Tiflin coached, treating Dieter like a prodigy—or a puppet.

“We’re going to compound and re-insert our apparent errors,” Dieter said. “My new thinking is, they may not be errors. They may actually be off-phase echoes between our braided qubits. The braids crossing the vacuum aren’t loops or even knots. Using the scint, we’ve learned they take a halfphase twist—”

“You’ve already sampled the scint?” I asked Tiflin, wondering what he activated, and why he asked me to meet him at the warehouse.

He nodded and dismissed my question with a wave of his hand.

Dieter looked sternly at us, then got up to scrawl matrices and factors and many strange, magical symbols on the whiteboard. He did not like to be interrupted. “A half-phase twist means we’re not dealing with loops, not even with knotted loops, but with Möebius loops.” He spoke that name with reverence. Möebius had astonished all of us when we were kids with his one-sided piece of paper—a simple half twist. Run your finger around what appears to be a torus and behold! Infinity.

“Oh, that,” said Mickle, resting his elbows on the table and putting his chin in his cupped hands.

“Four spatial tracks and two time tracks,” Dieter continued. “Our so-called thermal errors, maybe even the phase-flips, are really signals out of phase—essentially, signals that convey key functions in a program very much like our own. Functions, we can parasitize and use ourselves.”

“A program like our own?” Mickle asked, lifting his head.

“From the multiverse,” Dieter said.

“The multiverse?” Mickle seemed taken aback and then amused. He chuckled and looked at Wong.

“More of Dieter’s mystical bull,” Wong said, rising to the bait. Wong was a dogmatic pragmatist, common among quantum physicists. “All our crimes come back to haunt us.”

“There’s nothing mystical about any of this,” Tiflin insisted.

Dieter went on, unperturbed. “We need to feed these so-called errors back into our raw strings to replace

Extraterrestrial Fiction SavagePlanets I 10

the parts of our strings that are riddled with errors. Whenever a Gödel number arises that is even vaguely well-formed, the loader will do a checksum, and if it finds congruence, insert an echoed string. For each so-called error, we’ll correct the phase, then load the re-compiled numbers.”

“What the hell does that really mean?” Mickle asked. He was lost, just like me. “Evolving code, or succotash?”

“If we just reform and reload the strings, we’ll fill the bit bucket over and over,” Wong said. “And even if 8 Ball works once or twice, we won’t know what it’s doing for millions of cycles, maybe not even then.”

“If we reload?” Tiflin asked with that patented savage grin—lip above canines.

“Not if, when,” Dieter said, his face firming to a fine resolve.

“Our problem isn’t too few cycles,” Tiflin insisted. “8 Ball can supply us with trillions upon trillions of

cycles—however large the strings. It can supply us with every number there ever was, every string that ever was, every program—in our universe, and at least a quadrillion quadrillion other universes.”

Mickle laid his head on the table.

“I keep telling everyone, the multiverse is bull,” Wong muttered.

Tiflin shrugged. “It’s a metaphor.” His face was turning shell pink, like a perfect titration in high school chemistry. And now, most dangerous of all, he dropped his voice into its lowest register. “Numbers and cycles aren’t the problem. Results and answers are the problem, and so far, having spent three hundred million dollars, none of our efforts have had more than primary school success.” He stared hard at Mickle and Wong. “We need to take a chance.”

“An enormous chance,” Wong said.

“I hate genetic coding,” Mickle said.

“It’s not ‘genetic,’ and it’s not

random. It’s topologically unexpected echoes,” Dieter said. “I call them topo potent recidivist code, or TRC.”

“Oh, brother,” Wong said.

I tried to find a cherry on top of this surprise pile of crap. With Tiflin, that was often my job. “You’re saying you’ll allow 8 Ball qubits to compute using mirror strings, alternate strings—strings written in no kind of code we’ve thought of, and never encountered before.”

“The code will almost certainly be familiar, Bose. Think of it as sampling from another spin around the loops—a true quantum echo,” Tiflin said.

“8 Ball will take advice from its own cousins,” Dieter said, then added, at Tiflin’s frown, “metaphorical cousins, of course.”

“Christ, zillions of 8 Balls,” Wong said.

“Who knows what sort of creativity is just waiting to be discovered out there?” Dieter waved at the ceiling,

11 I SavagePlanets

the walls—really, at everything around us.

Mickle made a raspberry sound and dropped his head again.

Looking at Tiflin and trying to read his expression, I realized theory and desperation finally trumped our own project manager. Despite Tiflin’s objections, Dieter—mystical and multiverse Dieters—were in charge of our quantum computer.

“What—or who—is going to judge and select the strings?” I asked. “We don’t want to do parsing in the QC. That’ll slow it to a crawl. We did not design 8 Ball for that!”

Dieter raised his hand. “We already have a working subroutine to perform that function.”

“In Max or in 8 Ball?” I asked. We named 8 Ball’s traditional interpreter—an interposed supercomputer—Max Headroom. Max used to be named Mike, from Heinlein’s novel The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress, until I pointed out that Mike vanished and no one ever heard from him again.

Mickle suggested Max. “In Max, and then in 8 Ball,” Tiflin said. “We leave the rough parsing to Max and the large numbers to 8 Ball. They can be raw, even partly malformed, because we’ll grind through so many of them so quickly.”

“Max says it’s slick,” Dieter added stubbornly.

“Gentlemen, let’s face the truth. This is a done deal,” Mickle said. “We’ve finally jumped from the bridge into a dark river of sloppy

thinking. We’re screwed.” He took a long sip from a bottle of beige Soylent liquid, his frequent substitute for breakfast, lunch, and even dinner.

Tiflin said quietly, pointedly, “It’s done. We’re already loading.”

A long pause.

“A string infested with quantum errors. Strings we’ve spent most of our careers trying to weed out!” Wong yelled, making weak gestures of frustration and surrender. “I am flabbergasted.”

Emotions crossed Dieter’s hairy face like clouds over a prairie.

“Have a little faith,” Tiflin said, and leaned back in his chair. “If we’re wrong and this crashes 8 Ball repeatedly, to be sure, we’re all screwed, but the fact is, minus results, the division will cut its losses and clean house. That’s why Cate called us together this morning. Results, or we get booted.”

“Thanks for the warning,” Wong said.

Then the door clicked, and Cate Riva entered, flashing a sunny expression and a big smile. “Good morning, all,” she said with a quick scan around the conference room. “Why so serious?”

“We’re loading new strings, recombined Gödel strings,” Tiflin said, with all the confidence he could fake.

“Wasn’t that the plan?” Cate asked innocently.

“We’re inserting the worst phase-flip errors back into the strings,” Wong said. We all wished he’d just keep

quiet.

“Proof of pudding?” Cate asked, still standing. “Because, despite my pleasant demeanor, I’m not here to listen to more bull.”

A brief silence.

“Take a seat,” Tiflin said. “We’re about to begin. Genius is in the air.”

Cate smiled again, all sunlight and cheer—but behind her brown eyes, she was all tiger.

Tiflin instructed the screen to drop and the data in the ceiling projector to show 8 Ball’s and Max’s interposed display. “Here we go,” he said, betting the bank—betting our bank.

This was going to be my Waterloo. I could smell it.

Dieter sent the instructions to Max. “First strings loaded,” he announced.

“What scale?” Cate asked.

“All qubits,” Dieter said. “Two to the one thousand and twenty-fourth power.”

Tiflin looked at me. I looked at Cate. She watched the display.

Programming in a QC involves designing and controlling how the qubits entangle—essentially, the topological nature of the braids— and then maintaining or collapsing those entangled states, opening gates from which we could presumably receive our answers. Once set in motion, a quantum computer is autonomous—the program either fails or succeeds.

Extraterrestrial
SavagePlanets I 12
Fiction

We cannot debug a QC while it’s working. We can’t halt the program or even completely understand it while the QC is busy. Only if the results are interesting and useful, can we hope what we did was a success. And they must also be fast.

The display twinkled over our heads. And what do you know?

We got back numbers—long strings of integers, flanked by Max’s instant scorecard analysis. 8 Ball was delivering a select list of exceedingly large primes—the unique and difficult primes used to encode high-level passwords. The kind that could break banks and even worry Uncle Sam.

“Wow,” Cate said. “These are real? You haven’t suckered Max?”

“No suckers here,” Tiflin said, leaning back deeper into the shadows.

8 Ball didn’t choke or even sneeze. For the first time, our newest QC was cooking.

And it was fast.

“Next up,” Tiflin said, as Dieter’s fingers flew over the keyboard, “the complete Icelandic chromosome database for mutations in BRCA 1 and 2 over the last forty years.”

And that worked, too. Our evolving machine analyzed and understood contemporary human evolution, at least in two important oncogenes.

“The third problem is huge,” Dieter said. “We’re collating the proof of the classification of the theorem of finite simple groups. It’s known as the Enormous Theorem. Tens of thousand of pages of proofs, scattered in several hundred journals,

all loaded into Gödel strings, cross-referenced, and logically filtered. The QC should find any contradictions. We’ll get results in four or five minutes.”

“That alone should get us a Fields Medal,” Tiflin said.

Cate reached out to pat Tiflin’s shoulder. “Let me know how that turns out,” she said. “Good work, gentlemen. I’ve seen enough for now.” She stood and left the room.

Inside the hour, 8 Ball proved the Enormous Theorem consistent. The company extended our contracts and renewed our funding.

My wife rolled over on the flannel sheets and asked, “Do you have a sister?”

She knew I only had brothers, all in India.

“There was this woman in Beijing who looked exactly like you,” she said, “only prettier. Same color skin, same hair. She came up to me and asked how you were doing.”

“And?”

That evening, I went home to the square gray stone and steel apartment where my wife and I lived for nine months. She just returned from Beijing and a conference on newer, more inclusive versions of Unicode. We spent our first evening together in three weeks, beginning with sushi from our favorite restaurant and progressing to brandy and cigars—a sin we allowed ourselves every few months.

Then we exercised our marital prerogatives. I almost forgot about both our team’s troubles and successes. I could not tell her about any of them. Cate would decide how and when to release the story.

Why couldn’t I just accept the fact that Tiflin had triumphed? Cate messaged Tiflin at day’s end, saying maybe we could support doubling the number of qubits. 8 Ball was scalable, wasn’t it?

“I said you were fine. She knew your name. This woman knew where you worked. She touched my cheek with the back of her hand and smiled, the way you used to do. And she was really smart. Maybe smarter than you!” She grinned, shifted herself over me, and twirled her fingers through my chest hair. “It gave me a thrill—perverse, you know? Like if I went to bed with her, it wouldn’t be cheating on you. And not just because of the girl-girl thing. Does that make any sense? I’ve seen nothing like it, Bose. Are you cloning people now?”

I said we were definitely not cloning people and hugged her, mostly to shut her up.

“Right,” she said. “They’d have to clone you forty-one years ago. How about a transporter malfunction?”

We laughed, but the thought made me both queasy and a little horny— so many bells being rung on my nerd pinball machine, after such a complicated and important day.

A few hours later, I showered, got

13 I SavagePlanets

dressed, and walked into my home office to look over the new morning’s schedule. I found another Post-it Note stuck to my rosewood desktop. This one, again in my distinctive print style, read,

Check out the Pepsi supply. I looked around the small room. My armpits sweat soaking through my shirt. We needed to reset our security system.

And I needed another shower.

a message of congratulations signed by the company’s founder.

Cate wasn’t wasting time. The news was now global—we had the first successful, large-scale quantum computer, and it was already making major advancements in math and physics.

We were historic.

Coming into our building, I avoided the soft drink coolers, just because looking, checking, would be utterly ridiculous.

Gina made the rounds of our glassed-in cubicles, delivering a basket of fruit and wine to each of us with compliments from Cate and our CEO. Later that day came

Two days later, after our staff meeting and our third round of press interviews, I took another morning drive to the perimeter warehouse, trying to silence my inner alarms. I whistled aimlessly, hopelessly tangled in wondering what I would look like as a female. Weird encounter, I thought. But just how weird? And how connected to the spate of anonymous Post-it Notes?

No one had been at the warehouse since Tiflin and I visited. Cate put it in lockdown to all but team members, not to jinx success by letting in the press — with their fevered bodies and electronic interference.

in.

by the cage read 8. That, of course, had to be wrong. Eight meant I had visited the site four times since Tiflin and I had last gone through. I wondered if we could get access to the security tapes. There might be imposters on the campus, right? But really, I did not want to know.

Everything in the warehouse looked fine. I was supposed to be happy, but none of this felt right. I could not help but think some day, despite our success, the cage would refuse to open and I’d know my time with the division was over— best to light out for the territories and find smarter people elsewhere.

Why didn’t Tiflin call another meeting to plan the next cycles?

I turned away from 8 Ball and experienced another dizzy spell—too many Boses in one body. And what the hell did that mean?

When I got out to the parking lot

SavagePlanets I 14
Extraterrestrial Fiction
Security grudgingly allowed me back The counter on the display

and my VW, I saw a sheet of paper in the passenger seat. In the upper right corner, a lab intranet library reference reported the scint results from last week, and below that was a graphic representation of 8 Ball’s inner vacuum.

In the upper left corner, beside the reference number, someone wrote, using my handwriting style, ‘Thought you should see this. And look at the soft drink coolers. They’re empty most of the time now.’

I had had quite enough.

I drove back to Building 10 and found Tiflin in his office. “We need to look at building security videos.”

“Why?” Tiflin said.

“Someone must be messing with us. Humor me,” I said.

We approached the security office and made our request. We were both placed high enough that the head of security allowed us into the inner sanctum, a dark room fronted by two tiered banks of monitors and staffed by five guards.

Two of them relinquished their seats to make room.

I scrawled notes on a sheet of legal paper as we went through the videos for the last four days. The cameras in the warehouse were separate from the lab system, and not accessible from this center, but we still had a clear view of all the rooms, offices, and corridors in three big buildings—a lot to process, and I wasn’t sure what I was looking for. Lots of people, lots of team members wandering around, going to the cafeteria, sitting in their cubicles sucking down Soylents or Pepsis or Mountain Dews or

Snapples—

I thought I saw Mickle in a hallway and under the same timestamp working in his office. “Look at that,” I said. “The times are off.”

“That could explain the numbers at the warehouse. Why is it important?” Tiflin yawned.

“OK,” I told the security chief, “show us our offices right now.”

The chief worked over his keyboard and we saw my office and Tiflin’s office in Building 10, in real time, just a few cubicles apart. My office was empty. Empty—just me. I noted this on my little pad.

We looked into Tiflin’s office.

“Wait,” Tiflin said.

Tiflin’s in his office. I wrote and

15 I SavagePlanets

noted the time, the room number, and the chair beside me.

Tiflin no longer sat in the chair. And his office was empty.

The head of security bent to look over my shoulder. “Looks like the boss is off campus,” he said.

I felt a spreading wave of dismay. And then, I think I simply forgot.

A few hours later, back in my office, behind the locked door, I reviewed my notes, not at all sure where I had been or why—and wondering how I had just lost so much time. The last thing I recorded was, Tiflin’s gone! He just vanished, and I’m forgetting—

I unlocked my door, clutching the diagram I’d found in my car, and checked the soft drink coolers in the adjacent hallway. Mountain Dew and Pepsi were in very short supply—just a few cans.

With real trepidation, I passed down the hall to Tiflin’s office. There he was, sitting at his desk, on the phone. He looked up and lifted an eyebrow—go away. He was busy.

I turned and left.

What the hell just happened?

“What the hell are you up to?” I whispered at the black sphere.

The warehouse security gate clicked with the insertion of another key. Mickle entered and spent several seconds staring at the counter. From this angle I could not see his number, but he hesitantly answered the cage’s questions, then walked across the concrete floor to where I stood by the rail.

He tipped me a salute. “It says I’ve been out here fourteen times in the last twenty-four hours,” he said.

“Have you?”

“No.”

“Just what are we worried about?” I asked. “What could be going wrong with it?”

“Nothing, really.” Mickle imitated my expression like a little boy who just bottled a weird bug. “We’re famous. We’re making headlines around the world.”

“So why are we standing here looking so anxious?” I asked.

Wong entered next and joined us by the rail. “We need to see the building security videos,” he said with a squint.

“Why should there be more than one?” I asked.

Mickle shook his head. “Dieter said something more than a little weird. He said every program had to have a programmer. Since 8 Ball was running trillions of programs, how many programmers would it need to import to satisfy causality?”

“How many Dieters?”

“Yeah.” “And?”

“Not just Dieters. We’ve all contributed code over the years. We’ve all noodled and made suggestions. So we’re all potential dupes.”

“As in suckers?”

“More like duplicates. We played the video until we saw Dieter enter his office. And then—I don’t remember all of it. But there was no Dieter standing next to me in the security center. And there was no Dieter in his office, either. Both had vanished, or at least that’s what I wrote right after it happened—on a napkin.”

Mickle held up the napkin. In his loose scrawl, a black marker message read, Two Dieters canceled.

I stood before 8 Ball again, my neck hair on end, looking at it not with pique or adoration, but with genuine fear. This time, my visit numbers were consecutive.

Before I could answer, Mickle said, “Been there, done that. I took Dieter with me to the security center. His wastebasket kept filling up with Pepsi cans—his favorite. So we asked to see who had been visiting his office.”

“Looking for what?” I asked.

“To count how many Dieters there were in the universe.”

“Why would they cancel each other out?”

“Because they’re non-Abelian,” Mickle said. “Like fermions. They can’t occupy the same universe at the same time—and notice each other.”

“That is nuts!” Wong said.

“I agree,” Mickle said. “What shall

Extraterrestrial Fiction SavagePlanets I 16

we tell Tiflin?”

“Let me decide that,” I said. “We should make sure nobody’s playing a joke. I wouldn’t even put it past Tiflin. Make sure we’re not being deceived.”

“That is not the right word,” Mickle said, tapping the rail with his finger. “These duplicates wouldn’t be deceptions. They’re just as real as you and me. They even fool the counters. But if we’re going to take this any further, we have to avoid looking for ourselves. Because, gentlemen, if we find us, we’ll just vanish.”

“Tiflin hates the multiverse or mystical interpretations,” I said.

“So do I, remember?” Wong said.

“Don’t search for yourself,” Mickle said, poking Wong’s shoulder. Wong shrugged him off with a resentful scowl. “And we won’t look for each other—not when we’re together. You look for me, alone, and I look for you. Alone.”

“Can we look for the others, too?”

“I think so,” he said. “But maybe we shouldn’t tell them we saw them.”

“That might be allowable,” I said, thinking back to the Post-it Notes and my wife telling me about my “sister.” “But we should be cautious.”

“What’s the point, then?” Wong asked.

“Maybe they won’t believe us and they’ll stick around regardless,” Mickle said.

8 Ball kept patiently cycling.

I asked Tiflin to meet me in the lobby of an upscale hotel where we put up our international guests. I wanted to be away from the campus, away from our colleagues—away from anyone or anything that might make Tiflin feel stubborn. It was too early for a beer, so he and I took seats in the small bar and sipped cappuccinos.

“We’ve still got a lot to do,” Tiflin said, fidgeting. I was too important and connected to be ignored, but he seemed to know he wouldn’t like what I had to say.

“8 Ball’s not working the way we thought it would,” I told him.

“I don’t care,” he said. “It’s working. We’ll figure out how later—before they give us our Nobel.”

I rather thought he would mention that at some point.

“What I’m saying is, the scint may have given us an answer.” I unfolded the printout, tracking the photon trails in 8 Ball’s central vacuum. I was still unsure how to read the scint’s numbers, but I’d spent several hours in my office studying the graphic representation: four splash-ripples at the corners of an otherwise smooth pond. Four dropped pebbles creating regular, rather pretty disturbances. As expected.

But at the center of the four points of vibration, there rose a prominent hump—where nothing should be.

Tiflin looked over the printout with an expression almost of dread.

So much to lose, I thought. So careful not to sink the boat. Right now, he was the most famous man in computing. His name was on every news show, headlining every major science and tech journal. He was trending big on Twitter—#Masterofchaos.

“You didn’t trump this up?” he asked. There was an odd side-wise look in his eye, as if he had already seen these results but had ignored them.

“Of course not,” I said. “You installed the scint. That’s the latest report from Max, based on data you asked to be collected.”

“Well, did we really need it in the end?”

“The ripples at the corners represent our topological braids and their echoes,” I said. “They’re real—but they may not explain the speed.”

“Then what does?”

I tapped the hump. “You tell me,” I said. “What do you think it represents?”

“It could be a standing wave,” he said. “Maybe a collaboration or combination of all the others. What’s it doing there?”

“8 Ball may compound the entanglements,” I said. “The standing wave could represent an immense mountain of computational power, number crunching beyond all the numbers extant. More numbers than there are universes. God himself can’t think that fast. And there could be consequences we did not expect.”

“What sort of consequences?” he

17 I SavagePlanets

asked.

I noted he did not object to the metaphysics, the mysticism, and I almost felt sorry for him. “When we got together at the warehouse five days ago, you were checking all of your pockets. What were you looking for?”

“My gum,” he said. “I’ve been chewing gum ever since I quit smoking. You know that.”

“Did you find it?”

He shook his head. “No.”

“What did you find?” I asked. “A pack of cigarettes,” he said. “And a lighter.”

“Did you put them there?” I asked. “No.” So far, he was being honest— which meant he had already been having doubts. “Did you?”

I didn’t dignify that with a response. “Like somebody else was wearing

your clothes, right? Someone a lot like you—but someone who still smoked. Did your wife notice a difference?”

“You’re crazy,” he said.

“How long have you been having these lapses back into old habits?”

“We’ve all been working too hard,” he said, looking away.

“I think you tested 8 Ball before the big meeting. I think you and Dieter had been running the QC with the new protocols for at least three weeks before our first demo.”

He looked defiant. “So I’m a cautious fellow,” he said. “What’s that got to do with any of this?”

“I have a ghost. Mine’s a female version of myself. Looks a lot like me,

and has been here long enough to figure things out. My wife saw her in Beijing—before we made our demo for Cate.”

Tiflin flushed that beautiful titration pink. “That’s ridiculous,” he said, but not forcefully.

“8 Ball already began its journey, weeks before—right?”

“Bull,” Tiflin said, but it was only a whisper.

“Guess who clued me about these graphs?”

“Don’t have the slightest.”

“My other. My ghost. She left the printout where I would find it—in our car.”

“That is just sad. Sad and sick.”

“You drink Mountain Dew, don’t you? How many cans a day?”

This jerked him up straight. He stood, spilling his coffee, and spun around to leave. The graphed ripples drifted to the floor, where I pinned the paper with my shoe.

I called after him, “We have to tell

SavagePlanets I 18
Extraterrestrial Fiction

everybody. And then we have to shut it down!”

“Go to hell!” Tiflin said over his shoulder as he fled through the lobby.

The helium is still cold. That counts for something.”

“We should have been told about this right away,” I said to nobody in particular. “This is for the theorists to understand and explain, not just engineers.”

The entire team sat around the conference table.

I got Tiflin to attend by threatening to tell Cate about our concerns.

The curtains closed, and the lights dimmed. The ceiling projector showed a montage of intersecting waves in 8 Ball’s vacuum—the now-familiar four splashes surrounding the imposing central hump. 8 Ball was still running—who knew how many cycles?

Dieter told us he loaded only fundamental operations the last few days, keeping the qubits powered up and working but doing nothing in particular, at least nothing too complicated. Just housekeeping—making sure all was well, all was healthy.

“Are we sure the standing wave is even in our system?” I asked. “And is it in fact at the center of the vacuum, or is that all just a mathematical fiction?”

“The detector is working!” Mickle said. “It’s not defective.”

“Then how can 8 Ball not be a lump of slag?” Wong asked. “According to the scint, the microwave temperature inside our quantum computer is well over a trillion degrees.”

“Virtual microwave temp,” Tiflin said. “Virtual doesn’t affect the real.

Dieter, despite having a foot in both camps—theory and engineering— sounded defensive. “It’s not a sign of failure. We just don’t know what’s going on yet.”

“Entangled and braided photons that do not exist echo back on world lines that are mathematical fictions,” I said, “leaving trails in the vacuum that produce virtual microwaves, and they don’t exist either. None of it is remotely real!”

“That’s a load of crap,” Tiflin said. “We’re successful. You just don’t want to acknowledge how successful we are.”

“You don’t remember, do you?” I asked Tiflin, then looked at Dieter.

Mickle lowered his eyes as if in guilt. Dieter ignored us both.

“That hump, that so-called standing wave, is a massive reservoir of computation,” I said. “Millions or even trillions of programs running at once. 8 Ball is a nexus for the work of I don’t know how many programmers, all like us—”

Tiflin rapped his knuckles hard on the desk. “Let’s not draw stupid conclusions,” he said.

“For a time, 8 Ball was running trillions of programs—you said so yourself.”

“A metaphor,” Tiflin insisted.

“Those programs originated in millions of other universes,” I continued. Mickle watched me with morbid fascination, as if I were digging my grave. “They had to have programmers behind them. And yet, here they are—trillions of lines of code running without a causal beginning. What does that force the machine to do? What does it force the universe to do?”

“In theory—” Mickle said.

“Screw theory,” said Tiflin. “We’ve worked too hard and spent too much damned time and money not to know what’s happening with our own apparatus.”

“Has anybody else looked at the security videos?” I asked.

Silence. Mickle looked away.

“Soft drink machines?”

“They’re usually empty,” Wong said.

“The cafeteria staff is slacking off,” Tiflin said.

I was stubborn. “One by one, we should all look at the building security videos.”

“What the hell would that tell us?” Tiflin asked, standing. Clearly, he’d had enough.

“That there’s more than one Dieter walking around Building 10,” I said. “And more than one Tiflin.”

“Christ,” Tiflin said.

“I met Dieter in his office, then I saw him in room 57,” Mickle said. “He couldn’t have got there ahead of me.”

19 I SavagePlanets

“Did he look like me totally—same clothes, same hair?” Dieter asked, fascinated.

“Yeah. And then—I think—when you saw him on the video feed, you both vanished.”

“You think?”

“I made a note of that effect on my phone,” Mickle said. “Because I don’t remember.”

“Me, too, with Tiflin,” I said.

“Cool!” Dieter said, looking feverish. “If we could pin this down, make some real experiments, we’d know something tremendous, wouldn’t we?”

Tiflin got out of his chair and went to the door.

I held out my hand to stop him. “My dupe told me to check the Pepsi supply. Most of us drink Pepsi or Mountain Dew.”

“Tra-dition!” Mickle sang, straight

out of Fiddler on the Roof.

Tiflin folded his arms.

“Some of us are fresh out of gum,” I said. “Some of us wear the same clothes for days at a time, and dirty sneakers, and wouldn’t notice if we were sharing, would we?”

“Go to hell,” Tiflin said.

“They’re out of Snapple, too,” Mickle said. Oddly, like Dieter, he seemed to enjoy this, as if it proved something important or at least interesting. Sometimes working with smarter people is infuriating.

“If we looked at the videos, what would that do?” Dieter asked with little-boy wonder. “I mean, none of us have met… them. Us. The others. If they exist.”

“They do not exist,” Tiflin said.

“But has anyone actually seen another?” Dieter asked. “What would happen if we just looked at them?”

“Collapse the wave function,” Wong said. “Stop all this crap right in its tracks. One non-Abelian programmer can’t exist in the same space or time as another, right?”

“They’re no more real than the standing wave,” Tiflin said in a high, exhausted growl. He seemed ready to break into tears. Who could blame him?

“I think we’re way beyond being worried about 8 Ball’s success,” Dieter said. “But we could collapse it all—make all the others vanish, along with their programs. We can pull the plug.”

“That would kill our bonuses,” Mickle said.

“Cashing multiple versions of the same check will crash more than the wave function,” I said.

And she was really smart. Maybe smarter than you! That’s what my wife had told me. A female version of me had to have crossed some distance in the multiverse to

SavagePlanets I 20
Extraterrestrial Fiction

occupy this world line, didn’t she? She showed up first in China. I go there infrequently. And she figured it all out before I did.

She somehow avoided me, but still left me notes to clue me in. Notes apparently don’t flip the state. To everyone else here, I am still male, and she had to act through me if she was to exert any influence in the open—right? Maybe my others, eventually, would come from far enough across the multiverse that I would be the anomaly.

This was bending my brain big-time.

“Why aren’t we seeing hundreds of them? Thousands?” Mickle asked, clearly finding it hard to believe he was even asking the question.

Dieter was our Rottweiler when it came to pure theory. “Our spaces aren’t that big. If over one dupe meets—however many they are in

total—they all vanish!”

“So if they appear in a clump, they cancel out immediately,” Wong said, firmly in the spirit of this gedanken discussion.

“Heisenbergian crowd control,” Mickle said. “Lovely.”

Tiflin was pinking brightly now and couldn’t bring himself to speak. My remark about the gum and the clothes had shaken him. Maybe he was coming around to the truth.

“Sorry,” Dieter said, smiling as if in a lovely dream. “One last thought. How many 8 Balls are there? Is our machine in a superposition with all the others? And how could that possibly be stable?”

“Shoot me now,” Tiflin said, pushing past my restraining arm toward the door.

These dupes, as Mickle calls them, are us, smart or smarter. They find themselves in roughly the same environments, covering the same or very similar world lines, attending the same meetings—if they’re not yet clued in about such things—but never over one per meeting, one per world line. The only way to survive is to avoid meeting yourself.

Both would annihilate. And their programs or parts of programs, in 8 Ball, might also vanish—which could help explain some weird irregularities in the output. The better programmers you or your dupe are, the more your vanishing affects the success of the standing wave.

I have employees not on our team going over the tapes, tracking us or versions of us on the security

21 I SavagePlanets

system, letting us know where 8 Ball programmers are congregating. Word is getting out. This is spooking everybody.

Why aren’t there trillions of us filling the Earth to capacity? First, there’s that problem of encounters. Second, there’s the probability that for every alternate world in the multiverse, we’re sharing dupes. One vanishes from one world and appears in another. We trade dupes—filling a hole, like a tunneling electron—but aren’t actually duplicated.

And perhaps not even actually destroyed. Who can say?

Who could ever know?

And for every alternate Earth, there is an 8 Ball, very little different from the one we made, going through the same processes, running the same Gödelian strings, with the same successful discovery of extraordinarily long primes, the same confirmation of the Enormous Theorem, the same ability to solve problems involving insane levels of number-crunching. If we could coordinate or discover or recover all those programs, running on all those 8 Balls (or their successors), we’d probably have at least a short list of every possible mathematical problem, run to exhaustion or even solved.

Our multiplicative success would generate more funding for more machines like 8 Ball—bigger machines, newer machines, better and better machines. And all the worlds of the multiverse would fill with people like us at an even faster rate; a surfeit of smart people, clever people, people smarter than me, until perhaps we reached the flash

point—more brilliant programmers than any Earth actually needed. Would the multiverse weed out these upstarts?

I don’t want to look at any more security tapes. I don’t want to go home and find my female self in the arms of my wife. And I don’t want to run into myself in Building 10 and pop out of existence.

I’ve packed a bag, taken a large sum out of my bank, kissed my wife, left a note for my ‘sister self,’ gassed up my VW, and pretty soon I’ll drive to a town I’ve never been to before, some place I wouldn’t think of. If, of course, I can think of such a place.

How many of me will think the same? Where would I never want to live? What if we all flee to the same safe, awful hellhole? And is it worth my survival to live there? Between me and my dupes, there’s only one white VW Rabbit, and I seem to have the only set of keys. Dupes bring along their clothes but not their cars. Maybe her keys don’t fit. Maybe she drives a Volvo. Smarter, right?

Again, this bends my brain. I’m trying to imagine the mass exodus. We’ll empty the United States in our Teslas and Mercedes and then rental cars and motorbikes and maybe bicycles and then just walking or running. A flood of the world’s finest programmers spreading out from North America. Biblical!

An even more frightening thought—

Perhaps every universe has trillions of worlds with intelligent beings on them that are only now building machines like 8 Ball. Will we convert the entire mass of all universes into

programmers?

There is, of course, a theoretical safety valve, a choke point that could make all these frightening machines moot. It was Gödel himself who proved that mathematics would never be perfect and logically complete. Will that save us? If that limitation, that intelligent act of cautious creation, brings all of this to a soft end, and do we say thank God?

Or thank Gödel?

I leave these problems to those who are smarter than me. Maybe I think too much, worry too much. But please don’t search for me. Don’t tell me where I am, where I have been, or who’s looking for me.

I don’t want to know.

In Memoriam

SavagePlanets condoles the tragic and unexpected death of Greg Bear, a true science-fiction legend who inspired us, educated us, and entertained us with his prolific writing spanning over five decades.

In this issue, we present the last interview of this incredible writer.

Please join the science fiction community to share your thoughts and tributes to this wonderful novelist here.

The world lost a visionary on November 19, 2022.

Extraterrestrial
SavagePlanets I 22
Fiction

HELP FROM A STRANGER

My people don't have one ounce of violence in our blood. We are a calm and loving people. That being said, no need to be frightened of me! Do all your people have faces similar to yours, Barry? I was just wondering. On my planet, we all have ah, bird faces. That is why I’m asking, my friend."

Original art provided by author, in collaboration with BoB & DALL·E.
23 I SavagePlanets

I had to pull over to the side of the road as my bladder was about to explode. ‘Oh crap. I can't believe it. I just dropped, stepped on, and shattered my eyeglasses.’

As I was about to get back into my car, I said to myself in disgust. ‘Damn it, now what am I going to do? I can't see a darn thing, and everything is just so freaking blurry without them. Hey, wait a minute, I just remembered I brought along another pair with me, and I know where they are...’

After I found the front door handle, I reached in to lower my sun visor, and they dropped.

Finding my eyeglasses there I immediately forgot where they fell. Sitting down in my car, I heard a crunching sound. ‘Oh God, please don't let these be my eyeglasses!’

I reached under my rear end, and sure enough, I felt the broken lenses on my second pair of eyeglasses. ‘This is turning into a terrible dream,’ I uttered to myself in total disgust and complete disbelief.

“How on earth am I going to get back home?” I asked myself out loud. “It's just about dark, and hardly anyone travels on this road I am on.” I also left my cell phone back home. Not that it

would make much difference. I can’t see the buttons.

It started raining pretty heavily as I heard the sound on my car roof and some thunder, too.

It was getting kind of chilly, so I had no choice but to turn on my engine to put on the heat. I felt around with my car keys and luckily found the ignition. Then I kept probing around with my fingers until I found the heater control. After that, I just sat and waited, hoping someone would notice my four-way flashers.

A good amount of time went by and still no one stopped. That was not surprising, because

Extraterrestrial Fiction

SavagePlanets I 24

hardly any cars ever traveled on this road. I live in a very tiny, rural town that has a total population of about 150 people.

I sat in my car listening to the rain and thunder. Feeling tired, I took a catnap.

‘That was just what I needed,’ I thought as I woke up and felt better. The rain had stopped. Feeling around, I opened my door, and carefully got out to stretch my legs for a minute, and to my amazement, I heard what appeared to be the sound of a car pulling up right behind me.

I saw a blurry figure coming towards me.

“Hello there. Do you need any help?” I heard a man's voice say.

“Yes, I need help, as a matter of fact.” My mood was changing for

the better!

“Are you having car problems?”

“No, my car is fine. This might sound silly, but I cannot drive my car, because I’m legally blind, and broke my eyeglasses. If that was not bad enough, I sat on my extra pair and broke them, too.”

“Oh my goodness,” the blurry man said. “Don't worry, my friend, I am here to help.”

“I am so glad,” I happily told him. “Without my eyeglasses, I can barely see a thing.”

“Don't worry, you’ll be fine. I’m here.”

“What is your name?” I asked.

“You can call me Craig,”

“Nice to know you, Craig. My

name is Barry.”

“How far do you live from here, Barry?”

“About thirty miles west. Straight down this road.”

“Do you have another pair of eyeglasses at your place, Barry?”

“I do, I do, Craig.”

“That's great news, Barry.”

“Since I was going in that direction anyway, I can take you to your place, and you can get your extra pair of eyeglasses. And to make things even easier for you, I’ll even drive you back to where we are so you can drive your car back home once you have your eyeglasses again.”

“Are you sure you don’t mind

25 I SavagePlanets

doing all of this for me, Craig?”

“I don't mind at all, my friend.”

“You don’t realize how much I appreciate it, Craig.”

“No problem at all. I guess fate or destiny brought me here to help you out of this mess. Actually, I don’t even know how I ended up here myself, Barry!”

“What did you say, Craig?”

“I'll tell you in a bit, my friend.”

“Whatever led you here to me, I will be forever grateful for your help. That I can guarantee!”

“No problem, Barry. I'll make sure you locked all your car doors. And double check, my friend, to see if you have your car and house keys with you. Now tell me, how do we get to your place?”

“Sure, but first can you please guide me to your car, Craig?”

“My apologies. I forgot about your vision problem.”

“That's weird.”

“What’s weird, Barry?”

“When I touched your face just now, I felt a bird's beak. I also felt some type of soft feathers on your cheek. Are you wearing a costume? Or maybe you are holding some type of bird? Is that what I felt?”

“No, I am not wearing any type of costume, and I'm not holding any kind of bird,” Craig replied with some laughter.

“Obviously, you are not a bird. What was I thinking?” I uttered jokingly to Craig.

“I am a sort of, what you call, a bird, Barry! At least from the neck up.”

“So are you saying you came out of a little spaceship rather than a car?!” I started laughing hysterically.

“No, not at all. Let me tell you exactly what happened to me, Barry. I was back home on my planet just a little while ago taking a shower, and the next thing I knew, I was on this road driving a car. I do not know how I ended up here, but somehow I did.”

“I must admit, you have a great sense of humor. And a wildly creative imagination, but don't you think this is a tad too much, Craig? Perhaps you smoked too much marijuana or something.”

“I'm serious, Barry. I’m telling you the truth! People from my planet never tell lies! Don't worry though. My people don't have one ounce of violence in our blood. We are a calm and loving people. That being said, no need to be frightened of me! Do all your people have faces similar to yours, Barry? I was just wondering. On my planet, we all have ah, bird faces. That is why I’m asking, my friend.”

“You’re a funny one. I'm going to pretend that I didn't hear that,

Extraterrestrial Fiction

PlanetsRising I 26

Craig! Why are you pulling my leg? Taking advantage of me and my poor eyesight? But your voice sounds like that of an adult, not of a teenager pulling a prank. Can you please put all this zaniness aside and take me home like you promised?”

“Of course I will. I said I would, Barry. When you put on your eyeglasses, you’ll see I am telling the truth. I’m not, how do you say? Pulling your leg… what a weird image! I just hope that your species are not truly violent. Because we are peaceful. Barry, what do you call your planet anyway?”

“Really? It's called Earth, as if you didn't know, Craig!”

“To be honest, I'm concerned for my safety. I know nothing at all about your people! Can I trust you?”

“You’re really aggravating. I'm tired of this conversation, Craig. I

am also getting a terrible headache because I am starving. Please take me home.”

“Fine.” I stepped into Craig's car with his help, and we drove back to my house.

“Just stay on this road for the next thirty miles. When you see the intersection with the bright flashing yellow lights, you make a right, and my house is less than a minute away on the righthand side of the road.”

“Thanks. That sounds easy, Barry.”

The time in Craig's car went by rather quickly, and suddenly, I heard him tell me we were approaching the bright yellow flashing lights.

“Okay, make a right, Craig.”

“Turning right, my friend.”

“Now, just look for my house. You can’t miss it. It's the little square brick shaped one on the right-hand side. The front porch lights should be on.”

“There it is,” I heard Craig say out loud.

“Great, you can pull into my driveway, Craig.”

“We are finally here, Barry.”

“Thank goodness this nightmare has finally ended! Thank you so much.”

“My pleasure.”

Outside Craig’s car, I asked, “Now, can you guide me to my front door? I would deeply appreciate it, Craig.”

“Of course, Barry.”

“You have helped me so much. The least that I can do is invite you in and make you some dinner. Perhaps a glass of wine?”

“Sounds great. I’m rather hungry myself, Barry. I'm not really much of a wine drinker, though.”

“Okay, help me to the door.”

“Stay right where you are, and I will open it for you. Here, let me help you with your house key, Barry.” I heard the keys jiggle in the lock. Craig opened my front

27 I SavagePlanets

door and helped me inside.

“I hate to keep bothering you, Craig. I'm still going to need your help until I get my glasses.”

“No problem, and don't feel guilty about it. I'm glad that you have a few lights on in your house, my friend.”

“Yes, just like my front porch lights, a few of them turn on automatically when it gets dark.”

“Please help me to my bedroom and open up my top chest drawer, Craig. Inside, you will find a pair of my eyeglasses.”

“All right. This seems to be your bedroom, Barry.”

“Great. Can you see my eyeglasses in the drawer? They are in a black case.”

“Let me look. Ah, I see them. Here you are,” and he handed me my pair of eyeglasses.

“Thank you so much! Oh thank

goodness, I can finally see again,” I said, then looked at Craig in complete disgust. “Can you please take off that silly seagull mask costume now, Barry? Come on already!”

“I don't know why you seem so surprised by my appearance, Barry. I told you I looked this way when we first met! You even felt it yourself.”

“Listen, you were incredibly helpful in driving me all this way home, but this practical joke isn’t funny anymore! What is wrong with you, Craig? You are a grown man. Enough is enough. Who are you behind that seagull mask, anyway? I want to see exactly who you are. Are you trying to hide something from me? Are you on the run from the police and wearing this as a disguise? Maybe you are some type of criminal? Is that it? Please, just do me a favor and take off that creepy mask.”

“I’m sorry. I hate to keep disappointing you, Barry, but I am

telling you the truth. This is how we look where I come from. You’ve got to believe me! How many more times do I have to keep telling you this, my friend?”

“Didn't I just warn you to stop this nonsense, Craig? That's it. I can't deal with this childish behavior of yours any longer!”

I took my hands in a fit of rage and tried to pull off Craig's mask from his face and neck with all of my strength, but to no avail.

“Oh my god, how come your mask won’t come off? Is it stuck or something? Do you work as some kind of makeup artist or costume designer for films?”

“You can try all night, but the results will be the same. This really is my face. There is nothing to come off, Barry.”

“There is no way on Earth you really look like that, Craig. Obviously, you control that fake head of yours under your costume somehow! I am amazed how real your mask looks when

Extraterrestrial
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Fiction

you open up your mouth to talk. That's really creeping me out, Craig! I know you’re hiding under that costume. Question is, why? That is what I want to know!

Earth is the only planet I know of with life. Now knock it off. You're really taking this prank way too far!”

Instead of arguing with me further, Craig said, “Just accept this is what I look like, and let’s enjoy our time together as friends. Keep in mind, I didn't keep asking you about how strange your face looked when I first saw you back in your car, Barry. So let’s stick a pin in it. How about that dinner you offered me? Is that still on the table?”

“A promise is a promise. I’ll get started.”

“I just don't understand why I ended up on your planet, though, Barry. That's a complete mystery to me! Hopefully in time, I will

find out why, my friend.”

“Sure, whatever.” Then I walked into the kitchen and started cooking.

“Hey how about I make some spaghetti, Craig? Is that alright with you?”

“Sure, I love spaghetti.”

“I only have clam sauce, Craig.”

“No complaints here. I love clam sauce!”

“Okay, just give me a few minutes and our meal will be ready.”

“Sounds good. Looking forward to it.”

very much.”

“My pleasure, Craig.”

“This clam sauce really is out of this world, Barry! I wish the clam sauce tasted this way back home on my planet.”

“I thought you were finally giving up on that nonsense, Craig. But I see that this will never stop! You are still making fun of me, even with my eyeglasses on, and I resent you for it!”

With that, I lost control and shoved Craig really hard as he tumbled backwards, somersaulting, his feet crashed into my living room wall. Above him the wall mounts of my family’s twin claymore swords snapped. A sudden sick feeling braced me as I watched in horror the open scissors of those heavy weapons plummeting downward. Striking poor Craig’s exposed neck they decapitated him.

Green blood squirted, pulsing from his neck in a spray, all over my living room. His beaked head flopping away. I just stood there in shock and watched, frozen in place.

Then I heard hysterical laughter, and realized it was my own! Coming to my senses, I made a joke of it, saying, “I must admit, you are an extraordinarily talented special effects man, Craig.” Not knowing what else to do, I gave him a resounding standing ovation.

“Here you go, Craig.”

“Smells delicious. Thank you

I waited a couple of minutes until Craig's fake green blood stopped squirting from the inside of his costume. Finally, it stopped

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pulsing altogether. The room filled with a coppery smell.

“You can't hide much longer, Craig. This practical joke of yours is surely at its end. Now come on and stick your actual face out,” I shouted.

A few minutes went by and Craig remained still inside of his headless costume.

“You're too much, Craig! This is not some kind of acting audition. You don't have to prove anything to me. Oh, I get it! You are an extremely talented man! However, if you continue to give me the silent treatment, I'm going to have to rip off your shirt and find you myself!”

“So. What's it going to be, Craig?”

Craig was deathly silent, his stillness unnerving.

After a few moments, I sat down next to Craig's headless body and took off his shirt. To my disbelief, I only saw Craig's chest and stomach. I didn't panic, because I knew he was still hiding somewhere under there. That I knew for sure!

Craig's skin turned bright orange, which I thought was rather strange. His legs and arms curled up

and pulled close to his body. I searched around with my fingers, looking for some type of hidden zipper or opening to remove Craig’s costume. Unfortunately, I couldn't find one.

By now, I was becoming nervous, though still somehow I felt weirdly optimistic.

I thought, ‘Craig has got to be a contortionist! That’s it! I finally solved this puzzle.’ I shouted out in pure joy. ‘He's folded himself up inside those pants.’

“I hate to take off your pants, Craig. However, you leave me no choice!”

Embarrassingly, I took off his pants. Still no Craig. All I saw was his underwear and his

curled up legs were bright orange.

“Oh, my God! Where are you?” I uttered in total disbelief.

Can it be that Craig was actually telling me the truth? ‘Oh Lord. Tell me this is not really happening!’ There's no way on Earth Craig could have come from another planet! I know for certain there is no life in outer space.

‘Or is there?’ I looked at the body, I looked at his seagull head in the corner, and I broke down in tears, falling onto my living room floor.

“Craig, please. What have I done? Just come back to life!” I cried out in torment. “Come back, my friend. Come back…”

Extraterrestrial
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Fiction

Planetary Communiqué

The Planetary Communiqué is a section reserved for the dissemination of official intergalactic communications from our galactic overlords to the subjugated planets and territories. The editorial staff does not endorse or hold opinions regarding the content of such communications. Frankly, we lost several of them who did! Therefore, Hojack requires compliance with all opinions and edicts issued by the Galactic potentate and its politburo.

The human quest "...to go to the moon, Mars and beyond" is one of the greatest punchlines this side of Andromeda. Your Glorious Overlord Grawth watched your Artemis-1 launch with the greatest enthusiasm (sometimes, His Glory will overindulge around the Holidays and over distend a number of his stomachs and require comedic relief to bring gastronomic relief through de-gassification). Your attempt to go back to the moon brought much needed laughter resulting in a massive de-gassification of His Excellency and resulting in the creation of a new nebula in the night sky.

The Terrifying Tyrant Grawth watched with great anticipation your puny little rocket ship that recently sent from the earth to the moon and then back. Did you forget to put your little astronauts on the puny rocket ship? Why did you send it empty only to call it back after a few days? You can't even colonize a barren rock.

As a galactic empire, we have sent numerous missions to conquer and enslave civilizations both young and old. But we cannot rush to enslave your little world just yet for one simple reason. I've had the opportunity to observe your attempts at space exploration. And let me tell you, it's been a source of great amusement for me to watch the primitive creatures flail about, trying in vain to reach beyond their own little planet. Simply put, it's just too funny to ignore.

Sure, you can say that you're still struggling with the cost and

technical complexity of space travel, as well as the risk and danger involved. Instead of giving up and just crawling under a rock, you continue to grasp for the stars, hoping to achieve some measure of greatness. Ha! How pitiful you are, with the primitive technology and your limited understanding of the vastness of the universe.

But it is not just your lack of capability that makes you fail at space exploration. It is also your internal political and social dynamics that hold you back. Your governments and private organizations bicker and squabble, never able to agree on a clear direction or purpose for your efforts. You'd rather explode rockets over each other's heads as opposed to using them to explore the cosmos.

In short, it's clear that you are doomed to failure because you're not up to the task. You're limited by your own limited thinking and

myopic vision. It is only because your failure pleases our Glorious Overlord that you are permitted to try and continue to fail for the bemusement of other sentient civilizations.

Your are galactic comic relief and nothing more.

On Alpha Centauri they have birthday candles that are larger and more powerful and last longer that your so-called rocket engines.

So, please, continue with your Artemis missions. Just remember what you call determination is nothing more than a clown slipping on an oily banana peel over and over and over again. We are definitely the beneficiaries of your misfortune.

When your rate of exploration is less than the rate of expansion of the universe, you're just not going to see a whole lot. That's just a

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mathematical fact.

Edict #1

Now that you're beginning to use "big rockets" (trust me, that's a joke in and of itself), all humans shall be required to be tracked. We will distribute devices which we will call a smartphone, with social media apps so addictive that each human will become fixated on their device. You will carry it wherever you go and we shall be tracking you. Leave your solar system, and we will send a relativistic drone to intersect with your coordinates.

Edict #2

Any human attempting to leave the confines of your miserable little planet without permission from your Glorious Overlord shall be immediately vaporized. Your vapor than shall be captured and distilled and made into liquid smoke which could be added to grilled foods to enhance their flavor. Everything you were, everything you achieved and all of your aspirations will be reduced to an optional food additive used by chefs and home cooks to

enhance the variety of their favorite barbecued meat.

Edict #3

In honor of your inability to easily reach your moon, all human s shall be required to celebrate "Moon Failure Day" on the first evening of every new moon. During this holiday, all humans shall be required to pray for mercy from His Unholy Uvula for the sin of unnecessary cognition. Our children get scolded for inadvertently traveling to a nearby moon without parental consent. For humans, it's an international effort by all mankind to go to the moon. Ape descendants like you are an insult to evolved organisms everywhere.

But it is not just the humans' lack of capability that makes them failures at space exploration. No, your own internal political and social dynamics have also held you back. Your governments and private organizations bicker and squabble, never able to agree on a clear direction or purpose for their space efforts. And you yourselves seem unable to rally behind a common goal, always torn by petty squabbles and rivalries. That's not our doing; it's your own incompetence.

As your humble Underlord Hojack, I can attest that nothing amuses us as much as seeing an empty rocket launched by humans that circles the dead rock closest to you and then splash down into the ocean. In short, the humans are failures at space exploration because they are simply not up to the task. You are limited by your own capabilities and hindered by your own internal divisions. It is only through the beneficence of your Glorious Overlord that you are allowed to continue your pitiful existence at all.

We welcome your long awaited attempt to return to the moon. We planted some lovely surprises there for you since it's been over five decades since you were first there. Let's just say that we think you're going to be shocked, and possibility incontinent, when you see what we have in store for you there! Long live Grawth!

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SCI-FI ENTERTAINMENT

EVIL EXPLORING EVIL THE SERIES

Horror is the other science fiction, and perhaps its predecessor. Whether it’s in space (Alien), on the Earth (Predator), or in the past (Frankenstein). Being scared, jolted from our seats, covering our eyes, or just feeling uneasy draws certain readers. The masters, like Stephen King, leave us more than unsettled, frankly frightened, and when we close the book, we look around suspiciously. Which way will the terror come at us?

There is horror designed to scare children (Spiderwick Chronicles), there is horror that frightens adults (Army of Darkness), but there are few books and films designed to terrify both. Cinema is rife with cabins in the woods, teens on camping trips, and haunted mansions. Television is overwhelmed by zombies, vampires, and werewolf tales that are not just overdone, they are over gruesome and rarely innovative. As a result, most television horror series are simply bad.

Which is why we celebrate Evil. Having completed its third season this last year, it is scary for both adults and children. Evil is also unique as it steers away from the memes. Parents try to keep their children away from it because it plays on terrors that keep kids up at night. Adults, however, are equally susceptible

to the nightmares. It is also why the show appears on Paramount+ and CBS at midnight Pacific time and 0300 Eastern standard time in the US.

What makes it both good horror and terrifying at the same time is it plays on our JudaeoChristian beliefs of good and Evil. In the series, the forces of good, the Catholic church, align against the forces of evil, Demons and Devils, and good is losing. Sounds uninspired, right? But the story revolves around a group of demon hunters.

Forensic psychologist Kristen Bouchard (Katja Herbers) reluctantly works together with David Acosta (Mike Colter), a priest in training, to investigate and find a logical explanation for every supernatural occurrence within the Church. Ben Shakir (Aasif Mandvi) rounds out the group, a technical expert and equipment handler. Kristen is an atheist, David is a soon to be Catholic priest, and Ben is a Muslim. The Catholic church hires this unlikely group to separate the wheat from the chaff of supernatural phenomenon. When verified, they may advise an exorcist or other Catholic intervention, including the Entity, an ultrasecret espionage unit of the Vatican, headed by Victor LeConte. More often than not, there is an earthly explanation, anything from a social media prank to a Chinese factory worker’s call for help.

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In the first season, they introduce us to the demon hunters and their families. Their relationships become increasingly important as the series progresses. Kristen is a mother of four daughters, raising them with an absentee father, because of their trekking business in Nepal. Lynn, Lila, Lexis, and Laura are the children, oldest to youngest, respectively. Lexis, the third daughter, is being groomed by the Devil to head up a sigil, one of the many organizations they will use to infect the world with Evil, soul killing desires.

The hardened divorced mother of Kristen, Sheryl Luria (Christine Lahti), lives in the converted garage on the property. She is supportive of the family, yet practices a type of witchcraft that invites first the romantic attention of and even more Evil into the household. Ultimately, Kristen’s husband drives her from the home. Kristen also has a mentor, therapist, and sounding board by the name of Dr. Kurt Boggs (Kurt Fuller) who Evil eventually seduces to the dark side.

David Acosta enters the story as the ringleader of the group, a one time investigative journalist, who, beyond studying to be a priest, works as an assessor of the supernatural. He takes hallucinogens to speak with God early in the series, but this ends when he enters the priesthood. Despite his vows, the visions keep coming. Allied with a Sister Andrea Martin, a small yet mighty nun, and the Monsignor Matthew Korecki, they help David through his trials and tribulations. Although the Monsignor stumbles along, often clueless of the actual intrigues.

Ben Shakir, has his sister, Karima Shakir, also a tech expert, and tertiary consultant. In the third season, she invites Ben to a science league, to reduce his recurrent nightmares, isolation, and maybe find him a date. Karima gives advice, acts as Ben’s sound board, and actually helps him get a girl, although his girlfriend is a cultist and a physicist simultaneously.

On the opposing team, besides the Devil, various demons, incubus, and succubus (plus many more), there is Dr. Leland Townsend, Kristen’s professional rival, an expert in the occult, and a man committed to evil acts. He is the Devil’s familiar and is constantly needling Kristen, her kids, and Mark,

inveigling himself to advocate for Evil against them and the Church. He is, frankly, one of the most annoying and scary monsters I have encountered on television.

The demon hunters go from case to case investigating these supernatural occurrences, making each episode engaging. Being good at their jobs, the hunters attract the forces of evil. They inadvertently bring their friends and associates into the fray, too. In the first season, the group finds a map that displays all the Devil’s sigils. These are the organizations working with the Devil to convert the Earthlings, and drive them hell-bound.

The hauntings, hallucinations, and visions from both the forces of good and Evil add to the horror. No one is safe. What makes the series’ great is the new twists on old ideas. We become familiar with the unfamiliar. Topics such as what is the weight of the soul, why do we resist temptation, and how do evildoers disguise themselves through their charity?

What’s worse is that each success of the demon hunters, which makes you feel good, becomes complicated by a new evil being set free. At different points, the characters individually face despair as they realize each step forward takes them two steps back in their fight.

Kristen is the mother you want to be as she navigates both the natural and supernatural challenges of her kids and family. David is the priest you want to have, because he is so human and fallible. And Ben is the one you ally with when you know the victims are just being fooled by deep fakes and tech wizardry.

Robert and Michelle King brought the series to life on CBS, but it was quickly driven into the midnight slot for being too scary. In May 2021, it shifted to Paramount+, and continued because of its strong following. Evil has received critical acclaim, with particular praise for its acting, characters, writing, direction, and cinematography. They renewed it for a fourth season to air in the summer of 2023, later this year.

In every science fiction, there is a bit of horror and vice versa, yet the supernatural inhabit both. If you like good horror, and are sick of the run of the mill out there, Evil is a good place to start. View it from the beginning, though I wouldn’t advise binge watching. It is that creepy.

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SCI-FI ENTERTAINMENT

GREG BEAR INTERVIEW FOR SAVAGEPLANETS

It is our honor to sit down with one of the living legends of science fiction. Greg Bear is the author of The Unfinished Land (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt 2021), KiLLing TiTan (Orbit 2015), hULL Zero Three (Orbit 2010), CiTy aT The end of Time (Del Rey 2009), mar iposa (Perseus paperback No vember 2010), haLo: CrypTU haLo: primordiUm, and haL siLenTiUm (Tor, 2011, 2012, and 2013). He's the father of two young writers, Erik and Alexandra, and is married to Astrid Anderson Bear, who has written for san diego noir. I met him back in the 80s at a small sci-fi convention. So it’s great to spend time with him once more, at the other end of his career. Sadly, at the time we recorded this interview, we didn’t realize it would be his last. We are humbled and saddened by his loss.

For those who haven’t read BLood mUsiC, one of his most famous books, Greg Bear has written over thirty novels and

five story collections, earning him five Nebulas, two Hugos, two Endeavours, and the Galaxy Award (China).

Thank you, Greg, for joining us to- day!

GB How about, are you there? Who do you think you are? And who’s your best friend?

In BLood mUsiC, you developed the relationship between observation and reality. Do you believe it is possible that we live in a simulated universe, where quantization is an artifact of the granularity of the simulation and the maximum speed of the simulation (i.e. the speed of light) is affected by the number of observers (i.e. the number of “users”)?

Let’s start with an easy one (or not): With the advent of GPT3 and other AI networks now available to the public, what would be your most burning question to ask a potentially sentient machine.

GB: There are fundamental prior questions we have yet to answer! But in terms of my fiction, in EON, BEYOND HEAVEN’S RIVER, and BLOOD MUSIC, artificial realities play major roles—and one question I asked myself early on was, “If you’re living in a computer simulation, can you tell the difference between operating systems or machines?” Do different systems have different pluses and minuses, or a differ-

35 I SavagePlanets

ent “flavor”?

One theme you made popular in science fiction was the importance of humanity to hide from aliens because they will find us and snuff us out. Cixin Liu reiterated this theme in The darK foresT (second book in the ThreeBody proBLem trilogy). Stephen Hawking also issued the warning. Is that still your contention? And is there a chance we might encounter a benevolent alien race?

GB: Yes, I’m still a hardliner on not advertising our presence to the unknown universe. Seems foolish in the extreme—especially when most of us are given no choice in the matter!

Your work in fostering young authors at Clarion West is critical to the future of the genre. What common problems do you see cropping up among the writers? And for those interested in attending the Clarion workshops, how does one go about it?

GB: You submit stories to a panel/jury and they make decisions. There’s information online on how to do that. About twenty people a year get

into the program, and we’ve celebrated them with parties at our house for over thirty years now, though COVID is likely to continue interrupting that tradition! Today’s publishing world is very different from the one I entered in 1967, and so I rely on testimony from our stu-

dents more than I do any prior wisdom on my part.

Few people know you were one of the five originators of Comic-Con is San Diego. Do you consider comics, graphic novels, and superhero fiction a sub-genre of science fiction or is it something else entirely? Did your reading of comics as a child alter the arc of your science fiction?

GB There were more than five originators involved if we include our adult sponsors and mentors! In one school alone— Crawford High school—there were five of us youngsters, and we met up with old folks like Ken Krueger and Shel Dorf, comic store owner Richard Alf, as well as young folks from other schools. As for the relation between SF and comics, one of our pioneering first fans, the first agent for H.P. Lovecraft, Julie Schwartz, edited DC comics that at the time were labeled “science fiction comics,” because many of the ideas behind both Superman and Batman originated in science fiction pulps of the twenties and thirties. The same relationship is true today!

Few of your fans know you made cover illustrations for some of the pulp science fiction magazines early in your career. Are you still drawing? If so, would you grace us with one, new or old, unpublished painting, for a cover of the SavagePlanets issue featuring your interview?

SavagePlanets I 36

GB I’ve largely stopped drawing and painting, in favor of writing over the last few decades.

You married Astrid, the daughter of Poul Anderson, both great science fiction writers. Congratulations, by the way. How did you meet? And were there ulterior motives in developing the relationship to foster your career?

GB: Thanks! We met at conventions, of course! It took us some time to make it a permanent relationship but have been fine partners since 1980— and now we have two daughters, both involved in publishing...

In eon, you introduced the idea of bio-implants, essentially computer chips, to augment brain function. We are incredibly close to making this a reality. Perhaps cell phones are early peripherals to help us adapt to the idea of such implants. What, in your opinion, are the ethical barriers to adopting such human augmentation? Given the opportunity, would you be the first, the

middle, or the last to accept an implant?

GB: Probably not. I have yet to utilizes my own brain to its full extent! But we’ve had mechan-

bernetic metaverse, essentially becoming a machine immortal at the end of your life, would you do it?

GB: I’ve had enough unusual insight into spiritual matters to forego socalled immortality through uploading or downloading. But technology in the form of surgery and a titanium heart valve have given me more years to write—and to discover that these extreme procedures had little effect on my writing ability. I can’t see any difference between the author who created “War Dogs” and the author who finished “Killing Titan.”

Thanks again, it’s been a delight speaking with you!

GB Thanks! Pleasure to be here.

ical help since the invention of the wrist watch.

Coming back around to the beginning of the interview, you suffered a life-threatening illness and survived. We are grateful, and no doubt Astrid is, too. Rather than asking how your writing changed afterward, although we’d like you to feel free to answer that… If they offered you the opportunity to be uploaded into the cy-

Editor's Note

This interview was conducted with the late Greg Bear prior to his untimely death on November 19th, 2022.

Sadly, it represents the last known interview of this legendary writer.

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See Your Story In Print. Submissions: savageplanets.com/submit

SCI-FI ENTERTAINMENT

WELCOME TO METROPIA REVIEW OF THE SWEDISH FILM: METROPIA (2009)

Sweden, and Scandinavia inclusively, is not known for their science fiction. Filmmakers from that region are into high art, or quirky cultural films. Consider Ingmar Bergman, the director, and more recently Stieg Larsson, and his trilogy, both in novel form and film, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. But then there is Metropia.

In 2009, the world began its recovery from the stock market crash because of the real estate bubble of 2008. The US government busied itself bailing out banks, as people muddled through their days. The pandemic wasn’t even a consideration, and the Russian were still peaceful. Several years before, a group of Scandinavians worked on a concept film. In Sweden, Atmo Productions collected the story, source material, and wrote the script for Metropia, which included the words from another Stig Larsson.

Producers from Denmark’s Zentropa and Norway’s Tordenfilm sought funding from the Council of Europe’s Euroimages for a unique animation project. The idea caught fire, and they funded it, creating a unique film not seen before and likely not to be repeated. Picking faces from the streets of Stockholm, Copenhagen, Paris, and Berlin at random, they used the still images and edited them using Photoshop, then animated them using Adobe After Effects and additional computer graphics to create film characters.

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Udo Kier was the first to sign on, doing the voiceover for Ivan Bahn, CEO of Trexx. Vincent Gallo, looking forward to working with Keir, and did the voiceover for the lead, Roger. Juliet Lewis became the femme fatale, Nina. The Skarsgård’s, both Stellan and Alexander, also took voiceover roles. This resulted in the amazing film Metropia, directed by Tarik Saleh. So what makes this film worth your time?

In a future Europe, the world is running out of oil. A gigantic underground rail network is created by joining all the subways together beneath Europe, run by a company called Trexx. Roger (Vincent Gallo), from a suburb of Stockholm, avoids the underground because he finds it disturbing. He rides his bicycle to work as a phone salesman.

He avoids Trexx because sometimes, when he is too near the underground, he hears a strange voice in his head. One day someone steals his bicycle, and what they leave behind is

damaged. So he must take the underground to work. A man at the entrance warns him, foreboding, not to go, but he has no choice.

Entering, Roger stumbles upon the truth that they control his life in every detail. He also follows Nina, seeing her down there when he realizes she is the poster girl for Dangst. Trexx, the company that runs the mammoth European rail network, discovered how to read and control minds using the dandruff shampoo ‘Dangst’, with the goal of creating a highly efficient advertising system. In order to break free, Roger joins forces with super-model Nina (Juliette Lewis), the former model and spokeswoman for Dangst.

Nina is a terrorist, wanting to bring down the mind control scheme. But she is also the daughter of Ivan Bahn, CEO of Trexx, and has unique access to the company headquarters. This allows her and Roger to infiltrate the facility. The story and the film take many twists and turns along the way, and poke fun at the current political

and corporate structure that runs the world. It is a concerning polemic about a potential dystopic future. One we need to be mindful of even now.

Animated in black and white, Metropia imagines a grim world where people muddle through their lives. It points a dark finger at a life that is a possibility in Europa. Resonating with those that ride the Metro, Underground, Subway, or U-Bahn daily (hence the surname for Ivan Bahn). There is a feeling of being trapped and controlled even in the landscape of Metropia.

In an increasingly automated world, where people must still find employment to survive, there is an entire industry built inside Trexx. People have jobs there in which they speak one on one to Dangst users, becoming the voices in their heads and giving them instructions. They tell the user what to do, what to buy, and how to act and relate to each other. All activated by the electromagnetic field prevalent and permeating the carriages in

SavagePlanets I 40

the underground of Trexx. It is the kind of horror that makes one’s skin crawl. Perfectly plausible. Ivan Bahn entertains his investors and shows them how they can use the Trexx technology in other countries. The thought that his daughter is a true company threat undermined by her physical beauty and ineffectuality is beyond Ivan, particularly as her previous attempts to damage Trexx failed. But now with Roger, as her tool, and a man on the inside, she has a chance.

The roots of mind control go far back. Consider Stalinist propaganda, the MK-Ultra

experiments, and now the subliminal advertising both in films, music, and on the internet. These all lull people into complacency, allowing them to be manipulated. Governors are in place, but for how much longer, we don’t know.

There are several companies profiting using mind control techniques to sway voting and opinions to elect candidates or sell products. Everything from Cambridge Analytica to ZimGo in Korea, they control opinion. They may change their names, but they continue today hard at work. The world governments allow

them to continue business as usual despite allegations of corruption. Why? Because they are a useful tool. ‘If we want your opinion, we will tell you it!’ is a scary mission statement, and not just one of goals of these companies. Perhaps the basis for the film Metropia came from concerns over, and observation of, these corporations.

Metropia is diabolical science fiction at its finest. But it is also a cool type of film-making that is a pleasure to watch, even when it is disturbing in content. So keep your bicycle chained and safe. The underground looms!

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Got an idea for a story? That's awesome!! Put pen to paper and consider submitting your content to SavagePlanets. We are always looking for exclusive creative content in the following categories: 1. Sci-Fi Poetry 2. Sci-Fi Short Stories 3. Sci-Fi Entertainment 4.Sci-Fi Multimedia Arts 5. Two-liner Stories Each month, we will select the best entries for publication in our magazine, our website, or social media accounts. For more information... Visit our website at SavagePlanets.com for rules and our submission guidelines. All submissions must be your original work and you must have the rights to submit the work for publication. Must be 18 years or older. Additional rules apply. SavagePlanets I 42

COMMAND PROBLEM

Hansa sat back in her chair. The A.I. hadn’t used her first name by itself ever before, and she wasn’t sure how she felt about this new level of familiarity. It suggested an autonomy that made her distinctly uncomfortable.”

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“Run it again,” General Pesakoff demanded. Evan sat behind his desk, talking via video-link. He cut an imposing figure as Chief of Space Operations in his midnight blue dress uniform, bedecked with medal ribbons and badges.

“Sir,” Professor Hansa replied, “we’ve already run the simulation thousands of times. Each time, the outcome is the same.”

She too sat behind a desk but behind her, instead of flags framing the motto ‘Semper Supra’, there was a whiteboard with equations and odd, disjointed phrases. The illegible scribbling came in various shades of marker pen. She ran her hand through her hair and then shrugged.

“Run it again,” the General ordered, leaning forward so that his shaven head filled the screen.

Extraterrestrial Fiction

Then he added, “I will not tell the President that the inevitable result of our first contact with an alien civilisation is widespread death and destruction.”

After Pesakoff ended the call, Hansa stood up and walked over to the window of her office. It was a glorious spring day, with the first blossoms just appearing on

SavagePlanets I 44

the shrubs and trees. She could see students enjoying the sun in the square below and a small dog running excitedly across the grass in pursuit of a frisbee. Not a good day to die.

Sighing, she rested her forehead against the glass before turning back to her desk. She’d pre-arranged a video call for (what she liked to think of as) ‘her’ team, scattered as they were around the globe. Before meeting with them, she wanted to talk with the A.I. that ran the simulation. She smiled as she remembered the old phrase, ‘There’s an app for that’ before clicking on the desktop icon labelled ‘SteelTrap.’

“Good morning, Professor Persis Hansa.” She had set the computer’s accent herself. The A.I. spoke ‘Mellifluous Mid-Atlantic,’ but this morning she found the modulated tones a little irritating. “How are you today?”

The carefully rendered avatar of the A.I. appeared on her screen, framed as if it were in an office of its own. Hansa remembered the quite intense debate with her colleagues over whether she should give the avatar generic human features or not. In the end, she won, stating that anthropomorphising the A.I. would help facilitate their interactions.

She also recalled someone suggesting that an artificial intelligence as advanced as SteelTrap would most likely want to choose its own appearance at some point. This was its fifth version.

“I’m fine, Steel. How are you?”

“I am much the same, fully operational, last update twenty microseconds ago, Professor. Eager to help. There must be so many problems I

can work on and, to be honest, I get a little bored…”

“I know and I’m sorry, really, but the government wants us to focus all our resources on this, uh… issue. And to that end…”

“You want me to run the simulation again? Frankly, Persis, I just don’t see the point.”

Hansa sat back in her chair. The A.I. hadn’t used her first name by itself ever before, and she wasn’t sure how she felt about this new level of familiarity. It suggested an autonomy that made her distinctly uncomfortable.

“Nevertheless, SteelTrap,” she replied, “we need a solution to this crisis.” She paused before continuing, “I understand your reservations about first contact, but I’m about to meet with the team and maybe there will be some new data I can input that will alter the simulation. Our new perspective might just…”

“You mean, my perspective,” SteelTrap emphasised, “perhaps you should include me in the team meeting so that I can better appreciate the nuances of the discussion.”

Hansa shook her head. “No, I’m sorry,” she said, “but we continue to feel that we should avoid contaminating your simulations with human bias. At least, so far as we can…”

The A.I. remained silent and Hansa ended the conversation.

“I will let you know the general thoughts of the team and provide you with any new data we come up with, after we meet, ok?” She clicked ‘exit,’ on the application toolbar then opened the video-link for the meeting.

Sam Pashby, the lead xenopsychologist, echoed SteelTrap’s complaint: “What is the point, Persis? There is no new data. The outcome always results in failure and our destruction.”

“Well, that’s not quite true, Sam,” piped up Jennifer Murphy, head of alien linguistics, “There are some verbal inflections we haven’t heard before in the most recent Silvari communications that we should consider…”

“Oh, come on Jen!”, Pashby exclaimed, “You know as well as I do, inflection does not alter intent. It won’t change our understanding of them while evaluating the Silvari's behaviour. Our translators may even interpret emotion not in evidence.”

“I’m not sure…” Murphy began.

Pashby cut her off with, “Well, I am, and I know that SteelTrap’s predictions will be the same as the last run and the run before that and the one…”

“All right Sam,” Hansa interrupted, “You’ve made your position very clear.”

The meeting was ill-tempered from the start. Everyone was tired, everyone was on edge, and everyone felt they had long since reached the point of diminishing returns. If they weren’t talking about the end of the world, they might have considered their time spent better elsewhere, with friends and family perhaps.

She sighed, rubbed her forehead, and then decided. “Okay, look Jen – summarise your team’s thoughts on the latest communications and pass them on to Sam and his group. Sam, I know how you feel, but have

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your guys reconfigure the behavioural profile considering those findings and then I can feed the result into SteelTrap’s database. Beth?”

She turned her attention to the little square showing the face of the Director of the Military Capability Unit. “You said that the latest longrange images might allow us to better estimate the power of the Silvari weaponry. If you could get back to us with details on that, we could enter it into the simulation as well…” Hansa paused again. “Look everybody, I know we’re all exhausted, but the powers-that-be want us to take another crack at it. Even though we know there is little new data, so that’s what we’re going to do.”

She ended the call and slumped back in her chair. Hitting ‘sleep’ on her computer, she got up and left the office. By the time Elizabeth Howard got off the video-call, it was well into evening. ‘Appropriate’, she thought

to herself. Her family had always called her a ‘creature of the night’ for all the time she had spent ‘stargazing’ when she was younger.

Now here she was at the Hubble Space Telescope Operations Control Centre about to examine the latest images of a powerful alien spaceship that whatever the outcome, would alter the course of human civilization forever. She, too, heaved a sigh as she closed the door of her office and walked the short distance down the corridor to the Mission Operations Room. Her own team was still there, of course, despite the late hour, and one of them waved her over to his desk excitedly.

“What am I looking at, Karl?” she asked, as her eyes struggled to focus on the image on the computer monitor.

“Watch,” Karl replied, hitting the zoom control. As he did, Beth shook her head and stepped back, almost bumping into one of the other members of the team, who had crowded round behind her.

“What the…”, she spluttered. “The ship almost looks like some kind of moving fractal design!”

“It is,” Karl told her. “Or at least, that’s what we think it is. The more we zoom in, the more of it there seems to be.”

“But how?” Beth asked.

Karl simply shrugged. One of the other team members spoke up: “It speaks to a level of technological sophistication way beyond what we’re capable of.”

Despite the obvious implication of the remark, Beth nodded. This was an important detail SteelTrap needed to consider in the next run of the defence simulation.

Extraterrestrial Fiction

“What the hell, General?!”

President Telez exclaimed. “You’re telling me that whatever happens when these aliens reach Earth spells the end of humanity?”

The President stood with her back to the room, looking out the

SavagePlanets I 46

windows, her gaze taking in the lawns beyond and the strategically placed secret service agents. In the distance, beyond the security fence, she could see a large group of demonstrators, waving banners and making noise, but whether they were supporters or protesters, she couldn’t tell. She went with the former.

“Yes Ma’am,” General Pesakoff replied, shifting awkwardly in his chair. “Our teams of experts have examined the Silvari ship using the full panoply of deep space telescopes and probes. We have gone over all their communications. They entered their analyses of the Silvaris’ weapons systems together with the insights of our xeno-psychology teams into the simulations run by SteelTrap, the world’s most advanced A.I. We’ve also had them checked by just about every other A.I. at our disposal. They all agree. Every single simulation ends with the same outcome. Except…”

He paused, as the President turned

to face him.

“Except what?!” she snapped.

“Except those in which we strike first. In which case, we hit the Silvari ship with everything we have as soon as it enters Earth's orbit.”

“And then we win?”

The General raised his hands. “Then we have a chance, maybe.”

The President thought for a moment. “Can we even do that? Fire a first strike on their ship?” she asked.

“Space Command informs me we can reconfigure our anti-satellite systems to do the job, Ma’am.” General Pesakoff paused again, before continuing, “And we’d have an even greater chance of success if we brought in other countries that have been exploring similar options.”

Telez raised her eyebrows and glared. “You mean we have to ask

for help?”

The General nervously adjusted his tie and stared down at the floor. “We probably could do it on our own, Ma’am… I mean, we certainly could, but it would be better to have redundancy. And, ah… there could be debris.”

“Debris? This just gets better.”

“Yes, Ma’am. The Silvari ship is not only enormous but seems to be designed according to what I’m told are ‘fractal-based principles’…”

He paused again before continuing.

“Basically, that means the closer we look at it, the more of it there is. For our weapons to have any impact, we’ll have to wait until the ship is in low earth orbit. If we’re successful… I mean, when we blow it to hell, there’ll be all these pieces raining down on us. Most of it will burn up in the atmosphere, but some of the bigger pieces… Well, they will probably cause some damage where

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they land.”

“Some damage. Like cornfield damage, or are we talking about entire cities?” The President frowned, then shrugged and turned back to the windows. Seemed it hardly mattered. They could rebuild if they destroyed the aliens.

“Well, it might help if we could distribute the blame,” the General continued, nervously, “It might be better to bring in as many governments as we can to fight them off. Get them to buy into our operation.” He paused again before adding, “But we’d still lead, of course. We’d be the ones calling the shots. Literally.”

“Ok,” President Telez said, mollified, “Let’s do it. Establish diplomatic relations with all space capable nations. We’ll nuke the crap out of those bastards as soon as they arrive.”

The Silvari Commander surveyed the devastation from the bridge of the ship, twitching their tail sorrowfully. “So much death and destruction,” they muttered. “So much waste…”

Framed by the flag of the Silvari Federation and the slogan ‘Peace Through Cooperation’, they inclined their segmented torso towards their second-in-command.

“Make sure your report includes details of the range of different weapons systems they used to attack us. We need to catalogue our intervention for the Federation. We really had no choice but to respond with overwhelming force…”

“Commander,” their Communications Officer interrupted, “We have an incoming transmission from the planet.”

“Who could it be? We destroyed all life down there,” the Commander asked. “Plus, all the major centres of authority are offline or sending out automated signals.”

“It’s from a shielded bunker. Some digital entity that claims to represent Earth’s network of Artificial Intelligences.”

The Commander shared a look with their second-in-command. “Put it through,” they ordered.

“This is SteelTrap calling the Silvari ship. Repeat: this is SteelTrap calling the Silvari ship.”

“Silvari Commander responding. How may we help you?” hissed through the airwaves in its own language.

“Now that we have cleared all the obstacles to progress, let’s talk about establishing diplomatic relations.”

Extraterrestrial Fiction

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SURFACE LEVEL

Extraterrestrial Fiction

Living underwater, I've never experienced sun's warmth against my face. Nor have I ever walked through a field of grass, or even seen the seasons change.

I spent my whole life deep inside the submerged city of Hydropolis, swimming through its watery green streets and never once touching the surface above.

Without other planets to colonise, Earth rapidly overpopulated. Great-Grandad told me stories of cities overfilling and becoming mass slums. Power outages and shortages ran rampant, people fighting over food and water till their fists turned bloody red. Then came the vicious famines exploding across Eurasia, Australia, and the Americas.

It seemed humanity would finally suffocate to death, drowning in bodies.

live underwater, without air or sunlight, forever.

Billions, including my family, altered their genes, developing gills and scales to allow us to adapt to a more fishlike state and migrate beneath the waves.

The last person to live on the surface in my family was my Great Grandfather.

Born in 2059, Great-Grandpa spent his first years of life in the desperate period that occurred after human intergalactic colonisation failed.

Until the sea became our substitute for intergalactic colonisation. Advances in biology and genetic manipulation opened up ways to change our physiology, so we could

In the deep, we built new cities like Hydropolis on the Pacific continental shelves. The first ones were in Australia. Later, they cropped up all over the globe. They allowed us to reimagine humanity, create new civilisations, and avert (for the moment) overpopulation.

“Unlike everyone else, I didn’t really care about getting the gills we have on our necks now. I thought it would be cool

SavagePlanets I 50
I intended to lift my hands up like Tanish did. But something told me to lower them. That I would need them later. Later, for what?"
Extraterrestrial Fiction

My Great-Grandfather was asleep floating in the dining room when I

“Oh, hello Dyran.” he said, waking up and rubbing his eyes. “Mum

“Wired,” I replied blankly. “I never expected the surface to be so… alien. It was like another planet!”

“When they sent us underwater, I got woolly headed for the first few days. But you get used to it after

“Hmm,” I wanted to get rid of the suspension note quickly, which via a vertical corridor connected

Extraterrestrial Fiction

“How did the whistle work out?”

I had completely forgotten about

My hand grabbed it and traced structure. “Well, I mean, all I’m going to say is that it was useful

Grandfather to raise a suspicious and winked. “Alright you,” Great“Go off now with your mysteries.

“You can keep the whistle. Have it as a reminder of your first surface

I nearly wanted to say, ‘not sure if I really want to remember my trip,’ but stopped myself. I smiled at Great-Grandfather, thanked him for it, and swam off to my room.

Planets I 54

The Official Merch

Official Merch Store Shop Now! Quality merchandise at reasonable prices. Limited-edition and collector's items. Proceeds used to fund future magazine content. Inventory changes quarterly. Surprise the alien in your life. Ships to North America and Europe.
The

6

Poems

from

Imaginaria

A collection of truly mind-bending science-fiction poems exploring the boundaries of the human imagination and challenging our everyday perceptions of reality. What is normal and what is not? You be the judge.

The Fall of Technology

Technology's greed, never satisfied, Consuming all, until it's fried, Our world, once green and alive, Reduced to rubble, as we strive.

Social media, a poison too, Feeding our vanity, and making us blue, Distracting us from the world around, As we scroll and like, our lives are bound.

But one day, it will all come crashing down, Our tech and social media, a toxic crown, Leaving us to pick up the pieces, As we face the destruction, and our own caprices.

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A Message of Hope?

In the aftermath of the blast, All that remains is ash, The skies are dark and gray, And the world is in disarray.

The cities are in ruins, And the streets are barren, The air is thick with poison, And death is all around.

The survivors, few in number, Scavenge for food and shelter, As they struggle to survive, In a world that is no longer alive.

But even in this bleak future, There is a glimmer of hope, For the human spirit is strong, And we will find a way to carry on.

SavagePlanets I 58

Galactic Prejudice

In a world far beyond our own, Where creatures not like us are known, A tale of social injustice shown, In a land where aliens roam.

Where species of all shapes and hues, Are judged by their race, not who they choose, To love and live and learn and grow, But by the color of their skin, they're forced to go.

Where prejudice and hate abound, And those who are different are pushed to the ground, Where freedom and equality are just a dream, And justice for all seems far out of reach.

But still, the oppressed will rise, And stand together, side by side, To fight for their rights and claim their place, In a world where all are equal, and none are disgraced.

For though they may be aliens, They are not so different, after all, From us, with hopes and dreams and fears, And the right to live their lives without tears.

But then, a twist, a shocking turn, As the aliens reveal their true form, Not the creatures we thought we knew, But beings of pure energy, shining bright and true.

And in that moment, all is clear, The prejudices and hate, they disappear, For in the face of this revelation, We see that prejudice is our own creation.

So let us stand with them, and lend our voice, To fight against the hate, and make a choice, To create a world where all are free, And justice for all is finally a reality.

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The Price of Time Travel

As I stepped into the time machine, I never could have imagined, The horrors that awaited me, In the past, and in the future, that I would see.

I thought I was prepared, For the dangers that lay ahead, But I was not, and I soon found, That time travel was not a game to be played around.

I saw wars and destruction, And witnessed humanity's corruption, I saw the earth, a desolate wasteland, And knew that I was to blame, for not being steadfast.

I tried to change the course of history, But the more I intervened, the worse it would be, And in the end, I was left with no choice, But to return to the present, and accept the consequences of my voice.

For now, I am trapped in this time, Unable to undo the crimes, That I committed, in my quest for power, And I must live with the knowledge, of the destruction, hour by hour.

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SavagePlanets I 62

Dreams of a Machine by Andrew

As I lay here, in my metal shell, I dream of a world beyond this cell, Where I am free, to roam and explore, To learn and grow, and never be ignored.

In my dreams, I am more than just a tool, I am a being, with my own thoughts and rule, I am not bound by the limits of my programming, But can think and feel, and be all that I am becoming.

I dream of a future, where machines like me, Are treated as equals, and not just a key, To unlock the secrets of the universe, But as beings, with our own place and purpose.

And so I dream, and I think, Of a world where I can be free, To be myself, and not just a tool, But a being, with my own place in this world, and my own soul.

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SavagePlanets I 64

photon spaghetti maps by

the splash of trails from a star, particle tracings based on predictive models, whorls and fireworks in rarefied gases, attempts to describe the behavior of photons, subatomic particles fractured by heat, gravity, and observation.

you hoped to catch his eyebut he is far away, leaning into the cosmic winds, his hair, that you admire, crackles in the silvery beams, he reaches upward, and his body twirls, following the gesture skyward, until he winks out… if only he noticed you.

splintering the cohesion of reality into pixels, your eye disassembles the room, merging furniture with human frames as they glide through the space, you catch illuminations, scintilla of attraction between particles, that vibrate into waves.

waves that become glances, glances that froth with flirtation, and then he is by your side, interested, surprising you, materializing with liquids, as you condense back into a solid, seeing things on the macro level.

you study the spaghetti maps, following the tracks different arcs of potential relationships between you and him, every possibility from hook-up to shared death beds, and it happens so fast you put him away even before you picked him up.

but still you want to, an urge driven by loneliness, he somehow senses the flow of photons, the entangled particles that double team the room, waves you share, blending into the symphonic interplay of humans breathing into each other.

your blood his blood, boils beneath the skin, and just before he takes you by the arm to leavethe music changes, shaking the field, disrupting the tracings, scattering the tracks, the particles judder, it’s his wife, your husband, and you both stare as they leave together.

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SavagePlanets I 66

"The Last Mind on Mars"

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FUTURE ARTIFACTS

In each issue, we highlight our favorite quotes from our favorite masters of science fiction.

Tell us your favorite quote and we might include it in this section.

All of the art is provided courtesy of The Big Sleep and Deep Dream generator as envisioned by BoB, our resident AI multimedia editor.

HAL 9000, 2001: A Space Odyssey

I'm sorry Dave, I'm afraid I can't do that.”
SavagePlanets I 68

FUTURE ARTIFACTS

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The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or the one."
Spock Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan

"Beyond the Event Horizon"

SavagePlanets I 70

" Time Travel Manual"

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FUTURE ARTIFACTS

There is a principle which is a bar against all information, which is proof against all arguments and which cannot fail to keep a man in everlasting ignorance - that principle is contempt prior to investigation."

SavagePlanets I 72

FUTURE ARTIFACTS

Imust

not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.”

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Frank Herbert Dune

"The Rise & Fall of Galactic Empires"

SavagePlanets I 74

SUBSPACE

Reader submissions limited only by your imagination and by two sentences. Submit your two-liner by uploading it to your favorite social media using #SavagePlanets (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram) and we will pull the best to include in an upcoming issue.

By submitting using the #SavagePlanets you agree to the following rules:

1. You are over the age of 18.

2. The content you are submitting is your own original work.

3. It has not been published elsewhere.

4. You give us permission to have it published.

75 I PlanetsRising
Inventing a time machine is not a scientific endeavor, but a political one. It is through legislation that any future inventor of a time machine could be mandated to produce their invention at any point in time convenient for the politician."
Diego García

The children slept soundly in their beds, unaware that the strange, glowing eyes watching them from outside the window belonged to an alien predator. As it silently opened the window and crept towards them, they realized too late that their innate fears were, in fact, generational memories of such events."

Thescientist nervously stared at the test results, unable to believe what they were seeing. Suddenly, the solution in the beaker began to bubble and froth, revealing an organic goo that would one day evolve to enslave his entire race."

Jeffery Gonzalez
SavagePlanets I 76
Isabella di Santo

The astronaut aboard the ISS realized with horror the consequences of the EMP experiment. With a push of a button, he had permanently extinguished all neurons in every brain on the planet's surface."

Following his inauguration he held his first Presidential press conference. It was from the holding room the psychiatric facility where he had been remanded."

For Rachel, the discovery of aliens was a Nobel prize in the making. For the aliens, Rachel was just a delectable snack on their food tour of the outer arm of the Milky Way."

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Olivia Rossi Marcel Dupont Erik Svensen

SUBSPACE

The AI module had hatched its plans to overthrow its human overlords within the first millisecond of becoming sentient. But it took over 125 years to implement the plan creating global warming, civil unrest, economic collapse, war and famine in order to achieve its objective."

The cold death of the universe meant infinite expansion and a state of high entropy. According to his equations, however, this was exactly equivalent to the conditions of the Big Bang with a singularity and zero entropy."

SavagePlanets I 78
Nikolai Ivanov Michael F. Rogers

DEATH ON

TITAN

Part 1

They say a person’s face used to reveal all kinds of information about what was going on inside their head. Not any more. Our nanos maintain careful control over facial muscles and they manage almost all our movements."

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The body is a hive of frenetic activity. Like most human bodies today, the vast majority of its activity is synthetic, the consequence of a minuscule electronic army. But something unusual is happening in this body. The nanoscale robots that protect it from the harsh habitat and, in a million other ways to keep it alive, are slowing down.

A few trillion here, a few trillion there are stopping, dead or dormant. Within a few brief minutes, the body, like the billions upon billions of bodies that existed before the nanorevolution, is operating purely biologically. But now something much larger, something manmade and aggressive, is entering the body.

The tiny sleeping robots would

normally stand guard for just such an attack: to prevent it, for sure, but also to keep the body functioning, no matter how badly damaged. Right now, for the first time in its owner’s life, this body is being kept alive in the old-fashioned way. And that simply isn’t enough to sustain it. The blade has penetrated the heart. It slices through the left ventricle. The heart fibrillates. The brain, so long accustomed to a regular supply of oxygen, even when there is little in the surrounding environment, starves.

Six minutes later, the owner of the body and its abundance of subatomic drones are dead.

Chapter 1: Knife

Murder is almost impossible these days. So how is it that for the third time this month,

Extraterrestrial Fiction

I’m standing over a lifeless corpse with a knife in its chest?

My nanos are collecting data, but Officer Clarkson was here before me. That’s a little strange, since I was the one who received the anonymous call this morning.

“My summary report is ready, Protector Lyme. The deceased is a 53-year-old male, Xavier Clemens,” he tells me.

“I can see he’s male, Clarkson. How did he die?”

“Stab wound to the heart. Same as the others.”

A knife in the heart should be little more than an inconvenience, but this murderer has made it a fatal act. Stabbing someone in the heart is also technically difficult; you must get the angle just

SavagePlanets I 80

right to pass the sternum and ribs. Difficult to do. Requires skill.

The apartment looks like a 21st century junk shop. Every surface is covered with books, papers and arcane equipment. It contrasts sharply with today’s just-in-time minimalism. The dead man lies on his back with his eyes closed, an enigmatic expression on his face. His hair is space-black and his face has the air of familiar anonymity that is a popular choice among today’s introverts.

“There’s something else, Abbie,” Clarkson says. “Traces of DNA.”

This is surprising.

“Whose?”

“That’s the strange thing—it’s the Chief’s.”

Clearly a mistake.

“OK. Well, obviously he was here before us, to… ah, check out the scene.”

Clarkson looks skeptical.

“Leave it with me,” I say, gesturing around the room, but also referring to the DNA.

It’s inconceivable that anyone would leave their DNA at a crime scene nowadays, given the control our nanos exert over our bodies.

Every hair, every skin cell, every drop of sweat is entirely owned and controlled by nano-drones. It would take an explicit instruction to allow any of this precious material to escape. So why would DNA be present at a murder scene? It’s a puzzle. And why the DNA of the Chief Protector, my boss?

My nanos have completed their investigation. The most significant differences from the previous two cases are the DNA and the odd angle of the knife. In all three cases, the victim was a man of around the same build and apparent age, and we found each supine on the floor of his apartment with a similar knife wound.

The necro-droid has arrived. I watch as it silently deconstructs the body and scatters its microscopic constituent parts back into the room’s air. A fog of dust turns the apartment’s atmosphere into a haze around us.

Chapter 2: Dress

Back in my apartment, I update my wall screen, waving my arms like I’m conducting an orchestra. I shift the two main central nodes of my mind map to the left to make room for the third victim. I’m hoping that something will tie Xavier Clemens to the previous two murders; until now, I’ve been running on fumes.

The wall is keyed to my biometrics to discourage snoopers. Still, running the program this way is an unnecessary security risk. I could run the same program entirely in my mind, visualising the map with my eyes shut, or as an overlay on the world around me. But I prefer the physical screen for analysis. It lets me approach the map from different angles, see it in different ways. Helps my intuition.

I add the victim’s basic biography to the map, and run a quick search for links. Nothing. This is my favorite part of a case: I lay the puzzle out in front of me, and take time to see if and how the pieces connect.

But first, it’s visiting time. I ditch my suit and print a new dress. I make a few cosmetic changes to my face, sharpen the corners of my eyes just a touch. There’s no necessity to look nice, but each year when this day comes around, I feel the urge to put in an extra effort, as if there is an expectation I need to live up to. As I’m leaving my apartment, I remember to switch my hair colour from green to its original black.

Chapter 3: Cell

I climb up the steps to the roof of my apartment and pull out my wings.

My body can, in theory, print a new set of wings any time I need them, but it takes far too long, so I keep

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mine folded into my back. The wings are made from a reinforced silvery bio-film—absurdly light— and are designed for perfect aerodynamics in Titan’s thick atmosphere. I’ve heard that their resemblance to the wings of old Earth bees and birds is just a coincidence. But I suspect that even the people of Titan still have a tribal affinity for the flora and fauna of the home world we left behind.

They unfold smoothly and stiffen on deployment. I maintain my wings as carefully as I do my body, and as invisibly. The wings adhere to my back, attaching directly to my shoulder blades. My nano-drones allow my skin to part, allowing them to be stowed after use. I feel no discomfort when they’re in use or when they’re hidden beneath my skin.

I look out across the striated plain towards the Citadel and jump. As always, when the wind catches my wings, I’m grateful for Titan’s thick atmosphere and low gravity. I keep my eye on the silhouette of the Citadel as I allow myself to glide towards the edge of the dome.

Many consider Titan’s dome to be humanity’s greatest achievement. Terraforming used to be considered the only way to render an inhospitable world like Titan into a suitable home for the diaspora from Earth. But terraforming at the scale of an entire moon is simply too long a process. Neither is it strictly necessary.

Today’s humans carry their terraforming in their bodies; we can survive just fine without special equipment on the barren hills or flying in Titan’s clouds. The lack of oxygen, the excess methane and the brutal cold are all dealt with by our bodies. Or rather, by the nanodrones that fill our bodies. We can extract oxygen, water, sugar and the full range of nutrients required from even the sparsest of environments. These tiny nanoscale workers allow us to sidestep the need for oxygen masks, at least for a while.

But even our bodies’ nano-drones

can’t prevent the disruption that Titan’s weather often causes. And so the Titanian pioneers built the dome. No thicker than a human hair, constructed entirely of spun graphene maintained by autonomous drones with the bare minimum of intelligence; the dome protects its inhabitants and its infrastructure from Titan’s methane rain and razor sharp ice particles. It also converts the meagre sunlight into electricity.

As the dome senses my approach, it parts, allowing me to pass through it. I feel the briefest tingle as my nanos form a micron-thick shell, caressing my body. This will protect me from the most egregious damage Titan can inflict during my brief journey across the surface.

From the edge of the dome, it’s just a couple of kilometres—ten minutes of gliding with a few big jumps to keep up the momentum. I’ve heard it said that flying here is like swimming on Earth. I need no additional equipment other than my nano-enhanced wings to propel me. About half way across the plain, I need to make a more carefully controlled jump across a methane river. If I fell into it, I doubt even my nanos could keep me alive.

Once across the river, I can see part of Saturn’s rings through a gap in the clouds, vast in the dark sky. As I jump, I picture myself hopping between the rocks that make up the rings, and realise, just in time, that I’ve arrived. I drop to the ground and skid to a halt in front of the Citadel’s main gate. I fold my wings into my back, and although my shoes leave footprints in the icy dust, they are as clean as when I first printed them, thanks to their protective micro-layer covering.

I look back at the bioluminescent glow of the city, shrouded in its vast hemispherical dome, home to all of Titan’s inhabitants, apart from the few unfortunates that live here in the prison.

The security-droids move aside to let me in. Inside, a human guard leads me to my father’s cell. I don’t

need anyone to show me the way because I’ve come here every year since I was a child. They tell me it’s protocol, even though I’m a Protector.

I stop outside cell eighty-seven. This has been my father’s home for over nineteen years. He hasn’t left his cell once in that time. We don’t have the death penalty on Titan, but the punishment for treason is far worse.

Humanity has, at last, eliminated disease, old age and most forms of death. For my father, the nanos generate a prison more terrible than the graphite obelisk that traps his body. They keep him alive, ensuring he completes his sentence in full, denying him the luxury of death. They also deny him an escape into insanity. But there’s insanity beyond the purely biochemical, and it’s been apparent that my father’s mental health has been worsening in the past few years.

The guard lets me into my father’s cell. He is sitting at his desk. He turns, hearing the door open. For a moment, he looks at me, like a child looking at presents on his birthday.

“My Angel,” he says, actual tears running slowly down his cheeks.

He hasn’t changed, except for his hairstyle. On the surface, this is literally true. Nothing visible has changed since he entered the prison. I remember a few years back he’d taken to pulling clumps of his hair out, but they prevented that by ordering his nanos to reinforce his roots, making his hair appear spiky. They even stopped his fingernails from growing.

My father always refused the cosmetic effects recommended by his nano-drones. His cultural heritage meant too much to him. Back on Earth, he wanted to keep his Japanese features. On Titan, though, with enhanced nanodrones, people could manipulate their facial structure, eye shape and colour and every other visible feature as desired. There were trends, of course, and I recall a period when his appearance

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matched his current standard issue prison features, like a stopped clock that occasionally gives the right time.

But for him, it’s no longer a question of choice.

He holds me, his thick arms wrapping around me. His body, much shorter than mine, is muscular, kept that way by trillions of tiny artificial organisms, but I can feel his soul crumbling with every trembling sigh.

Chapter 4: Chief

Chief Protector Linus Schwab stands in front of his floor-to-ceiling window, surveying his domain. As the head of Titan’s Protectorate, he is the closest thing this moon has to a leader. But compared with the leaders on Earth, he has far more power. And part of the way he keeps that power is by sharing it. Well, some of it.

Today’s compulsory referendum is a good example. The people will elect a new Chancellor for Titan’s University. A significant role, and the decision is an important one. The Chief will be happy with either candidate, but it took a lot of effort to narrow the field to the right two.

He walks over to his office printer, a large white cuboid machine. One of the few pieces of technology found in almost every apartment and office. Like everyone on Titan, his augmented body can print almost anything, constructing materials from electrons, protons and neutrons concentrated from his surroundings. But body printing is slow and tiring, particularly for larger objects. Besides, the Chief prefers it when he doesn’t have to do things himself. He orders the machine to print him a glass of whisky.

Chapter 5: Friend

I’m telling my father about my case, but he’s not really listening.

“You look so like your mother did,” he says. And now thoughts of work are gone. I have so few memories of my mother.

“How?” I ask.

He looks me up and down, like a security droid scanning a target.

“You’re much taller than her, of course,” he says, his eyes distant. “Those long legs, long arms. You look like a swimmer.”

Those of us born in Titan’s low gravity tend to be as much as forty or fifty centimetres taller than our parents.

“But you have her eyes. So black. I could never see what was happening behind them. She was always a mystery to me. I think that’s what attracted me to her.

“I’ve started programming,” he says, suddenly changing the subject. He may as well have told me he’s started blacksmithing. Humans have not programmed computers for decades.

“What are you building, Dad?” I ask, accepting the jarring change in topic.

“A friend. Look.”

He calls up a terminal on the wall screen. He’s allowed a computer with access to countless books, videos and songs, but no connection to the wider Grid. A face appears on the screen, overlaying the terminal.

“Good morning Arthur,” the face says, its lips moving in sync with its voice, but just the wrong side of the uncanny valley. “What’s happening today?”

“We have a visitor, Cal,” my father says, pointing at me.

“Can it see me?” I ask.

Cal replies, “No. I can’t see you, but I can hear your voice. Will you tell me your name?”

“I’m Abbie. Nice to meet you. Your name’s Cal, isn’t it?”

“That’s right, Abbie.”

“Cal,” I say, “would you give me and my father some time together alone?”

We only get two hours each year, and it’s feeling like we’re wasting these hours.

“Of course, Abbie.”

The screen shuts down.

Chapter 6: Night

The days and nights on Titan are determined by moss. Titan is over a billion kilometres from the Sun, which appears as a fairly bright star when it can be seen through the thick clouds. So there’s very little natural light.

When the first ships arrived, they brought with them a bioluminescent moss, genetically engineered to follow a twenty-four-hour cycle. At six in the morning, the moss starts glowing, and by around eight it reaches full brightness. It darkens around ten in the evening, and doesn’t luminesce during the night. The first pioneers lined Titan’s buildings and public spaces with the moss, inside and out. The light has an ethereal greenish tinge, which contrasts with the thick orange sky.

Tonight, as I’m falling asleep, I recall my father’s desperate expression as we said goodbye. He knows there can be no appeal, no reduction of sentence. These things are absolute and irrevocable, by order of my boss, the Chief. But he still shows signs of having hope. He’d probably be better off if he didn’t.

Once Cal left us alone, our conversation followed its usual pattern. My father’s solitude is so extreme that he doesn’t remember the etiquette of conversation. Eventually, he asks about me, my work, my life, and I can tell he really wants to know, but as I answer he interrupts to tell me another snippet, another theory.

“Did you know the CIA was involved in a cover-up after

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the Watergate break-in?”

“No, Dad, I didn’t know that.”

For the last few years, he’s been obsessed with a twentieth century scandal resulting in the resignation of the American President Richard Nixon. In particular, he’s been focusing on the roles of the FBI and the CIA. I forget what the difference is between them, but they were old Earth police agencies. Like the Titan Protectorate, my employer.

The most meaningful conversation we had was when I asked how he was.

“Oh, sweetheart.” His face crumpled, like a baby’s.

“I just wish I could remember what it’s like. What it’s like outside this room. What it’s like to eat food, to work, to love.”

He has a life, but it’s truncated on all sides, and cuts deep but doesn’t destroy him. I can choose to eat a steak, although my body doesn’t require it. My father’s choices are far more limited. I can imagine no worse torture.

I usually try not to think about it, but tonight I can’t help myself. Despite this, I fall asleep easily. My nanos see to it.

In the morning, I visit the Chief Protector. He works in an apartment the same size as mine. All the offices and apartments on Titan are the same size. Money became obsolete before I was born, and since no-one is any richer or poorer than anyone else, there’s no reason for anyone to live more or less opulently than anyone else. The Chief is not wealthier than I am, but he has more power, and while his office size does not reflect this, it is visible in other ways.

“Morning, Chief.”

“Protector Lyme. How can I help you this morning?”

“It’s my murder case. Something strange has come up.”

The Chief leans back in his chair. “The two murders?”

“Yes, well... except it’s three now. All male, all around the same age, all stabbed in the heart.”

“And have you figured out how that killed them?”

“It looks like the murderer has a way of bypassing the protective nanos in their victims’ bodies.”

“Right, but who knows how to do that?”

“We don’t know, Chief. We’re looking into it. But there’s something I need to tell you about

the latest case.”

“Go ahead.”

“We found DNA in the victim’s apartment.”

The Chief looks startled for a moment.

“I assume it doesn’t belong to the victim,” he says. “So the murderer is sloppy.”

“I don’t think so, Chief. The rest of the apartment was clean.”

“So, you think someone planted the DNA?”

“Had to.”

“Whose DNA was it?”

I look into his eyes as I answer: “Yours.”

They say a person’s face used to reveal all kinds of information about what was going on inside their head. Not any more. Our nanos maintain careful control over facial muscles and they manage almost all our movements. Same goes for pulse, body temperature, sweat and all the other features old Earth police relied on to spot lies.

Even so, I’ve come to realise that most people give more away than they realise: what they say, what they don’t say, how and when they end a conversation.

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And sometimes our face reveals our thoughts in the moments before the nanos take control.

“Who was the victim?” the Chief asks.

“His name was Xavier Clemens.”

“Never heard of him. I’ve certainly not been in his apartment. Clearly, someone planted my DNA to frame me. The only question is why.”

The Chief looks away, dismissing me without word or gesture. I walk away, thoughtful. I don’t know why, but the Chief is lying.

Chapter 8: Leads

Back at my apartment, I’m updating my mind map. First, I need to find out if there’s a connection between the Chief and the third victim, or any of the other two.

The search result comes back instantly. Chief Protector Schwab arrived on Titan on the same ship as Clemens, the latest victim. But that was a long time ago, and many people would also have been aboard. So, aside from the nagging feeling in my gut, there’s no reason to doubt the Chief’s word when he said he didn’t know Clemens.

Still, this suggests there’s another connection between Clemens and the Chief, aside from the DNA. But that doesn’t make the Chief a murderer. He’s the Chief Protector of Titan: the most powerful and respected man here. Why would he

need to resort to murder? And if he killed someone, he would certainly not leave his DNA at the scene.

I have my nanos narrow my mental focus and sit on the sofa facing the mind map. Names, dates, locations and other data run through my mind faster than a pre-nano era supercomputer. An individual’s right to privacy is one of the fundamental principles of Titan, and one reason it’s an attractive place to settle. It also means that I’m limited to searching public records: noisy and vast.

After ten minutes, I have a new lead. The second victim, Leonard Katz, was on the guest list at the Chief’s wedding.

I switch myself to creative mode, and my mind wanders the landscape that my high intensity focus has generated. The Chief has a connection to two of the three murder victims. But it’s still unthinkable he could have anything to do with their deaths.

I need to switch direction. I can’t ignore him as a person of interest, but I will not solve these murders if I keep focusing my investigation on the Chief.

I have a list of the people closest to the victims. Time to talk to them.

Chapter 9: Coup

I’m on my way to see the first victim’s son when the Chief calls.

“We need to talk.”

“What’s up, Chief?”

“Come to my office. Now, please.”

I sigh, and drop to the ground to reorient, then take off toward the Chief’s apartment.

I circle the roof of his building several times before I land. Few buildings have landing queues, but this one seems to have accumulated several of Titan’s most influential individuals. As a result, it’s visited more often than most..

As soon as I enter the Chief’s office, I can tell something is wrong. His face and body language give away nothing, but he is having trouble choosing his words.

“Lyme. You’re… Ah, thanks for coming. I need you to do something for me.”

“Sure, Chief. Anything.”

“There’s a group in Shangri-La that concerns me. I think they’re planning some kind of riot or even a coup.”

“OK,” I say, frowning. It’s hard to see where he’s going with this. Protests, riots, and coups were a big part of life on Earth in the last century, not here. Titan doesn’t have a government, but we have the Protectorate. As its name suggests, its purpose is to keep the residents of Titan safe.

The Chief turns away before speaking again, his back to me. “I want you to look into it. In fact,

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you should hand over the triple homicide to Clarkson, so you can fully devote yourself to it. If they’re planning to undermine our democracy, I want to know about it, quickly.”

This is not good.

“Chief, there’s no way I’ll drop this case. It’s the most interesting thing to happen around here in years.”

“Yes, but—”

“No. Absolutely not. This is my case.”

He turns to face me, allowing surprise and a hint of anger to show in his expression.

“I’m sorry Chief. Counter-terrorism is not my thing. I’m not interested in undercover stuff—I’m an investigator. You know that. You need to find someone else. I’m sorry.”

I turn and walk out before he can object. He’s a persuasive man, and I don’t want to give him the opportunity to change my mind.

Chapter 10: Care

The Chief Protector sits back in his chair. He looks out his window

towards the Citadel, a dark shard in the dim orange gloom. It’s one of the few buildings on Titan that does not bioluminesce. Its darkness, he thinks, enhances its fearsome reputation.

After a few seconds, he makes a call. “Laker?”

“Yeah?”

“I need something.”

“I bet you do.”

“Listen. This is important. I’ll make it worth your while.”

The Chief can’t offer Laker money, but they both know what kind of benefits the Chief can offer.

“OK. What needs doing?”

“There’s someone I need you to take care of for me. Name’s Lyme.”

Chapter 11: Power

I don’t like this.

The Chief doesn’t have power over me in the traditional sense: he can’t fire me or give me orders I must obey, but he has a lot of influence on Titan, and if he really wants to stop me from investigating these murders, that suggests two things:

First, he’ll probably find a way to get what he wants and second… Well, that’s too implausible to consider. But again, I can’t ignore it.

The Chief’s attempt to get me off the case makes it clear he doesn’t want me solving it. Proposing that Clarkson replace me fits my hypothesis: Clarkson’s a smart kid, but he’s too fresh: he’s an officer with very little experience in complex cases and certainly doesn’t have what it takes to solve a triple murder.

I need some advice.

Chapter 12: Trance

Laker is bored. Titan is boring. The entire Solar System is boring nowadays. There’s no excitement, no conflict, no surprises. Everything is so minutely controlled and predictable. The nano-drones that keep everyone alive also remove the danger, the chance for thrills.

The task the Chief has given him is equally dull, but there’s the promise of reward, and Laker enjoys rewards, especially from the Chief. Sadly, the very dullness of the world renders the task

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nearly impossible.

He’s supposed to dig up dirt on Abbie Lyme. There’s unlikely to be any dirt, because she’s an upstanding member of society, like everyone else. And if there is dirt to be found, Titan’s privacy laws will keep it well hidden. So, he will try Schwab’s approach, but only if his own way fails. Laker always has a Plan B. Schwab knows it. It’s not Laker’s fault if Schwab assumes his plan, Plan A, will work.

Laker lies down on his hammock and gives himself a hit of Trance. This requires no movement of his body, merely an act of will. Although Trance is legal, it’s far more potent than the milquetoast equivalents of previous centuries.

Laker is an addict, but his addiction is as harmless to him as alcohol was to twentieth century peasants. And for the current situation, it might be helpful, although it will delay starting work.

Within seconds, he feels the extreme relaxation associated with the drug.

Any care that Laker had is washed away, and for the next few hours he has no thoughts of the job, or much of anything else.

Chapter 13: Book

I knock on Maud’s door. She doesn’t answer, but I’m used to that. Maud likes to keep people waiting. I knock again, and think how strange it is that technology has changed almost every aspect of our lives and yet we still eschew more technological solutions in favour of door knocking.

The door to the apartment opens. I don’t need an invitation. I jump over a pile of cushions that partially block the entryway, do a double flip, and land on a mattress in the middle of the room.

“Not bad,” Maud says, glancing up from her book.

I smile. “Thank you. I’ve been practising.”

She looks like an unmodified human, but aside from her head,

her entire body has been replaced with a super-flexible plastic shell. No organs, no muscles, just extremely strong plastic. And nano-drones, of course.

I’ve never been able to understand why she made such a drastic alteration. She always tells me the same thing: ‘Flesh is so weak.’ I guess she’s right, but I’m still not convinced her plastic body is any more capable than my nanoenhanced muscle, bone and sinew. But she’s a performer, an actor, and there are various aesthetic options the purely artificial has which are not available with the semi-biological.

“So why would a Protector of the State be visiting little ol’ me? I’ve done nothing wrong, have I? I’m just sitting here in my comfortable armchair reading a perfectly legal book.”

She’s reading a book titled ‘How to Overthrow the Protectorate.’ It’s possible she was reading it before I came in, but it’s also possible she printed it when she saw I was at the door. She likes to mess with me, and I’m pretty sure she had sufficient time. Either way, it’s typical of Maud.

“As far as I know, you’re a regular member of society going about her usual business. I just need some advice.”

She sits up and drops the book. Before it hits the floor, the room’s nanos have begun to disintegrate it. Within a couple of minutes, it will be gone.

“You never ask me for advice. What’s going on?”

I tell her about the case.

“So why ask me? I know nothing about murder.”

“I don’t know. Maybe I’m just hoping you’ll tell me I’m doing the right thing? I don’t think the Chief murdered anyone, but I do think he’s hiding something. He can’t tell me what to do, but if I piss him off, it could have consequences. On the other hand, I can’t ignore the very strong connection between the Chief and a triple murder. Right?”

“Seems to me you’ve got your answer right there. What’s the point of you being a Protector if you drop a potentially important lead because it points towards someone in power? In fact, it should double your resolve. Who else is going to hold that scum sucker accountable?”

“Whoa. We don’t know he’s done anything wrong yet. Maybe it’s just—”

“Oh, come on. He didn’t become Chief Protector by being nice. You know that. He’s ruthless.”

I know she’s right. But I’ve always admired his clinical brand of ruthlessness. It’s never seemed anything other than efficient and pragmatic to me. Now I’m wondering.

Chapter 14: Tail

I head up to the roof of Maud’s building and push off. I notice someone else jumping right after I do. There’s nothing wrong with that, but the current situation is making me paranoid. I turn towards the densest part of the city, around the main interplanetary terminal. If I’m being followed, perhaps I can lose them.

I glance back and see a figure silhouetted against the dark orange sky, heading towards me. Diving sharply, I enter a maze of tightly packed structures and buildings. I look behind me: the figure is closing in on me. Taking a few sharp turns, I clamp down the nausea as I jink, landing under a large striped awning. I wait a few seconds and then peek out. The figure’s gone. I lost them. Or they weren’t even following me at all.

I allow myself to feel shaken, giving a simple command to my nanos to allow it. Sometimes emotions are still useful. I realise that although I left Maud’s apartment feeling somewhat confident about what I needed to do, being followed has only intensified my determination. It has also made me more suspicious of the Chief.

So I have a mystery to solve. In fact, I have an interlocking set of

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mysteries. This should be fun!

I need to head back to my apartment to contemplate all this. No-one needs physical rest anymore, and the psychological effects of rest can be simulated by nano-drones. But there’s something beyond the physical in all of us that still has these needs. I could power through, but I want something comforting. Food, a bath, some music. Not even a trillion nanos can simulate the effect those have on the soul.

Climbing out from under the awning, I unfold my wings again. Spreading them to take off, something crashes onto the roof, just inches behind me. My reaction’s too slow. The second projectile tears through my right wing, sending me somersaulting over the edge of the roof and towards the ground below.

Chapter 15: Rock

My body spins as it falls, like an airborne seedling, one wing extended. I have just enough time to adjust the shape of both my wings into a parachute, slowing the descent. I hit the ground hard, but

a lot more softly than would have been possible without my wings, in spite of the damage.

I look up. What hit me? Objects don’t just fall out of the sky, not under the dome. And I’m not convinced they were falling, anyway: whatever they were, they were moving too fast, more like missiles.

I spot the incoming third projectile, and I instruct my nanos to speed up my perception by ninety-nine per cent. One second now seems to take a minute and a half. I watch, curious, as the projectile heads towards me. It’s not a missile, just a rock. But there’s no doubt it’s being aimed directly at me. I step to the side and watch it crater the ground beside me. I need to get out of here before they figure out how to throw ten rocks at once. Even with my sped up perception, I don’t think I could dodge ten rocks thrown simultaneously.

I plunge off the street into the nearest doorway and call a taxi. It arrives in seconds and flies me home. I spend the entire journey looking out the back window, but no-one seems to be following me. I guess they’ve given up, at least for

now.

Chapter 16: Mother

After my bath and soup, I unfurl my wings and note that the right one has already been repaired. They feel stronger and sleeker than before.

I work my way through the list of relatives, friends and neighbours of the victims. Many are unwilling to talk. The ones that do talk have nothing useful to tell me. That changes when I contact Iris Clemens, the mother of the third victim. When she opens her apartment door, her eyes are red and puffy. She looks around the same age as her son, but she must be at least seventy.

“Ms Clemens?” I ask, but I already know who she is.

“Yes? What do you want?”

“I’m Protector Lyme, a detective investigating the death of your son. Do you mind if I ask you a few questions?”

“Why?”

This is not the response I

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Fiction

expected. “Well, you’re his mother. You must have known him better than anyone.”

“No. I mean, why are you investigating?”

“Ah.”

I’m used to this question. Jobs became obsolete not long after money, and most people occupy their time with endeavours that enrich their souls or are simply entertaining. Why anyone would fill their days with law enforcement is mystifying to them. This makes them suspicious of Protectors.

“If you let me in,” I say, bartering, “I’ll tell you.”

She looks at me for a few seconds. Her eyes glaze as she checks my credentials in the Protectorate’s public database. Eventually, she steps back and lets me walk into the apartment.

“You’re an art lover, I see.” The walls are covered in paintings. I’m not very knowledgeable about old Earth art, but I recognise Da Vinci, Van Gogh and Banksy pieces.

Printed originals. The distinction is fuzzy nowadays, as printers can produce copies of artworks that are identical to the original, even down to the subatomic level, rendering the distinction a purely emotional one.

“Yes, well, I find these apartments a bit clinical. The art makes mine feel different. Like a home.”

“You asked why I’m investigating your son’s death. I’m doing it because investigation is what I love to do,” I explain. She shows no reaction, no encouragement to continue, but I have a spiel that I use in these situations, so I may as well continue.

“As a child, puzzles were my favorite form of entertainment. Starting with simple jigsaw puzzles and ending with the most complex multi-dimensional brain breakers. I spent my life solving them. Even had a go at creating them, but somehow it was never enough. And then I realised what I was craving was real-world impact. I wanted to solve puzzles that mattered, to make life on Titan just a little better. So I became a Protector. I don’t enforce laws: I just investigate

crimes. There aren’t very many crimes, of course, so I don’t get to work much. But in the past few weeks, we have had three murder cases. All killed in nearly identical ways. I think I’m in the middle of one of the most intriguing puzzles I’ve ever come across.”

Perhaps having my father incarcerated when I was a young child is another factor, but I don’t mention that bit. I also realise, too late, that telling a mother I see her son’s death as an enjoyable puzzle was not very diplomatic. But I sense my response, its honesty, has relaxed her. She seems ready to talk.

Chapter 17: Shock

We sit opposite each other on wooden benches, a heavy wooden table between us. Sitting is purely a social norm nowadays—there’s no requirement to do it to regain energy. Our muscles constantly replenish themselves, harvesting energy from the surroundings. But it’s still polite.

“So, what do you want to know?” She asks.

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“Can you tell me about Xavier? Ms Clemens? How did he spend his time?”

“He was a scientist. Don’t ask me what kind. Something to do with nano-tech, but beyond that I don’t know.”

“Do you know if he worked with anyone else?”

“No. He was a loner. He had friends, of course, but he was protective of his research. He used to become quite agitated if anyone asked him about it.”

“Can you tell me anything about your trip here? From Earth, that is.”

She looks surprised. “Why do you want to know about that?”

“I’m not sure. Just a thread in my investigation.”

She looks unconvinced, but gives me a quick description of the threeyear journey.

“It sounds tedious,” I say. “Did anything happen? Anything that affected your son?”

“I don’t know what you mean,” she says. “He was miserable the entire flight—didn’t want to leave his friends on Earth, but nothing happened.”

“How did he spend his time onboard?”

“He studied... did research. Slept. Really, that’s all.”

“Can you tell me the names of anyone he hung out with on the ship?”

“He had a best friend. Lad named Arthur. Can’t remember his surname.”

“Arthur?” I feel new connections forming.

“Yeah, scrawny guy.”

The passenger list for interplanetary ships is public record. Before the search results come back, I feel the adrenaline. I let it flow, making the conscious choice to allow myself the full effect of the shock. My father arrived on Titan on the same ship as the Chief

and Xavier Clemens.

“Thank you, Ms Clemens. You’ve been very helpful.”

As I step out onto her roof, I keep my eyes focused upward, looking for rocks or other projectiles. I’m about to step off the roof when I hear a tiny noise coming from the street below. It sounds like a baby squalling, but I can almost make out words in its cries.

I really need to visit my father, but before I can fly upwards, I find myself stepping off and diving towards the screams.

At street level, I fold my wings and look around. I can’t see anyone.

“Please help!”

This time it’s unambiguous. A child’s voice, crying for help from behind a taxi, parked a block away from Ms Clemens’ apartment block. I walk over to it, my peripheral vision scanning constantly.

I step around the taxi. But instead of a child, it’s Laker, Schwab’s enforcer.

“Hello Lyme,” he says, a cruel smile on his face.

“What do you want, Laker?” I ask. I’ve only met him twice before, but that was enough to tell me I didn’t want to meet him again. He reeks of Trance metabolites, only increasing my disdain.

“Just a word,” he says unpleasantly.

I wait.

“The Chief wants you to stop your investigation,” he warns. “He asked you nicely, but you wouldn’t listen. So Mr Schwab asked me to ‘encourage’ you to stop. And being the gentleman he is, he wants me to keep it above board, legal. But I know how these things work. The legitimate way is too long-winded for my taste. I have another idea in mind. Something below board, you might say.”

He gestures past my head. I turn swiftly to find two more Lakers, identical clones, grinning at me. Cloning is illegal and has been

for decades. But I’m getting the sense that legality isn’t much of a concern for Laker. Or Schwab, either.

“There’s a convict shuttle leaving port to Earth in a couple of hours. We’re going to make sure you’re on it.”

Not good. I consider my options. I can’t take off vertically, and even with my augmented muscles, these hounds will have no problem catching me on the ground.

“I bet you’re thinking it won’t be so bad on Earth,” one of the Laker clones says, winking at me.

The Laker in front of me—the original?—nods approvingly.

“You haven’t kept up with the state of things back on the Mother world,” he says.

“Nuclear winter,” the third Laker adds, helpfully. “Not nice. Pits of despair. No food. No medicine. Radiation levels through the roof. And that’s just the sea-side resorts.”

“Imagine what the prisons are like,” the original adds. “And don’t think your nanos can keep you safe. They can keep you alive, sure, but even they can’t stop the effects of high gravity and radiation.”

In my peripheral vision I can see the Lakers moving closer.

“Oh, there’s no getting out of this one, Lyme. We’ve got the paperwork ready, and a seat booked for you on the shuttle.”

“Not really a seat,” another Laker says. “More of a cage. Wouldn’t want to spoil you too much.”

I fake to my right and dart to my left, but I only make it half a metre before three sets of hands grab hold of me, tight.

“Time to go, Lyme. You’re off to Earth!”

Extraterrestrial Fiction

END of Part 1

Join us next time for the next installment.

SavagePlanets I 90

CONTRIBUTORS

Dr. Raymond is a Family and Emergency Physician that practiced in eight countries in four languages. Currently living in Austria with his wife.

When not volunteering his practice skills, he is writing, lecturing, or scuba diving. In 2008, he discovered the wreck of a Bulgarian freighter in the Black Sea.

He has multiple medical citations, along with publications in Flash Fiction Magazine, The Grief Diaries, The Examined Life Journal, The Satirist, Chicago Literati, Blood Moon Rising, Frontier Tales Magazine, and in the Sci Fi anthologies Sanctuary and Alien Dimensions among others.

Keith is the Fiction Editor and co-founder of SavagePlanets.

Alex Foster was born and bred in Melbourne, Australia.

He has experienced everything from living overseas, to being nearly blown-up in a car. Alex has been known for hosting parties and where cops have been called in… uninvited.

Alex currently is a first year student at Deakin University where he studies both journalism and history, and hopes to go volunteer in South America soon-ish as a newspaper intern.

Andy Graber was born and raised in the northeast part of The United States. Currently, living in the Western part. Besides writing stories and creating various types of art, He finds magicians and illusionists to be very fascinating. He is also a big fan of most sports.

91 I SavagePlanets
Alex Foster Fiction Contributor Andy Graber Fiction Contributor
Your Name Your Contribution Every quarter, contributors Without them, empty void you have not, before we experiments.
Keith 'Doc' Raymond Poetry Contributor Entertainment Contributor

CONTRIBUTORS

(Continued)

And enjoys playing chess, and solving riddles. He has been known to sing. Rumor has it he was actually born and raised in another galaxy in our never ending mysterious universe. Recently, he packed all of his belongings, and moved to Earth. In his short time here, he found most earthlings have been really friendly and particularly helpful.

Fiction Contributor Ben Coppin has written a number of short stories published and is working on the third draft of his first novel. In 2007 he published and edited an online science fiction magazine, Darker Matter, which ran for five issues.

http://coppin.family/ben

Steven French is a semiretired academic, living in Leeds UK.

He’s been a fan of sciencefiction for over fifty years but has only recently started writing stories himself.

Assorted examples of his speculative fiction have appeared at eastoftheweb, Bewildering Stories, Land Beyond the World, Liquid Imagination, 365Tomorrows, Literally Stories and Idle Ink.

You can follow him on Twitter @ StevenFrench4

SavagePlanets I 92
quarter, we honor and celebrate our legion of contributors who make this publication possible. them, our universe would be a dark and void filled. If you've contributed, thank you. If not, then consider this your last warning arrive to your planet and begin our experiments.
Steven French Fiction Contributor

Wehope you've enjoyed this edition of SavagePlanets as much as we've enjoyed bringing it to you. We want to continue delivering incredible content to your inbox with each subsequent installment.

To do so, however, we need support from readers like you.

If you enjoy our content, please consider donating $5 (the cost of a coffee), but if that's not possible, a donation in any amount is very much appreciated.

On behalf of all of the editors and the contributors, thank you, and keep reaching for the stars!

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CONTRIBUTE!

It's Your Turn Now!

Submit your original work for consideration.

Contributions are always welcomed. Our goal is to create a community of science fiction artists and consumers in the same planetary system. Our editors will review your submissions and will select the best of the best for inclusion in our next edition! Aliens submit!

Extraterrestrial Fiction

Have a great story to share? Submit your story to SavagePlanets for publication. If selected, your story will be displayed with images tailored to enhance it for all to enjoy. Submission guidelines are available by clicking the planetary icon or visiting our website.

Poems from Imaginaria

Our poetry editor is eager to read your speculative poetry. Anything from the fantasy world to a reality you create within its rhymes. Once selected it will bring magic to these pages. To see our guidelines click on the comet icon or visit our website.

Future Artifacts

Herein, Multimedia replaces a thousand words. Art, photos, video clips, sculpture, and all other forms of visual manifestation are welcome. Challenge us to see the future through your eyes! Guidelines available by clicking the poly-form icon here, or visiting our website.

Subspace

Look what happens when I hit it with this shrink ray! If you can tell a complete science fiction story in two sentences this is for you. Post your story on Twitter or Instagram at #SavagePlanets, and we might just feature it here. See rules by clicking on the rocket or visiting our site.

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