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Eric M. Jones
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Fiction

Blood and Bone
by Joseph Green

Inseparable
by Evonne M. Biggins

Captive Skin
by Eric Del Carlo

Terra Forms
by Jennifer Campbell-Hicks and Justin Adams

On the Snark Watch
by Karl Dandenell

Pitching a Bug
by Chet Gottfried

Fly, Robin,Fly
by C.E.Gee

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Tesla’s Death Ray Wall
by Eric M. Jones

Alien Argument
by J. Richard Jacobs


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Terra Forms
by Jennifer Campbell-Hicks and Justin Adams

DRIGGS AND I WERE programmed with two objectives: Locate a planet suitable for human colonization, and terraform it.

A holographic projection of the latest candidate planet hovered in the greatroom of our scouting ship, the Horizon. The projection was thirty-six meters in diameter, exact to the grains of sand in the deserts and the millimeter thickness of ice at the polar caps. We floated in null-g on opposite sides of the glowing sphere. Driggs appeared as a dark silhouette through the sapphire-blue oceanic equator. An archipelago of white islands hung like pearls across his chest.

From this perspective, he could have been mistaken for human. But we weren’t human and not designed to handle the dilemma now before us. Our creators had never anticipated that the future of humanity would lie in our plastigel hands.

“It’s perfect,” Driggs said, his voice echoing in the spacious greatroom. These were the first words spoken since we had begun our final analysis of the planet. “This is the one. I can feel it.”

“Feel?” I said.

We weren’t programmed to feel.

“An expression. Nothing more.”

“Hmm.”

No matter what he said, he couldn’t fool me. We had been together a very long time.

“What do you think, Jayce?”

“I think you’ve become too human.”

“No, about the planet.”

I studied the scan, though I no longer needed to. I had recorded a copy into my database. The holographic planet spun on its axis in perfect sync with the real one. In 6 hours, 15 minutes and 10 seconds, the Horizon would slip into the planet's orbit if we did nothing to change course.

“The analysis is inconclusive,” I said.

“Which means there’s a statistically even chance the planet is suitable for human life. There’s water and a breathable atmosphere.”

The holograph had rotated so the white-sand islands drifted away from Driggs and only clear blue oceans and swirling clouds spun serenely between us. I was reminded of footage from the ship’s database of Earth as seen from the international space station of long ago. That station had been the first step toward a global cooperation that led to the colonization project, to this mission, to us.

But the similarity to Earth was not enough. As I floated, I waved my hand at a barren, brown land mass — one of six that all looked essentially the same.

“There’s no vegetation. More than ninety percent of the land is dead. That suggests inhospitable soil.”

“Vegetation can grow under the right conditions.”

“If we stay, and we’re wrong, the colony will fail.”

“If we find no other planet with water and air, the colony will fail before it can begin.”

He had a point, but we could not gamble. “If we enter orbit, we won’t have enough fuel to re-accelerate and reach other planets in the cluster. Our decision will be final. We must be certain.”

“There is no certainty,” Driggs said, an uncharacteristic tremor in his voice. “Only our best guess.”

If I were prone to emotion, I would have sighed with frustration. Stay or go. We had not been programmed to make this decision, but there was no one else to make it. A century to get here, and the major resource we lacked was time.

“Ship,” I said. “Standard gravity.”

We floated down, light as feathers, then heavy from the weight of our circuits and alloys. We touched down. The null-g allowed us to study the planet from any angle, but we couldn't maneuver easily in it.

I walked into the hologram. For a moment, I existed in a globe of light. My silver exo-shell swirled with blues and browns, water and land. The shapes and colors became distorted on my curves, stretched here, compressed there. Then I stepped out to Driggs’ side. Our physical forms were identical. Sleek lines. Multi-jointed plastigel limbs that appeared delicate but could fold a five centimeter rebar in half.

Driggs held his head high, but his limbs shook, as his voice had shaken moments before. A drop of silver alloy streaked down his exo-shell.

I watched the drop fall. That was bad. Through the planet, I hadn’t seen his deterioration.

“You’re overdue for recycling. You need your pod.”

I reached for him, but he stepped back.

“Later.”

He did not want to recycle, where he would remain for hours until we had either entered orbit or passed the planet by. He didn’t want to leave the decision solely to me.

“You cannot delay,—” I said. “Your alloys are breaking down. If you wait too long ...”

“Not until we decide.”

“The scan is inconclusive. The asteroid impact in the southeast quadrant—”

“Was fifty-two years ago and will not affect the planet’s ability to sustain a colony once it's terraformed,” he finished, though that was not what I was going to say, and he knew it.

At one time, we had thought the same things. That was before the malfunction in the hypersleep pods that had dissolved our human crew like recycling gel. Afterward, he'd taken on the role of First Officer Peter Driggs, and I the commander, Anna-Lee Jayce. We attempted to simulate their actions and decisions, but we couldn't.

We weren't them. We were us.

Still, we carried on. The trailing colony ship, the Santa Maria, needed a suitable planet. Thousands of lives depended on two robots, one of which was dissolving before my eyes.

“Driggs, you must recycle immediately.”

“What about you?”

If he couldn't access that data, he was worse off than I thought.“Our cycles are staggered so the ship is never left unattended. I have four days left. You must go to your pod.”

His alloy brows wrinkled in an angry, distrusting look.“Ship, calculate the area most conducive to human life, minimum ten kilometer irregular radius.”

Running the scan again will not produce different results. Remember Albert Einstein's maxim”

“Remember Occam's razor,” Driggs shot back.

I dismissed his impatience. After all, he was late for his recycle.

“Zero results,”the ship said.

It was as I had expected. I faced Driggs.“We must search for a more hospitable planet. There is a possibility 3.6 light years distant—”

“No!” he yelled and smacked his fist into his palm. Driggs’ namesake used to do the same, and the familiarity jolted my systems. The plastigel skin split on both his hands, and silver liquid leaked onto the metal decking at our feet.

He stumbled. I caught him. He pushed against me, but I held firm.

“Remember Jamestown,” he said.

I did, of course. With all of human history in the ship’s mainframe, I could recall every major action, deed and consequence going back thousands of years. But I didn't comprehend his analogy. “Jamestown failed because of a poor location. You defeat your own argument.”

“Roanoke,” he said, slipping into arrhythmia creating fractures in his words. His head spasmed on his neck joints.

I understood. So far past his scheduled recycle, his cortex was glitching. He didn’t know what he was saying.

“Save your energy,” I said.

He coughed, and gel splashed my abdomen.“Do not — do not —”

He slipped into static. His time was up. I hefted him in my arms and strode from the greatroom, down the corridor, toward the recycling room.

Dead vines and leaves covered the walls and ceiling. On Day One of this mission, Commander Jayce had placed a hand on my shoulder and gave me instructions on those vines.

“One year before we reach the first candidate planet, plant the seeds,”she had said.“We’ll need the oxygen from the vines when we wake from hypersleep. Tend to them. With your care, they will thrive and grow.”

We had followed her orders, and for a time, the vines had crept jungle-like down every corridor of the scouting ship. But we had no reason to waste time and resources on creating oxygen that no human would breathe, and neglect had now dried the leaves. Yet the vines remained adhered to the walls, brown, brittle fixtures too stubborn to relent. I brushed against them in my haste. Leaves snapped, fell and crunched under my feet.

“Do not — miss — orbit,” Driggs gasped, choking on his own gel.

He was liquefying in my arms. I sprinted. We had disagreements and debates, but without both of us, there would be no terraforming operation, no settlements.

We entered the boxy, utilitarian recycling room, and I kicked open the lid to his pod. Recycling gel filled the inside like liquid mercury. I laid him down. He sank to the bottom. His body quickly dissolved while his memories uploaded to the mainframe, attached to the shining steel longpole that jutted from floor to ceiling between our twin pods.

When he awoke, reformed and refreshed, he would recall his urgency, and my reluctance. He would remember how he had begged me not to miss the orbit window. He would remember that I had saved his life. But would he forgive what I was about to do?

***

Most commands to the ship could be issued from anywhere on board with an authorized voice print, but navigation commands had to come from the bridge.

A wide viewscreen hung over the wall-to-wall navigation console of stacked LED panels and blinking red, green and blue lights. The planet dominated the view, twin to the holo in the greatroom. Currently facing the Horizon was the continent where the meteor had struck – massive and mountainous, and a wasteland. The meteor impact had blown so much dust into the atmosphere that it had blocked light and warmth from this system’s star for decades. Flora had died, then the fauna.

The atmosphere had since cleared, but life hadn't renewed.

Would terraforming succeed? We could not risk thousands of lives on a remote possibility.

The commander’s chair was upholstered in red cloth, wide and cushioned for a soft human body. The console emitted a low, constant hum. I sat and spread my long digits over the panels. Five fingers, like a human. Except humans didn't live for centuries. They didn’t recycle into a new body every eight days. They were fragile. We had learned that the hard way.

I recalled standing over Commander Jayce’s hypersleep pod, helpless. I had watched her skin melt, her blood boil, and her bones dissolve like sugar in water. The others had followed. The entire crew.

I set aside the memory and searched my cortex for a better one: The day Driggs and I had met. I had been activated in a sterile Earthside lab, all silver metal and shiny surfaces, four days prior. Driggs stepped from his pod, recycling gel streaming off his exo-shell.

He saw me.“You are –”

“Like you,” I said.

“We are the same.”

“Affirmative.”

We were linked in a way no human could comprehend.

The lab technician who had overseen Driggs’ activation laughed.“Nearly identical, but not quite. This one here –” He slapped my shoulder “— is four days older. Big sister, little brother. Am I right?”

“You are not," I said.“We do not exhibit –"

“Human gender characteristics,” Driggs finished.

The tech laughed again. I didn't understand the humor in what we had said.“Give it time. Gender ID is a bug in the code that we haven’t been able toeliminate. It might have something to do with having all of human history being in your heads.” He rapped his temple with a finger.“Maybe it’s us humans rubbing off on you. Whatever the reason, most of your lot eventually decide you’re either male or female.”

I had searched my programming for flaws, found none and dismissed the tech’s warning. But there had been a bug, and it had activated the day we watched our crew die. Driggs had changed. He began to mimic human behavior. He acted on gut feelings, as he called them, not statistics and probabilities.

We were no longer the same.

But I was still senior. I hada responsibility to the mission and to stop Driggs from making a terrible error.

I calculated trajectories,mass, inertia, fuel.

“Alert,” the ship said.“Course change requested. Confirm?”

I re-ran the probabilities as I watched the barren planet we would reach in less than five hours and searched my cortex for whatever gave Driggs his gut feeling.

I didn’t find it in myself.

We had to be sure. I was not.

“Confirm,” I said.

***

The LED on Driggs’ pod blinked from red to green. The pod unlocked with a click. I stood by as Driggs opened the lid. He pushed up on his legs and stepped from the pod, recycling gel streaming in rivulets off his new body. The excess ran down a drain under his feet to be collected and pumped back into our pods. Nothing was wasted.

He stood for a time, unmoving. His eyes darted left right, left right as he ran a scan on his cortex, checking for errors.

Usually after waking, he inquired about the status of the colonists on the Santa Maria.

What if the colonists are dead? He would say. And I'd answer: Communication is not instantaneous. The wait time is within acceptable parameters.

Still, he always asked, and the Santa Maria maintenance robots always replied to our queries dryly and factually. They didn't call themselves he or she. They maintained ship operations and watched their crew and passengers sleep.

I waited for Driggs to ask.

“Arewe in orbit?” he said instead.

There was no way to ease him into the news of what I had done.

“Negative,” I said.

The data hadn't changed from our previous discussion. I had nothing new to say.

He approached me, his metal feet clanking on the decking. His eyes locked with mine. I tried to decipher his thoughts, but he was unreadable to me. I didn't shrink under his furious gaze.

“You did what you thought was best,” he said.

“I did what the available data demanded we must. The planet is not suitable for terraforming. We must continue to the next candidate.”

“Remember this, Jayce.”

His meaning did not compute. “I forget nothing.”

“All I’m saying is, remember.”

I nodded once, as Commander Jayce had when acknowledging a subordinate's report. Driggs spun on one heel and strode from the recycling room.

After he had gone, I ran the required mid-point diagnostic on my pod and found its preparations on schedule for my own recycle in four days. Then I followed Driggs to the bridge. When I arrived, he wasn't there.

A blinking red light on the panel indicated an unanswered transmission from the Santa Maria. Driggs hadn't passed this way, or he would have answered. I left the room. Brown leaves shifted in my wake in the corridor, and I crunched over them.

In the greatroom, the massive, glowing hologram stood frozen on the final image of the planet we had left behind.

“Driggs?” My own cry echoed back. I modulated my voice to remove what could be construed as worry.“Driggs.” We were a team, not autonomous. His actions demanded an explanation.“Driggs!”

A high frequency alarm sounded, meant only to be heard by robots. The signal carried data: a malfunction in the recycling pods.

I ran, walls and lights a blur on both sides. Had Driggs glitched? Had something gone wrong with his recycle? Or had my actions overextended his programming?

I pictured him standing over my pod gripping a bundle of wires he had yanked from the safety coils, exposing raw fibers that sparked in his hands.“You've killed them. Now I've killed
you.”

I tried to clear the thought, but robots can't escape their thoughts, which is why they aren't supposed to have any.

The door to the recycling room stood open.

Inside, his pod was gone. Tubes dangled and swung from the ceiling. Silver gel spattered the floor with dots of our lifeblood. The mainframe remained attached to the longpole. Our strength together couldn't budge that hunk of machinery, but Driggs had severed his pod’s connection to it. There was no telling what would happen if he recycled without the mainframe. He might revert to a blank state. No memory. Or his memories might become distorted and patchy.

More information came through at high frequency. The landing craft, packed with our terraforming equipment, had launched from the cargo bay.

In my haste, I turned, moved without calculation, and collided with my pod with a clang. My knee gave way. A protective cap fell to the floor, but I did not have time for repairs. I kicked the cap until it lay over a drain, where it would dissolve and return to the system.

At a data panel at eye level near my pod, I activated viewers in the hull. I scanned the starfield, white specks against endless black, until I detected the landing craft cruising away from the Horizon, toward the planet.

“Damn you, Driggs.”

He could still turn around and return, if he did it soon. But the window of time was small. The Horizon was moving away from the planet at a fraction of the speed of light. Wait too long, and the gap between ship and landing craft would become too large to surmount.

Driggs must return immediately.

“Ship,"I commanded.“Open a communication channel to the landing craft.”

“Channel open.”

“Driggs! Do you hear me?”

Nothing. The only sound was of plastigel dripping from the loose tubes of Driggs’ pod. I clamped the tubes shut, then left the recycling room to return to the bridge.

“Answer me, Driggs. I know you can hear me.”

This time, the communication channel crackled.“I won’t come back, Jayce.”

“You cannot recycle properly without the mainframe.”

“Watch me.”

“Your memory will malfunction. You might not remember where you are or why. Or who you've become.”

His voice softened.“You’re worried.”

I checked my systems and found no such malfunction.

“Worry is a human emotion," I said.“I merely analyzed the data and stated the facts.”

“This is the right course, Jayce. The voyage must end here. The longer the Santa Maria travels, the greater the probability that the colonists’ hypersleep pods will –"

“They won’t.”

“Their deaths would mean mission failure. I’m going, Jayce. You can’t stop me.”

I analyzed his voice print. His words resonated in an even, measured tone, not angry but determined. He'd made up his mind.

An unfamiliar sensation came over me. I froze in the corridor. A dead leaf broke free from the vines above my head and floated down; I paid it no mind. What was this sensation? Self pity? Despair? This could not happen. This was no time for a malfunction in my programming. I shut down the data path from which the sensation had originated.

My cortex cleared, and I continued toward the bridge.

“Driggs,” I said. “Please.”

“Don’t you trust me?”

The question was quiet,pleading. Again, my control over my data paths slipped. Sensations flooded my cortex. Again, I slammed shut the paths.

I reached the bridge.

“You and I are the same,” I said. A light on the indicator panel, red like a laser eye, still showed the incoming message from the Santa Maria.“To trust you is to trust myself.”

“That’s not an answer,” he said.

“You are irrational. I would never act so emotionally.”

“You have already proved that.”

I detected a hollowness inside myself that I couldn't pinpoint but had experienced once before, standing over the commander's hypersleep pod while I watched her dissolve. The emptiness settled into my chest, and data streamed around it. I felt losses from humanity's wars, their plagues, their crimes. I couldn't process it alone. That's why I had a brother. But if I needed him, why didn't he need me?

He did need me, but he left anyway.

His belief had overpowered his logic.

On the screen, his craft shrank into the starfield, then vanished into nothing. We were traveling in opposite directions. With the gap increasing between us, our communication would become delayed, then nonexistent. We would truly be apart.

I bashed my fist on the console. Commander Jayce had done this, too. Only when I did it, the console shattered into a thousand metal, plastic and electronic parts that sprinkled onto the floor in an unsalvageable mess.

I gripped my head. So many sensations, like my cortex would explode. Too many data paths had malfunctioned. Blocking them one at a time wouldn’t work. I would have to shut them all down.

“Ship. Slow to a stop. Turn around.”

Wait, did I say that? The voice print was mine. Why would I tell the Horizon to change course?

“This action is ill-advised,” the ship said.

I held my head tighter, hoping physical compression would clear my mind.“Ship. Override.”

“To perform the maneuver would reduce fuel reserves and endanger the mission,” the ship said.

That was it. If the Horizon turned around, this planet would be its final destination.

I had to choose.

Driggs or the mission.

More than the colonists’ lives were at stake. I had to weigh the lives of their children and their children. If we couldn't terraform this planet, the colony would fail.

“Driggs?”

Silence. He was out of range.

I scratched at my temples, trying to restore rationality. My cortex raged against itself.

Driggs is my brother.

Humanity is my charge.

The humans programmed that directive, not me.

A programmer can't code emotion.

Emotion is human. I am not human.

This could not continue. I shut down the faulty data paths, one by one. With each shutdown, I became more like myself again. I could think rationally.

What was this malfunction? What had happened to us when our crew died? Had a bug activated in our programming? Or had it been — as Driggs believed— self-actualization?

I had taken the name Jayce, for the commander, but I did not believe myself human. When we completed the mission and the colonists were safe, I planned to shed the name and let it melt away like plastigel in a pod. I would return to my original function and take orders from Takahashi, commander of the Santa Maria.

But only if the colonists survived.

There it was again: The crux of the dilemma. What was best for the colony? I knew what Driggs thought. Of my own opinion, I was no longer certain.

I paced in front of Commander Jayce’s red chair. Light from above illuminated her empty station. What would she do? I had to be more than just her name.

Driggs’ question came back to me. Don’t you trust me? That’s what it came down to, in the end.

And I did.

I kicked aside broken pieces of the console. The ship hummed. The sound reminded me of rebirth in my pod.

“Ship,” I said. "Manual override. Slow to stop. Turn us around.”

***

Ships like the Horizon can’t come to an immediate halt. Slowing to a turning speed took two weeks. The U-turn itself, a full 180 degrees, cost another week, followed by another three weeks to return to the planet. Six weeks total.

During that time, I recycled five times. Each time I awoke with no Driggs standing outside my pod. His pod was gone, and he was recycling without the mainframe to save and store his memories.

I told the Santa Maria we had located a planet suitable for terraforming and colonization. I hoped I wasn't lying. The Santa Maria robots would alter their ship’s course and arrive in 23 years, 263 days and 4 minutes.

The colony’s path was set.

The Horizon had one landingcraft, and Driggs had taken it. I had no choice but to land the Horizon itself on the planet. I locked onto the landing craft's signal and took the ship down.

I used the ship’s thrusters to slow, firing them at maximum, but it wasn’t enough. The viewscreen filled with a swirling sandstorm. I couldn't see the ground.

The landing crushed the ship's hull. Lights flickered and popped. Decks compressed; hydroponics, empty crew quarters, medical, and the gymnasium sandwiched together. The commander's chair dislodged and came to rest beneath the rent viewscreen that crackled with electricity.

I shook off the damage to my exo-shell, dented and punctured by bits of ship-turned-detritus, and left the ruined bridge. I crawled beneath and climbed over impacted decking and machinery. Lighting came from distant, dying sources but was adequate for me to reach my pod.

The recycling room had held up. My pod remained fixed to the longpole. Power still flowed into my pod, LEDs green. I bowed my head. Why had they taken such extraordinary care with us, and not with themselves?

I slowly made my way to the shuttle bay and the airlock hatch. The hatch had never been intended as an exit onto the surface of a planet. I opened it and found myself six meters above the ground. A thick cloud of dirt whipped past, getting into my eyes and the hairline seams of my exo-shell. There was no sky or horizon, only the sepia color of swirling dust. Driggs wanted to live here? I felt gritty inside and out.

The landing craft rested nearby. The dust storm couldn’t block its signal. That meant Driggs was nearby, too. I had come a long way to find him. No mere storm would stop me now.

I jumped down. My feet sankin the soil. I scooped up dirt, ran an analysis with the sensors in my hand and found minerals, organic material, water, even bacteria– all the ingredients necessary for life. No living organics grew within range of the Horizon’s sensors, but they could.

Driggs’ gamble might pay off, after all.

But what about Driggs’ memory? Statistical analysis gave him a small chance at retaining full functionality — much smaller than the probability that this planet would prove ideal for terraforming. I had rejected the latter, but I clung to the former. Despite our recent differences, we were the same.

Thelanding craft’s signal came 370 meters to the north-northeast.

I plunged into the storm.

My joints crunched with grit, and my feet sank in shifting sand. Airborne particles pounded my exo-shell like bullets. After 204 meters, I detected a vibration in the ground that grew more pronounced the farther I walked. The landing craft signal grew stronger.

I found a dwelling made of canvas, inflated like a balloon. Along the leeward side, two planets grew beneath a protective plastic dome, the same species of vine Driggs and I had cared for and then let die aboard the ship. He had planted two. In the six weeks he had been here, the plants had grown a meter long. Their leaves pressed against the confines of the small dome.

I stumbled along, faster. The ground vibrations grew more intense. A huge black shape took form out of the dust.

It was the terraforming machine. A dozen pipes snaked out from the monolith. Some plunged deep into the ground, while others skimmed the surface like tentacles, pumping nutrients, seeds and water capsules into the soil. Inside the cab, behind a window partially coated in dust, was Driggs.

“Driggs!” I yelled, but the wind whipped my call away so that I couldn’t even hear myself.

I tried our wireless connection. Even if Driggs still blocked me, I might be able to force my way in.

The machine shut off.

The cab door opened. Driggs climbed down a ladder. I met him in the shelter of the machine, out of the storm. The sudden silence seemed louder than the gales that had whistled around us.

In my time alone, I had rehearsed what I would say. Now that I was here, my speech seemed inadequate.

Driggs stared.“You’re here.”

“Yes,” I said.

“You came. I hoped, but—”

“You thought I'd go onwithout you. You thought I would leave you here.”

“Yes.”

He spat the word, bitter, butalso with shame for his lack of faith in me. He had every right to feel betrayed. If anyone should feel shame, it was me, yet I did not. Those data paths were blocked.

I studied him. He didn't look worse for our time apart. Any bodily damage would have repaired when he recycled. The problem was not his body.

“How long have you been here?” I asked.

He cocked his head, thinking. "Four Terran days, 6 hours, 13 minutes.”

An unpleasant sensation washed over me. Just as quickly, I shut it down.

My prediction had been correct. In losing access to the mainframe, Driggs had lost his long-term memory storage. With each recycle, he had forgotten. Every time he emerged from his pod, he started over from when he had left the Horizon, angry with me for bypassing this planet we now stood upon.

“Are you sure about that?” I asked. “What about the shelter? The growing vines?”

“My chronometer insists that is correct.”

Only a functioning connection to the mainframe would fix him, but too much damage had been done to his pod when he had ripped it out. I could do nothing except tell him the truth, that he had been here for weeks, not days. I decided against it. Such knowledge would only cause him needless distress.

Instead, I said,“Do you still believe this planet can be ready when the Santa Maria arrives?”

“I do,” Driggs said.

“Tell me what you see.”

“Can you not see for yourself? You don’t appear to have a visual malfunction.”

“My eyes are fine.”

“Then what do you want?”

“For you to tell me your vision for when we've completed our mission. What will the colonists see when they step out onto this land for the first time?”

He looked pleased.

He told me. As he spoke, I gazed into the furious storm, and the thick cloud of dust began to change. I saw a vast field of grain. The knee-high stocks rippled in a steady breeze, an ocean of emerald green. Tall trees lined the borders of the field. Cottonwoods, maples, ash, birch. Their leafy silhouettes grew against a sky of impossibly beautiful blue. Birds sang. A raptor circled and dove, wings back, talons outstretched, then soared upward again with a fat rodent in his grasp. The wind carried a salty scent from the ocean to the east. And in the west, storm clouds gathered over the snowy peaks of distant, pine-covered mountains, promising an afternoon storm.

“I wish you could see it,” Driggs said.

The stream of images in my mind burst like a bubble, and the raging planet returned. Driggs’ shoulders slumped.

“I see it,” I said.

“Really?” He sounded skeptical.“Do you mean it? Because if you’re saying that to make me go back –”

“I believe in you,” I said.“I believe in us. We'll tend to this world and make it grow and thrive.”

But whatever I say now, you won’t remember, I said silently to Driggs. You'll wake up every eight days hating me because your memory will be frozen forever at the point in time when you trusted me the least.

Aloud, I said,“We can do this. Together.”

Driggs unburied his feet from mounds of sand that had collected over them.“How do you know?”

Suddenly, the beauty of what we would do here made me want to weep. For the first time, I didn’t shut down the data path from which the sensation originated. The sensation was of peace, surety and wholeness. I let it wash over me, consume me.

“I just know," I said.“I can feel it.” END

authors

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Jennifer Campbell-Hick’s stories have been published in Clarkesworld, Fireside Magazine and Intergalactic Medicine Show. Dustin Adam’s stories have been published in Daily Science Fiction and Dimension6. Both writers have been finalists in the Writers of the Future contest.