Science Fiction & Fantasy

FEAR CITY by F. Paul Wilson

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Fiction

Against Eternity

In some surprisingly distant tomorrow, you will grow weary of Earth.

The wan gray of polluted skies will weigh on your soul, and you will recall bluer days, and wish for your childhood, when the grass seemed taller and would rub your inner thighs as you rambled through the fields. You will remember the calls of warblers and meadowlarks, and wonder: Where have all the birds have gone?

You will grow older than any person should. When your friends and family are have all passed, you’ll keep doddering on, a relic from a forgotten age.

Is it the life-extension drugs that keep me going? you will ask yourself. Maybe I should stop taking my Attaroxin. Why would I want to keep on living when everyone I care about is dead?

Secretly, though, you’ll know the truth. You’re fueled by hope.

Every day will bring new wrinkles to your body, and sharp new pains that mask dull aches. Every day you will shuffle more slowly than you did the day before, until it is a labor to get to the toilet.

As your hormones wane, you’ll lie awake at night, unable to sleep. Not like a young person does, with loins afire, lusting.

You’ll feel empty, purposeless.

A salesman will call. He’ll be a bright young man with a smiling face and a neat haircut. All regimes make use of such boys. He’ll be a tool of the state.

“We need you,” he’ll tell you, his teeth a perfect white. “You’ll be of tremendous service to your country. You’ll be a hero! Just put on a battle suit.”

Oh, you’ve spoken to recruiters before, when you were young. You know the dangers.

You’ve seen the victims of war: Drooling wrecks, with their brains half blown out. You see it on the news every day—people crazed by addiction to battle drugs going postal on the mean streets of Los Angeles and New York.

What does it matter that the wars are now fought on Mars, amid red raging sandstorms, where a cymech in battle armor can run a hundred miles per hour? What does it matter that warriors now have the neurons in their brains wedded to crystalline interfaces, and are considered only the “biological component” to a much more sophisticated organism?

War is war, and the fallout is always sickening.

“What the hell?” you will ask yourself. “It has been ages since anyone needed me.”

You’ll take the med-tests, sign the contract.

You’ll study your options carefully, make your decision. “I’ll go for the Aspire-Class ship.”

It looks like a good ship—heavily armed and armored. Sleek, fast and small. A ship for scouting, or for dropping military personnel into the hot zones on Mars, or on the moons Europa, or Io.

They won’t need much of you, of course: Only five pounds of brain matter. It will be cut away from the rest of your body, and your husk will be discarded—the sagging flesh, the brittle bones, that bladder that no longer functions well anyway.

You’ll be granted a new body—one with artificial blood that never needs to be cleaned, all circulated efficiently by self-repairing nanobots. Your energy needs will be minor, and your new body will harvest gamma rays in space for fuel. The gamma rays are everywhere, as common as trash in the ocean. You’ll never run out of energy.

It sounds like an adventure, right? You’ll worry about the war, of course, and about wars that might yet come in the distant future, when all life on Earth is gone, when men have seeded colonies around ten thousand stars.

But you’ll know that you cannot worry about such things. Was it Jesus who said, “Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof?”

So you will go under the knife. The medics will wheel you into the operating room. You’ll be so cold, feeling almost naked, under a thin blanket. You’ll shiver as if you’re already dying, and you’ll wonder: Can I survive the surgery?

The operating room won’t be an old-fashioned affair with nurses and doctors. People are too contaminated, too full of germs.

Instead it will contain a machine—a sleek surgical droid fitted with laser scalpels to cut through your flesh, and gentle mechanical appendages to prize out your brain.

“Don’t be afraid,” a surgical droid will tell you from a speaker.  “I’m Doctor Cohen. I was once human, like you. You’re going to love this. You’re going to a far better place.” The words will be comforting in tone, but you’ll worry anyway.

Your pulse will race, and your stomach will grow queasy. Monitors in the room will thunder as they echo the beating of your heart.

The surgical droid will squirt an invisible mist into the air, just near your mouth. You will sniff, wondering what it is, and the anesthesia will hit you. A numb cold will fill your sinuses and steal into your brain.

All sights and sounds will fade.

***

When you waken, it will be glorious. You’ll regain consciousness in the space station docks, in the fifth Lagrange orbit. Through a multitude of sensors, you’ll find yourself floating among the stars—brilliant fires above and below and to every side.

You aren’t in a cyborg’s body on the ship. You are the ship.

You’ll see the lights in the heaven more clearly than man has ever seen them.  You’ll see them by the billions. Your remote sensors will distinguish whole new colors among the crab nebula—the near infrareds and the far ultra-violets. You’ll spot unnamed comets whisking past Neptune, discover strange new galaxies whirling in the distance.

It will leave you shocked and breathless. Ah, the noise of it all—the hissing of solar winds, the radio traffic bombarding you from Earth, the blipping of pulsars. You will discover that you are born into a strange new universe, one that you have never imagined, bustling with sound, like a noisy city street.

Earth, wheeling below you, will be glorious—with actinic whites at the caps of the poles, the blush of rose where the sunlight strikes clouds along the terminus, the vast seas that still look as blue from this height as you remember from your youth.

Ah, and the city lights! You can see all of humanity spread out before you in numbers that you’d never imagined. The pictures from space never showed it in such detail. Paris and London will be ablaze. Every little farmhouse in Ethiopa will light up like a flare. Every car headlight will spill like milk down the lonely dirt roads in Siberia.

You’ll be able to spot the tiny figures on crowded streets, people by the billions. And on the Serengeti, by infrared you’ll see a lifeless elephant, circled by fiery jackals, its corpse fading like a dying ember.

Just for a moment, you’ll wonder if you can really go through with your plan.

Can anything stop me? you will wonder.

In that instant, your first assignment will be sent via data-burst. You’ll be ordered to escort a freighter carrying a rare-minerals shipment to a manufacturing facility on the edge of the solar system.

An easy assignment, so long as the enemy doesn’t spot you.

In that moment, you’ll decide. You can risk death every moment, or you can take one last chance …

You’ll send back your response. “Assignment understood and accepted. Firing thrusters immediately.”

You’ll blast off from the station, wrecking the grappling gear that holds you down.

You’ll go into stealth mode, put up your ion shields and block all transmission from your masters, lest they try to override your systems. You’ll blast into space at twelve gs of constant acceleration—headed out beyond the galactic rim.

For a moment, everyone will wonder what has gone wrong. Did you get a faulty order from the enemy? Is this some kind of technical glitch?

They’ll be frozen into inaction, and that will be to your advantage. They’ll hesitate as you blur past the orbital military posts. You hope they’ll never catch you.

You’re a bright new Aspire-Class ship, after all—the fastest in the fleet.

You’ll head to the stars, fleeing the dying Earth. What does is matter if the military is armed with neutron cannons, or pulse rockets, or magnetic launchers that can slam 2000 rounds per second into your armor?

An EMP burst will knock out their targeting sensors. And you can eject a cloud of microscopic “mirror” chips to dampen their laser blasts.

Glancing back, you will see the frantic firing of white-hot energy beams at your shadow, the explosions of rockets as smart torpedoes blast from the battleships. The fireworks will be dazzling.

In a heartbeat, you’ll be out of enemy range, free to explore the stars.

You will live forever, for you will not just be armored against the weapons of man, but against eternity.

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David Farland

Davd-FarlandDavid Farland is an award-winning, New York Times bestselling author with nearly fifty science fiction and fantasy novels to his credit. He has won the Writers of the Future International Gold Award for best short story of the year, the Philip K. Dick Memorial Special Award for Best Novel in the English Language, the Whitney Award for Best Novel of the Year, and others.

He has worked with some of the largest franchises in the world—writing novels for Star Wars and The Mummy.

Dave worked for many years as the judge for one of the world’s largest writing contests, as an educator teaching creative writing at Brigham Young University, and thus has trained dozens of other New York Times bestsellers, including Brandon Sanderson, Brandon Mull, and Stephenie Meyer.

Dave currently lives in Saint George, Utah, with his wife, children, two cats and a Cocker Spaniel.