Author : Christina Dalcher
You have to bid right in these things. Too low, you wake early; too high, your money is lost. No refunds, no exchanges, all sales are final. The first decisions are made on the outside, when the surgeon wears white and not green, when talk is of likelihoods and estimates. Not pain. Never pain.
Everyone bids low, thinking they can gut it out if it isn’t enough.
The next patient rolls from pre-op into surgery, her face covered in a caul of fear. She’s not old enough to remember the days before the medical free market, before modern medicine morphed into part Über marketing strategy, part game show. Not old enough to bankroll the bucks for add-ons and upgrades. The old woman next to you rattles something about an appendectomy, says she still feels the surgeon’s blade slicing through flesh and fat and nerve, hands pulling muscle apart, slow fingers stitching. You wonder if the body remembers pain; the woman’s eyes assure you it does.
The girl disappears behind the door.
When the first sobs seep into the ward, a dozen phones chime in unison, reminding you of the approximate duration of operations, paid minutes of sedation, deficits. A suit in the corner calls his bank. The old woman who used to have an appendix begins to weep, turning the invisible diamond on her finger, the one she pawned to pay for her half-hour of pentathol that won’t be enough, not for the procedure on her chart. A father bends over his small son, whispering apologies.
Last chance, offer expires in thirty seconds, upgrade now! warnings flood your phone, each accompanied by a cheerful tweet punctuating the screams from a room that can only be the deepest circle of hell.
Your deficit is at zero. A fine number—assuming no complications, no unforeseen glitches, no hemorrhaging, no organs punctured by unsteady hands. One finger hovers over the screen before tapping ‘No.’ A sole ping answers. Are you sure? One thousand dollars buys five more minutes of unawareness.
A howl, hoarse and hot, comes from the girl in the operating theater.
The suit yells into his phone, demanding another transfer. The father pleads for an emergency mortgage; his son is only ten, he says. He breaks down as a nurse announces an unexpected delay. The girl’s voice, thin as thread now, begs the surgeon to let her die. They want you to hear this, the anesthesiologists. They pipe the sounds in. Motivational Muzak for the miserly.
Pre-op explodes into a symphony of beeps and chimes and pings; suits and grandmothers and desperate fathers scrambling for last-minute purchases. The red circle appears on your phone: Price surge. Current rate: $500 per minute. Upgrade?
Images pop up, full-color reminders of surgical squick. Gigli saws severing limbs, Finocchietto retractors spreading ribs, curettes, cannulas. Bone drills and chisels and cutters. The Italians win for sheer creativity on how to wreak havoc on the body electric.
Ten seconds remaining.
The voice in the operating room silences, and the orderly calls your name.
Yes. Five thousand dollars; ten extra minutes. Ten thousand all in for a simple appendix removal. When you wake up, you’ll have to sell the car.
In the theatre, bright lights blind you as the mask covers your nose and mouth. Numbers are punched into the gas-passer’s machines. Voices, distant now, call a procedure from the wrong chart, a bypass. Six hours. Patient paid for one. Poor guy. The lights dim and the voices muffle.
We’ll be making the first incision now.
Author : Kate Runnels
The monkey tattoo stared at Zim. Forever frozen as it climbed a tiny branch. All it did was stare at him.
No, that wasn’t quite right. It had started something else. It questioned him.
-Why am I here?-
Zim had gotten the tattoo long ago. Too long ago. He wasn’t that rebellious teen anymore. No. he was a soldier on an outpost that really didn’t matter if he was here or not. An outpost on the edge of nowhere, scanning the darkness for who knows what. It was just dark outside.
He’d had a partner once with him in this isolation. That one had breathed vacuum about six months ago. Too long left in this outpost, with the dark looming, surrounding outside their small shelter. They weren’t even allowed to light a fire as their ancestors had, as he longed to do, to take comfort from the flames that withstood the dark.
-Where’s the replacement for Richardson?-
“That’s what I’d like to know.” He paced the corridors of the outpost even as he answered the monkey. “I’d like to know when a replacement is coming for me too?”
-Maybe no one is coming.-
For that, Zim didn’t answer.
No one was coming. It was him and the all consuming dark, with the questioning frozen monkey.
He woke up and started his day as he had everyday. He worked out, not because he really wanted to, or had to, but for something to do. He sent out the daily reports to sector command and still had no reply to his request for an update on replacements. He fixed lunch, knowing he wouldn’t starve if no one came.
-Why are you here?- the monkey asked again. It always asked that question. He had no good answer for it.
He paced the corridors, not thinking about the darkness, about eating a bullet, about breathing in vacuum. No, not thinking about that. He would stay here.
The monkey stared.
It was just a couple of lines on his forearm, so why did it question him?
-Why did you leave your home?-
-Why did you leave your loved ones?-
Why? Why? Whywhywhy WHY?!!!
Zim cut it off.
It still asked. The monkey asked.
Zim stared at the darkness but saw the monkey.
“Please…” his forehead touched the polyglass, “leave me alone. I don’t know why.”
Author : David Henson
I notice the message in the sky as I’m going into Eat-A-Lot mart — COMING SOON. I figure it’s a vapor-trail promo, but when I come out, the words are still there. By the time I get home, not a single letter has frizzed. Looking more closely, I see the words are sparkly. I hurry inside, turn on the news, and learn the message has appeared in local languages around the world.
“I hear we flew a drone into the O in COMING, and it emerged over China,” Pete says. “Two.”
“I heard the letters are destroying the ozone. One,” Miranda says.
“I read they’re emitting signals. The government’s decoded them, but won’t tell us,” Roger says. “Can I get four?”
I deal him three. “Franklin, you playing?”
Franklin stares out the window. “Who is coming soon?”
“God is.” The guy by me in the Drink-A-Lot tavern looks like he could eat beer cans. “It’s a message from God.”
“No, it’s space aliens,” comes from across the room. Soon everyone’s yelling out their opinion. The bickering is peaceful till a squeaky voice says “Anybody who thinks it’s a message from God is an idiot.”
I look around just in time to see a twerpy little man skitter out the door. The beer-can-eating guy turns to me. “Who you calling an idiot, pal?” He swings. I duck, and he clocks the fellow on my other side. Those two start going at it, and quickly there’s a full-scale brawl. I’m lucky to get out of there with only a black eye.
A couple days later, I’m at the Get-A-Lot hardware checkout, and somebody starts talking about space aliens. This time a twerpy guy yells “You’re a fool if you think that,” and one thing leads to another. Duct tape is good for a lot of things, but won’t stop a nosebleed.
“What about these twerps?” Miranda says. “Pass. I think they’re an alien advance party. They can’t have anything to do with God.”
“Don’t be so sure.” Franklin clicks in two chips. “It says in the Book of Jed–”
“Book of Jed?” Miranda rolls her eyes.
“Just round’em up,” Pete says. “See you and call.”
“Hey, they got rights,” Roger says. “Out.”
“My ass,” Pete says.
I fold and go to the kitchen for another beer. By the time I get back, Miranda is pounding Franklin’s head on the floor, and Roger is choking Pete.
I manage to pry everybody apart and spend the rest of the evening playing solitaire.
After calling in sick and keeping to myself a few days, I finally venture out to Gas-A-Lot, but can’t get there because of fighting that’s spilled into the streets. Making my way home through an alley, I pass a group of twerpy guys comparing notes and shaking their heads.
The fighting worsens the next few weeks. Then one day COMING SOON blinks out and NOW! appears. The word emits a mesmerizing tone and strobes in different colors so beautifully I can barely look away. It’s amazing.
I can barely stay away. The Buy-Anything-A-Lot superstores are a global phenomenon and have the best deals and selection ever. Plus their website promises free two-minute delivery anywhere on the planet.
I fill my cart and head for the checkout. The lines are long, but the little twerp at the front makes sure they’re orderly and fast-moving. We still don’t know where he and the others are from. But who cares? This place is amazing.
Author : Russell Bert Waters
…fireworks exploding, the smell of sulphur…
…sliding off the road on a slushy day…
…first kiss, soft, lights of the city in the distance…
…fighting, bloody nose, principal blocked by a crowd of kids…
…nervous job interviews, too many to count if one were…
…”I do” as he looked into her glistening eyes…
…running over a dead deer…
…September 11 “where were you when” conversations with coworkers…
…every intersection, and landmark, as if a slideshow…
Things had begun to blend now, swirling, speeding up.
He wasn’t supposed to know, but that didn’t matter.
…school cafeteria rejection scene, “I wouldn’t go out with you if you were the last boy on Earth!”…
He wondered where she was now, right now.
He knew she wasn’t experiencing this.
No one was.
No one knew.
Scenes were flying, he could feel the sensations, smell the scents, hear it all, see it all.
…the first hill of The Tornado roller coaster…
…the Cubs winning the World Series…
He had no control over what was coming through his mind, it was amped up, his body was awash with waves of memory, and his mind was in a spooky trance state that he wasn’t sure he could recover from.
…his first real estate sell…
…various acceptance speeches…
…the birth of his daughter…
…anguish at the death of his daughter…
…the note his wife had left…
He yearned for more happy memories, happier sensations, some began to come.
…sunsets, sunrises, skylines reflecting in water…
…gatherings with friends and family…
…finding love again…
…the birth of his second daughter…
…graduation of his second daughter…
…proud tears walking her down the aisle…
This was more like it, he smiled to himself. More floods, more happiness, waves of joyful memories, most of the sad memories were long past now.
…trips with his family…
…watching storms roll in off the lake at their summer home, the lightning playing in the sky, the wind chopping the water…
He came to the now, the present.
He slowly woke up from his trance, from the life he had lived flashing before his eyes.
Sitting in a park, a light breeze played with various papers and leaves before him.
He was on a bench that had been donated by someone, in memory of someone else.
The sky was clear, and there were other people around.
People whose life had not been flashing through their minds; in front of their eyes.
He could see a bright spot in the sky, like a misplaced star.
As the bomb detonated, just outside the atmosphere, there was a spherical burst, which caught people’s attention.
His phone crackled angrily at the interference, and then decided to begin to restart itself.
As the sky lit up there was an Aurora effect, and green serpents played in his view.
He realized he should stop staring right as his retinas were scorched and it no longer mattered.
The rest of his life continued to play out in the theater of his mind, as his flesh crackled and sizzled like a good steak, and his bones popped inside of him.
As he baked and burned and melted and popped, he had one last thought, and a smile played on his now nonexistent lips:
“mine was a good life.”
Author : Adam Fout
Her hut is digitized light.
They are coming for her.
Her prayers to the netGODS continue.
But there will be no deliverance.
She has heard the whispers. She has seen the dissention. Her daughter screamed at her this morning.
“You must go!”
But she stays.
Her back is angled violence. Her muscles are as a panther’s — smooth, substantial, bulwarks of might.
They smash the walls of her hut, their faces hidden behind hoods and black glass. Fractals rain across her head, shimmer into the ether, dissolve into her bones. Her face does not change expression.
Her blows are measured, precise, deadly. She cracks and breaks.
But what is a strong woman against twenty men?
The might of one cannot survive the will of many.
She leaves behind nine bodies.
Hers is the tenth.
They drag her corpse to the center of the village, but all have seen the violence.
They knew what came.
They did not help.
They are cowards.
Her head is removed with nanofiber blades. Shaking hands place it lovingly upon a digital pike. The hands that mounted it touch a hood in three places. It shimmers away. The face of her son shines in the light of the three moons.
It gleams with blood.
“This woman no longer leads you.” His voice is amplified a thousand fold. Howls and screeches sound from the jungle, greeting his bellows.
Heads emerge from huts, one by one.
They stink of fear.
“Worship of the netGODS is outlawed. This woman died for her heresy. But I will spare you.
“I am your God now.
“And I demand apostasy.”
As individuals and groups, the villagers approach.
They tear off necklaces and amulets, shed helmets and gloves. Brother rips implant from brother, mothers wrench wristlets from children.
All is tossed to the dirt.
The men in black glass set a fire.
It burns until morning.
The next day, a red sun rises over a new darkness.
And the villagers wake to serve a jealous god.