Author : Zachary Whitten
Looking out the plexiglass window, he could see almost all the way across the station. In bed behind him, his Jane sighed and rolled over. She obviously wasn’t a Sardine, her body was too short, her muscles were too big and her skin had the fading remnants of a tan.
He was born and raised on the station. The low gravity and artificial light of the station meant that the people who lived here, half-mockingly called Sardines, grew long, lithe and pale.
It had become a fashionable thing for people of means to leave the brown hotness of Earth and come up to the stations for their vacations. Visiting a Sardine prostitute was a regular pastime for the Earthers. The stations were legal grey areas already, so the brothels fit right along with the plastic surgery clinics and gene-drug houses.
He didn’t mind the job, there wasn’t much else for Sardines his age. He liked this part the best, though. After they were done and she was sleeping. He’d stay awake, pretending that this finery was all his. Pretending he belonged here. After awhile, he’d take all the booze in the minibar and slip out, his Jane still sleeping.
Author : Robert Stise
He opens his eyes and looks around. His eyes are blue.
“Good morning.” I say.
He turns and looks at me then out the window at the dark sky.
“It is still night.” He says sitting up on the steel table.
I don’t even wonder about why they say that any more. “The time 12:02, it is morning.”
He nods and looks around at the room. It is bare with only the few tools that I need and the table on which the man sat. I see confusion begin to seep in as he looks around the room.
“Where am I?” he asks.
“You are in the basement of the Welds county hospital, in New York.”
He looks around his confusion ebbing until certain memories begin to come back. “I was dead.”
I feel bad about enjoying that statement, but it’s hard not to appreciate it.
“Yes you were,” I ignore the temptation to let the statement hang in the air “I was paid to bring you back.”
He pulls the white sheet laying across his legs closer, becoming aware of his nakedness. “Who paid you?”
“Your wife.” I say immediately
He takes it well, thinking quietly to him self. I stare at him waiting for the realization to dawn. When it finally does he looks me in the eyes. His eyes are blue.
“A day.” he says quietly.
“Yes,” I say “just a day.”
“And she wanted that?”
“Honestly, I don’t know what she wants but she paid.”
“A day. A day with her.” He mumbles.
I look at him sitting on the table and I can’t tell you why but I felt… Well I guess I don’t know what I felt. I went and sat next to him.
“Sometimes these things go wrong,” I say “sometimes I can’t bring them back.”
He turns and looks at me with his blue eyes.
“How do you want to spend your day?” I ask
He left shortly after sneaking out the back in borrowed cloths to have his day. I don’t know why I let him go he wasn’t special, and he was worth quite a lot. But he did have these blue eyes.
Author : Adam Zabell
It started seven years ago when I was diagnosed with sudden onset electrophoretic meningitis. They had to dope me unconscious, take me off-line, electronically isolate me from the rest of the hospital, force doctors and nurses to use archaic diagnostic monitors from the pre-implant era. The specialists warned my wife how my illness was nearly always fatal, how the recovery was notoriously difficult because I had to remain off-line for at least six months. My optic nerve would atrophy from understimulation and the prognosis was grim. Partial to permanent disability as my reduced reaction time within virtuWorld would translate to a drop in my vIQ of 30 to 125 points.
After the coma, they usually talked about me like I wasn’t in the room. It wasn’t their fault, not really. When everybody was connected, off-line was inconceivable. They gave me one of those terminal-keyboard devices, forced me to learn how to read and type. I went cross-eyed trying to hold any decent conversation. My fingers tied in knots if my mind raced ahead of those infernal buttons. My wife filed for permanent /uninvite and /ignore status. If I wasn’t using that keyboard, I became invisible. I’d gone from being part of the network of humanity to an aphasic imbecile.
During one of my mandatory exercise periods on the ward, I saw a man in plaid pants and an orange shirt holding jovially one-sided conversations with everybody who walked past. He caught my stare, smiled and said “Oh hai! Welcome to the outside. Gotta run.” By the time I got the attention of the duty nurse, he was long gone. She politely reminded me how extended disconnectivity sometimes caused hallucinations. A copy of the security cameras sent to my pathetically flat monitor revealed no jolly man, of course. I couldn’t even see where I was until directed to a green polyhedron. “You’re not online, so we triangulate based on transmission antennae and your laptop. Don’t worry, once your convalescence is complete we’ll have you back in the community.”
Two days later the jolly man walked into my room and stood next to the nurse who recorded my vitals. Talking over her banal patter, he said “You can opt out. Be Ready.” It was surprisingly easy, but probably because I had already learned to live in my own head. Walking through the city today, men and women part like water. They aren’t even conscious of swerving, their glazed eyes in a REM sleep saccade while navigating the parallel universe of vWorld. Children aren’t fully integrated into the siliconized network and occasionally catch sight of me out of the corner of their eyes. But my people are a logical impossibility, so those nascent computers filter me from direct visual experience. Bogey men, specters, dopplegangers. Eventually vWorld has to account for our mark on the world, somehow. They call us ghosts, and maybe we are. But for all that I’ve lost, I’ve never felt more alive.
Author : K° Pittman
They stopped at Hatch 5. “In and out, ten minutes, tops. No tourism.” Bremmer’s gloved hands fluttered over the fittings and straps of Aplon’s dull grey outdoor suit, readjusting his rebreather mask and visor.
“Righto, pops.” Aplon toungued off the mask’s speaker and bounced to a private channel. “No excursions. Why are we armed, then?”
“We’re armed, because…” Bremmer stood, and Aplon began an identical refitting of his gear.
“Birds?” Aplon had heard the word, seen the images and holos, had even petted the sim at the small Naturama deep in city’s caverns, its roof open to the electronic sun, and it still took him a moment to remember what ‘birds’ were now. Non-sim. Unreasonably aggressive. “Birds.” He tasted the blade of the word, savoring its new balance. Bremmer turned to the wall locker, extracted two BlackBoxes, two Bee Guns, and two sticky tangles of RazorMesh, handing half to Aplon. They seperately self-attached each item deliberately.
“They’re building things now.” Bremmer said this quietly, as if stll astonished, before affixing a flat, black wafer to a shallow slit in the upper torso of his suit. “Like towns, or cities. Lots of different birds together.”
“Really.” Aplon’s goggles felt unreasonably tight over his eyes for a moment. “Really?”
“Yeah. They’re destroying drones, too, but they’re still afraid of us, mostly, unless something happened between four hours ago and now.”
“Where are we going? Are we, like, bait?” Aplon’s wrists reflex clench-flexed his Bee Guns. His glanced at the drone counter and head-calculated the amount of mass he’d need in a scrape.
“No. Drone got gaffled less than a quarter-klick from here, up in the ruins. We’re gonna run to it and back, tagging anything notable, do a close scan if possible. If the data’s cool, a squad will go retrive it or autopsy it on site.”
“We can’t image it from here?”
“Too much light pollution. But most of the birds can’t hack direct daylight either, so now’s a safer window than most.”
“What’s the autopsy for then?”
“Lab wants to determine if there’s sophistcated tool usage happening. I bet not, but Lab has needs.”
Aplon and Bremmer simultaneously started jogging in place as if signalled; Bremmer waved the ante-chamber open, and they ran in, bobbling in place on the dais as it floated up-from and over the silvery, roiling floor through the hemispherical blister towards the external hatches.
“Bremmer,” Aplon broadcast over the massive grinding, rumbling of the door while waiting for the Hatch to cycle open|shut|open. “Bremmer!”
Bremmer waved and the hatch paused a hair’s breadth open. Outside light poured in like poison through the crack, and iridesecence scaled their visors.
“We’re the clade’s best runners. This is just a run. No loitering, no engagement. Stats gave me ace odds that this is a solid. Okay?”
“If things get weird, either hit mesh and bug out, or go mesh and Bee the fuckers until we can jettison. Got it?”
“Yeah.” Aplon turned to the door and nodded to Bremmer, who waved |open| to resume. “Did Stats give you odds on who gets there and back first?”
Their visors throttled back the blinding flood of light as they ran forward into the scalding illumination of one million days of constant summer. Aplon heard Bremmer grumble, over bursts of hiss and static, “I gotta a lot of creds riding on this either way.”
Author : J. M. Perkins
Jenny sat, tapping her fingers to keep from biting her nails. She was having trouble concentrating. She was having trouble being here and now, in this hot vinyl booth in the retro burger joint. The display contacts in Jenny’s eyes flashed red, all manner of cautionary metadata and concerned messages from her always networked friends streamed before her eyes. She could barely see through all the blinking, as the computers in her shoes fed info and communication in real time.
“Shit,” Jenny said, as a haptic tingle informed her that one of her parents had focused on her feed. It took five seconds of stillness before the message came. Like a Cruise ship crashing through sail boats came all caps text from Mom. All the other streams shrunk and minimized before the alpha priority of parental communication.
YOUNG LADY, WHAT THE HELL DO YOU THINK YOU’RE DOING???
Jenny thought about responding, had no idea what she could possibly say.
I WANT YOU TO GET UP AND LEAVE THAT PLACE RIGHT NOW.
Jenny bit her lips together, scared now. Robby lowered his head. He didn’t have to ping for information about her surging heart rate, even without being privy to the conversation he understood.
“Jenny…” he said. She was about to respond before being derailed by.
JENNIFER GENE DELANCY I KNOW WHAT YOU’RE THINKING AND YOU WILL COME HOME AT ONCE!
“I should just go.” He said as he gathered up his things and stood.
“No.” Jenny said. Slowly, as slowly as people ever did the inconceivable Jenny reached up and removed the contacts. She didn’t care about the warning tags and negative reviews and marks that floated like shifting currents about Robby when she was wearing the displays. She didn’t care about the admonishing of her friends. Jenny didn’t even care about what would happen when she got home.
Jenny rose and kissed Robby with as much force as she could. Caps and moms be damned.