Thursday, December 26, 2013

12/26/13

Another Night At The Chronos Tavern
By David Barber


We get all sorts at the Chronos Tavern; we get workers from the Canaveral Timeport; we get travelers from the future, but in all these years I met only one executioner and one shade.
It introduced itself as C. Jammes Nord, which seemed over-formal, then sat gleaming and motionless. It must have been disturbing to others too, because no one else would sit at the bar.
It was a quiet night. The goblins with neural crests in the corner booth were from the Cryptarchy; you might have seen those history-of-the-future wall charts in the Sunday papers; the Cryptarchy’s a long way uptime. My other customers were a handful of female clones from someplace when it’s legal. They chose that moment to lift their glasses and drink as one.
C stands for Construct it seems. If I wished, it could drink and dispose of it later.
"These are innocent times," it added. "Without prejudice."
"Well, you're from the future, how great is that."
"Those Cryptarchy there would not speak to me for instance. Their society is warped by fear of manipulation by AIs."
Moments like this were why I opened the Chronos.
"I am employed to make ethical judgements."
"By who?"
"By those too nice to decide for themselves."
That was when the man sat down at the bar. The Canaveral Timeport was off-limits to the public; more like an embassy with the land signed over to the future, so customers were either Timeport staff, or time travelers. This drab, grey little man was the shade.
He took a Chronos Tavern coaster out of his pocket and looked at it. "All I seem to have is this. So I came here."
C. Jammes Nord beckoned me over. "Vend him what he wants and I will pay."
The man held up his beer to the light. “Excreted by micro-organisms you say?” He had a queasy fascination with the drinks on offer. “But they are dead now? The ethanol kills them?”
"When are you from?"
He blinked. "I don't know."
You know how it is with a broken-winged bird, with some wounded creature clipped by the car. You want to help, but in your heart you know the best thing would be to put it out of its misery.
His baffled gaze took in the Chronos and its customers. "Do I remember this?"
The goblins ordered more patches. Reds to dumb them down, to slow their cognitive turbines. When I got back, the little man was gone.
"What is his debt?" asked C. Jammes Nord.
"Who was he?"
"A shade. From the future. He has gone to complete the loop."
I had to ask.
"The loop returning him to the future in time to travel back here."
"But where did he come from?"
"The loop is acausal. He was not born and will not die. Unless I judge otherwise, he remains in the loop. As I said, I am an Executioner."
This wasn't why I opened the Chronos.
"I detect your disapproval."
Those fixed in time have little hope of understanding those who are not.
"You were kind; you treated him as if he was real. His life is little, though no cheaper for that. He does not know he is in a recursive loop. Do you think such a life worth living?"
Perhaps I said some bitter things about stuff I didn't understand. The Executioner replied that to those uptime, our own brief lives look much the same, like a short video that could be fast-forwarded to see how it ends; that we reminded them of shades.
I noticed later the shade had pocketed the coaster again before he left, as he always does.


- - -
David Barber lives anonymously in the UK.
He used to be a scientist, though he is retired now and writing stories.
He is a puzzle to his friends.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

12/19/13

Knowing Home
By E.S. Wynn


The moment I slip into the ocean, I know that I am home.

I wasn't born here, on Nereid IV-b. The colony is only a few years old, and most of the settlers are early-gen spacers, migrants who've seen a thousand worlds, elected for sterilization centuries ago. It's something else, something I can feel in my blood-- about the planet, the ocean, something I feel like I've been searching for my entire life, trying to get back to.

Something about the gravity, the planet's proximity to the three stars that hold it suspended in the most elegant orbit I've ever seen on an inter-system approach, gives it the most placid, most serene seas I've ever seen. Clean and clear, there are no tides or currents in the wide oceans of Nereid IV-b, nothing to wear down the smooth, gray-glassy stone that sprawls on across the bottom as far as the eye can see. No life-- nothing beyond a few simple mineral constructions that might become bacteria before the planet's three suns burn out.

All of my life, I've been afraid of oceans, but not the oceans here. Earth's oceans are dark and deadly, oppressive and thick with horrors both real and imagined. Some planets I've seen are worse, have thick, sludgy seas teeming with tiny, violent carnivores eager to seek out human flesh-- others are better, their seas more serene and silent.

But none of them have seas like Nereid IV-b.

There are no monsters here, nothing lurking or hunting in the darkness, no danger, no unseen movements of water waiting to pull you under. Open your eyes under the surface and you can see for miles, know that there is nothing but the seafloor, the shore and you, you floating there in the middle of it all. With the right gill-breather you can float there for hours, close your eyes, meditate, drop away into the pleasantly cool embrace of pure water held together by the most minimal gravity field you've ever felt. There is nothing like falling asleep in the oceans of Nereid IV-b, waking up again a few hours later and knowing that you are safe, that the sea has supported you softly while you've slept. It's an incredible feeling, trusting your existence to an ocean, to an entire planet's stretching seas, knowing that no matter how deep you go, no matter how far from shore you swim, you will always be safe, always be home.

The moment I slip into the ocean, I know that I am home, and for a while, at least, I know I can forget everything but the sea, the endless ocean I love, the silver, serene waters that seem to accept all that I am, man-- flawed and imperfect. Shore leave never lasts for more than a few days, but some day, some day, I'll come back to Nereid IV-b. I'll come back and I'll stay.

And I'll never leave the ocean again.


- - -
E.S. Wynn is the author of more than 50 books.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

12/12/13

Blinking Like Ferrets
By Donal Mahoney

- -
I've been too busy
the last two years to chat
with anyone in the office.
Today, however, I pause
at the pencil sharpener
while my co-workers
calculate and jot.
It makes no difference, you see,
if I remain silent until retirement
or if suddenly I start talking again.

All we must remember is
that we decay together,
that this charade
we give ourselves to
doesn't require that we speak,
that all we must do, really,
is calculate and jot.

If we calculate well,
if we jot well, the charade
will carry us through.
In the end, we'll see what is true
when blinking like ferrets
we emerge in sunlight,
gaping and gasping,
free of this maze created
by the family of man.


- - -
Donal Mahoney lives in St. Louis, Missouri.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

12/5/13

Testing
By Lauren E. Munroe


A minute passed before I heard the sound that I was waiting for to come near. When the sound filled my friend, Zimber's ears, she fumbled around my body before she was able to get a firm grip on my forearm. Her breathing became more panicked. As the sound grew louder behind us, she squeezed even tighter. I quickly took my arm away.

"W-What is that sound, Norait?"
"Our ride," I said.
"A-A roller cart coming down this pipe or somethi-?"
"Yeah, something like that," I fibbed. "Listen–when I yell to you to run, you do it. Understand?"
"Why?" she asked.

"Just do it!" I yelled. With that, I took off down the pipe in a straight line away from Zimber as fast as I could. The last thing I needed was the both of us crashing into each other. I could hear Zimber screaming and cussing up an electrical storm, and begging for me to wait up as I said a twenty-second countdown. By the time I reached five seconds, the force coming near us was so deafening I couldn't even hear myself think.
As I was being lifted into the air, I stretched my arms and legs out like a glider and allowed the cold icy air to propel me through the pipe. I tried to keep myself in this position as long as I could, but the intense pressure of the air took hold of my limbs and twisted me about. As I flipped overhead, I managed to fight the air and curl myself into a ball. After a few minutes, I became tired trying to hold my body in this position. As I let go of my legs, the air took control again and whipped my body all about. Spinning and flipping like an asteroid in space, I could feel myself being pushed forcibly to the side of the pipe. I flinched as my shoulder grazed its rough wall.

The rhythm of my breathing was interrupted when I accidentally cried out in pain. Realizing my mistake, I quickly tried to close my mouth and save any oxygen I had left; but choked violently for not having enough in me. As my lungs were robbed flat, grave thoughts passed through my mind about me perishing in this death-air. I closed my eyes. The strong light made my eyelids glow red-magenta. As I made a last attempt to fight the crushing air, my eyelids began to turn dark. I opened them just in time to see myself approaching the end of the white void and entering a small, round black hole.

The air gave me a final push before I fell from its grip and into the dark chasm. My lungs, now realizing they were no longer constricted, inflated to such a degree that I thought they would explode. I cried out–not just because I afraid of where I was falling to, but happy that I could breathe again. I could feel my stomach turning to a nervous mush as I continued to free fall through the darkness like dead weight but I had a feeling that I was approaching the end of my ride. My fingers scrambled around the loops of my carrier belt until I found my Neg-Matter Chip. I pressed it into my chest and could hear it activate–a high pitched beeping sound surrounded me. I looked down again only to see myself headed towards a small square of grated light shining up from the bottom.

It was a ceiling vent. As the time came for impact, I stretched my arms out in front of me to try and balance my weight. As I came into a few feet of the vent, I still did not feel any reaction from the chip. If Zimber and I survive this, Neg-Matter, Corp. has some serious explaining to do.


- - -
I graduated from the Institute of Children's Literature in 2008. Since 2001, she’s had multiple articles published in The Enterprise newspaper as well as websites Boston Globe and Metro West Daily News.


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