Short Story: Echoes

Graffiti covered concrete walls beneath the thrumming motorway and a sky the colour of a decayed mushroom; Jules strides through the cavernous space with hands deep in pockets and hood pulled forward. Caricatures of faces and locations nearby stare down; some are bright and cheerful, others defiant or defied.

A few have lines across their faces, hastily scrawled defacements that echo feuds between the artists or the people depicted. It is a form of sympathetic magic akin to sticking pins in voodoo dolls and carrying as much effectiveness for anyone not intimately involved in the community..

The slap of running footsteps ahead alerts Jules to company, but the only response is a lengthened stride and bowed head to avoid eye contact. A drift closer to one side of the underpass provides even more room to avoid contact. The owner of the feet gives Jules a wide berth as they pass, so perhaps the only view of them that Jules sees is their trainers. They are here and gone in a moment, their identity never to be known.

As their echoes fade, Jules looks up to scan the way ahead. It is clear, not even dust dancing in the airflows whipping erratically through the opening. Jules keeps going, and is soon round the corner and out of sight. After a moment, the air seems to sigh, and I see Jules reappear back at the other end of the tunnel.

I don’t know why Jules’ ghost keeps making this journey, caught in this loop. Perhaps the invisible runner is key to it all; but in all the times I’ve been here, drawn by morbid curiosity, I’ve never seen more than this or heard any exchange between them. I’ve sat here on the floor with my back to the concrete and memorised every detail over the years. Every now and then someone else comes along who can see Jules, and we sit together in silent fascination.

Jules just disappeared off the face of the planet that day. This was the last time anyone saw them that we know. I don’t even know if Jules died, or lives on happily somewhere far from here. This recording of this moment seems to be the only memory left anywhere – and I wonder in the quiet if my own memorial will seem just as unremarkable to those who chance upon it.

Short Story: The Cradle

The caverns of ice had originally been carved by meltwater, but the servitors had widened and straightened them to accommodate the prefabricated shelters and equipment. They had installed lighting, set up generators, even laid down decking to insulate the feet of those coming after them.

The vaulted ceiling that arched overhead shimmered with refracted colours sometimes. Condensation misted the air, and sometimes became a drizzle when the cavern’s ambient air temperature raised too far. As for the original meltwater stream, that still ran through the centre.

Sometimes it was visible, either where aesthetics had suggested it, or where materials were being conserved. For the most part though it was buried beneath the swathes of decking. That had presented a sufficiently flat surface that vehicles and buildings competed to use the new real estate.

The servitors had done their best to prepare the way and secure the site. It wasn’t perfect, but then you couldn’t expect even sophisticated automatons to be able to adapt to everything. Nonetheless, the habitat on this new world conformed to specifications well enough that stage two had been set in motion after a mere five local years. The incubators and soil reserves had been deployed, along with a tailored selection of biodiverse microfauna to create a reasonably stable biosphere and the conditions for a form of agriculture to be an option.

The clone banks swung into action after that. The new world was too far for a crew to survive the journey, and generation ships had proved a difficult sell to many. A seeding approach was deemed statistically effective, especially given the state of the origin planet at that stage. Panspermia had seeded the Earth, so why not use it to push back into the void? It wasn’t the only option, but it did offer a chance that the scattered worlds may find each other at some point in the future. Records of their cultural heritage, and technical templates and tools would allow the clones to bootstrap their societies so that they wouldn’t have to reinvent the wheel.

The failure rate would be immense. No one would know if the effort succeeded, but the risks were worth it. Would this cavern bring forth the heirs of empire, or would it be a tomb for the ages?

The clone banks are ripening now. We’ve read their files and media, and we’ve analysed what we can of their systems. They’re a strange race, these humans. Shall we see what these newborn invaders of our world have to say for themselves?