The Australian Pen, volume 2
Since humankind was able to imagine, stories about the future both immediate and far-reaching have been passed on. We ask ourselves:
Will we, as a species, be able to overcome our differences and work together?
Will planet Earth be salvaged or abandoned?
Will we be able to connect with other humans in a digital age?
Will we be able to recognise ourselves and our society in twenty years' time? How about in fifty or a hundred?
Find out what twenty Australian authors have imagined and be intrigued by the differences - and similarities - they have in store for humankind.
Twenty stories have found their way into the pages of Futurevision. Cycle through the preview for the stories with their date, tagline and extract.
2110 AD : When gender becomes a problem, changing species is the next step.
Staring back at the fish-girl, she was more than foreign, more than another species. She was female. But what choice did I have?
With a deep breath, I nudged off my blackened runners and, in singed jeans, waded into the waves. They lashed against my thighs before I was ready and I caught my breath before a squeal escaped my lips. The last thing I wanted was to show her vulnerability. She already knew too much.
Ignoring the hunger playing in her eyes, I stepped out further, shivering as the icy sea engulfed my waist. Goosebumps broke out on my arms and my teeth began to chatter.
“Are you sure about this?” I whispered.
“Of course.” Her voice was too eager. “All you need to do is dream the ocean’s depth and want it with all your heart.”
I turned to her as a sly smile crossed her face. I stopped and jerked back. She’s lying.
2193 AD : When fantasy meets reality, it never goes as imagined.
Petra glanced at the incubator. Reward for success and execution for failure. She shuddered.
A scratching sound.
Their eyes darted to the green-coloured eggs, resting in a heated bed of white plasma. An egg as long as Petra’s forearm jumped and bumped the next egg which topped onto the third like a domino.
“Major, hatchment is close.” The doctor’s eyes shone with excitement as he righted the fallen eggs. He picked up a pair of tweezers from the sterile blue drape on the table and tapped on the exterior of the middle egg.
The scratching became more frequent and intense.
2217 AD : Sometimes you go to the fight. Sometimes the fight comes to you.
There were no complaints from the crowd. People travelling together made sure that they stuck together and other ships were on their way, ready to take on the next load of passengers. If only they had been able to utilise a larger and flatter area, then they would be able to evacuate quicker. Instead, fleeing inhabitants were limited to this narrow area, situated between two large rocky hills.
“Red Team members check in,” John instructed through his communicator.
They had done a radio-check barely fifteen minutes earlier but John was on edge. Something wasn’t right. He couldn’t shake off the feeling that they had been forced to use this zone for a reason – like animals being herded into cages.
“Red Two standing by,” came back the first report.
“Red Three standing by,” another reported – followed in quick succession by the next four guards.
“Red Eight: check in now,” John instructed when there was silence. “Red Eight check in now."
2021 AD : Get high. Have visions.
Sorrel bit hard on her Kevlar covered knuckle. The baritone voice regularly soothed her into sleep as a child. This time it flowed over and around her.
“Tell me what you see.”
The liquid voice slid into her ears like warm oil. It whisked her back to the days when everything was good and wonderful, and dad slew dragons with a fierce scowl. Her lips kicked upwards at the corners.
The voice insisted she pay attention. Her focus sharpened on the black scintillant. She watched fascinated as the chest area illuminated and scenes scrolled across the surface.
Her team appeared garbed in form-fitting uniforms among similar dressed men and women. The uniforms were bright, patterned, and definitely not Army issue. Weapons resembling rifles, but looked to be at home in any science fiction movie, were in their hands. Her team held their weapons in a non-threatening position, but still poised for action. They were moving through thick jungle, pushing purple tree fern fronds aside. A largish three-toed creature lumbered out of the yellow brush, its ochre fur standing on end as it hissed. Yellow stalked eyes glared menace at the intrusion.
2167 AD : Energy is in short supply. So is kindness.
Tears fill her eyes. Normally she’d fight them off but today, feeling so drained, she lacks the strength. Her legs feel like dead things, unwilling to move after being pushed so far. The idea of trying to walk out of here, even if it is to return to her bed for a rest, is too much.
But she needs to go. The next shift is coming in. Her seat will be filled by someone else. It’s a requirement that she leave.
Bracing herself, she swings a leg over and slides down off the bike. As her feet touch the ground, she expects her legs to take her weight. They don’t. She grips the bike seat, needing to lean against it to gain balance.
She glances around, fearful someone witnessed her fumble. The bikes nearby are all vacant. Except one.
The one beside hers.
Him. The tall strong capable male, who looks like he was designed for this job. He’s pedalled beside her every day for the past fortnight. They’ve never exchanged a word, but she’s caught him watching her before.
Was he watching her just now? Or is it a coincidence that he’s here?
Her body goes rigid, waiting, wondering if any moment he will call her out and expose her weakness to the guardians.
2027 AD : It's 'Put Your Child To Work' day.
I’ve been on the phone for two hours. The Workforce Preparation Department office closes at five and I have to start again. They transfer me to the after-hours ‘Parent Information Line’, which is giving me no bloody information whatsoever.
I’m on hold and on my second cup of cold tea – Perry keeps making it, his mother’s son. The same recurring minute of Mozart drills into my ear, spoiling him forever. I print a wet pattern on the table with the rings left by my cup.
James has gone next door to see if Melinda saw any other activity in the street before they came to our house.
Gray is on the computer, next to me, checking in with his mob, looking for any underground news. His theory is there’s been another policy change and they’ve stuffed the notifications up again.
But I can’t think that way. It’s just a mistake. A mix-up, a giant unbelievable cock-up. They’re going to realise and she’ll be home by bedtime, I feel it.
2018 AD : When the only brush you have is one with death.
I don’t think the chemotherapy is working. Dad is hopeful. I haven’t blacked out yet. Haven’t heard anything in my head. No black froth coming out my eyes and no sign of black hair on my shaved head. But I can feel slow changes. Dad wants to increase the dosage. Walk the tightrope between enough chemo to kill Follicle and not kill the baby.
He left the drugs by the bed. I told him I’d sleep on it. They are sitting there, mocking my fears right now. Fuck you chemo. Fuck you. You will hurt my baby if I take too much of you.
The change isn’t painful, feels like a cold. Sore throat, temperature, itchy bloodshot eyes. Maybe it is just a cold, or maybe it’s the chemo drugs. God, I hope so, but I know I’m deluding myself.
It’s in me. I’m infected.
If it was just me I think I’d kill myself. Just take the gun and end it. Dad can see it in my face. He said he doesn’t want me to quit. Says we fight for our kids until we can’t fight anymore.
He’s been collecting the notes the victims leave behind, looking for clues. I’m not supposed to see them, he doesn’t want me to read all the terrible things written on them, but I snuck downstairs and stole a few when he went out looking for supplies.
He was right. I should not have read the notes.
2020 AD : It's time to pollute the planet.
It was eleven o’clock, and the time had arrived.
If time travellers existed, surely, they would be punctual. Maximillian watched the minutes tick by. With each passing second, his mood darkened. The money he’d already paid for the advertising was non-refundable. He abhorred waste.
Eleven o’clock came and went. Maximillian poured himself a coffee, scooped two teaspoons of sugar into it, then stirred. He pulled out a chair and sat, his back to the front door. He drank the entire cup in four long swallows.
Then came the knock. Time seemed to dilate as those sharp taps echoed through the entryway. Maximillian became acutely aware of the quickening pace of his heart. The skin on the back of his neck prickled. The guests were late, but he had been right!
Time travel was possible.
Maximillian straightened his tie, royal purple against the black shirt beneath. He strode towards the front door, grasped the handle, and opened it.
3000 AD : Whatever you do, don't press the button.
Flint gulped as he saw the fate that awaited him. His hand crept slowly towards the green button on the Molecular Transport Device and, as it did so, the creature turned one of its triangular facets towards him.
He knew he’d got himself into a tight a corner. He hadn’t implemented his own survival strategies as diligently as he always had in the past. The MTD was to blame, it had lowered his level of vigilance.
To discourage him from abusing the device, the developers had told him the technology wasn’t fully developed. A long and intense briefing warned him it was only to be used as a last resort – only when not to use it would mean certain death.
Despite the authorities’ caution, Flint had absolute confidence in the MTD and the scientists who had developed it. He had talked to the few space officers who had used it. He had listened to the incredible stories of their final seconds of life. The tales had the authenticity and terror of truth. Never in human history had anyone been so close to the point of death and survived to talk about the experience.
And now it looked like Flint might join the exclusive MTD Club of returned users.
2617 AD : There's still no cure for the common blind date.
She was annoyed at how quickly Girion went off into the club with his new boyfriend and left her with Enargo. He was an amicable looking fellow, with dark curly hair and bronze skin. Michelle envied him his colouring.
“So are you local?” she asked brightly, shrugging off her weariness.
“From Nuevos Aires,” he smiled, naming a city on the other side of the planet. “And you?”
“Born right here in Vivaldis Prime.”
“I’m studying at the University,” he went on.
“Oh, I go there!” It was a lie—she’d graduated during her traineeship at the Time-Space Agency, but the cover for the secretive nature of her job was that she was doing post-graduate study in Earth history. “What do you study?”
“History,” Enargo said. “And you?”
“History as well. What a coincidence.” She leant forward and tapped the corner of her mouth. They would actually have something to talk about!
“Oh really?” He raised dark eyebrows. “What field? I haven’t seen you in any of my classes.”
2078 AD : God is a programmer and the hardware is faulty.
“Do you think they know?” I glance up from my coffee. “What they are, I mean.”
Margot, my best friend, stares at me.
“Do you think they understand,” I press, “or is it all just fake? Maybe they don’t think at all.”
“They don’t know,” she says. “How can they? That’s like saying your computer thinks about opening a programme, or your phone thinks about what it’s doing.”
“But they’re not robots.” I shake my head. “They’re more than that.”
Margot takes my hand in hers. She glances at her watch.
“Why do you keep doing that?” I say. “Is there somewhere you have to go?”
“Sorry, no.” She looks surprised and lets go of my hand. “Jules,” she says softly, “I understand you’re upset about returning Michael, but he doesn’t feel anything. They’ll look into why he’s glitching and they’ll fix him. He won’t even remember.” She nods as though she has just reassured herself, but it is me who has lost someone.
My boyfriend has been recalled. Michael is my first experience with an NPC and to me, he is as real as I am.
2020 AD : You think you know someone...
Handing Ruby her lunch, I notice the ant-like drawing and wonder what it is. I sit with her and we eat together.
“What is your drawing of, sweetie?”
“The bad men coming. Here is our house. This is Aki’s house, see, Mummy?” As her stubby finger points, I see the picture through new eyes. It is an alarmingly accurate map of our neighbourhood. The ‘bad men’ as she calls them are the swarm of ants I saw.
“What is this over here?” I question a circular scribble.
“That is this man’s. He’s burning.” She eats her sandwich, unfazed by my questions.
“What do you mean he is burning, honey? He can’t hold fire, fire burns our skin. Or is he a magic man?” I smile. Maybe I’ve read too much into it.
“No, he carries it on top of his stick. You know, like Grandpa has at the pool!”
I silently dig around in the archives of my brain, trying to think of anything she has seen or heard that could have inspired such a story. I excuse her from the table and she toddles off to play.
Getting back to my housework, I can’t shake the uneasy feeling it is happening again.
2022 AD : The gamers are going viral.
I always dislike going into the City Morgue. It has an over-sanitised, lingering, biting chemical aroma. Makes my nostrils constrict. The Coroner has called this morning’s informal meeting so here I am.
Unsurprisingly, there is a corpse laid out on one of the tables covered by a sheet, except for the feet. I’m guessing this is the cause of today’s get together.
I walk over to have a look on both a professional and a curiosity basis. The big toe of the right foot has the standard ID tag tied to it. I read the name. It's unfamiliar.
“Gil Hart,” calls the Coroner by way of recognition as he enters the room.
“Hi Seth,” I reply as I turn to face him. Seth Goodrich is a tall, thin, cadaverous looking man who never seems to age. Yes, he looks like his profession. Wonder if he’s using the heavily advertised “rejuvie” range of products now that that particular scandal has blown over.
8168 AD : Blast first. Read the operator's manual later.
“Operative 2679, your treatment regime is not completed. Please return to your medipod at once or med-security will be informed.”
Dana gritted her teeth at the faux-concern of the automed’s disembodied voice. Regaining her balance, she dragged a set of standard issue garb from the overhead locker and pulled them on, the silver synthocloth conforming to her curves.
“Operative 2679 …”
“My name is Dana, you perfidious lump of alloy and virtual circuits.”
“… for your safety please …”
She grabbed her plasma pistol and blasted the auditory outlet, savouring the crackle and fizzle of disappearing sound. “re…tu ..rn…”
Somewhere outside, a high-pitched alarm sounded. Let it.
Dana prised open the automated door and stumbled into the long grey corridor. The alarm sounded louder here, an annoying whining blare.
2079 AD : Ninety nine problems but an extra word ain't one.
The box was filled with packets that had Nan’s name on them. I peeked inside the first sleeve. Folded paper—three sheets with a strange scrawl across each page.
“They’re letters,” Mum said. “Messages people wrote each other before we had e-coms and e-txts.”
I’d never known a world without e-coms or e-txts. I flicked through the pages of the one I’d opened.
“It’s more than a hundred words!” I dropped the letter as if it would stain me like an exploded paintball. I didn’t want the Waste Tribunal implicating me in this, especially after my promotion at ComCheck.
Mum handed the letter back to me. “There weren’t restrictions in those days. You could write as much as you wanted.”
I had trouble grasping that. “What about the Waste Laws?”
“They didn’t come in ’til Nita Barrett was environment councillor.” I’d heard that tone in Mum’s voice before. The tone that said the Waste Laws were deficient, though her words were neutral-compliant.
2901 AD : They came. They saw. They wanted.
Several thousand troopers made ready along the city’s edge. Gun placements, light artillery and sandbag barriers were built along the exposed ground. The alien ship mocked them, standing defiantly in the distance.
It was silent for almost an hour, and Five-Seven wondered if anything was going to happen. A single red bolt of energy impacted into a sandbag barrier, sending a cloud of dust into the air. The unit leader wasted no time igniting a flare and throwing it as far as he could. Its bright light engulfed the night’s darkness, allowing the troopers to see.
Five-Seven preferred the dark, because the light revealed a massive force of alien soldiers moving silently and deliberately toward them. They moved with efficiency and carried energy-based weapons, similar to the ones Five-Seven and the other troopers carried. Their slow and precise advance quickened into a full charge once they realised they had been spotted.
2019 AD: When there are visions, don't lose focus.
“Alex, wake up.”
“You had another one of your seizures.”
Alex groaned and squinted against the sunlight above her. “Oh, Mum, I’m sorry.”
“Where were you, darling?”
“In the laboratory after a liquid lunch.”
“Drunk? See that’s not you at all.”
She sat up in the driveway where she had collapsed and massaged her temples. “I saw more this time. The numbers made sense.”
“These episodes are scaring me. I think you should see someone.”
“No. I’ll be all right.” She raised herself with a sigh. “I have to go to work.” She kissed her mother’s cheek and got in the car.
During the drive to the Clinic, Alex’s mind went back to what she had seen. Her mother was right. With each episode, the visions became clearer but her recovery took longer; even now she forced down lingering nausea.
2045 AD : Disappearing, one identity at a time.
The front of my building was like an antlion trap made of glass. The windows angled in, funnelling everyone towards a double set of doors. It was quiet. Mid-morning. Not even the odd smoker anymore. Not since they brought in the Klensing Rooms. Like large fish tanks without the fake plants.
I strode up to the doors and pushed my card in.
I recalled how I’d got into the block first thing. It was easy. I’d just been part of the crowd of office workers. To speed things up, the doors stayed open, watched by the security guard who nodded at everyone with a frown like he suspected all of us of being terrorists.
Maybe he was right. I felt like blowing something up at that moment.
My arms felt cold. I sensed the great tower of the building looming over me. Again and again, I jabbed my card into the mechanism. No response. I stepped back, tensed, looked around then swung my foot up. Thud!
2030 AD : Every download brings someone new.
“Annie?” A sleep-drunk voice followed her into the bathroom. A pair of tights hung over the tub and a wad of blue hair choked the sink. Jarvin thumbed the door latch and assessed herself in a bathroom mirror pitted with black spots.
Roughly cut blue hair framed a pale face with a pierced eyebrow and smudged makeup. The Company had chosen someone very different today.
The doorknob rattled as it was turned and then a fist pounded the door.
“Annie, what the fuck?”
The voice wasn’t sleepy anymore.
A quick glance dismissed the window as too small to crawl out of. She didn’t know what floor she was on and she was only wearing a singlet and underwear.
“I am making use of the toilet,” Jarvin explained when she spied the grimy lavatory.
“You’re making use of the toilet?”
She had to match their speech patterns to avoid detection. Lovers often mimicked each other in such ways. She’d been greeted with profanity so took that cue.
2022 AD : Betting the house on a rising tide.
When they first planned to move there, Greg’s dad, Eric, berated his son. “Greg, you’re bloody mad building so close to the ocean.”
“Fact is, you’re about half a flaming inch above sea level. If there’s ever a surge in the sea—you’re stuffed.”
“What do you mean a surge in the sea?”
“But dad they’re in other places—Japan, the Philippines.”
“Son, you can have them anywhere—just needs an earthquake off the coast and you’re in big… trouble.”
“Can also get run over by a bus. I might be only half an inch above sea level, but that’s all good.”
Eric went on. “And there’s this climate change stuff—global warming, El Niño and such. Have you considered that?”
“I reckon that’s mostly a heap of bullshit put out by those boffins, like that joker you know at UQ—what’s his name?”
UPDATE FOR AUGUST 2017
- Futurevision is with the printing company.
- Banner posters for each of the short stories are being printed for the launch.
- The anthology will be available to buy for $10 from the authors (or publisher). Bulk sales from the publisher will be made available online after launch.
- Pre-orders for the paperback are available through author websites, such as Sophie L Macdonald for those unable to attend the Brisbane launch.
- The e-book is currently under construction.
- The next theme for the 2018 anthology will be announced at the Futurevision launch.