And We Do Insurance…

Author : Tony Healey

When my heart decided to start failing on me around my seventy-fifth, the doctors offered me a bio-mechanical one. They called it ‘the ox;’ so called because it apparently never wore out. I remember sitting in the consultants office, surrounded by plastic models of replacement limbs and artificial eyeballs. Dr Fenwick sat at ease in front of me with his hands folded on his desk.

I asked him what the procedure involved. He described the removal of my damaged heart and the attachment of a device to keep the blood circulating in my body in its absence. It was then a simple case of reattaching the old arteries to the new ones in the mecha heart. I had enough of a nest egg put away that I could afford the procedure, so I agreed to it. Dr Fenwick stood and we shook on it. He regarded my prosthetic hand; the result of a traffic accident in my thirties.

“You know, we have replacements for these now,” he said.

“Do you?” I asked.

“Yes. We could replace it with one that looks almost life-like. You’d regain most of the dexterity in your fingers as well,” he said.

“Well I could…” I stammered, my mind reeling. I’d gotten used to not having the use of the fingers on my left hand, and now the thought of having it all back made me nauseous.

“Do you wear those all the time?” he asked, nodding at my glasses.

My head span. Hearts, Hands… Eyes… What else could they replace? I asked him.

He simply shrugged. “Everything,” Dr Fenwick said. “And we do insurance…”

I was still in that office hours later, booking up more enhancements. I allowed Dr Fenwick to convince me into putting the last of my money toward an extensive insurance policy. It wasn’t until later that I realized they would just keep on replacing things, even the new parts when they wore out or malfunctioned. I should have felt full of energy, knowing that I’d significantly extended my life span beyond what it was meant to be, but I didn’t. I felt tired.

I wondered how tired I would become…

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Author : Roi R. Czechvala, Staff Writer

I love making a drop. The rush as you plummet through the atmosphere, the scream of re-entry. The abrupt jolt when you hit 100m H over G and descend. The rush of cool air as you jump through the open doors and hit the deck.

Just like grandpa, ‘cept this ain’t a Blackhawk and I ain’t on Earth.

Aries, Mars; Greek, Roman. It all meant one thing. War.

They didn’t give us details, but they did give us atomics. Whatever it was, it sure as hell wasn’t riot control.

“Awright Marines,” it always amazed me how Lt. Kolchek made himself heard over the roar of departing drop ships, “since we are out of commo range of any civilian ears, here’s the skinny. Talks with the Chinese Federation have broken down. There’s lots of sabre rattlin’ on both sides. The shit has hit the fan gentlemen.

We are here to help fortify Vostok base. You knew this was serious when you drew your combat loads. I expect nothing less than better than your best and remember the Chinks don’t take prisoners. Do I make myself clear?”

“SIR, crystal SIR,” we responded in unison. DAMN I love the Corps.

We sat in the squad bay cleaning our weapons and waiting. Basically life in the Corps is pretty boring, drilling, PT, rifle range, combat range… routine. But that 99% boredom is completely overshadowed by that 1% of sheer terror. Of course that doesn’t hit until after the fighting is over. In a fire fight you’re on automatic. Training takes over. It’s weird that way.

“Hey Yuri, think we’ll see some action?”

“I hope so man, it seems like years since we had that trouble on Europa.” Greggori and I had been friends since boot in San Diego . “Hey, remember that waitress at Venus colony?”

“How could I forget? Who would have thought that such a sweet little devotchka would know Krav Maga? My arm was sore for weeks.”

“That’ll teach you. You’ll think twice before grabbing somebody’s ass next time,” I laughed.

“What about you? That groundhog back at Armstrong City ? I don’t recall you getting anywhere that night.”

“Hey, she’d just jumped from dirt side, it was one sixth G. She caught me off guard,” I said trying to muster some lost pride.

“It’s your story Comrade.”

I had to admit, it was pretty funny looking back on it now. I had merely paid the young lady a compliment by comparing her to a chick in adult holos. Besides, she did have nice tits.

Just then the general alarm sounded, snapping us from our reverie. “Already? Hell, we just got here.” We slapped on our boots, grabbed our rucks and weapons and beat feet for the assembly area.

When we got there, our three companies had pretty much formed up. There was a great deal of talking, lots of raised voices, lots of confused Marines. The commotion quickly died away as Major Warshawski walked onto the field.

“Gentlemen, I know you’re all wondering what’s going on. I am sorry to have to tell you this. At 1337 hours GMT, Washington, Toronto and Moscow were destroyed by Chink missiles. Several more are reported in bound at this time”

There was stunned silence.

“What are we going to do about it Sir?” somebody shouted. It wasn’t allowed in ranks, but nobody seemed to notice.

“See for yourself,” the Major said, pointing behind the formation.

As one, we turned to see dozens of columns of white plumes rising behind the mountains, arcing into the morning sky.

Missiles, heading back home.

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Author : KJ Hannah Greenberg

Snazzle considered, as she queued up, among the morning roses and goldenrod, that members of the machinists’ men didn’t take warmly to her puttering about their racks and chargers. Despite the technicians’ protest to the contrary, whenever she brought Little Guy to honk among the geese and ducks, those mechanics shuddered and pushed him and Snazzle away.

It was not so much that Little Guy emptied enough corn onto the ground for all of the barnyard’s critters, let alone the fowl, as it was that Little Guy picked up the heifers in the same way that more typical offshoots might lift a puppy. While they labored on their harrows and on their seeders, those lab guys slit their eyes at Snazzle and her kin.

Those thinker-tinkers especially got antsy when Little Guy wandered over to their self-propelled sprayer; they blamed that unit for her tot’s physical prowesses. They hadn’t known that Snazzle’s baby had snacked on foxes and on wolverines long before he tottled.

Rather, those applied science guys figured that a strong dose of nitrogen had altered Little Guy’s chemistry such that his xylem, which flowed among the cells of his mental engine, leaked out in almost organic guttation. The agricultural artisans reasoned that Little Guy performed feats during the day because at night his stomata remained closed. They hadn’t counted on his need to cuddle with his mama.

Snazzle shook her filaments in answer to that imagined discourse. Little Guy no more possessed hydathodes, through which he could express excess water, than he did any other means of transpirational pull. His mutant state meant that he would be, forever, forced to evaporate fluids through his tongue. To wit, he left his main orifice open. That he swallowed whole sheep or goats during his ambulations was accidental.

Consequently, Little Guy considered their jaunts to the ranch occasions for seeing and tasting animals. Snazzle, however, saw those journeys as opportunities for borrowing utensils she needed to create a system of secondary growth, of activated vascular cambium for her child.

To Snazzle, circumstances are caused by vicissitudes, not karma. Solutions derive from effort, not from self pity or blame. Ennui means lack of faith. Feelings of victimization mean not trying hard enough.

The thought of having to rupture Little Guy’s epidermis in order to accommodate his growth left her discolored and dried, but Snazzle was resolute about helping him. In the end, she would help him form cambia on the outside of his phloem.

Such direction would necessitate Little Guy ingesting a few horses and a couple of the farmer’s sons, but it would solve his metabolic quandary. Thereafter, Little Guy could cross pollinate with any woody vine of similar genetic material. The couple could produced mobile, flowering grandchildren for Snazzle and could rid the farm of its rat problem, its cats, its donkeys, its llamas and its prize elephant.

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Away In An Incubator

Author : Duncan Shields, Staff Writer

We put Jesus24K99 into his cage for our own protection. The anti-coagulants weren’t holding. He was destabilizing. He’d bleed out soon.

The hole in our research was the stigmata. The actual crucifix had been uncovered in a basement vault of the Vatican. The nails from the cross had been scraped for flakes. The DNA, when used to make clones, had created short, dark babies.

Obviously not Jesus.

We tinkered with the DNA, adding a lot more milk to the coffee, if you will, to make the clone more acceptable to Middle America. We needed an Aryan beauty the likes of which would make women swoon and men envy. We needed today’s Jesus, not the old one.

Blond, emaciated babies were being created in our lab. They refused to eat. They cried a lot. Vials of their tears had cured cancer in my wife and two of the assistants. Even Jeffrey’s back was normal again.

Plans were afoot to release the cure for a price that was low enough to afford but would still make our company billions under masked creation papers. Lies, basically. The cure for cancer. Probably the cure for AIDS. Who knows? Maybe the cure for everything. If nothing else, at least these crying babies could make the people of earth healthy again.

Unfortunately, it made me picture rows and rows of eyeless Jesus Baby Clones crying into suction tubes in cages like chickens in KFC farms. I got back to work.

Most of them had turned out hemophiliac. We had no idea what to do when the holes in their hands and sides appeared. This baby Jesus was moving sluggishly.

It was like some unseen force was killing these babies, like what we were doing was not for the greater good and we were being sabotaged.

Jesus24K99 rolled onto his back and stopped moving. The pool of blood spread out beneath him, eventually slowing to a stop as his heart stopped pumping. The tattoo on his arm was scanned. The lights in his cage went out.

The compactor took over. He was added to the basement remains.

We hadn’t even figured out how to accelerate his aging when we made a stable copy. There was talk of hiring an actor as Plan B and cutting our losses by sticking with the whole ‘cure for cancer’ thing.

I’d be out of job if they did that but I was starting to think that maybe it wouldn’t be such a bad idea.

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Material Decisions

Author : Lisa Marie Andrews

“What’ll you choose?” She stood behind the boy and looked into the mirror. His cheeks were dusted with freckles; eyes darkened with indecision.

“I don’t know.” He said. He’d always thought it odd that the skinless wore no clothing. They walked exposed in bright coppers, burnished golds, and tarnished silvers.

“Once we weren’t given a choice.” Her fingers were polished from use. They through the windows refracted light from fingers to mirror to the boys pale skin. “Once it wasn’t voluntarily and the process would have lasted years, now you can choose, Jacob. How long do you want it to last?”

Jacob inhaled slowly. The soft scent of ozone crept into his lungs and he wondered if he could stand to never taste the air again. The glass misted over as he exhaled.

“Why’d you pick to be the way that you are?” He asked.

“The way that I am?” Her laughter rippled in waves and bounced off of the walls. “You’re of the fourth generation, Jacob. You should be used to this by now. Natural growth is a slow process and I’d been flesh for long enough.”

“But, mother, is it really enough? You lost things when you chose to Transition. You could have stayed flesh, you wouldn’t have lost anything.” The metamaterial that was his mother’s face grimaced, but the emotion didn’t, couldn’t, touch her eyes.

“Look outside, Jacob.” The room shifted and the walls became windows. “How many adults do you see wearing original skin?” The figures that lined the streets below were varied in shapes, sizes, and colors, and most of them reflected the suns light. They rippled and flowed across aged pathways.

“You don’t miss anything? Any of it?” His hands pressed against the windows, the oil of his skin marred the pristine glass. “You didn’t love any of it enough to stay. To just wait through it. Grandpa waited through it. He said it could be, that it might be, better…to just wait.”

“What do you love the most?” She said.

“The tastes, the smells, the -feel- of the air on my skin, the way it brings warmth and coolness to me. I’ll miss that. I love that.” His voice cracked, just a bit, and his eyes widened in surprise.

“But for years you’d be uncomfortable. Your voice will crack and yes, the cracking will fade, but you’ll age, like your grandfather. It’s your final day to choose, Jacob. Your voice just proved that to you, even if nothing else has.”

Jacob pushed open a window and let the currents of air dance across his skin, let the warmth of the sun kiss his freckled cheeks. He watched a woman with sunken skin wrapped around hollowed eyes, with arms that hung in gentle folds of flesh, set a slow pace down the pathway. Would she live for another 10 years? His mother would live much longer. Much longer then everything that wasn’t, or hadn’t been, rebuilt. She wouldn’t ever be like that. His arms looked small, bony, and he wondered what it would be like to wake in the morning tall and strong. What would it feel like to move with the fluid motion of the skinless? What would it be like to never feel his bones grow frail and worn by time and to never again feel the sun.

“Make me like you.” He tasted the air again. His mother pulled him into an embrace before she opened the door and they turned to leave.

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