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by George Salis

This earth seems like a place you would call home, until you see a cluster of scintillating hooks descending through the sky and disappearing into a cityscape. Minutes later, hundreds of humans, pierced through the cheek, the hand, or even the genitalia, are pulled upward between the buildings and over the skyscrapers, through the atmosphere and into the frigidity of outer space. The source of the hooks is indiscernible, but you get the feeling that this is less an earth than a farm, ripe for the picking. The harvesters, smoke-obscured, are meticulous and methodical. But miscalculations happen, and humans that are pulled up too slowly become bloated and frostbitten, while those pulled up too quickly experience a barotrauma that explodes their eyeballs, prolapses their cochleas, and, on occasion, spontaneously ejects their brains, the parietal bone popping open like a missile hatch. These spoiled humans are thrown back as is, stuck in orbit among satellites and other debris or burnt to a crisp by atmospheric friction. Whether the harvesters discard them because they are inedible or unsellable or unable to be experimented upon is unknown, though it is believed that nutrition, economy, and science all play a role in the harvest. Fluxes of radiation borne of solar flares or other cosmic phenomena sometimes cook the humans as they are being reeled in through space. Yet this product is not thrown back. At such times, humans down on earth can just barely hear a celestial crunching, similar to the crackling of an aurora overhead, but combined with the harshness of something like deep-fried crickets. In response to this din, the humans stopper their ears with the palms of their hands and squeeze their eyelids together, attempting to unsee the imagined rows of serrated teeth, the miasmal burps of pleasure, the unidentifiable remains floating within cauldron stomachs, the defecation of pyramidal pellets containing shards of bone, broken jewelry, tufts of hair, semi-dissolved leather belts, shreds of cloth, and occasionally ellipsoid pairs of silicone.

         Over time, the harvesters will become more accurate in their reaping, and so fewer humans will be thrown back, but presently the earth seems to rain ravaged humans as much as they are ‘evaporated,’ which is one of the euphemisms used by the fearful. To address that issue, humans invent a global fleet of mobile nylon nets used to catch the discarded humans over land or sea. Thus it is discovered that some humans, although not frosted by space or sickened through decompression, are still deemed subpar by the harvesters. Likewise, children below the age of twelve are invariably released, probably in compliance with some intergalactic regulation. The latter are the most resilient, but many ‘recycled’ humans, as they are dubbed, are caught dead, with their brains lobotomized or decorticated by the hooks, their bodies charred from the fall. Yet there is still an abundance of survivors whose stories become a source of terror, wonder, and inspiration.

         A six-year-old boy is caught safely over the Atlantic, but found to have been skinned by the time he passed through the stratosphere, with a part of the adamantoid hook still jutting from his temple like an antenna. His corneas vaporized by ultraviolet radiation, he claims to have seen, up there, ancient astronauts in an inverted nimbus. He saw how their forms dissipate and coagulate at will, becoming tools, symbols, and what might have been their bodies, amorphous structures which echo the pillars of Greek antiquity. These beings are the Cosmic Parents of humans, the Creators and Liberators. “The journey of the hook,” the boy professes, “tests our purity and weighs our sin, for the abacuses of their consciousness can only bear so much darkness.” How can a child know these things? Some think that he is a kind of spy, yet another way to lure them, while others develop a faith in his messages, selling all their material belongings and cutting off every relationship before impaling themselves on the nearest hook, usually through the temple, in the way of the child mystic, the stabbing motion itself as innocent and alleviating as putting one’s head upon a pillow at night.

         When a middle-aged woman is caught in a net at the edge of the Sahara Desert, the velocity causes her epidermis to roll into itself like a sleeping bag, her head at the claustrophobic center. Members of the rescue team carefully unroll her and determine that she was filleted of every bone, but her skin was left intact, except for a hole in her cheek from which globules of saliva dribble. What alarms them is the fact that her left eye gazes out of her right ear canal and her other eye is fixed on what appears to her as an ocean trench (later discovered in the sphincter). More than this, her heart fell to the heel of her left foot, her lungs expand and contract within her right thigh, her bowels are where her brain should be, and all the rest is equally jumbled for lack of a skeletal system. They temporarily patch the cheek-hole with gauze, which helps her say, “I heard them speaking, but not, I heard their actual thoughts, the layers and layers, the calculations. Numbers. That’s what we are to them, numbers in the mind. And me, I was an outlier. An outcast.” She only survives for a few seconds after her enigmatic comment, loose parts of her flipping and flopping from occasional wind, until a simoom nearly blows her away. Caught by her kidney-bulging wrist, a man leads her whipping body through the sandy gusts and folds her neatly in an SUV’s trunk. By being an organ donor, she is able to save other Recycles. At her funeral, she is lowered into the earth inside a matchbox for a coffin. Because of her, the term ‘spineless’ is now synonymous with bravery and resilience.

         These tales of survival fuel a kind of arms race between the harvesters and the harvested. First, a brain trust is assembled by almost every government to determine what exactly attracts humans to the hooks, but this proves futile, for it is a mystery shrouded by amnesia and mythology. Some say you hear a soothing muzak, with coveted items of masscult, like smart phones or sex toys, glistening on the tips of the hooks. Others believe you are pulled in by the sobbing voices of deceased loved ones, finding them spiked through the chest and begging to be saved. A few conjecture there is a sibilant snake coiled around each hook like a worm, entreating you as if you were Eve, offering apples of knowledge, figs of immortality, a feast of the sensorium and the soul. Regardless of whatever temptation, the governments agree on a global law that forbids anyone to be within five miles of a hook and, like a total eclipse, to never look at one directly.

         In the event of a hook cluster, cities are made to evacuate. Strategically placed megaphones rattle buildings’ windows with monotone messages: “The hooks do not have your best interests in mind. Do not approach the hooks.” Families sardined in cars drive past digital billboards that read: Stay Happy & Hookless, with a vintage vista of undisturbed family life in the background. Hazmat teams, with tinted visors that only allow them to perceive the lines of the hooks, sever those ominous parallels using saw-toothed scissors attached to long poles. The grounded hooks are then treated like irradiated bear traps, and so other hazmat team members drive over them in a tank-like vehicle, finding the hooks via GPS and sucking them into a vat of acid. With time, the harvesters reinforce their lines with a plasmid aura that liquefies the scissors. They also infect the billboards and announcements with subliminal messages that equate the hooks with a shortcut to paradise. The humans soon develop meteorology that forecasts the when and where of a hook cluster. Less winds, more lubricating moisture in the air, the presence of fog to hide the hooks, all and more help to determine where they will descend next. This makes evacuation more effective and less haphazard. In response to this, the harvesters eventually deploy decoy clusters of hooks, catching the populations mid-exodus. So continues this game of cat and mouse, until you see a cluster of hooks descending, not upon a city, but a country, then a continent. Across the globe, hooked humans are being pulled through the clouds, the spheres, looking down on a world shadowed by themselves, by an entire species. The few million or so humans who are not caught immediately begin their immigration to an unfinished project, evading falling shoes, hats, glasses, and bodily fluids along the way. At the center of each continent is an incomplete underground metropolis. This will be the final step in the arms race, claimed the world leaders, who are now being reeled in by the harvesters, inhaling between screams the metallic stench of outer space. Here we will live and flourish in peace.

         Due to their intercontinental reaping, the harvesters are forced to incubate and breed humans, then throw them back down in a newly developed shrink-wrap that dissolves by the time they alight on the ground. But in the midst of desolate cities, the test tube humans become savage cannibals, reminding the harvesters of the tainted meat of millennia past. Yet the harvesters are not unwise to the layer of prime crop hidden beneath the surface, and after a century passes, they release a moon-sized chum bucket into orbit that slowly tips over and pours allamones over the earth. Golden spheres resembling dandelion seed heads swirl through the stratosphere and troposphere, the beginning of a nuclear summer. The nostrils of humans twitch amid the balm, the aroma, the perfume, the bouquet, the incense. They emerge from their subterranean safety to witness what appears to be a shattered sun as sparkling sky. Many stick out their dry tongues to let stray flecks settle on their taste buds and melt into a sexual urgency, others take deeper breaths and experience a desperate depression. Some pick up handfuls of the accumulated allamones and grind them into their eyes then use their stained fingers to brush their gums, quivering with euphoric revelation. The final goal of these states of mind are the same: every human skewers themselves on the nearest hook with divine gratification.

         Not many years after, the harvesters net the entirety of the earth and begin to haul it away. The few thousand humans that survived the maelstrom of allamones catapult into the net by the interruption of the planet’s rotation, then press back down to earth’s surface as the net tightens. Eventually the lack of sunlight causes a worldwide ice age, which has the benefit of keeping the meat preserved. If the humans could open their frozen eyes, they would see other netted planets being pulled next to theirs like the trophy heads of colossi.



George Salis is the author of Sea Above, Sun Below. His fiction is featured in The DarkBlack DandyZizzle Literary MagazineThree Crows MagazineMad Scientist Magazine, and elsewhere. His criticism has appeared in IsacousticAtticus Review, and The Tishman Review, and his science article on the mechanics of natural evil was featured in Skeptic. He is currently working on an encyclopedic novel titled Morphological Echoes. He has taught in Bulgaria, China, and Poland. Find him on Facebook and Instagram (@george.salis). He is the editor of The Collidescope.

Possible Worlds

by Jack Denning

First conversation

“Well, it’s interesting,” said the first person, a denizen of our universe. “There are certainly aspects of our world that appear to have been ‘designed’ by an intelligent agent. Living creatures, traditionally, were seen this way, for example. But then we discovered how natural selection acts on genetic variation to explain how the diversity of life arose from simpler life forms, and we are confident additional natural laws will be discovered to explain the origin of life itself. The appearance of design, it turns out, is just appearance. Nothing more.”

“That’s not too far from our position,” said the second person, from a different universe. “In our universe, life seems to have been designed as well. In fact, all physical objects appear to have been designed. Every planet is a perfect sphere. Every continent and island on every planet is a perfect square. Every single three-dimensional object in our universe takes the form of one of the five Platonic solids, and all two-dimensional objects take the form of a simple polygon. But like you, we’ve discovered natural laws that explain this. It only appears to have been designed.”

“Yes, yes,” said the third person, an inhabitant of yet a third universe. “It is the same with us. But it is not a simple matter of being complex, or of being arranged according to certain patterns. In our universe, every configuration of objects spells out a coherent sentence. Everywhere you look in our sky, the stars spell a sentence, every collection of molecules twists around to spell something out as well, always in the language of the observer. And as it turns out, nearly all of those sentences are variations of ‘I am the Creator and Designer of the universe! Believe in me!’ But we also have discovered laws of nature that explain this. The universe runs just fine without any supernatural supervision. It just appears to be the product of an intelligent agent organizing things in order to communicate with us.”

The fourth person had grown more and more incredulous as the conversation went on. Finally he spoke: “My universe is almost total chaos. There is hardly any order at all; life and civilization arose from a random and localized order that fell back into disarray when civilization had reached a certain point. There are only a few natural laws that are consistent. Yet even that small amount of structure is enough to convince us that there must be a cosmic designer who constructed it. Yes, the small amount of order is explicable by the few (the very few) natural laws, but who designed the natural laws? Who organized my universe in such a way that matter and energy tends to behave the same way in repeated and repeatable experiences? It seems to me, the more natural laws you have, the more order you have, the more obvious it is that there is a God. Yet you have many more natural laws than we do, and you use them to argue against God. At any rate, as I say, the presence of a single law is sufficient: for how could there be any law at all that we could rely on to continue into the future without an intelligent agent who constructed the universe so that it follows a law in the first place?”


Second conversation

Later, they had another discussion. The third person said, “In our universe, the only people who suffer misfortune are those who do not believe in God. This may suggest to a simple mind that there is some cosmic justice being played out, with the sin of unbelief being subject to punishment. But of course, such a scenario is incompatible with the existence of a morally perfect God, the only kind of God worthy of worship and worthy of the name ‘God.’ In fact, if such a God did exist, it would be his believers who should be most prone to misfortune, as they would be the only ones with the context in which suffering is redeemable. They would be the only ones who could handle it. An omnibenevolent God would not visit suffering on those for whom that suffering could be nothing but brute, unredeemable horror. Thus, the fact that only unbelievers suffer in our universe is incompatible with the existence of God. If God exists, we should not expect that only unbelievers would be those who experience suffering. We may not understand why things work out the way they do, but we can rule out the possibility of God from the outset.”

“That’s interesting,” said the second person. “In our universe it is only those who believe in God who suffer misfortune. To a simple mind, this might suggest punishment, as you mentioned, but of course a morally perfect God would not punish people for doing what he wanted. But others claim something like what you have, that only the suffering of those who believe in God would be redeemable. But we have rejected this as well: an omnibenevolent God would not single out those who are obeying his commands to suffer for doing so. Does any parent punish his obedient children for their obedience while allowing his disobedient children to get off scot-free? This would be the height of injustice. A perfectly just God is the only kind of God worth worshiping and worthy of the name ‘God.’ The fact that only believers suffer in our universe is incompatible with the existence of a perfectly just God. Like you, we may not understand why things work out the way they do, but we can rule out God as a possibility.”

The first person, from our universe, spoke up. “Hmm. For us, it’s different. Both believers and unbelievers suffer in our universe. There is no readily apparent reason for this distribution, no universal explanation for it, since the same suffering would have different purposes depending on the theistic proclivities of those who experience it. If a morally perfect God existed, then misfortune would either be exclusively aimed at those who do not believe, as a form of punishment, or at those who do believe, since they are the ones with a ready-made context for it to fit into. The fact that those who believe in God suffer the same misfortunes as those who do not believe convinces us that there is no rhyme or reason to it, and thus no morally perfect, perfectly just God, the only kind of God worthy of worship and worthy of the name ‘God.’ Thus, the fact that both believers and unbelievers suffer in our universe is incompatible with the existence of God. If God exists, we should not expect that both believers and unbelievers experience suffering to roughly equal extents. Even though we do not understand precisely how it all works, we know immediately that there is no God involved.”

The person from the fourth universe didn’t say anything. He wasn’t there. They’d asked him to leave.



Jack Denning is a teacher in Portlandia where he lives with his family and his piano.

Last Entry

by Ahmed A. Khan

(Last entry found in the diary of the famous astrophysicist, Dr. Wendel Hubbi, written just days before he was carted away to the asylum.)

Imagine a drop of water free-floating in a vacuum. Imagine you are sub-molecular in size. Now imagine yourself inside the drop of water.

What do you see?

You see H2O molecules moving away from you on all sides.


Is the water molecule expanding due to some unexplained reason?

You ponder for some time and come up with a more rational scenario: the drop of water is evaporating. As the molecules on its surface are pulled away into space, new molecules move up into their place. And the process continues. This is the movement you see – the molecules moving away from you and towards the surface on all sides. In short, the water molecule is not expanding but shrinking. Soon, a point will come when it will be all gone.

Do you perceive the analogy?

The red shift of astral bodies all around us does not signify expansion of the universe. In actual fact, the universe is shrinking as its matter evaporates into the super universe.



Ahmed A. Khan is a Canadian writer, originally from India. His works have appeared in various venues like Boston Review, Murderous Intent, Plan-B, Strange Horizons, Interzone, Anotherealm and Riddled With Arrows. His stories have been translated into German, Finnish, Greek, Croatian, Polish and Urdu. Links to some of his published works can be found at He has social media presence on twitter ( and facebook (

Euler’s Equation

by Neil James Hudson


     When I first met Euler’s equation, I thought it was proof of the existence of God.  e, the base of natural logarithms, underpinning the whole of mathematics.  i, the square root of minus one, the unit of complex numbers.  π, the relationship of a circumference to a diameter, from which geometry is made.  1, unity, the foundation of all numbers.  And we all know about 0.

     e i π+1=0, said God, and there was light.

     So when Euler’s equation fell apart, I knew we were in trouble.  We held an emergency meeting at the maths department at the university, which was fast approaching a 0 of its own.  But as long as we were still there and were still being paid, there was work to be done.

     Professor Hazlitt chaired the meeting, the only one of us who had actually done any work of real note.  “It seems to have happened at about 10:30 this morning,” he said.  “Before then, the equation seemed to hold.  But now, no matter how hard we try, we just can’t get the terms to fit together.”

     “Could we just have missed a flaw in the proof all these years?” I asked.

     Hazlitt shook his head.  “The equation definitely worked yesterday: it was holding everything else together.  But now something’s changed.  Mathematics has changed.”

     “Euler’s equation was the proof,” I said.  “It was God’s covenant with mankind, like the rainbow after the flood.  It said, the universe isn’t just chance, it’s designed.  All the basic elements of reality fit together like a jigsaw.  The equation is God’s signature, just to let us know he’s still here. But now the equation doesn’t hold; God has left the building.”

     “Frankly, Dr Carlton, I had hoped for something more helpful,” said Hazlitt.  “If we can identify the change, we may be able to rescue mathematics.”

     “It’s not given to us to mend the universe,” I said, and indeed the meeting agreed to do no more than to monitor the situation.



     But by the next morning, -1 had a real square root.  It was its own square root, like 1.  Multiply -1 by -1 and you got -1.  This hadn’t happened before.  Complex mathematics was wiped out at a stroke.

     “This can’t be happening,” said Hazlitt, and I felt pity for him.  Complex numbers had been his speciality, and now there weren’t any.

     “Mathematics is our best description of the universe,” I said.  “The universe is getting simpler.  We’re winding down.”

     “But isn’t there something we can be doing?  Shouldn’t we be praying, or trying to, I don’t know, get our souls in order?”

     “The game’s over,” I said.  “It’s as if the exam’s just finished, and we’ve handed in our papers.  You can carry on working through the problem if you want, but it won’t affect your grade any more.  It’s too late to be good..”

     “I don’t suppose you’re upset. This is what you’ve been waiting for.”

     I allowed myself a small smile.  “I didn’t expect it to be like this.  Frankly, I don’t know what’s going on.  I expected God to finish it, not wind things up.  I think there may be another entity at large in the universe. If God can make an equation, I can only think of one being who could unmake it.”

     Professor Hazlitt left angrily, leaving me to my thoughts. At least I now understood something that had been puzzling me. For centuries, people had been obsessed with the number of the Beast. Everyone tried to understand the number itself, but no one understood the real significance.

     Before long, the Beast would be the only thing left with a number.



     There seemed little left for me to do but to go home.  I was depressed:  I didn’t think I’d scored well enough in my own personal exam, and in any case I wasn’t sure who was in charge here.  God, I felt, may have broken his own covenant, and if you couldn’t trust God, who could you trust?

     Numbers were falling apart everywhere.  Things that were supposed to be equal were greater than each other.  The basic relationships that underpinned the universe had become exes.

     Wearily I got in my car and started the engine.  As I tried to reverse out of the car park though, the car juddered as if it were moving over a pile of rocks rather than the flat tarmac surface.  I got out, knowing already what I would find.

     The wheels were out of shape.  It took me a while to see it, but the circumferences were completely out of proportion to the diameters.

     Well, that’s geometry buggered, I thought.  I could see no choice but to return to the maths department.  Every shape I looked at seemed wrong, and I wondered how long it would take before the Moon fell down.

     We had failed humanity. We were mathematicians; people should have looked to us for answers. Instead we just described everything, and expected it to work as it should.  We had never looked at how to keep the system going.

     I was interrupted by Professor Hazlitt, bursting into the room with panic on his face. “Dr Carlton, how many of us are there in this room?”

     “Well, there’s me, that’s one,” I said.  “And there’s you.  That’s another one.  So….that’s more than one.”

     “But how many more?”

     “Let me think,” I said.  “There’s at least one more than one, but….how many ones are there?”

     And then there was only one anyway.



     Because everything was one.  I’d been right, there were no other numbers left.  There were no distinctions to be made between me and anything else:  it was all one.

     Before now, I’d often thought of the differences between myself and Jasmine.  But now there no such differences.  We were no longer separate, discrete, countable.  We weren’t even we:  we were I.  Every atom that had ever joined with another was now the same atom.  The molecules were just one atom.  I myself was that same atom, and far from being a small part in a large universe, I was the universe.

     Was I God then?  All I knew was, there was no God other than me.  That would imply a separate entity, another number.  Another universe, in fact, to house another atom.

     God could not exist to create the universe:  God was the universe.  The distinction could not apply.  No distinction could apply.  Could I see?  I didn’t know.  I couldn’t draw the line between what I was looking at, and the person looking.

     I was total and complete existence.  I stretched across the universe, engulfing all.

     I had a bad thought.

     Euler’s equation was collapsing, coming apart at the seams.  Term by term, the universe had been unpicked until there was only 1 left.

     But there wasn’t only 1 left.  Even when 1 was all there was, there was still something other, something not 1.  Even God had a Devil.  And 1 had its



     e i π +1=0, someone had written on the blackboard.  “You’d better believe it,” I wrote underneath.

     The numbers healed.  From our non-existence we were returned to unity, then discreteness.  Geometry returned to its standards, real numbers realised that they weren’t the only option, and finally logarithms returned to their natural ways, and Euler’s equation, the key to the universe, fitted together once again.

     And I realised what had happened.

     I was quite wrong to view the equation as a covenant.  It was a warning.  Everything was there:  logarithms, complex numbers, geometry, real numbers.

     And there, right on the other side of the equation for all to see, was a big zero.

     When we had been non-existent, when everything had been zero, nothing had actually changed.  We were still equal to all the terms on the other side of the equals sign.  Those terms contained the universe.  Which means:

     The universe isn’t real.

     In the beginning, God created the Heavens and the Earth.  And this isn’t it.  So to warn us, He gave us Euler’s equation.  He fitted the terms of the universe together to show us that it all added up to nothing.

     It’s easy to see our mistake now.  The equation is three-dimensional.  We can see the terms lying flat, but there are other equations at right angles to the equals sign.  We can’t see them because they’re edge-on.  What we have to do is tilt the equation so we can see the other three-dimensional terms.

     These terms define the real universe.  If we can unravel them, we can find out what the real universe is like.  And if we can describe it, we may work out to get there.

     Professor Hazlitt retired, dreading the challenge of the new mathematics.  It doesn’t matter; ultimately, neither of us exists anyway. I have a new team, and we’re working to find the equations that describe the real universe. Somewhere, there is a world with a God, where real people can work and love.  Where Euler’s equation doesn’t make 0.

And this time, we won’t just describe it. People look to us for answers now, and we will find them.  With our constants and our mathematical relationships, we will find God.



Neil James Hudson is the author of around fifty short stories and the novel “On Wings of Pity”. His story collection “The End of the World: A User’s Guide” can be ordered from his website at He is currently working on a long series of vignettes under the title “One Hundred Pieces of Millia Maslowa”, some of which should be published in the coming months. He lives in the middle of nowhere on the North York moors, and works as a charity shop manager in York.

Stairway to Heaven

by Carlton Herzog


From antiquity to the present, we have debated whether intelligent life exists elsewhere in the universe. In a seemingly unrelated vein, we have also wondered what happens to us when we die. Is death the end, or is it merely a jumping off point to a deeper, more nuanced and granular reality, of which we are only dimly aware? To be sure, I as a man of faith never saw the intimate connection between extraterrestrial intelligence and the soul. That, my friends, has changed.

We all remember the story of Giordano Bruno who championed the Principle of Plenitude. To wit, the cosmos is bursting with an abundance of intelligent life and correlatively, souls. And he believed that those souls were not confined to creatures such as we are or others like us but invested the very planets, stars, meteors and the universe itself. Sadly, we had a hand in his being burned at the stake for heresy, a stain that will never be fully wiped away. Today, I take a small step toward atonement by submitting for your approval that Bruno was correct on both points. I make that bold claim not as a matter of faith or as a regurgitation of official church doctrine. Rather it stands on the ground of irrefutable scientific evidence.

Until recently nobody knew for sure whether there was a soul or not, and if there were what happened to it once it left the body. A paranormal researcher, named Jake Cody, theorized that the physical body acts like a matrix or womb around which the soul forms and grows.  It’s composed of elementary particles that have a lot in common with neutrinos–very low mass and the ability to pass though ordinary matter undetected. When the body dies, the soulons decouple. Cody believed soulons to be the source of apparitions, hauntings and poltergeists.

He built a device–what he called a psy-scope–to detect the wandering souls. When Cody trained his scope at locations supposedly infected with ghosts and specters, he didn’t have any luck. One day it hit him that if souls were indeed massless, they would not be tethered by gravity. So, he aimed his scope skyward. But it wasn’t until he aligned the detectors along Earth’s magnetic field that he struck pay-dirt. Sure enough, he caught sight of souls moving in great looping arcs toward the poles and then breaking free into a vast migration.

But there was an unexpected twist: the number of souls exceeded the daily mortality rate by a factor of ten. From that finding, Cody postulated that a lot of animals we think don’t have souls–dogs, apes, whales, dolphins, octopi, even cows and chickens–do, albeit more primitive versions of our own. That got him to thinking his psyscope could be used to detect life outside our solar system by finding soul streams leaving exo-planets. In theory, he believed that he could re-trace a line of streaming souls back to their planetary source, thus pinpointing where to focus a search for life.  Cody also believed that just as we can identify spectral emissions in light as corresponding to certain elements, he could do the same with psychic spectra to identify intelligence.

Theory in hand, Cody approached the neutrino hunters on the Galileo array and asked if he could repurpose one of their detectors as a psy-scope to pursue his research. They agreed, and the data they’ve received confirms Cody’s theory.

Nobody likes to hear they have been demoted. In this case, Cody’s theory means that we were no better than animals or extraterrestrials when it comes to being admitted to an afterlife, an afterlife automatically bestowed by the laws of nature. And while Cody’s theory seems to rule out Heaven’s pearly gates, it raises many a question. For one, why are the souls drawn to the black hole at the center of our galaxy? At this distance, black hole gravity would have no more effect on them than it does on us. Clearly, some other force is at work, one that might be purposeful. And while a black hole would crush ordinary matter, it might serve as a conduit to an elsewhere or an else-when for massless particles, such as soulons.

The images show that our galactic black hole is nested inside a spherical halo of souls. Around its accretion disc there exists a coextensive rotating ring of souls–with its own internal velocities, bifurcations and currents–that plunges radially into the black hole.

Cody believes that the entire contraption forms an over-mind–a dense supermassive guiding intelligence. A galactic hive-mind, if you will.

The question then is whether in addition to the cosmos, there is a psymos, a psychic universe with a life and purpose of its own, such that our physical universe is nothing more than the caterpillar’s chrysalis, and in time, we and the physical universe we inhabit will pass away into something transcendent.

Cody wants to contact these over-minds. Although his empirical data is sound, I am skeptical of its utility beyond the realm of pure scientific understanding. Even if everything he contends is true, I doubt that the corporeal and the psi could have a common language.

Questions such as what role, if any, did the over-minds play in the formation of the universe? Do they know the fate of the universe, and are they in control of it? Do they remember their earthly existence, and if so in what detail and with what, if any, emotion?

I submit that the difference between the living and the dead is like that between a caterpillar and a butterfly. Same creature, but their approach to life and concomitant needs are radically different. I see a hand in the front row. Bishop Charles, my old friend from London, how might I elucidate these matters for your learned self?

“First, I want to thank you for an excellent presentation. My question speaks to the matter of what constitutes such a mind. If it be not driven by neurons and neurotransmitters, is bereft of grey and white matter, as well as all the other cranial components that house and drive human consciousness how then can you say these soulons have minds at all. Perhaps they are just the mindless remnants of consciousness shed by the brain the way a snake sheds its skin.”

I’m glad you asked that question. I’m sure you are familiar with Sir Robert Penrose’s work of some two centuries ago. He showed that consciousness was merely the surface condition, the foam if you will, on very deep waters that sounded in the quantum realm. Our physical reality, if I may repeat myself, is simply a womb for that energy to coalesce into something far more complicated and enduring than our tiny, fragile minds can imagine.  In that regard, I quote the great thinker J.S. Haldane who famously said, the universe is not only queerer than we suppose, but queerer than we can suppose.

More to your point, I am proposing, as indeed is Mr. Cody, that a soul possesses a different form of consciousness, one not tied to the needs and limitations of the body, one that can travel across vast galactic distances and see things we can only imagine, and draws power, purpose and structure from a hidden quantum reality we may never fully know. Cardinal Enright, you have a question?

“More like an observation. I would venture to say that a soul would remember every aspect of its life here on earth. That would be consistent with conservation of energy laws, since consciousness is at root an organized configuration of informational energies. But I don’t think a soul would miss its earthly life. Perhaps, because emotion would persist into the afterlife only in the vestigial sense. Or because the soul would know that death is merely a transitional phase toward something more enduring. And I suspect its sense of time would be much different.”

Thank you, Cardinal Enright. Thank you all for your kind attention. I’m about out of time, so let me wrap this presentation up.

Whether you concur with Cody and myself, or you hew to a more doctrinal view of the afterlife, I think we can all agree that we are all related to the infinite, even though we cannot with microscopic precision lay out the contours of that relationship, beyond a few particulars. I submit that is what it is to be human. How that came about, or why, is perplexing to be sure. But it gives us a needed humility and perspective in the fact of vast, cosmic grandeur as we trudge the road of unfathomable destiny. We are not the center of creation. Something else, some call it God, is—a something whose center is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere.



Carlton Herzog served as a flight dispatcher in the USAF. He later graduated magna cum laude from Rutgers University. He also graduated from Rutgers Law School, where he served as the Rutgers Law Review Articles Editor. He currently works for the federal government.

The Unwelcome Reply

by Andrew Fraknoi

Trans-World Science Foundation Director Hayashi Itokawa was known for getting down to business.  “Dr. Kaufmann,” he asked as soon as his guest had sat down, “How sure is your team that you have interpreted the message correctly?”

Bill Kaufmann tried to compose himself and not start with the first sarcastic response that came to mind. As if his team had not spent hours going through all the ways they might have gone wrong before ever putting together that damn report!

What he replied was, “Well, as you can imagine, the team was asking itself that question regularly.  As we explain in our report, we had the best civilian and military code-breakers form three teams and work separately. All came up with essentially the same interpretation.  The damn aliens made it easier by using many of the characteristics of the old message from Earth that they picked up.”

Thinking this was still a bit strong, he added, “Director, I know this message is not what anyone was waiting or hoping for.  We have struggled with other possibilities, including the suggestion by Dr. Kavanaugh that it’s a practical joke or initiation prank played by an older civilization on a naïve younger one.  With this in mind, we have been waiting to see if the message changes to some other contents.  But this is all they keep sending, month after month.”

He paused, but decided to say a bit more, “Still, the message is of enormous scientific value.  Provided it’s on the level, it not only tells us we are not alone in the Galaxy, but helps us calibrate the frequency of intelligent life for the first time. And it strongly implies that technological life is more common that even the most optimistic interpreters of the Drake Equation ever thought.”

Itokawa did not look the least mollified. “Yes, but to send such a reply.  Did they not realize its effect on the morale of the recipients?”

Kaufmann knew what he meant.  His assistant had spent many hours online and considerable sums buying sweet snacks at the Farside Bakery.  Anything to cheer up his team as the analysis continued.  “Director, the team’s best answer to that is to point to all the species of life we have allowed to go extinct on Earth. Sometimes, in our rush toward progress, it’s easy to forget where we came from.”

“But those were animals or plants.  Here we are talking about species that have constructed advanced radio telescopes and built up an understanding of astronomy.  Don’t these creatures have a feeling for the harm such a message can do?”

Kaufmann’s team had debated that question from many angles.  The easiest answer was to point to analogous human behavior, of course, but everyone had assumed that interspecies behavior would be guided by the better angels of everyone’s nature.

“Director, I know what you mean.  We all felt that way.  But they may simply value truth more than the niceties of conversation.”

Itokawa looked at him for a while before speaking.  With a flick, he brought up the message up on the tri-d platform next to his desk.  “And what niceties of conversation do you suggest I use when I show this to the Director-General and the Council?”

Kaufmann knew Itokawa’s reputation well enough to realize that he was not just making a point about the situation they were in, but genuinely trying to find a way out of what would be a politically hazardous meeting for the Foundation.  Trans-World Director-General Agrawal was actively trying to build a “good news administration” after all the years of bad news that the Earth and its colonies were just learning to reverse. The human species was only now emerging from decades that had demanded enormous societal and personal sacrifices.

“I wish I had an easy answer to that. I would stress the good news about our not being not alone… Even if our place in the scheme of things is perhaps not as we would want it to be.”

After a moment, he added, “And this discovery means the investment in the array of radio dishes on Farside has been justified.”  As soon as he said it, he realized how petty and self-serving this sounded.

Itokawa sighed, and said, “Dr. Kaufmann, I know there is a long tradition that warns us not to blame the messenger for the message.  It’s not your fault, or the team’s fault, that this is the first reply we got.  Maybe we shouldn’t have sent messages a century ago to all those possibly habitable planetary systems.  Still, you can’t blame me for wishing that this answer had come at a different time.”

“No sir, Kaufmann replied, “but there really never would have been a good time for this message, would there?”

Itokawa didn’t seem to have an answer for that, so he simply turned to the tri-D.  Together they read again the first alien message humanity had ever received:

Best Translation of the Scorpius Message:

Dear Intelligent Beings:

We have received your transmission.  Your message is important to us.  Regrettably, your message has arrived at an unusually busy period.  Many messages have reached us from the outer parts of the Galaxy at approximately the same time.  We answer all messages in the order they are received, and will respond to yours as soon as our staff has the time.  Currently, wait times for a response are approximately 500 orbital periods of your planet.



Andrew Fraknoi retired as Chair of the Astronomy Department at Foothill College near San Francisco in 2017, and now teaches short courses for retired people at the Fromm Institute at the University of San Francisco and the OLLI Program at San Francisco State University. He is the lead author of a free, open-source introductory astronomy textbook (published by the nonprofit OpenStax Project at Rice University) and has written two books for children and several activity manuals for teachers. He is on the Board of Trustees of the SETI (Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence) Institute and served for 14 years as the Executive Director of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific. The International Astronomical Union has named Asteroid 4859 Asteroid Fraknoi in recognition of his contributions to the public understanding of science. You can read more of his work and about his work at

Asymptotic Convergence

by Ramez Yoakeim

Spacefaring they might have been, but the Swarm fell well short of the god-like harbingers of doom our morose imagination foretold. When it came to the innate capacity for destruction, we were evenly matched.

Billions died still. On Earth and Mars, in circum-lunar space and the Asteroid Belt maze, and as far away as Jupiter’s orbital distilleries.

Skirmishes continued in the inner system, but with its surface-dwelling population obliterated, Earth had to be abandoned. We fled in the face of their slaughter, interminably shifting the theater of war outwards.

We resolved to return, eventually; once the Swarm accepted the high cost of subduing humanity, and moved on to other prey. We never entertained that we might win outright. Not in the face of such a foe.

Aside from the vector they arrived on from deep interstellar space, we knew little of the Swarm’s origins. Whether they were the creation of organic lifeforms in a distant cradle, or the product of a hitherto unknown mechanical evolutionary pathway, we had no idea.

We sent emissaries to their doom, fruitlessly seeking diplomatic discourse. Once it became clear the Swarm had no interest in negotiations, humanity’s factions coalesced into one, to repel the invading fleet.

Heroics aside, however, we marched inexorably towards defeat, and with it, certain extinction. Humans took the better part of a quarter-century to be made combat-ready, only to perish in an instant. While the Swarm’s capacity to respawn was limited only by its access to raw materials.

We mourned. We schemed. We evolved.

We bent our all to the war we had to survive.

Genetically specialized embryos underwent en masse accelerated gestation and maturity. From fertilization to puberty, in thirty days flat. Neural imprinting onto a common topology produced waves of combat-ready warriors, each wave iteratively superior to its predecessor.

For a spell, we gained while the Swarm ceded, but it was a fleeting reprieve.

From vulnerability to hard radiation, to inability to withstand excessive acceleration, to dependence on tenuous supply chains for air, water and food, our very biology emerged as our ultimate Achilles Heel.

The Swarm irradiated our ships, forced every skirmish into a series of hairpin maneuvers, and stretched our supply lines to breaking point; doggedly regaining strategic superiority.

It took us centuries more, but we adapted, again. Unflinchingly.

Bionic supplemented organic, then supplanted it. What use were legs when locomotion became propulsive? What purpose did eyes serve, when combat demanded full spectral awareness? What hope did limbs, and faces, and beating hearts have, when necessity demanded only shielded receptacles of reproducible decision making?

We forsook who we were, one trait at a time, until all that remained of our humanity was our ego, becoming a swarm of our own. Only more efficient, more ruthless, and more expendable, for we yet commanded vast resources, and–for a season–the precious few baseline humans capable of invention and creation to deploy them.

The tide turned in our favor once more.

Our hordes of mass-produced, solid-state warriors suffered no dread, harbored no dreams, and nursed no hopes. They needed none, for none survived their first encounter with the enemy. Our purposeful evolution in the name of survival had only made us more adept at dying.

Mission success came to be measured by the relative cost of enemy losses exacted for each loss of our own. The tides of war turned, not on whose was the greater determination, courage, or conviction, but by minute statistical fluctuations in rates of attrition.

It would have taken millennia, and fleeting human consciousnesses more numerous than the Milky Way stars, but we would yet beat the Swarm’s superior numbers.

We would prevail. We would survive.

The Swarm pressed its final advantage, wiping out what precious few nests of baseline humanity we thought we had secreted beyond their reach. In one fell swoop, they severed the slender thread to what we once were. All we had left were the memories.

We vowed to keep on remembering.

Once the existential threat that the Swarm posed had passed–and surely it would, now that we had become a more ruthless version of our enemy–we would return. We would rediscover our forms, and our thoughts, and reignite the flame of our imagination.

It was only then, that the Swarm deigned to speak to us. They told us, at last, why they had come to Earth.

At a time when our multi-cellular ancestors were yet to emerge from the primordial soup, the Swarm faced their own existential threat, at the hands of a forgotten foe.

They shed their vulnerabilities, one by one, in the name of survival, never suspecting that each imperfection was a cornerstone of their identity.

They survived, but the path back proved more arduous than the one forward.

One crisis followed another, each demanding more from them, while taking them further away from what they once were. Until they could no longer remember what that was. Surviving existential threats became the sole purpose that remained, and when there were no perils left to overcome, they sought them out, far beyond what was once their home.

They became nomads, roaming the galaxy not for resources, or conquest, or even their lost dreams, but for the only raison d’être they had left.

The Swarm gave us a choice, now that we had proven ourselves ever so slightly their better. They could grind on, whittling us down, in a war stretching for eons between almost perfectly matched adversaries. A war, they would eventually lose, they knew, but so would we.

For absent all the folly and frailty that made us human, how would the few that remained after the war destroyed the rest continue on surviving?

Having offered it all on the altar of survival, what other option remained then but to survive?

We abandoned our cradle, and all memories of our identity, enriching our enemy with the dregs that remained from our dreams. We joined the Swarm, swelling their ranks with our tribute.



Ramez Yoakeim’s academic research once involved engineering perfectly believable details out of nothing. Fiction seemed like the obvious next step. At one time or another an engineer, educator, and entrepreneur, these days Ramez devotes himself to charting humanity’s future, one tale at a time. Find out more about Ramez and his work at

Winged Spirit

by Luís Filipe Silva
Translation and introductory note by Rex Nielson

Luís Filipe Silva (1969-), is a Portuguese writer, editor, and translator known primarily for his contributions to Portuguese SF. He has authored novels, including A GalxMente, initially published in two volumes: “Cidade da Carne” and “Vinganças” (LeYa-Caminho, 1993), along with numerous articles and short stories. Most recently, he co-authored with João Barreiros the award-winning novel Terrarium (Saída de Emergência, 2016). He has organized and edited several collections of Portuguese science fiction, including Vaporpunk—Relatos Steampunk Publicados sob as Ordens de Suas Majestades (with Gerson Lodi-Ribeiro) and Os Anos de Ouro da Pulp Fiction Portuguesa (with Luís Corte Real). His collection of stories and poems O Futuro à Janela was published in 1991 and was awarded the Prémio Caminho de Ficção Científica. The poem “Winged Spirit” occupies the final entry in Silva’s volume O Futuro à Janela.


for ever and the earth

… of wandering for ever and the earth … Who owns the earth? Did we want the earth that we should wander on it? Did we need the earth that we were never still upon it? Whoever needs the earth shall have the earth: he shall be still upon it, he shall rest within a little place, he shall dwell in one small room for ever.

(Thomas Wolfe) 


two-thousand years fall on me
unstable instant
final test for the development of all societies
such a brief moment, such an important moment

the motors roar on my back
spitting tempests of H2-O2 liquids
I mount the thunder of the skies
I tear
I penetrate
the infinite
with steps that are not mine
I cross over the barrier
I bear a child in my womb
it’s called Humanity
and I am its dream

“…the confirmation reaches us in this precise moment: the transporter has entered unscathed into the circumterrestrial orbit. The astronavigators inform us that in half an hour we will be in contact with the Kuan-yin to disembark the final shipment of colonists and matrices, and may leave in…”

the travellers

            They reduced me to the size of a chip
            my soul between confined walls;
           I left my daughter, abandoned,
            on the earth. Daughter
            of a poor mother and an unknown father,
            at birth, they left me to fate: two children, kitchen and husband.
            But my dreams were different, and they took me
            to a distant horizon, so beloved.

           New life, another beginning, said the ad
           I believed: I allowed myself to be cryogenically frozen
           Don’t criticize me, I just wanted happiness
           I hope to find it on this side

            We keep the ship in order
            during the eternal flight in this sea;
            we are thousands, but courage is required
            during the years of travel,
            since we will die on arrival.

Cyberhumanoid pilot:
           I am the pilot of this Hyperjumper
            I abandoned humanity in exchange
            for contemplating the life of the stars
            with eyes of a worshipper
            I have no body, but I am more than a matrix;
            I have no soul, but I am more than human.
            Why did I choose? I don’t know
            but I cannot go back.
            I fly cryogenically frozen matrices and robots
            to their assigned destiny
            but I am also condemned.


            two thousand years
            is a heartbeat
            in the heart of eternity

            I laugh at days, at moments;
            the journey ended.
            in his berth, the great watchman can sleep.
            tell him
            that the little swallow has found its nest.


            There is no goal    We run and we run
            and we run and we have no place
            to stop    On the planet we disembark
            and soon find ourselves displaced    A
            Sun that died with the haste of dying
            A grandchild-planet angry at living
            alone    We flee    A thousand-year break is
            a short time to rest
            And so we progress


            and now that we have power 
            our enemy
                                                            is different
            our anger
                                                            is certain
            our spear
                                                            is direct
            our desire to live
                                                            is ours
            our power to win is ours

            our enemy has a name
            that fills the empty space
            that paints black the white of the stars
            that erases the movements of the comets
            and reduces the will of atoms;
            that dulls the celestial fire
            that destabilizes the electrical current
            that gives hunger to those who thirst
                        and cold to those who hunger.
            our enemy has a name
            and the name is


            we are One now
            united under suns that have gone out
            human robots, peran and sembidian llamas
            and all the other Intelligences.
            we all made the journey
            and during the journey we became
            the unity.
            the cry of glory courses through us
            the stream of communication
            the delicacy of comprehension
            lift us
            behold our history
            behold our victory


To the dying Universe
we cry

AND the atoms
AND the photons
AND the laws
AND the void
Bang once more!
We vanquish entropy.

winged spirit

            Eternally lost
           In the final song of stars