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?”

“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.