Thursday, December 28, 2017

12/28/17

Prisoner
By Dave Ludford


This Cube is my prison cell.

This is where you placed me all those years ago. Punishment, you said, for displaying the barest hint of a human emotion, one that has been virtually bred out of our species: love. I loved someone and that is why I ended up here. Not you; I could never love someone so cruel and devoid of all feeling, someone who wields great power but uses it to suppress, subjugate and control. You, who I once considered to be a friend.

I don’t understand where the emotion came from; a throwback to previous generations perhaps? To when humans came together in loving union, cared for each other, showed respect and empathy? I had never felt it before, not even fleetingly, until that moment with Freya. I will never forget her. My memories are something, at least, that you can never erase.

It was a dark day for all humanity when you and your kind swept into power, killing all who opposed you. I remember that within just a very short period of time the first reproduction labs were under construction; vast, soulless institutions where you could carry out your experiments to create your warped vision of the ‘perfect human’ on an industrial scale. Our generation simply had our capacity to love chemically removed; subsequent generations were created with it completely erased. But you haven’t been entirely successful, have you? Not as clever as you thought. You succeeded in extending the human lifespan but removed the one thing that made us what we were. What use is there in being able to live for centuries if we cannot love? I, and no doubt many others like me, would rather perish, and become dust and atoms swirling around the vast, cold universe. Anything but this. It is not the ‘gift’ that you claimed it to be. You have removed love but increased the capacity to hate. And why? To what end? Legions of slavish automatons carry out your every command, continue your work, building a world of hopelessness, misery and despair.

I’m pacing this tiny box in my agitation and anger, like a caged animal, thinking about all the other prisoners there must surely be in the same predicament as myself. Others who may have somehow managed to defy your chemical interference. Is Freya one of them? Is she imprisoned in a Cube somewhere near to me? Or did you have her executed? Sometimes I feel her presence, so perhaps she is dead and it is her spirit that is with me. Or maybe it’s just memories of her that make me feel this way. I’ll never know, will I? Because you will never tell me. You are even denying me the chance to grieve.

Here is my promise to you: love is a powerful emotion, it can never be completely eradicated, can never be totally destroyed. I will concentrate, contact others like me through the power of my thoughts; all of my fellow prisoners, wherever they may be. Because love will find a way, it always has and always will.

That which you have sought to destroy will bring about your own destruction. Then we will start to rebuild.


- - -
Dave Ludford is a writer from Nuneaton, England, whose works of poetry and short fiction have appeared at a variety of venues in the US, UK and India. His horror collection 'A Place of Skulls and Other Tales' is available now from Parallel Universe Publications or via Amazon.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

12/21/17

FrankenGod
By Kelly Sauvage Angel


RW-T: Good Evening, and welcome to Twenty-Three Gigabytes from Bliss, where we discuss the myriad ways in which technology is bringing us ever closer to ultimate realization. I’m Rosie Wishful-Thinking, and, boy, do I have a guest for you! But, first, I’d like to pause for a quick mention of our sponsor, Dominion Taxidermy. “Your lunch looks so good, mounted above the couch.”

Now, without further ado, I’d like to introduce my guest, Brother Maynard Pence. Not only has he led the congregation of the Hellfire and Brimstone Southern Baptist Church for the past forty-two years, but he is also the founder of the God Save Your Soul Pseudoscience Center. And, tonight, he is with us to discuss his latest enterprise, FrankenGod, Inc.

My goodness, Pastor. You’ve certainly got your hands in a number of bubbling cauldrons.

BMP: That’s right, Rosie. I’m not hiding my light under a bushel. No, I’m going to let it shine!

RW-T: Indeed. So, I’ve heard of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, the recently-revealed Frankenburger, but FrankenGod? Tell me more.

BMP: Obviously, anything from food to a fetus to an anterior cruciate ligament can now be grown in a lab. Yet, let me ask you, what could be more important than one’s ultimate destiny?

RW-T: So, true. It’s my belief that one’s spiritual life is of utmost importance, especially within the chronically stressful, mile-a-minute world we live in.

BMP: Yeah, yeah. That’s lovely, but if you wanted to talk about mindfulness, you should have brought in one of those blasphemous Buddha-worshippers. I’m here to talk about salvation.

RW-T: Now, that’s something we all could use a bit of!

BMP: Amen, Sister.

RW-T: So, if I’m understanding correctly, an individual could foreseeably come to you with a list of qualities he, she or they would like a personal god to embody, and you would be able to accommodate that request.

BMP: First of all, God damn me to hell if I ever do business with a “they” or an “it.” But, yes, theoretically, my very capable neuro-team is able to provide a man or a woman—with her husband’s permission, of course—the Higher Power of his liking.

RW-T: You mentioned your neuro-team. So, this lab-created god is, just to be clear, implanted within one’s gray matter?

BMP: However you choose to look at it, I suppose. I prefer to say “heart.”

RW-T: This sounds to be more of an internal than an external process, which makes complete sense to me. God is the inextinguishable light within us rather than a bearded white man in the sky. Am I right?

BMP: Blasphemer! You tell me where God resides when I’m sitting at His right hand while you writhe in torment in the searing heat of Hades, you Heathen Slut.

RW-T: I apologize if I offended you, Pastor. Please do forgive me.

BMP: That, Rosie, is between you and the Father. Anyway, I can certainly send you home with a Bobblehead to guide you on your path to salvation, but the process itself is internal, yes, for the sinners among us are unable to attain even the slightest glimpse of heaven through the fog of their nefarious thoughts, actions and deeds.

RW-T: So, it’s clarity you offer?

BMP: Yes, brain surgery.

RW-T: Wow, that sounds really involved.

BMP: It is, but, if truth be told, I simply haven’t gotten the results I’m after through conversion therapy, intimidation, rallies, lynching or any of the other conservative modalities I’ve practiced over the decades. And, I’m not willing to settle for a society anything less than one-hundred percent pure… of spirit.

RW-T: I must say, Brother Pence, I’m in awe of your desire to provide those who have looked so deeply inward an opportunity to embrace a higher power that is meaningful to them.

BMP: Yep, that’s what we’re telling people.

RW-T: So, how does someone who is interested in your services find you?

BMP: Parents with the appropriate pedigree may call my office to schedule an appointment for their offspring. The number is on the website.

RW-T: What about those seeking to schedule an appointment for themselves?

BMP: He or she can call the same number to request a questionnaire. If the desired God is, in fact, the One and Only Almighty, we can typically schedule the procedure within a week.

RW-T: And, if the caller is seeking a god whose teachings originated in another part of the world or serves as the synthesis of a personal belief system?

BMP: Then, they best be prepared for one hell of a Come-to-Jesus Moment.

RW-T: I’m a little confused, Brother Pence. It sounds as though those who are able to access your services are required to meet certain, rather strict, criteria.

BMP: We don’t need any more sinners in the world.

RW-T: But, how are you able to grow your business if those with diverse ideologies are turned away?

BMP: Simple, Rosie. I have my bread and butter in the government contracts.


- - -
Kelly Sauvage Angel is the author of Om Namah… and Scarlet Apples & Cream. She’s not necessarily as frightening as her name might suggest.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

12/14/17

Realtime TV
By Eugen Bacon


ABRAM GOT UP and loaded his donkey. Sara stood at the doorstep worrying her scarf.
‘Really, Abram,’ she said. ‘This is so—sudden. So early in the morning…’
‘See those blinkers in the sky? The satellite is watching—we’ll be fine.’ He checked his earpiece.
‘If only you’d tell me where you’re going. I’m not comfortable with this Survivor thing.’
Abram ignored her. ‘Zac,’ he called to his son, ‘you’re coming with me.’
‘Why do I have to go? Why can’t Selenis?’ grumbled the boy from the top of the stairway.
‘Selenis is not my son—he is here to fix the car.’
The mechanic poked his head from the wooden shed that was also a garage. ‘It’s cool, I’ll go. Just the fan belt, sort it in a jiffy.’
Abram considered for a moment. ‘Sure. Come along. You and Zac both.’
‘Still charge you by the hour if I come, mind—’ said Selenis.
‘How about we make it a day rate?’
‘No drama.’
‘Unfair,’ grumbled Zac. ‘How come he gets paid?’
Abram took a little jar and put a piece of burning coal from the fireplace in it.

They walked a good hour through the countryside, past the last neighbouring farmhouse and into a place in the distance. Along the way Abram instructed them to collect wood. They piled it on the donkey.
At last they reached a clearing.
‘Selenis, stay with the donkey,’ said Abram.
‘Why can’t I stay with the donkey?’ grumbled Zac.
‘You bring some wood,’ said Abram. He pulled a knife, a piece of cloth and some rope from the donkey’s load. He sheathed the knife. To Selenis: ‘I’ll be back before noon.’
‘Where you guys headed?’ asked Selenis.
Abram pointed at a dust path leading up a hillock.

They reached the top of the hill.
‘Abram! Abram!’ boomed a voice in his earpiece.
‘We’re here,’ he said. He listened, eye on the blinkers in the sky.
Then he arranged a few rocks. ‘Zac, stack some wood.’
‘Really, Dad?’ He arranged wood within the pile of rocks.
Abram blew into the jar and rekindled the burning coal. He used it to start a fire, first with twigs. He lit the wood.
‘A campfire?’ said Zac. ‘Where are the sausages?’
Abram unsheathed the knife and advanced on his son.
‘What the—’ Zac made to bolt.
Abram tackled him to the ground, bound him with rope as the boy yelled blue murder. Abram gagged him and raised the knife.
‘Abram! Abram!’ boomed the earpiece. ‘Do not lay a hand on the boy. Look at the sky.’
The sound of a chopper up yonder grew louder until the beast came in sight. A dangler on a rope snapped, and Thud! a sack dropped to the ground.
Inside the sack, Abram found cauliflower wedges, eggplants, corn, marshmallows and a few cans of soda.
‘What… what were you on about?’ said Zac, ungagged, unbound, subdued.
‘Nothing but Survivors. Viewers vote, they decide what happens.’
‘Firsthand sick shit. Dad, the knife! Viewers love drama: you were playing up to the ratings, right?’ He swallowed. ‘Right?’
Abram said nothing.
‘People are crazy, you know this, Dad. Will you sacrifice your life, our lives, for whatever Big Brother whim the show conjures?’
‘Worry about the next round: wrestle a croc, dive from a cliff, gladiate for your life… who knows?’
‘All that, for what? Fame?’
‘Loyalty.’ Abram handed him a roasted marshmallow. ‘Just shut up now. Enjoy quality time with your old man.’
He looked at the blinker in the sky that never stopped ticking.


- - -
Eugen M. Bacon is a computer graduate mentally re-engineered into creative writing, and has published over 100 stories and articles. Eugen’s work has appeared or is forthcoming in Award Winning Australian Writing, AntipodeanSF, Andromeda, Aurealis, Bards and Sages Quarterly, Breach, Every Day Fiction, Horrified Press anthologies, Meniscus, TEXT and through Routledge in New Writing.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

12/7/17

Something You Want… For Yourself
By Kelly Sauvage Angel


Boarding the space train for Planet 3X+Y, I took a seat toward the rear of the car and rifled through the contents of my rucksack for the science fiction and gaming convention’s program book. I had never before attended a con and thought I’d utilize the time before the conductor came through to choose the panels I might want to attend and educate myself a bit on the prevailing co-ed geek culture.

It took a while to retrieve, given the number of items I tended to keep on my person—my journal, a stash of super-absorbency tampons, my Bikini Kill graphic hoodie and a slew of hand-printed business cards and private numbers from the previous weekend’s women’s music festival as well as those of exceptional note from years past—but at last I found it, adorned with aliens stealthily aiming blaster guns. Just as I had opened to the scheduling grid, the conductor (one of my ex’s ex-girlfriends) approached with a haughty smirk and a violently seductive adjustment to her strapped-on nethers.

“Ticket?” she growled into my ear.

As I handed her the document I’d downloaded and printed at home, I noticed her notice that I noticed that she had stolen a glance at the program book in my lap.

With an abrupt distancing within her disposition, she wildly scribbled her initials (perhaps some sort of profanity or sadist’s invitation?) onto the tattered page and thrust it back with contempt.

“Traitor,” she snarled.

I lowered my gaze, pained by her assumption that my visit to 3X+Y for a convention could be taken as an affront to the solidarity and sense of community we had so profoundly cultivated on 4X.

In an effort to soothe myself, I tucked my earbuds within my aural cavities and set the Indigo Girls to play on repeat, sniffling with a tug of nostalgia each time the playlist cycled back to “Watershed.”

When we pulled into the station on 3X+Y, I wiped my tears and promptly gathered my things with a heightened sense of anticipation as I prepared to disembark.

Passing the conductor where she stood near the doors, I wished her a good da—. Ugh. Thwap. Blap. Splat. Thunk.

Looking up toward the interior of the train car, I saw her boot resting a bit forward of her body, right at the spot where I’d lost my footing atop the stairs.

“Good riddance,” she concluded once the other passengers had trampled over and upon me. With a whoosh of the hydraulics, the doors sealed closed.

Stunned and hurt, not only where my head met the concrete platform but also within that fleshy cavity buried deep inside my chest, which I had assumed was inviolable given its well-armored casing, I gathered my rucksack, my, now, badly-scratched glasses and program book.

Out of nowhere, a hand reached toward me, offering to help me to my feet.

“Fuck off.” I dismissed the uninvited kindness with a wave of my hand. I then rose to standing. Well, rather almost, as my ankle gave beneath me.

“If you don’t mind my saying so, it looks like you could use some assistance getting to the medic,” said the owner of the hand that I’d moments before waved away.

“Fine,” I agreed. “But, I didn’t ask for help,” I qualified.

“No, you didn’t. I offered, remember?”

As he lifted me, one arm beneath my knees and another supporting my thoracic spine, I looked up into a face that was nothing less than that of a street-smart thug’s most gentle countenance. Strong yet sensitive, capable yet unhurried, scarred yet so very vulnerable.

The scent his pores exuded amid the effort of carrying the weight of my physical body softened me in a way I never would have expected. Typically, proximity to those from 2XY who are inclined to venture to 3X+Y leaves me feeling guarded, if not in the throes of a bona fide panic attack, given that which I’d endured at the mercy of such creatures earlier in my life. Yet, this was somehow… different.

I looked up at him the very moment he glanced down. I then abruptly turned away.

Having arrived at the medic’s, we sat in the waiting area for a brief time, his hand remaining atop my leg, which was elevated upon his lap.

After I was roomed and my vitals were taken, the nurse closed the door, assuring me that the medic would see me shortly. I then lunged for my rucksack, certain that I had an oxytocin-blocker tucked into one of the pockets for emergency circumstances, such as the one within which I had found myself.

Finding the small pill, I worked up a fair amount of saliva, popped it into my mouth, swallowed and emitted an extended exhale.

In little time, the medic entered and declared that I had sustained nothing more than a rather significant sprain.

“Do you have anyone who might assist you during your visit here? You most certainly should not be bearing weight. After all, I’ll be sending you off on crutches.”

“I’m fine on my own,” I assured him.

Hobbling out to the waiting area, my triceps already fatigued, I honestly was only half-surprised to find my knight in buttery leather still waiting.

“So, what did the medic say?” he asked. “Are you alright?”

“It’s just a sprain. I’ll be fine,” I explained. “Now, go ahead. Carry on.”

“Do you mind if I help you to the conference center? You are headed to the con, right?”

“Yeah, but I’m a big girl, really.”

“And, I’m just someone,” he explained. “Someone who thinks you’re pretty cool. Someone who wouldn’t mind a hand if I were in your situation.”

“Right, like there’s nothing you want from me.” I lifted my exasperated gaze to the far corner of the room.

“No, there isn’t. Unless you find there’s something you want… for yourself.”


- - -
Kelly Sauvage Angel is the author of Om Namah… and Scarlet Apples & Cream. She’s not necessarily as frightening as her name might suggest.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

11/30/17

THE COLLECTOR
By Mark Renney


Thomas collects the needles. It is an unpopular job but is open to all. No qualifications are required or prior experience, not even a recommendation. One has simply to turn up and register at an Agency office, take to the streets and, using the bags provided, start Collecting.
The needles are everywhere, at least here in the lower levels where they are a part of the landscape. The Refuse Department is desperately under-funded and can’t cope. The Cleaners sweep up the needles, gathering and moving them to the designated areas. These, at first, had been tracts of wasteland; a part of this part of the City, but now almost anywhere that has been abandoned and deserted is used as a dumping ground. Many of these places have become so rancid and rat infested that even the hardest and most dedicated of Collectors won’t venture in.
The progress the Cleaners make is so slow as to be almost impossible to detect. In the interim they gather and pile the needles wherever they can find a space; where the pavement widens a little at the end of a street or on a busy corner for instance. Even on traffic islands or grass verges that run alongside the roads. At the communal areas on the housing estates, the needles are, of course, a constant. The Cleaners can do little more than push them into the middle until they resemble unruly bonfires that can’t be lit. The hypodermics are made from a hard plastic that won’t burn easily; it is inflammable although, if the heat can build up enough, they will melt and meld. And where this has happened strange shapes appear, grotesque sculptures with the needles protruding like the spikes of some medieval weapon.
It would be wrong to assume, simply because there are so many of them and that they can be found almost everywhere, that collecting is easy.
The main body of the hypoderms and the plungers are susceptible to being crushed when trampled on and so don’t last for long. They are easily cracked and squashed and the needles, which are delicate, get twisted and bent out of shape and are quick to rust and corrode.
The Opportunists are also a problem. They aren’t attempting to make a living from Collecting but are always alert and whenever they spot good needles they will snatch them up.
Thomas has heard that, in the mid-levels, all the users bag and return their own needles, collecting the cash for themselves. Thankfully, that hasn’t happened here. But some of the users do make an effort to dispose of their needles in a reasonably responsible way. Separating them from the rest of their trash at home, they take and dump them on one of the countless piles or heaps that are littered throughout the city.
The Opportunists often stalk a User, waiting for him or her to drop their needle and, like vultures, they will swoop in, grasping and grabbing and yet the needles that make it into the rubbish heaps they choose to ignore. Many of them are merely chancers and it is a way for them to make a little extra. If they see a good needle laying in the street why wouldn’t they, and why shouldn’t they, pick it up? But there are others who appear much more desperate and are quite obviously Users.
Thomas wishes that he didn’t feel so resentful toward them. He doesn’t want to be judgemental - after all, everyone is using, although there are levels of course, especially here in the lowest of places. But the Opportunists won’t get their hands dirty and they don’t grub and sift through the garbage because they don’t want to be mistaken for Collectors or Scavengers.

Thomas began collecting closer and closer to one of the designated areas. At first he kept to the perimeter but gradually edged his way in. The work was slow, laborious, but there were still good needles to be found and at least he didn’t have to compete with the Opportunists or with any of the other Collectors in fact.
No-one came here now, not even the Sweepers who had long since stopped using this particular site. There had once stood here a large warehouse or factory of some sort, but it had been demolished and levelled in order to create a space. Much of the debris from the original building remained. Brick rubble and broken glass and such, which made the collecting even more difficult. But Thomas was determined and started to clear a path and make his way toward the middle.
He dragged old pallets and broken packing cases from close by and shored up the sides to prevent the needles from falling in on him. Eventually he had to add a roof section, using sheets of corrugated tin. And as he pushed his way deeper and deeper into the heap he added another of these sections and yet another and another. And from this vantage point Thomas hacked at the rock face, as it were. He collected the needles in heavy hessian sacks, rather than the flimsy plastic bags provided by the Agency, placing the good needles in one and in the other those that were misshapen and blunt. And as he worked below the needles rained down from above, covering the roof until the tunnel was entirely hidden


- - -
Mark Renney lives in the UK. He has had work published in 365tomorrows/Unbroken Journal/Bones and forthcoming in Spelk. He also contributes to the Art Blog Collective Hijacked Amygdala.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

11/23/17

Fracture
By Lawrence Buentello


Jeremy Spiegel was minding his own business when a fissure opened in the universe.

At first, he didn’t recognize the event as a cosmic fracture, only that something terribly weird was happening in the living room of his small apartment.

Jeremy was preparing to leave for work—he’d just been promoted to assistant manager at Big Henry’s Burgers—when he noticed something shining in the air in the middle of a room where nothing should have been shining. He ceased buttoning his shirt and stood staring past the sofa at the phenomenon, which appeared as an intense yellow light hovering two feet off the ground. Squinting, he realized the light was wedge-shaped and constant, and that just below it, half-hidden by the glare, lay an anomalous piece of something else on the carpet.

The object on the carpet was also wedge-shaped, and a moment’s consideration created the dynamic in his mind that the object and the light possessed similar dimensions.

Failing to understand what was happening, he stepped closer and slowly bent down to his knees. The light didn’t seem radiant, but static, which even Jeremy knew was physically impossible. He raised his hand to feel if it gave off any heat, but he felt nothing. The object on the carpet glowed faintly, but only on one side, as if he were staring at a large piece of lemon pie with a shimmering crust.

Jeremy was a young man who lived alone, had dropped out of college after a couple of semesters of misused time, but was happy in his own circumstances; this was something for which he wasn’t intellectually prepared, and for which he had no answers.

He stood again, wondering if he should dash out of the apartment to find someone to verify what he was witnessing, but he really didn’t know anyone in the complex and was hesitant to knock on the doors of strangers. What would he ask them? Please come to my apartment to look at something weird?

As an alternative, he ran into the bedroom to retrieve his cell phone to record the event on video, but the device failed to turn on. He stumbled back into the living room futilely jabbing his thumbs at buttons, but the battery was inexplicably dead.

As he glanced up at the light, the thought suddenly occurred to him that he couldn’t possibly be seeing a three dimensional display, so he tossed the phone onto the sofa and carefully circumnavigated the phenomenon. But as he moved around the light it rotated to face him, as if he were staring at a hologram. No matter how quickly he moved, the same perspective remained in his line of sight.

Jeremy wasn’t a scientist, just an ordinary human being. But he was at least as curious as the next ordinary human being, so he got back down on his knees and crawled cautiously toward the light.

When his face was no more than three feet away he realized he was seeing something within the illumination, or beyond it—

He crept forward, uncertain, but still extremely curious, and stared into the radiance.

Beyond the haze, which was thick and gauzy, and bizarrely corporeal, he could see a field of stars as if he were staring down the barrel of a telescope, not as a two-dimensional display, but a vast space of glowing bodies in a three-dimensional reality that seemed to exist infinitely within the general area of the living room of his apartment.

Baffled, he leaned back on his knees and tried to understand what he was seeing, but he had no idea.

He stared again at the wedge-shaped object on the carpet, which seemed harmless enough, and on a whim reached down and picked it up.

The object felt almost weightless, like a light cork or dried sponge, with only one slightly glowing surface; the rest of it seemed indistinct and his eyes refused to focus on it clearly. He sat for a moment, estimating the size of the object as compared to the size of the hovering light, then moved it toward the light to see if his estimation was correct.

It was—the object appeared as if it would fit the light precisely.

That’s when the fingers appeared through the wedge-shaped crack in the universe.

Well, not exactly fingers, more like shimmering green appendages roughly corresponding to fingers; they flexed in the light, seemingly testing the atmosphere on the other side of the fissure.

Jeremy Spiegel screamed. He didn’t care if his scream sounded unmanly or not, his terror was genuine. For a moment, he couldn’t seem to move, and then he watched unbelievingly as his arm reached out and his own hand slapped the fingers, or appendages, or whatever they were, as if slapping at a large spider on his shirt.

A noise with no earthly analogue squealed through the air and the fingers retreated.

Again without thinking, he pushed the wedged-shaped object into the light, as if stuffing wadding into a hole from which an unpleasant species of vermin had just poked its nose—the object slid perfectly into place within the fracture.

And the phenomenon vanished.

His mouth open in surprise, Jeremy rose to his feet studying the living room, which now held no phenomena, except marinara sauce stains on the carpet. Did what he thought he saw actually manifest? Or had he just suffered the king of all delusions?

Jeremy realized he didn’t have time to ponder the implications of what had just transpired; he was overdue for his shift at Big Henry’s Burgers and had to hurry out the door.

Of course, he had a legitimate excuse—

But who would believe he was running late because he had to prevent an invasion of Earth from another universe?


- - -
Lawrence Buentello has published a great many short stories in a variety of genres. He lives in San Antonio, Texas.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

11/16/17

Upstairs
By David K Scholes


“Where are you off to suited up like that,” asked the bot.

“Upstairs!” I replied “for my mandatory annual visit.”

I didn’t mention that it was my very first trip. As a child it wasn’t compulsory for me to go up but as a young adult I had no choice.

The mile long trip up took just a few seconds.

Then I was there. On the planetary surface along with four other humans and our AI supervisor. I was briefly almost overcome by the sheer openness, the vastness that assailed my senses.

“We’ll take in the view from the closest of the mile high towers,” said the AI.

There was another equally short trip of only a few seconds to reach the top of the mile high observation tower.

The view was, for someone used to labyrinthine underground complexes and corridors, quite breathtaking. I knew enough physics to know I was not high enough to truly observe the curvature of the Earth, and yet it seemed as if there was just a little. Just my overactive imagination I suppose.

I had experienced 3D simulations, virtual reality trips and even temporary mind implants but it’s just not the same. None of these properly prepared me for the sheer scale of it all.

From the top of the tower we took it all in for what seemed like an eternity. Later we transferred from the tower on to the nearby, docked sub-orbital cruiser for a full planetary sub orbit. It was even more breathtaking. Again nothing below had or did prepare me for this.

Finally we finished our “upstairs” visit with a 1000 klick return trip in an overground electro-magnetic cruiser. Across rivers, lakes, down through ravines, threaded through mountains and across deserts. All things that I had read about and even experienced virtually, yet things that otherwise might just as well have been theoretical concepts. I wondered now why my selected parents had not allowed me to come upstairs as a child. At least once.

So far everything up here had looked to be on automatic with no humans present. Our AI guide just issued instructions to the robotic mechanisms.

Then it was time to go below again. My breathless fellow travellers looked relieved but I felt a slight tinge of sadness.

* * *

Unexpectedly I had trouble settling back into ordinary life back underground. .

“It happens,” said the robotic therapist. “It’s very rare indeed, but some humans have difficulty on returning underground. It’s more likely if you never went up as a child.”

“What’s the cure, Doc?” I asked.

“Until recently, I would have prescribed drug therapy combined with more frequent above ground simulations and virtual reality experiences, but not for you. Now, for cases like yours, we have started trialing an extended return to the surface approach.”

* * *

I went back up again with just two other humans, one of them our guide.

“It will be less of a scenic tour and more of a working arrangement,” said the guide. “Everything up here has been running pretty much autonomously. For decades there has been no permanent human habitation above ground. You are at the vanguard of change establishing a human presence up here again.”

About then it dawned on me. I was going to be up here for good. Whatever it was I had, they weren’t about to let me, or those of my ilk, return below to upset the apple cart.

I was so confident of this that as the guide showed me about my new habitat I didn’t even broach the subject.

It might one day be sad never to return underground even for a holiday yet looking across to the vast horizon I was truly untroubled.


- - -
The author is a science fiction writer with eight collections of short stories and two novellas (all on Amazon). He has been a regular contributor to the Antipodean SF, Beam Me Up Pod Cast, and Farther Stars Than These sites. He has also been published on 365 Tomorrows, Bewildering Stories, the WiFiles and the former Golden Visions magazine.
He is currently working on a new sci-fi novella.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

11/9/17

Sunset
By A. Katherine Black


“You think you’re old enough to apprentice in engineering next season, then you’re old enough to help your ma prep for nightfall.”

Joyce stood at the kitchen window, watching sunset colors spill over the fields, while Jack huffed and stomped through the kitchen door and into the study. She took a deep breath and turned to the table to re-count supplies and ensure they had twenty meals, enough to sustain them through the night.

Juliet burst through the back door and into the kitchen.

“Mommy, guess what?”

She held a hand behind her back, excitedly rotating her body to and fro.

Joyce gave her daughter a tired smile, reminded of how difficult it was to entertain this little explorer while they were locked in the house for the many hours of night. She hoped the school had honored her request for extra vid lessons.

“What is it, Sweet?”

With great care, Juliet brought her hand from behind her back. It was closed in a loose fist.

“I found one! Just like the song says, but they’re not stinct anymore!”

Joyce spoke an order to the house to begin pre-seal procedures. Whirs and clicks sounded in the walls, as the house prepped air tanks and heaters for full night seal. An insulated shield slipped over the kitchen window, blocking out the last of the daylight. She turned to the food packs on the table and began counting silently, prepared as every parent was to attend to real life matters while pretending to listen to her child’s all-important report.

Juliet began to sing an old nursery rhyme in a cheerful tone.

“A flower of old
A flower of old
With lovely green spikeys
And terrible bities”

Joyce looked at her daughter as a chill crept up her spine. Juliet slowly opened her fist to reveal a small flower with long, green outer pedals and white rounded inner pedals. Its middle was a deep purple, almost black. She held it out to her mother proudly as she continued singing.

“The flower of old
The flower of old
That wiped out the first ones
With touches so fast done”

Words failed Joyce. She held out a hand to her daughter, gesturing that she stay where she was. She checked the vid on her wrist, pulling up archive photos to confirm identification of the thing in her daughter’s hand.

“My flower of old
My flower of old
Its beauty is legend
With truth never ending”

Juliet held her chin high and sang the old song just as all young ones did, with no understanding of the meaning, of the history, of the fate of the first settlers on this world.

“No flower of old
No flower of old-“

“Shhh,” Joyce said, keeping her distance. “Sweet,” she said, tears filling her eyes. “We don’t want to damage it, such a fragile thing.” She looked toward the door to the study and choked down a sob. “Don’t move.”

Juliet’s eyes went wide. “Yes!” She whispered. “I am a discoverer!” She shivered. Her face grew pale.

Joyce’s mind raced as she tapped messages onto the screen on her wrist.

“Yes, Sweet, you are a great discoverer.”

She verbally ordered the house to make the final countdown to night. Soft words rang through the walls, warning of impending seal, unbreakable until morning.

Tears streaked freely down Joyce’s face as she regarded her younger child, forever her baby, doomed by one innocent touch of a deadly, near-forgotten flower. It would be quick, at least. Joyce approached her child and placed an arm around her small shoulders.

“Sweet,” she said, “we need to take this flower outside. It belongs in the wild, not in a people house.

Juliet nodded seriously and walked with her mother toward the back door, pausing just inside, on her mother’s cue. Joyce’s legs were weak, her heart heavy. The house’s countdown was nearly over.

They stepped outside.

The kitchen door swung shut behind them and hissed its final seal against the coming night.

Juliet’s face showed surprise as enormous shadow crept across the fields.

“It’s okay, my sweet.” Joyce smiled and wrapped her hand around Juliet’s. The flower tingled under her grip.

###

Jack walked through the swinging door from the study to the kitchen. Motion lights triggered and lit.

“Ma?”

A vid activated on the wall, first showing a message left by his mother, and then a message from the Mayor, reassuring him they would be there for him, via vid, through every step of his first night alone.

The house cracked loudly, adjusting as extreme cold set in.


- - -
A. Katherine Black is an audiologist on some days and a writer on others. Her short and flash fiction stories have appeared in Abstract Jam, 365 Tomorrows, and Bethlehem Writers Roundtable. She lives in Maryland with her family, their cats, and her coffee machine.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

11/2/17

Above the Bright-Eyes
By Matthew Lee


“Pull the brim down over your eyes,” says mother as you step out into the airy afternoon. “Someone will see you and they’ll have the minister round.”

“But there’s no one about,” you say. “And it hurts.”

Mother stops and looks at you the same way she did that time she locked you in the back room. Since she stopped sleeping at nights, you are even more afraid of her. You do as she says. You might be only fourteen, but you know how to read people all right. You continue down the hill past the park, the wooden wheels of your chair clacking on the rocky path. The cicadas are loud.

Although you cannot see much with the hat brim pulled down, you know where mother is taking you. You feel uneasy. Going past your schoolhouse, you wonder if they will make you go back. You have decided - if they try to make you go back, or keep on mistreating you, you will run away. That is, run away in the only way a crippled boy can - to join the Bright-Eyes.

“Jaron is in no danger,” you say. You are worried about mother. As usual, she pretends she can´t hear you.

Jaron is your older brother. He’s sixteen. He’s big and strong and can run and climb, but he’s jealous of you. This afternoon he has sneaked off with Zilpha again. Mother has woken up earlier than usual from her afternoon nap and she’s carted you out to find him.

“Boy, is your brother going to get it,” she says, walking faster.

Mother pushes you down a bumpy, pebbly road overgrown with thistles and you reach the entrance to the mine. You are on the rocky ground above where the Bright-Eyes live. Mother peers in through the dark space between the loose boards. The space is just big enough for a brave boy and his girlfriend to slip through on late summer autumn afternoon. Mother calls his name.

After father’s accident, they boarded up the mine. Father would still be alive if they hadn’t dug down so far. You told him not to dig, you told him the Bright-Eyes didn’t want to be disturbed, but he didn’t listen and no one else listened. What happened to him wasn’t your fault.

“I know he’s in there,” mother says quietly. The smell of peaches drifts by.

You notice her hand is shaking even more than usual. You remember when mother stopped sleeping at night and her hands started shaking. She started screaming in the middle of the night and said that she was being pulled down through her bed and through the floor. So she started sleeping during the day instead. That’s when our neighbours stopped coming around and Jaron started sneaking off with Zilpha.

Often you have travelled here. Often you have travelled through that hole between the boards, along that tunnel, down the place you call The Throat, sliding down between those slippery rocks and to the lake under the ground where the Bright-Eyes live. Often you have swum with them, looking out from creamy light-bulb eyes and feeling the warm currents sliding along your carapace. You have glided along the bottom of the underground sea, feeling roughness on your ridged underbelly. You have breathed the water down there, grateful for the nourishment, your tendrils swaying behind you like long ribbons on a windy day. You were there watching as your father and the other miners broke through the cave ceiling and heard the screams as the Bright-Eyes went inside their heads and broke them like eggshells.

People are weak, say the Bright-Eyes. Slip into their minds, as we showed you, and you will understand why they are weak. They have no place here. We are the ancients and this place is ours. You steady your breathing and open your eyes wide and with practised ease, you rise up out of your rickety chair, glide through the spaces between and you are inside mother’s mind once again.

Mother is still very confused. She is terrified of the way you talk in your sleep and the way your eyes have gone cloudy. That’s why she locks you up. But now you see something new; you see that she has been talking to the minister. He has convinced her there is evil inside you. She believes him. She believes she is being punished and she will continue to be punished while you are alive.

You slip back. And you know - your childhood has ended. Father is lost, Jaron will soon be lost, and now mother is lost. It is time.

“Mother. Jaron’s not in the mine.” Her eyes are empty. “The Bright-“

She suddenly puts up her hands to her face. There are lots of tears that weren’t there before and her make-up is running. She looks at you and yells at you and starts hitting you and you cover your head with your hands and you start crying too. You’ve never heard her say words like that before.

Later, you are back in your room with the door shut. It’s almost dark. Mother has laid you down in bed. The crying noises stopped a while ago. Your eyes open wide, like the first time the Bright-Eyes found you and came to you in your sleep. Oh, happy day! Your breathing changes and your heart beats faster. You hear their soothing, echoing voices and you tell them that you have decided. They are euphoric. They feel your pain, they say. You don’t have to suffer any more. You will leave the futile world of men. You will gain an able body and you will gain a purpose. As you start to sink down through the bed, as if it was made of silken water, you hear the muffled sound of the front door clicking open.

Boy, is your brother is going to get it.


- - -
Matthew Lee teaches English in Zaragoza, Spain, and sometimes feels like he spends more time correcting writing than producing it. One of his goals is to tip that balance. Occasionally he thinks about his native England.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

10/26/17

Dark Matter
By C.E. Gee


Buck’s car had the latest in artificial intelligence, drove itself up highway 99W. Buck turned his head, gazed at Connie, his android lover. Buck said, “You’re being awfully quiet. Something on your mind?”

Connie was not factory built. She’d been custom built by Buck, who had carefully crafted her programming and appearance. Her thought processes, instincts and feminine looks were as human as Buck could make them.

Around a loving smile, Connie replied, “I was just thinking about us. I mean where is our relationship headed? Am I just a live-in sex toy or what?”

“Of course not,” answered Buck. “I love you more than any human female I’ve ever been with.”

Connie asked, “So we’ll be together forever?”

Buck grimly grinned. “Forever means different things for us. With proper maintenance you’ll probably exist for centuries. Myself? Currently, late 21st Century North American males have a projected lifespan of about 120 years.”

Connie asked, “I’ve also been wondering, have you told anyone other than Jerry that I’m an android?”

“Of course not,” replied Buck. “And no one else can tell. I’ve made many improvements over factory-built androids. You’ve got a built-in heat pump that feeds tubing under your artificial skin, makes you warm to the touch. And I’ve given you simulated breathing to feed your heat pump. The heat pump pulse gives you a heartbeat. Your pupils dilate. You have a sense of touch over your entire body. Much more. You couldn’t be more perfect.”

The couple arrived at Jerry and Gail’s home. Jerry came out to greet them, ushered them into the house.

It was a warm May day. Gail, who had no idea Connie wasn’t human, did know Jerry liked to talk shop with Buck in private. Gail took Connie out to the deck on the north side of the house. Jerry and Buck went to the deck on the east side of the house where they sat in a couple of wicker chairs, looked out over the garden.

“What’s new?” asked Jerry.

“I’ve been doing lotsa thinking about dark matter,” came the reply.

After a derisive snort, Jerry said, “Why am I not surprised?”

Their chairs were side-by-side. Buck rose, shifted his chair around so that he and Jerry were facing one another.

As he sat, Buck announced, “The key here is my theory concerning the compression of space due to my related theory of gravitation, which is a function of the expansion of objects of great mass such as planets, stars and such.”

Jerry nodded his understanding, was familiar with Buck’s gravity theory.

Buck elaborated. “Dark matter is simply compressed space around objects of incredibly high mass. Galaxies are the prime example of this. It’s one reason galaxies don’t spin themselves apart. The compressed space surrounding galaxies helps gravity hold the stars together. In a matter of speaking, they’re fenced in.”

Jerry replied, “I can visualize that.”

Buck sat back in his chair, his elbows on the armrests, his fingers intertwined, hands gripping one another as he gazed upwards. Smugly he said, “And since energy equals matter times the speed of light squared, it’s obvious that dark energy is derived from dark matter. Albert Einstein –- that guy was a genius.”

“Yep,” replied Jerry.

Jerry laughed, added, “I must say, Einstein’s choices in female companions were a bit unusual. If I remember correctly, didn’t he marry a cousin?”

This time it was Buck’s turn to snort as he thought of his future with Connie.


- - -
Chuck has answered many callings, including that of logger, factory worker, infantryman (Vietnam war draftee), telecommunications technician, volunteer fireman and EMT, light show roady, businessperson (electronics), webmaster.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

10/19/17

Mars for Everyone
By Joseph J. Patchen


The air is clear.

The sun is shining, burning away the colorless clouds and the heavy grey aftermath of the night. The sun is shining, high, alone in the sky, as it glints off the oversized sunglasses of two elderly women, smartly dressed, sitting side by side, engaged in the mundane, on their front porch.

They are sisters, separated only by a handful of years but united in a multitude of memories.

The air is clear; but evidently not today, March 23, 2063.Today’s news leads with an incident presented seemingly as a directed pronouncement and the sisters’ conversation ensues with neither looking upon the other. They begin by highlighting the tragedy that is truly most enlightening.

“Oh Binny, what an age we find ourselves living in. What a time to be alive.”

“Oh Biffy, yes, yes I must agree. Man is more connected than ever before to his universe above and his temporal realm below; man finds himself gliding from dimension to dimension known and unknown as if it were a relaxed stroll down a lane.”

“Oh Binny, I am reading a terribly good yarn on the news screen concerning the opposition party’s attempt to regain goodwill, and no doubt votes, following that whole eating humans mess in the past, by promising the downtrodden and the curious free trips to mars.”

“Biffy, did you say free trips to Mars? What an educational opportunity. I am both excited and intrigued.”

“Yes Binny, it is quite an opportunity however I am fearful before reading on.”

“My dear older sister, you have a sense of fear?”

“Yes with all the nausea that eats away at one’s stomach lining whenever politics is introduced.”

“Well read on…”

“Well according to the article some three thousand eager citizens crammed in that fenced and debris strewn lot on East 64th Street and Elm where a seventy five foot space rocket has been parked.”

“Seventy five foot…oh my, that’s a big one Biffy….cylindrical too…”

“Yes Binny. Anyway…”

“Oh wait Biffy, is that address near the new Dairy Stall?”

“Yes dear Binny; and you know how much I love my Strawberry Banana soft serve.”

“Me too, it is so delicious in both a cup and in a cone!”

“So, seven hundred people were chosen for the flight by someone who claimed authority by virtue of having the largest name tag and an even larger bow tie. Fifty were given space helmets and space suits with the rest receiving Hefty bags and the bottoms of plastic shoe boxes and were told to make do.”

“Sure shows how politicians plan Biffy. My God seven hundred human beings; think about it, must have been a big ship or a little cramped.”

“Or both; up and away the craft made a marvelous lift off for the seven month trip. A perfect lift off – so smooth and fast…”

“Oh Biffy, remember those days when we were ‘smooth and fast’?”

“Yes, well, um…everything appears to have gone well what with the peanuts --- five assorted varieties, and the tang and a whole host of internationally award winning in-flight films… All went well that is until they reached Demos. Seems two Venusian interceptors decloaked and simply vaporized the vessel. It is known to be Venusians because of their social media posts, including selfies, following the incident.”

“Oh my Biffy, that will ruin a vacation.”

“I am afraid it ruined a lot more my dear sister.”

“Oh yes the education…the children…”

“A government official states that they cannot admit or deny to any involvement and likewise cannot admit or deny the Venusians themselves were actually involved. The government simply calls it a tragedy and/or ill planning by a political party full of hacks and with no message other than to give things away for free.”

There is silence for a moment or two that seems intrinsically longer than the passage of the actual time itself. Two drones have dropped from the sky and hover above the women’s front yard, some fifteen feet where they sit.

The machines are scanning the yard as well as the home; seemingly to record all in their view. When they finish their task, their cameras fix and point to the women who stare and smile.

Moments of silence continue to pass until Binny utters the brave words that will save her and her sister’s lives for the present:

“What do you say Biffy, how about some soft serve?”


- - -

Thursday, October 12, 2017

10/12/17

All The Little Worlds
By Paul Alex Gray


“One last round, Kelly,” says Josh over the blare of a gate announcement.
She nods, pouring out what will be our last real drink together. I can feel the buzz but I’m more tired than anything else. I haven’t been this hungover in years. I don’t know how he talked me into those shots. We'd been in some bizarre nightclub where you wore AR goggles and pretend to visit bars around the world. I haven’t slept at all and the entire day has been a blur.
“Man, not again,” says Josh gazing at the TV.
There’s been another attack. I don’t have my glasses on so I can’t read where. A city. Sunshine. European maybe. I tap on my wrist device and my assistant’s digital voice plays in my ear, telling me pre-boarding has begun for my flight. I’ve had no messages about that new project, so I guess I won’t be working tomorrow.
“I don’t think people are going to stick around long,” says Josh. “SR is paradise.”
We’re back to the same conversation. He’s spent practically the whole weekend telling me I should join him. The Simulated Realm company must have offered him one hell of a referral fee.
“I think you’ll be surprised,” I reply, wiggling my toes. I’ve got sand in my socks. I wonder if that’s coded in to his new world. When he goes to amazing beaches will he end up with sand all over his mansion?
“Here there’s war, terror, unemployment like crazy,” he says. “Society falling apart… only going to get worse.”
“What makes you so sure it won’t be like that in SR?” I ask. “Isn’t it the same people as here?”
“Shards, man. You pick your world and who gets to be there. If there’s someone you don’t like, they can stay in their own world,” then he laughs and starts yelling. “You get a world and you get a world and YOU get a world!”
Kelly returns with the beers and Josh taps his watch to pay the bill.
“So. What do you say? Ditch the flight. Come with me,” he says, raising his glass.
I say nothing and look over to the gate. People are milling around, all rugged up in big winter coats. While I soar back to my windswept home, Josh will be on the short hop up to San Jose. He’s booked into a nice hotel, got his folks coming in for the farewell ceremony. Asked me to come. I said I had to get back, although I didn’t have that much work to do. The contracts hadn’t picked up yet after the holiday break.
“Do you think you’ll miss it?” I ask. “Any of it?”
He stares out the windows where the sun has fallen away behind the silhouettes of the mountains.
“How can I miss anything here when I can have everything I want there?”
The whole thing still boggles my mind. In three days, he’ll get in a Simulated Realms neural pod and have a set of wires inserted into the back of his skull. Nanobots will wrap around his nerves and brain.
He sold his house to pay for it, and his body becomes their property. Josh says the physical form is like a computer and his brain is nothing more than a hard drive gradually filling up. Once they work out how to get every bit of his soul into the machine they’ll shut down his biological parts and sell the organs off.
Last call for Allegiant 454 to Chicago.
“Hey,” he says, standing up.
We hug awkwardly. I know I should say something but I just nod, my eyes stinging. He slaps me on the back and whispers.
“Love ya man, I’ll see you again. Promise.”
I grab my gear and get in line. I’ll have to reach out to old gigs when I get back, try to line up some new work. This trip probably wasn’t a good idea, financially. As I move inside I take a last look to wave at Josh but he’s staring out at the mountains.
The flight is only half full and I get a whole row to myself. I sit up against the window and fall into a fitful sleep. Memories of lazing at the hotel pool blur with the nightclub and thread back further to our childhoods.
A summer camp somewhere. We were on a jetty, a lake filled with kids swimming and canoeing and jumping. One of the counselors led some of us up along the shore, stepping over gnarled roots clutching sandstone and rock. Between two leaning-over pines we stared down to the water glittering far below.
One-by-one the kids began to jump but when it was my turn I shook my head and stepped back. It was too high for me so I wandered back down, listening to the thumping splashes timed out behind me. I watched as Josh took a breath, then leapt out. He fell beneath the water and I waited, watching to see where he’d come up for air.
A bump on the flight shakes me and the memory sinks beneath the surface.
In the darkness of the cabin I open the window shade and gaze outside. Sky and earth are one and the same. Below, I see the orange glow of small cities and towns spread out with nothing in between.
They look to me like little worlds.


- - -
Paul Alex Gray enjoys writing linear and interactive fiction that cuts a jagged line to a magical real world. His work has been published in Nature Futures, McSweeney's, 365 Tomorrows and others. Growing up in Australia, Paul traveled the world and now lives in Canada with his wife and two children.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

10/5/17

GROWING GILLS
By Andrew Darlington


‘Whatever they’re doing, I suggest they do it faster.’

‘New energy-pods. Won’t take long.’ His fingers drum on the idle copter controls.

‘Damn time for a power-out. We’re already an hour late for this fool mission...’

--- 0 ---

The rain of millennia falls. As it fell the night before. The month before. For as long as memory can hold. It falls steadily, saturates hours, steeps days into weeks. There’s nothing but rain. The warren. The man, Crane. He passes a wrinkled hand over a wrinkled forehead, through what remains of hair. Surely, his fingers are webbed? It’s too damp to see. Rain has soaked the bunker for decades, sliming it with mildew, walls solid with green-black moss, fungus, weeds. A stink of badness and decay. Now there’s nowhere to escape to.

Growing gills, someone once said. We’re devolving into amphibian forms. He moves forward to grasp the first handrail rung that ascends to outside. Atrophied muscles register strain, same as every time he makes the journey. But failure’s not an option. This is emergency lift-off time. He pulls himself up the first level. Gangling legs hanging to the mud that smears every part of the stairwell. His arms are permanently diseased into patterns by the continual close proximity to water. He hauls his way up a further flight to where security-lock hatches seal him from the exterior. The continual beat of the rain makes concentration impossible. So pervasive it’s like a long silence. Listen, isn’t that silence?

There are lost figures in time. Drowned in the torrent. He tries to concentrate. Weeks already. The corroded barriers hadn’t held, exploding in pent-up tsunami, floodtide ripping through concrete, through mud, through bodies. Inundating lower levels, the com-suite submerged in black tide. And only he survives. Growing gills. Devolving. Weeks? Has it really been that long? Does it matter? Recollection diminishes. The edges of thought erodes. Fouling up mental processes, slowing the ability to think. He abandons such futile attempts.

Dumb electronics forever dormant. He shoves at the exit hatch, it grates in protest. It had once been automatic. The word echoes around his skull. It rings unfamiliar, and he repeats it out loud. It seems alien. Out of place. Slugs leave slime-trails. Spiders make webs. A plague of flies. And the snails, its their bunker now, feeding on mould. Lizards too, feeding on the slugs and snails. A new eco-system. The door lurches open, and he’s deluged. Water from outside sweeps past his lagged boots and down the steps behind him. Cascading liquid ice. Once he’d cycled through the lock to find the slope eerily populated by a million frogs. No frogs now. Perhaps the valley had once been green, before the rain, who can tell? Until every grass blade was hung with tears, causing puddles, pools, rivulets ricocheting between bushes. Converging into greedy fingered streams, squirming in shimmers, multiplying, enlarging. Decades pass, the continual erosion of a million tides, carrying topsoil far into the ocean. Now there’s no vegetation. Only a lapping lulling aquatic world of water.

He grinds his teeth, extends his arm. Wind wrenches the hatch shut behind him and he’s trapped outside. Lost in a sea of mud. His drenched hair falling over his face, sending freezing liquid stinging his eyes. There’s water when he breathes, like drowning, lungs wheeze in protest. The taste of thick fecal slime in his mouth. He reaches out, digs stub webbed fingers into the rain to haul himself slowly up the hillside. For a moment he rests, halfway up the slope, suspended in eternity. He turns, striving to pierce the deluge. Looking in the direction of the ocean. Crane. Who was Crane? Crane knows it’s there, but where he’d got this knowledge, rapidly decaying memory-cells refuse to recall. The rain is cleansing, washing away memory, leaving nothing. But there’s a mental picture. An expanse of ocean stretching away beyond a horizon he can never see. Warmed by continual submarine volcanic activity, superheating water into dense mist-spirals of steam. A continual cloud-vortex billowing upwards. He can imagine it, he’s never seen it.

He squirms around, turning inland, eyes stinging even with lids clammed shut. He curls up inside his body. Partly from fear, partly exhaustion. Then drags himself further up the slope. Now he can visualize the inland icecap. Alien, but integral. Ice covers the continent, poking glacial peninsulas towards the shore. Meeting the steam… forming the deluge. A pattern repeating forever, destroying everything but for this climate-change research and monitoring outpost, which had finally been overwhelmed. And a survivor, caught in the undertow.

He skids in the slime, arms thrashing wildly, slip-slithering downwards. His nails bite deep, securing him. Checking the slide on hands and knees. Then continues up the incline. Perilously slow. Driven only by will. Already he can envisage the hillcrest, peering into the sky, seeking the light. Glimpse it as it appeared to the lost garrison once every three months of their exile. See the light so bright it can even pierce the rain, the light that tells of others surviving somewhere south. There’d been resource-wars, targeted-strikes and counter-strikes, political internecine, they’d been abandoned here, all these forgotten years. See the light glow and die. See it pulse like adrenaline. So regularly he knows each pulse. So regularly that he can envisage its sequence as it blinks its message. The meaning lost, only the symbolism remains. Emergency lift-off.

His arms ache. Nails worn to the quick, cut and bleeding, hurting each time he gouges them into the sludge to haul himself forward. Rain stings. Splashes mud up into his face. Until he’s there. Onto the crest. For a long moment he relaxes back, then thrusts his body defiantly up, pointing his face into the rain, waiting.

He ticks off the seconds. Rain beats his face in syllables of disjointed conversation. Cold freezes his muddy lips blue. One second, and the time is here. The rain falls with a vigor that’s not abated for decades. Gathering in pock-marked pools filling his footprints with patterns of pain, cascading down the gradient back towards the ocean to renew the cycle, taking with it the last reluctant clay and grains of topsoil. He can see the beach. His friends are waiting for him there, the rest of the station complement. Their sleek amphibian bodies basking on the shingle. The urge to slither down and join their play is overwhelming. Gills. Flippers. Inhaling fluid, drawing a realm of water deep into his lungs.

And he waits.

The rain of millennia cascades over his inert body…

--- 0 ---

The ground-crew curse fluently in several languages as they slam the faulty energy-pods away. The copter glistens silver on the pad, throbbing impatiently, flanks gleaming, streaming water. The slowly revolving rotors catch the steadily falling rain, hurling it outwards viciously. Inside the sealed bubble cockpit two men wait irritably, fingers drumming on idle controls as rain drums on the perspex hood.

‘Damn time for the power to quit. We’re already an hour late.’

‘Take it easy’ muses the copilot. ‘Could be the last time we’ll fly this fool mission. Once the enquiry finds the expense of maintaining frontier posts out-balances their usefulness they’ll pull us back, below the Mediterranean perimeter.’

‘Come the day. We serve no purpose here. Might as well surrender the continent to the ice. No-one can survive down there for one week, never mind a year.’

‘Yet we must try.’

The ground-crew seal the energy-pods in place. The light begins to synchronize in gaudy flashes across the rain-drenched pad, penetrating the sheet of rain that blankets all else. The rotors whirl faster as techs scatter back towards the warmth of the bunker sunk half-a-mile into basalt.

Like a firefly the rescue craft lifts off into the steady deluge.

One hour late…


- - -

Thursday, September 28, 2017

9/28/17

Earth Breathing
By A. J. Howells


Rex woke with a start, gasping for air. It only took him a few seconds to realize he didn’t need to breathe anymore, so he stopped and waited for death to whisk him away but soon realized it already had. He hoped there was more to death than what he could currently see, which was nothing. Looking down, he couldn’t even see his own body through the black blanket that had enveloped him. He could, however, hear a shuffling sound, so he turned in its direction. Rather, he thought he turned it its direction; he couldn’t tell if he had actually moved.
A lamp clicked on. This lamp rested on a stand several feet away, and the person who had just turned it on sat next to it in a recliner, which sat in the upright position. The lamp’s light illuminated only the lamp itself, the stand, the chair and the person. This person was Rex, but not the Rex of now, which was a jaundiced and skeletal shell. This was the Rex of last year, plump and lively. This was as Rex appeared prior to his death sentence diagnosis.
Rex looked down at his own body, still clothed in hospital linen. His stomach was larger. He examined his hands, and they were a younger man’s again, not the brittle claws of a chemotherapy patient.
Welcome, the armchair Rex intoned. He spoke without opening his mouth.
“Who are you?” Rex asked, taken aback by his old voice’s reappearance. “Are you me?”
No, the doppelganger replied. He offered no further explanation, choosing instead to stare at Rex.
“Then who are you?” Rex was afraid of the answer, so he added, “Where am I?”
You are everywhere. Look around. Rex’s mirror image lifted a hand from the recliner and made a sweeping motion in a circle over his head. The darkness lit up with stars. Rex looked down and found he was floating in space, above more stars. The mirror Rex floated as well, though he remained in the armchair. The table and lamp had disappeared, no longer needed because of the flood of light the cosmos provided.
Turn around, the mirror Rex said. Rex did. In the distance was the sun, a shimmering pinprick, but growing. Stars were now shooting past him, leaping over his shoulders. Some of them grew much larger, transforming into hulking gray planets that flew by without a sound. The effect was disorienting, yet Rex felt securely fastened to the ground. Familiar planets flew past, but Rex didn’t care to inspect them. His home was getting closer.
Soon the earth loomed over him, clouds crawling slowly over her surface, revealing the oceans and continents hidden underneath. Somewhere down there was his family, huddled around a hospital bed, crying over something but not somebody. The somebody was standing right here, staring at his home, his gut dropping as he realized he was barred from returning.
Would you like me to turn it off? the other him asked. Rex turned around to face himself and slowly nodded. The other him reached over and flipped an invisible switch. With a clicking sound, the lamp and stand returned. The surrounding stars and planets flickered out.
“What now?” he asked. The mirror Rex rose to his feet and stepped to the side of the recliner.
Now you sit.
“That’s it?”
That’s it. The mirror Rex motioned to the seat. It’s quite comfortable.
“This doesn’t sound like heaven,” Rex said.
Who said it was?
“So I’m in hell?”
No. The mirror Rex motioned to the seat again. Please. Sit. You’ll understand.
Rex walked to the recliner and turned to face the blackness. He lowered himself onto the cushion, then looked over to the lamp. He didn’t look at the mirror Rex as he spoke to him, and he found that he no longer needed to open his mouth in order to speak. Can I turn the stars on? Can I watch my home?
You can. Anytime you choose.
Rex reached out to the lamp and placed his hand on it, the switch resting beneath his thumb.
You can watch your home, but I wouldn’t recommend it. Rex turned to the other Rex, but he had disappeared. He flipped off the switch, and the black blanket returned. He sat in the recliner and began to force breaths he no longer needed to move in and out of absent lungs. He counted them until he focused his concentration enough that he became his breaths, and his body dropped away.
He was no longer sick. He no longer missed his family. This made him neither sad nor happy. Rex just was and wasn’t there, and he now realized that this was all he’d ever wanted.


- - -
A. J. Howells is a high school English teacher living in the woods with his wife, son, and soon-to-be-born daughter. His work has previously been featured in ABSENCE.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

9/21/17

The Truth of It All
By David Castlewitz


Hunkered down behind a pile of rotting vegetables, Boris extended his claws and prepared to fight his way free. He thought he could evade the three black-striped gray felines patrolling the dark alley, scamper up a nearby wooden fence and make a break for freedom. After that? He didn't know. The surrounding cat colonies wouldn't welcome him. Just as his own, King Raymond's Troupe, never allowed interlopers into their midst.
Maybe the cats he watched from his hiding place weren't hunting him. Well-fed and well-groomed, the three were prime examples of the Enforcers King Raymond liked to keep around. Their whiskers twitched. They sniffed the air. They arched their backs. And they were silent.
Boris hoped they sought intruders, felines native to the planet who'd stumbled into the area, abandoned pets that humans dropped off at the mouth of the alley in the hope that the other feline denizens of the city would take them in.
King Raymond's Troupe, a mix of home world clans according to Old-T, controlled a small amount of territory. They had half the length of a back alley and the entire basement room of an abandoned factory building. Enforcers kept trespassers out. They also kept the peace. Which meant, no one could tell a counter-story about their origins. What Boris said earlier that night caused chaos, with every cat in the troupe screaming for his blood. Their spitting and hissing had sent him fleeing, sent him into hiding in the darkest, deepest parts of the king's domain.
"Old-T doesn't know everything," Boris often said to anyone who'd listen.
Mably, a sleek gray-haired cat with blue eyes promised Boris her love in spite of what he said about the troupe. Peers, they'd met as kittens and mated three times in the past two years.
"I don't like sending them for schooling," Boris complained after their first litter of three black-and-gray striped kittens. "Old-T fills their heads with lies."
Maybly countered with, "We don't really have a choice."
All kittens attended the school headed by Old-T, who claimed to be a survivor of the crash that brought their kind to this world.
"What were you?" Boris once asked the old cat. "First mate of the ship?"
Nearby kittens, all of them close to graduation, mewed with laughter, which earned them a slap on the head by Old-T's proctors.
"Just a mate, Boris. A young mate in the galley. I never claimed to be important aboard ship."
For a long time Boris never voiced what he really believed. But then he told Maybly; and she shuddered with fear afterwards, warning him that he preached a blasphemy too terrible to be said out loud.
Boris bided his time, and waited for the right moment to tell the counter-story that had churned and gurgled at the back of his mind for many years. He dreamt about it. He told it to himself with his mental voice, as though he needed to practice before making the big announcement.
Which he'd do. And soon. Perhaps at the monthly gathering when King Raymond held court and awarded graduation ribbons to the most recent batch of adolescents, near-adult cats ready to take their place in Raymond's growing troupe.
"Don't," Maybly warned. "They'll run you off."
Months passed; but he knew he couldn't keep quiet forever. Even without proof, his version of their genesis was compelling. It held as much truth as Old-T's tale.
"Keep it to yourself," Maybly cautioned, sidling up to Boris and rubbing her sleek body against his.
"I can't," he said. "I have to tell the troupe. Do you want every litter we have to grow up believing a lie?"
"Maybe your version is the lie."
Boris shook his head. Something had been planted in his brain, perhaps at birth, and that "something" had matured.
At the monthly gathering, with the graduating kittens lined up to receive their ribbons, bright blue woven threads like the tattered one Old-T wore around his neck, with the proctors standing by, preening, and King Raymond poised on an overturned bucket so he was higher than anyone else, his harem of females gathered behind him, Boris approached.
"I have to speak," he said. "King. Teacher." He glanced warily at Raymond, a large orange feline, a big-boned male with hard yellow eyes. The king often let his subjects speak at these gatherings. If they obeyed the rules of decorum, tails up, claws held in. If they first brushed his paws with their tongue, Raymond let them have their say.
Some speakers complained about the inequity of the food distribution. Or they claimed, the Enforcers didn't do enough to keep outsiders at bay. Once or twice a female leveled charges against Old-T, accusing him of disregarding the special needs of some of his pupils.
Boris licked Raymond's paws in customary salute, and then paced back and forth, summoning courage, stifling a tremor in his voice.
"It isn't true," Boris announced. "What Old-T has taught us."
His audience hissed.
Boris continued. "We are not the remnants of space-faring felines that enslaved bipeds similar to the humans we find here. We didn't command other species to build the ships in which we explored the cosmos. We never ruled our home world. Nothing of what we've been taught is true."
Out of the corner of his eye, Boris saw King Raymond glaring. Old-T shut his eyes. To shut out the truth, perhaps?
Boris' thoughts flashed on the grown cats he'd seen pushed from cars near the alley's mouth, some wearing ribbons like the one encircling Old-T's neck. He pictured kittens mewing in fright and mother cats in cardboard boxes with newborns about to die.
"We were not the ones who ruled the ship that brought us to this planet," Boris said. "We are the descendants of pets. Pets! Pets that our masters abandoned and left behind."


- - -
After a long and successful career as a software developer and technical architect, David has turned to a first love: SF, fantasy, and magical realism. He's published stories in Phase 2, Farther Stars Than These, SciFan, Martian Wave, Flash Fiction Press and other online as well as print magazines. Visit his web site: http://www.davidsjournal.com to learn more and for links to his Kindle books on Amazon.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

9/14/17

Adventure Tourism
By Hillary Lyon


amid the swirl of wind
the blonde stem stands alone
as its brothers bow down

the arcane design
the expanding fractal blooms
embroider the farmer's field

from a distance
the message is deemed
a hoax an art installation

from an even greater distance
the message is deemed
an asterisk on a signpost signaling

this is the way
this is the place so cool
your jets and stay a while


- - -
Hillary Lyon is founder of and editor for the Arizona-based small press poetry publisher, Subsynchronous Press. The author of 21 chapbooks, her poems have appeared in journals such as Eternal Haunted Summer, Scifaikuest, Illumen, and Disturbed Digest, as well as numerous anthologies. hillarylyon.wordpress.com

Thursday, September 7, 2017

9/7/17

The ABC's
By Kelly Kusumoto


The patient was old and tired and lied on an examining table while a bright green light scanned his head from chin to scalp. His breathing slowed with each passing minute. In his mind, thoughts of a finish line began to appear. Emotions of every kind fought for space inside his brain.

“Did you see it?” asked one of the scientists.

“Yes,” said another. “Is that it?”

“I believe so,” the doctor said. “Quick. Before it’s too late.”

Both scientists shuffled from the computer screen and grabbed their instruments before joining the patient at the table. One stood near his arm, the other perpendicular to the top of his head.

“Did you find it?” said the old man. “Please tell me I didn’t waste all my money.”

“I think we did, sir,” the scientist above him said.

“But there’s only one way to find out,” the one near his arm said.

“Well, what are you waiting for?”

They looked at each other and nodded. The one near his arm injected a serum into his IV and waited a few seconds. The old man’s breathing almost came to a halt. “Go.”

The one at the old man’s head took a long syringe and stuck it deep into the back of the old man’s neck and looked up at the doctor who was staring at the screen. He motioned with his hands to move to the right a little. The scientist mirrored the doctor’s hand signals until he gave a thumbs up. Then, the scientist drew back the plunger and extracted a translucent, light blue substance that looked liquid but acted like a gas. The scientist at the old man’s arm had moved next to the scientist at the head and was holding a vial. Quickly, the scientist with the syringe injected the substance into the vial and the two of them retreated back to the control room where the doctor stood wide-eyed.

Next to the computer, there was a device with all kinds of wires protruding to and from it. It was hooked up to a few other machines as well as the computer. There was a lonely slot empty and waiting for this moment. The scientist inserted the vial into the slot until it clicked home. The three of them looked at the screen. The doctor had opened up a word processing document and the cursor was blinking. After a few moments, the doctor made his way to the keyboard.

“Dr. Albenar, sir?” he typed.

Nothing.

“Sir, if you are there, please answer,” he asked the computer.

The cursor kept blinking.

There was a feeling of disappointment in the room. The two scientists dropped their shoulders and sighed. The one with the syringe bit her lip and frowned at the one who had the vial. They both looked at the doctor who was still eyeing the screen, almost in disbelief. “It doesn’t make sense,” he said. “What else could that be? It’s matter, but it’s weightless and almost invisible. It only showed itself when the doctor was at death’s door. It has to be his Life Energy.”

“Maybe it was,” said the male scientist.

“And now maybe it isn’t anymore,” said the female scientist.

The cursor continued to blink away aimlessly.

“Just because we believe in the afterlife, doesn’t make it true,” she said.

“It was a nice thought, a hope, albeit, a very calculated hope,” the male scientist said. “No one can say we didn’t try.”

The doctor shook his head. “No!” He pounded the desk. “Fifteen years, I’ve spent. A hundred patients. Each one, closer and closer. The data is all there. And for what? Nothing? I can’t accept this! Everyone will think I am a fool!”

Just then a beep came from the computer. They all looked and gasped. There was a line of text on the otherwise blank document. It read:

“You are a fool, Dr. Celsine. And everyone already knows it.”

They stared at the screen, dumbfounded and uncertain what to do.

“Are you going to say something, or just stand there like the idiot you are?”

Dr. Celsine shook his head scrambled to the keyboard. “You can see us?”

“I can,” the text appeared. “It’s like I am floating around, but I can only communicate through the device. I guess it’ll be known as the Celsine device from now on, eh?”

The three of them were giddy with joy and could hardly contain themselves. The male scientist started to tear up, which made the female scientist tear up as well.

“Stop crying​,​ you babies!”

They all laughed. “Can you hear us if we talk aloud?” asked the male scientist.

“Of course I can, Serbeins. I just can’t talk back.”

“Good thing for that!”

“And you, Biemel, you quit that sassy tongue.”

“Yes, sir,” she said, with a suppressed smile.

“I’m so happy, I think I want to call it the CBS Device,” said Dr. Celsine, “or maybe the ABCs Device.”

“Albenar, Biemel, Celsine, Serbeins Device,” said Biemel.

“Oh, I’d be so honored,” Serbeins said.

“I bet you would be,” typed Albenar.

A few awkward moments passed where they all looked to each other for what to do next. They had planned this outcome for fifteen years and now that it had come to fruition, no one had planned for what was next. Feeling the anxiety of the moment, Biemel asked, “So, Dr. Albenar. How is the afterlife?”

“It’s strange,” appeared on the screen. “Other than not having a physical body, I don’t feel at all different. It leads me to wonder, had you not extracted my life energy, where would it have gone? Is there some other place it goes to and if so, did I miss my chance to go there?”

“I never thought of it that way,” said Dr. Celsine.

“Well, there’s not much I can do now,” said Dr. Albenar. “How are the Sauxeit coming along?”

“Let’s get you into one and you can tell us,” said Serbeins.

“Let’s!”


- - -
Kelly is a writer of all genres. He is the Lead Game Writer for Saltie Games, the Sports & Travel writer for Explore-Philly.com, and a fictional writer with short stories published in literary magazines and websites around the world.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

8/31/17

Science Fiction Haiku
By Denny E. Marshall


on Olympus Mons
sixteen-mile high mars mountain
below room to hide

unknown planet found
molten lava rock giant
blocks earth-like planet

only one graveyard
because of overcrowding
headstones cover moon

alien dodge ball
don’t play with them anymore
they use large boulders

transporter painful
as beamed aboard a spaceship
size of a Frisbee

spaceship lands on field
occupants look just like cows
herd to slaughterhouse

pilot drives slowly
many warning signs posted
asteroid crossing


- - -

Thursday, August 24, 2017

8/24/17

4 Scifaiku
By Kelly Sauvage Angel


hydrocataclysm
our concept of shelter
swallowed by the sea

~

tesseract house
my little life folding
in upon itself

~

endlessly looping
each death but further rents
the fabric of my virtue

~

bleakest horizon
the sea breeze reeks
of death and decay


- - -
Kelly Sauvage Angel is the author of Om Namah… and Scarlet Apples & Cream. She’s not necessarily as frightening as her name might suggest.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

8/17/17

Disposable World
By David K Scholes


“Re-user!” the young uniformed enforcer yelled out accusingly as others watched on.

How embarrassing. The flyer backpack was only just past its mandated use by date and I thought I could get away with a few small repairs. But no, it wasn’t to be! Was the young whippersnapper actually going to arrest me?

No – instead he let me off with a severe reprimand and some more demerit points on my already heavily scarred citizen resume.

I thought I remembered a time when the whole focus was on sustainability. When someone would be more likely to have yelled out “tosser” if you threw something away other than in a waste disposal bin.

Waste disposal bin – you never saw any these days – where were they? I had my suspicions that they were still around, just buried somewhere beneath all the disposed-of items.

How things change.

* * *

The man flew down onto the old style road, then put his flyer into auto-land car mode and let it run automatically into the monstrous disintegration tunnel. With obvious consequences. He seemed to be enjoying it. The flyer didn’t look that old but I guess it was probably somewhere just past the mandated 3 years.

How did we get to be like this? I wondered.

Was there anything now that wasn’t disposable?

Of course the discovery in deep space of a new addition to the periodic table changed all that. The previously unknown Asimovium had been located on certain meteoroids and offered a seemingly unlimited source of energy. Far beyond even fusion energy. For a time.

Sadly by the time our supply of Asimovium started to dry up, we were locked in to an irreversible course of planned quick obsolescence.

* * *

It was very confronting and I’m sure not at all the way that these things are normally done. I entered my own dwelling only to be confronted by myself. A double of some kind.

“Sir,” said a late model droid entering my dwelling moments afterwards. “Sir, there’s been a dreadful mistake, we need you to come with us.”

It turned out that my replacement had taken up station prior to my disposal date. Both the replacement and supervising droid couldn’t have been more apologetic.

“Clone 19 came here too early,” the droid continued.

What did the 19 mean? I wondered.

Then I twigged to what should have been obvious – I was clone 18 – with a 3 year life span. For some reason, despite all the evidence to the contrary, I had started to think of myself as an original uncloned human. Especially since the memories were passed on.

* * *

“Planetary energy reserves just dipped below minimum subsistence,” said the advanced AI looking down on the blue green world.

“We have a suitable replacement in stock and easily accessible sir,” offered another only slightly less advanced AI. “Though this world wasn’t due to be replaced for another millennium.”

“Do it, log it,” replied the senior AI.
“And the existing life forms?” asked the subordinate.

“The usual procedure,” offered his boss.

The planet size starship moved on – its occupants not giving either the replaced world or its replacement a second thought.

Deep in its vast memory, the starship’s computer made a minor entry.

Earth World replaced.

Existing life forms cloned prior to disposal.

Cycle continues.


- - -
The author is a science fiction writer with eight published collections of short stories and two science fiction novellas (all on Amazon). He has been a regular contributor to the Antipodean SF, Beam Me Up Pod Cast, and Farther Stars Than These sites. He has also been published on 365 Tomorrows, Bewildering Stories, the WiFiles and the former Golden Visions magazine.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

8/10/17

Marriage
By Ken Poyner


“You have to let me out.”
He looked at the view screen to see what appeared to be a woman in her fifties, dressed in a night robe, hair still tussled from her sleep cycle. Her arms hung disinterested at her side, and she was staring up at where she seemed to think the room’s primary observation camera would be.
He elected to say nothing, to not begin again the same tired argument.
He sat down at the small breakfast table and began to consider what of the offerings this morning he would select. For twenty-seven years his wife had made the breakfast choices for both of them; but, these last three weeks, her chair at the table remained empty, and he was learning to make choices for himself. There was some hint of conspiracy in the process, a scent of power, a twinge of the sensational. He reviewed the holographic representations and become lost in the thought of option leading to option.
The lights on the room monitor flickered, bringing him back. It was telling him that the woman in the room had activated the shower. In no time at all she would be dressed and made-up and smooth enough for one whole day.
He returned to the licentious holograms of breakfast items.

~~~~

Today he would finish the area containment system. Power supply was his specialty, so his plan was to outfit the house with a dampening system: a thin wall of interference that would shut down power to any machine attempting to get outside. One moment, the machine would be happily striding towards the door; the next, it would be little more than a static work of art, ready for the transport cart to carry it back in. A manual reset, a moment or two of diagnostic, and it would be as right as rain – until it wandered outside again.
If it works in the house, it might work around the grounds. The domestic machines could roam the yard, work in the garden, play tennis on the court out back. They could not independently leave, or through trickery be stolen. Beyond the grounds, they would be inert.
Do not think of it as a limitation. Think of it as a safety net. Empowerment.
The science of it is not so much a problem as the placement of units. He has everything drawn out, and the mathematics predicts a proper overlap. But he wants to visually sight everything himself, and then test every wall, window and door with an excess housecleaning machine.

~~~~

Now the woman can leave the room. She pads about mornings in her slippers and housecoat, and at the same time each day goes for her shower, selects her day’s make-up and outfit.
He has his breakfast as she assembles herself. Truth is, she takes as long as she has to take so as to ensure that he is done with his breakfast before she comes out. She primps and preens, and sometimes simply waits. She will be glad when he has finished the yard perimeter dampening system. Then as he eats ever and ever more slowly, she can walk about the grounds, exchange data with the ducks and the one unintelligent fox.
The fox has lenses that can pick up the slightest motion, and has storage for days of observations, but he is programmed to understand none of it. So he stands, and watches. She loves to pick through the stray clips of his memory. It is through him she can see the outside.

~~~~

“You have to let me out.”
They look at the view screen to see what appears to be a man in his seventies. Thin hair barely lays unkempt across his thinly skinned skull. His arms hang disinterested at his side. He is looking up at what he seems to think is the room’s primary observation camera.
Of course they can let him out. The house system was replaced with a grounds system, and the grounds system has been upgraded. But it is traditional. A rite. A ritual. There is something right about rituals. They bring constancy, a conformity that creates a degree of comfort that steadily sinks past the chemistry, or circuitry, of the brain. The soul of a creation is the sum of its learned expectations. Let it learn.
In a few moments, they will hear the observation control panel alarm, telling them that this man has moved into the maintenance area and is grooming, and preparing to discharge yesterday’s stale battery, replacing it now that today’s fresh one has come on-line.
Satisfied, she will go out for her stroll along the grounds, exchanging soft binary impressions of the lake and the imaginary weather with the ducks. Each time a new machine is selected, she loads again the memories of when her husband was flesh and blood and had to one day lie down and stop. Simply stop. It has become so much of a process that only its repetition has meaning. Stopping itself has no soul.
She will download yesterday’s images, and perhaps those from the day before, from the fox, and this husband will gingerly select the representation for what could be his last, languorous, unnecessary breakfast.


- - -
Ken’s collections of short fiction, “Constant Animals” and “Avenging Cartography”, and his latest collections of poetry, “Victims of a Failed Civics” and “The Book of Robot”, can be obtained from Barking Moose Press, www.barkingmoosepress.com. He often serves as bewildering eye-candy at his wife’s power lifting affairs.


Help keep Farther Stars alive! Visit our sponsors! :)




- - -

Archive

The Thunderune Network:

TTC

Weirdyear Daily FictionYesteryear Daily FictionClassics that don't suck!Art expressed communally.Von Singer Aether and Steamworks.Resource for spiritual eclectics and independents.Pyrography on reclaimed woodartists featured weeklySmashed Cat MagazineLinguistic ErosionYesteryear Daily Fiction