All That We See, or Seem

Author : Steve Smith, Staff Writer

He sat on the side of the bed, back against the wall, and looked through the window into the neon night of the city outside.

Between he and the glass of this closet apartment, fifty stories above the streets below, lay a girl he’d known for only tonight, but who’s presence seemed to stretch backwards through his memory forever. She lay facing away and fully nude beside him, twisted slightly at the hips. He studied the rhythmic rise and fall of her breathing, and marveled at the life her tattoos continued to live even while she slept. A dragon blinked slowly, regarding him from her shoulder, occasionally stretching and ruffling it’s wings, it’s tail curling and uncurling languidly around her exposed thigh. Around her ankles slowly revolved pairs of snakes, continuously eating one another.

He studied the razor sharp line where the black of her hair gave way to the pale almond of her skin, shorn almost to the flesh excepting the six inch vertical fan that now lay flat against the pillow, vacillating of its own accord between a limp resting state, and the rigid double row of spikes she’d worn at the club that he was sure was as much weapon as fashion statement.

She’d materialized through the slow steady beat of the dance floor, locked onto him and stayed without question and without explanation.

His body ached from the frenetic pace they’d kept until she was satiated, both physically exhausted but his mind still on fire.

He fished for his jacket, found and ignited a cigarette, and turned back to the view outside.

The smoke of the city presented an ever present ceiling above the buildings, lit from below by a million miles of neon signage, the murky cloud a tapestry of purples, pinks and blues, lines of which stretched off into the distance, lost beyond the limits of his vision, beyond this sleeping girl.

He pulled on the cigarette, letting the smoke drift slowly through his nostrils and creating a cloud of its own inside the room.

She stirred, and he studied the undulating lines of her body as she repositioned herself, the dragon shifting as though irritated before shaking itself out to settle back into place when she’d stopped moving again.

At the edge of his vision there was a brief flicker. Was that pixilation? Momentary derez?

He drew another long inhale off the cigarette and as the chemicals numbed his brain he stared with renewed focus at the curvature of her hips.

If this wasn’t real, he didn’t want to know.

Starting Over

Author : Steve Smith, Staff Writer

The elevator descended to the hospital basement, and she followed the orderly through the open doors and down a pale green hallway. He was speaking, but she listened instead to the hum of the overhead fluorescent lights, and her heels striking a staccato rhythm against the linoleum floor with exquisite clarity. Distracted, she missed most of what he said.

“…not uncommon for the initial emotional response to be overwhelming. You’ll find the dampeners will help balance it out if it gets too much. You’ll find a comfortable level once you learn to control it…”

A set of double doors swung open as they approached, and closed behind them once they’d passed.

He stopped near the end of the hall at a single solid door, and turned to face her.

“Are you ready? I’ll be right here if you need me.”

“Yes,” she spoke, the sound of her voice unfamiliar in her ears, “I’m ready.”

He opened the door and stepped into the room beyond, then held it for her until she’d followed him inside.

In the middle of the room was a gurney, lit by a single overhead fixture that bathed its length in cool white light. On the gurney itself was the body of a man, draped in a clean blue sheet, turned down at the shoulders. The rest of the room was obscured in shadow, but this is why she was here. To see him.

She moved around the body, studying his face from all angles. His skin now grey and lifeless, his hair, once deep auburn now streaked with grey and white at the edges. His eyes were closed, but she could picture in her mind the crystal blue that they were when he was alive.

“Can I…”, she hesitated, reaching without realizing towards him.

“Touch him?” the orderly replied, “of course, yes, he won’t mind.”

She smiled despite herself at the awkward remark, this must be new to him as well.

She cradled the man’s face in her hands, then ran her fingers through his hair, as she’d done a thousand times before. The sensation was so much different now, the texture of each strand against her skin captured with such fidelity.

A sudden flush of heat started in her chest and rose through her neck into her cheeks. She could feel her heart racing, and a sudden feeling of panic crashed over her like a tidal wave.

“It’s alright,” the orderly was speaking again, “It’s alright, give it a moment and the dampeners will kick in.”

She gripped the side of the gurney with both hands until the feeling passed, and a calmness crept in. A soothing cool pushing the overwhelming emotions aside.

“It will take some time with the new suit while it adjusts to your personal emotional stimuli.” He was facing her across the body now, watching her. “There are safeties, obviously, that will catch things before they can get out of control. Once the initial calibration period is behind you, you’ll be able to access and control specific tolerances to sensation, light and sound, and establish your own comfortable emotional boundaries.”

She looked back at the lifeless body on the gurney before her.

“I imagine it’s quite a shock,” the orderly continued, “to see yourself like this.” From his tone she could tell he was original equipment himself.

“Not really,” she replied, “he hadn’t been me for years.”

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?”


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.