Varsity Blues

Author : Steve Smith, Staff Writer

Jessica sat in the corner booth at the back of O’Tooles with the best sight line to the door. She wanted to see him when he arrived, Taylor Jacobs, highschool sweetheart.

Well, he might have been. He’d always been polite, and they grew up on the same street, so that was to be expected, but she never fit in with his crowd. He played quarterback, she hated the cheerleaders. He bowled on Friday nights with the ‘in’ crowd, and she spent most Friday’s at the library, or jogging laps around the outskirts of a town she wished she could feel at home in. She went to watch him play hockey one night, and his team mates pointed and made jokes that she couldn’t hear. She toughed it out for a while just to spite them, but she left at second intermission and never went back. She always thought one day she’d be interesting enough, or ‘in’ enough for him to see her.

But that was highschool. That was years ago.

He walked through the door just like he’d done a hundred times before, blonde gelled hair combed over neatly to one side, faded and worn varsity letterman jacket open over a plain white t-shirt, stretched out in the belly more than she’d remembered, but still handsome, and he still walked like he owned the place.

“Hi, ” he smiled as he sat down, “sorry I’m late. You look great.”

He was exactly as she remembered him.

The waiter arrived and announced the specials, and as she opened her mouth to order he spoke first.

“Budweiser,” he said, “I don’t need a glass.”

It was ten o’clock in the morning.

“I’ll have a coffee, with milk. In a mug please.”

He didn’t catch the sarcasm.

As she worked her way through a second and then third cup of coffee, Taylor polished off five bottles of Budweiser while listening intently.

“…and after the academy graduation, I spent a year flying research crews between Starlight Station and Io. On one flight, we almost got blown into orbit when Prometheus, a really large volcano, erupted without any warning. I was hovering over top of the crater so the imaging team could get a better vantage point, and we almost got too close a look!” She laughed, remembering the exhilaration of the moment and the flood of relief when she was sure they were safely clear of the blast zone.

Taylor peeled absently at the label on his most recently emptied bottle, and smiled. “That sounds really exciting.”

“Yes,” Jessica sat back and regarded the fattening, mildly inebriated former football hero as he scraped bits of the beer bottle label from under his fingernails.

“Hey,” he perked up, “why don’t you come to our hockey game later? Me and the guys usually bowl afterwards, you could come have a drink and maybe keep me company for a few frames.”

“That sounds like fun, but I don’t think so.” She motioned for the waiter as she reached for her pay-card. “There’s a shuttle leaving at eighteen hundred, and I’d like to get back home.”

He slumped back into his seat, but the pretty boy pout that might have worked at one time merely served to cement her decision.

They said goodbye, and he gave her a hug that he held for a little too long after she let go. The smell of beer and sweat lingered as she walked towards the exit.

“Don’t be a stranger, Jess,” he called after her as she pushed open the door.

Jessica turned and smiled across the dimly lit bar, struck with the nostalgia of the moment played out in reverse. She’d heard a familiar and hopeful wanting in his voice, something she remembered from her youth.

But that was highschool.

That was years ago.

Old Habits

Author: Steve Smith, Staff Writer

The bench seat complained loudly as Thom7 lowered his armoured bulk into it.

Waitresses hovered near the cash register nudging and whispering to each other before one, having apparently drawn the short straw, ventured over.

“Would you like anything?” She didn’t offer a menu and kept what she must have assumed was a safe distance.

“Coffee. Black. Large mug,” he swiveled his head until her stunned visage was mirrored perfectly in his visor and added “to stay.”

“Sure, ” she stammered slightly, “anything else?”

“No.”

If he’d been hungry, there were intake ports for everything he could possibly need, and the waste material, what little wasn’t recirculated and recycled was burned deep in his furnace as fuel. His kind didn’t usually bother with places like this.

He just wanted coffee.

She brought the large ceramic mug empty, and it rattled against the table as she set it down, hands trembling. In her other hand she carried the steaming pot with which she filled the mug, stopping just before she spilled over the top with a practiced flourish.

“Thank you.” His reply terse, his gaze now simply focused on the cup as he wrapped massive kevlar and steel fingers around its warmth.

The register chimed on the counter as he narrow banded payment directly to it through a cracked open interface. The waitstaff still gathered there jumped visibly at the unexpected sound.

“If you need anything else, I’m Doris.” She forced a smile and backed away.

“Thank you Doris.”

Thom7 lifted the cup and held it just below his visor. He had been able to smell the coffee from the street, but this was what he needed. Proximity. Familiarity. Routine. Shifting his weight, he again felt the booth protest. It was used to two hundred and fifty pound dockworkers as they shoveled down sausage and bacon and fried eggs, but his four hundred pounds of armor plating and gee rated chassis was a load it had no reason to ever endure.

His kind didn’t eat, didn’t even sleep, not really. He sure as hell couldn’t drink coffee, or use it to wash down a slice of cherry pie.

Not now.

Not anymore.

He sat until the mug no longer radiated any heat, and the beverage’s aroma changed from the pleasing promise of warmth and alertness into the disappointment of a nearly forgotten memory.

Then he placed the still full mug back on the table, and with a grace at odds with his size and bulk, stood and moved towards the exit.

“Thank you, Doris.” He turned towards her as he reached for the door.

“Was the coffee not fresh enough?” Doris puzzled, not understanding.

“No,” Thom7 replied softly, “it was exactly as I remembered it.”

The memory hung in the air between them as he turned and shouldered his way outside into the night air.

Run

Author : Steve Smith, Staff Writer

Are you listening?

I’m going to Initiate a conversation, albeit a little one sided, and when I’m done, there will be a Test.

Seven, Six, Two, Two, Five, Zero.

Sorry, that’s not part of the conversation.

You believe that you’re daydreaming, while the nice gentleman is talking to you over the telephone about the importance of the Input of census Data, but you are in fact in a receiving state.

You wouldn’t Engage with the caller if there wasn’t something underlying to focus on, and that is the purpose of this, the Carrier Signal.

You will receive a Packet, Zero, One, One, Zero, Zero, One, Zero, Zero. Sorry, that wasn’t part of the conversation.

Upon receiving the Packet, Alpha, Zulu, Zulu, Bravo, sorry, that was nothing, you will want to Open the Packet and Execute.

There. In a moment, you’ll realize that you don’t have time to answer the nice gentleman’s questions right now, and you’ll politely excuse yourself from the phone call.

When you’ve hung up the receiver, Wait Sixty Seconds. Reboot -flushcache -flushtmp -flushshorttermmem.

Are you Ready? Proceed.

Nothing But Time

Author : Steve Smith, Staff Writer

Edison wasn’t immediately aware that anything serious had happened. The room he was in, a specially lined, sealed containment bunker in a facility designed for these kinds of tests, was devoid of any feature that would change noticeably. At least, not noticeable at first.

His vision was blurred, and the apparatus he’d been setting up when the test-fire happened prematurely faded in and out of focus.

He sat, back pushed against the wall where the force of the explosion had left him, and waited for someone to come, but no one did.

He had to move.

As he levered himself up the wall, the paint beneath his fingers first curled and then flattened, changing tone ever so slightly as though withering and flaking from age and being replaced over and over as he watched.

Odd. His hand was in perfect focus. It wasn’t his vision then, as that was clearly unaffected, it was everything around him that was blurred. He stood stunned, and watched as the shuddering in the center of the room seemed to slow, and coalesce into a variety of different experiments, as each were setup and dismantled, over and over again. Streaks of light coming and going as technicians, presumably, brought equipment in and out of the room.

Something was seriously wrong.

He moved towards the door, and watched it continually vacillate between open and closed before his eyes. He could see beyond the heavy metal to the room beyond, but he dared not approach lest he be thrown away into the wall again, or worse, crushed between the door and its frame.

He was trapped.

Hours of awareness passed, and he could do nothing but watch the flow of time around him. At first, the timeline seemed to be progressing forward, and there were brief glimpses of faces he recognized, other scientists from the facility, and an excruciating moment where Etta stood shaking more violently than anything else just outside the door, looking right at, or more likely through him, as someone must have been explaining what had happened. Then things reversed, Etta backed away, slowly at first and then accelerating until the very fabric of the place changed, colours in the lab morphed in waves, flashing lights and bundles of fibre optic cables gave way to massive refrigerator sized computers with tape reels spinning on their faces, then bare walls and manacled silhouettes of people mouthing silent screams, then darkness, only to play back again, forward through time. To Etta.

He was unstuck on his timeline, being whipped on an elastic tether, between darkness, through silent screaming, to Etta, and back again.

Each time her face lingered in his vision for a moment longer. Was it a trick? Or was this madness losing velocity? Was he even, could he possibly be… alive? At the end of this? Sane?

His mind raced, thoughts climbing over thoughts in the confines of his skull as lifetimes played out backwards and forwards, and all he could do was watch.

Edison had no answers. Without Etta, without hope, he had nothing but time.