Sixteen Hundred

Author : Janet Shell Anderson

I saw the full moon last night, and it reminded me.

Jonathan has been gone a week.

Sometimes I hole up in Rock Creek Park; I know places in the woods, in the sweetbriar and holly and tulip trees where no one ever comes, hear mockingbirds in the twilight, owls in the dark. That’s all right. The water of the creek running over the stones is like a voice talking about the old days, when it was safe.

Sometimes I hide in big houses on Connecticut Avenue I know are empty. I haven’t seen Jonathan for a week or David either, and I told them not to do it, but of course they did.

They went down to Sixteen Hundred.

There’re all kinds of jumpers now over the wrought-iron fences near that place on 16th Street, all kinds of people in the shadows in the rose garden and the huge, cloud-shaped boxwoods. My Dad disappeared there, across from Lafayette Park. Sixteen Hundred. Sometimes it’s called the WH.

I’ll never go there.

The old, abandoned National Zoo’s a safe place, and the old P Street Beach, at night, the entrance of Rock Creek into the Potomac, all safe. I hunt down there. But Sixteen Hundred’s not safe. Not for most people anyway.

We used to live in Chevy Chase with Daddy, Kiki, and Ivan, who wasn’t our brother, in a big house that wasn’t really ours, but the owner disappeared and Daddy took it. We had all kinds of things, crystal, porcelain, silverware we ate with, even for rice and beans. I slept in a tester bed with real silk sheets.
I don’t know what my Dad did wrong, but one thing was, he knew where all the entrances into Sixteen Hundred via the tunnels for the AC and heat were located because he was a mechanical engineer and helped design the new bomb shelter. So all of a sudden Dad was missing, Kiki was dead, and David and Jonathan and I, as soon as we got home from our private schools and figured it out, we ran.

I don’t know where Ivan is.

Jonathan says Ivan’s in a wall where 16th Street takes a big dive down toward the Potomac, near Meridian Park, probably stashed in there with a couple of Senators and other Disappeared.

I have a nine-millimeter submachine pistol my Aunt Sylvia gave me, so no one can bother me. Getting ammunition’s hard. I know a certain store on M Street not too far from the river where I jiggle open a window, about two a.m., and take some. I think the owner must know and just lets it happen. A lot of people just let things happen.

I saw the full moon last night over Rock Creek, silver over the tree limbs and big boulders, and the voice of water running over the stones sounded like the time when everything was safe.

Killer Shine

Author : Beck Dacus

Before she went outside with her friends, the most she had ever seen of the Sun was the great gleam in the sky directly above the dome. Every twelve hours, the dome would shade itself from that light to make an artificial night. Then the screen would come off, and the unmoving star would shine in the sky again, giving life to the land under the dome.

Mama said the star was a statite reflecting sunlight on their dome so the plants could eat. She didn’t really understand, nor did she understand when Mama told her the moving gleams she saw were spaceships, headed to other planets. She didn’t much care; she just went back to playing with her friends.

As she grew older, she began to resent what she didn’t understand. Mama said she was only allowed to leave the domes every once in a while, and in certain directions that changed all the time. One day, she could only go out this door, and the next day it would be the door next to it. But Mama had also told her that you can’t make up the rules to a board game. There has to be structure, certain things that are always the same, always true. Mama was changing the rules. Mama was unfair.

She asked Mama what would happen if she stepped out the wrong door, and Mama just started babbling on about how the Sun on Mercury was too bright to survive. They were safe inside this crater, since it was at the north pole, and the Sun never rose above the crater wall, but once she left the crater, Mama said, she’d be cooked to a crisp.

What she could understand definitely wasn’t fair. She could go out this door sometimes, but not others? The Sun was good and warm in some places, but not others? It was stupid. She knew it, and her friends agreed with her. So one day, they went out a door they weren’t supposed to. They saw people coming back in through it, all dressed up in vac suits, and they weren’t cooked. So why not go through? Already dressed in their tailored vac suits, they snuck out the door, stood in the “waiting room” while the air did its thing, and then went outside.

It was the same as ever out here, no different than any other time she’d been outside. So she hopped and leaped with her friends, throwing rocks over bigger and bigger craters, making their own craters and naming them. Soon, though, the horizon started to glow. Mama said that you could see the Sun before it came up because dust flew above Mercury. That if she saw it, she should run home. But instead, her friends went to look at it. They stood on a hill for a few minutes, watching the dust get brighter. She started to feel the fear, thinking that the glow was like an intangible monster. She was scared, but she didn’t go back. She watched until her friends were touched by the sunlight, and died in a bright gleam of flesh. Then she ran.

But by then it was too late. The door was nearly a kilometer away, and it had taken her twenty minutes to walk out here. She was never going to make it back in time. Just as the Sun rose, she turned back to look at the monster coming to eat her. In her last instant, she was blinded, her world going dark even before she was destroyed by the brilliant, shining rays.

The Fregoli Delusion

Author : Philip Berry

From the couch, engineer Stanislaw Hast looked past the grey-suited, female psychiatrist and through the broad window. The star, a long dying sub-giant, threw a dusk of burnt ochre over the orbiting city, its rays painting the sunward face of tall buildings into perpendicular fire blocks.

“I’ll make it easy for you doctor. I know what I’ve got,” said Stanislaw, snapping back.

“Tell me.” Her words were smooth, professional, complacent.

“Fregoli’s. I looked it up. I see them in crowded rooms, in the metro, in the hanging parks. In many forms, disguised as men and women. But when I ask – how do I know you, where did we meet, why are you following me? – they look blank.”

“Fregoli’s refers to the belief that the same person is disguising him or herself in many forms. He was an actor on Earth, famous for his quick changes of costume. But you see many pretenders, not one. It is different.”

“No! I see common features in each face… they trigger memories, places, times… enough to convince me that I knew them once. I did know them. I am convinced.”

“But not the same person Mr Hast. And you have insight. You cannot be truly deluded.”

“They are playing with me. Pushing me to the edge of sanity. It is very real.”

The psychiatrist rose from her seat, stood by the couch and looked down at him. Stanislaw shifted uncomfortably.

“Mr Hast. There is only one constant in this… experience.”

“What?”

“You, of course.”

“Then you do think I am mad.”

“That is not a word we use. No, like many of your generation, you are just…tired.”

“Generation? I’m young. I feel good, physically.”

“But your sensorium… is tired. Do you even know how old you are?”

“Fifty-five.”

“No Dr Hast. You are eight hundred and twenty-two. You came here when the city was established. You are a founder.”

Stanislaw tried to swing a leg off the couch, but the psychiatrist held him with a casually extended hand.

“No. Stay. Listen to me.”

“You are the mad one!”

“I have the sad duty of holding your long and excellent life up for you to see. I am the mirror you have never glimpsed. Some of us believe you have been selfish. I disagree. I understand your motive. It is love, for the city you made. You wished to see it through, to ensure its safety.”

The flashes of history, the ancient odours, the familiar angles of light and shadow on old steel. All the deja-vu moments. He had been everywhere, seen everything. She spoke truth.

“But how have I lived… physically?”

“That’s the selfish part. You have moved into – possessed, essentially – a long series of innocents. The software you and your colleagues developed was sophisticated… it melded the two identities, maintaining the recipients’ sanity but preserving your essence. Time after time.”

“Who oversaw this?”

“Me and my type. There was a legal… arrangement. Unbreakable, until such time as…”

“…I began to break down, to taste the delusion. Why is it ending now?”

“You have wandered the towers, tunnels, tracks and skyways of this great city for almost a millennium. You have known every family from its establishment. You have grown with them, seen it all. When you recognize people, you are recognizing their ancestors, recalling ancient meetings, historic conversations in buildings that have been subsumed. Your memory is full. You who are the shape changer. You are Fregoli.”

“And now it ends?”

“Yes. We can let you go now.”

Paradox

Author : M. Irene Hill

“The Nation’s Ethics Commissioner has released her public disclosure statement after completing a probe into whether a company providing Assisted Ersatz-Suicide services has contravened laws in relation to assisted para-suicide. The Commissioner has concluded that individuals do have the right to para-suicide, within the parameters of Immersive Simulation in Virtual Reality, as outlined in the Right to Liberty and Life Acts.”

Para-Death doulas in the employ of Thanatos, Inc. clapped their hands when Rose finished reading the newspaper’s front-page story. They had a waitlist of clients wishing to procure their services.

First on the list, Collin Herschel – a thirty-seven year old arbitrarily successful writer from the west coast, diagnosed with several concurrent disorders, including depression, anxiety, and cannabis and alcohol dependence. Years of addictions counselling, biofeedback, medication and psychotherapy produced little to no improvement.

Collin paid Thanatos Inc. $879,000 for his right to have assisted ersatz-suicide.

Rose was Collin’s assisting para-death doula. She spent the last month counselling and preparing him to receive immersive simulation. He was now gowned and ready.

“Thanatos utilises the most technologically-advanced health-monitoring and support systems to keep your body at homeostasis. We will use established protocols to manage your body’s cannabis and alcohol withdrawals. You will receive the best medical care of your life.” She chuckled.

“You will be given a sedative, and then your brain will essentially go offline once you are hooked up to our VR system via a catheter in your spinal column. Immersive Simulation will ensure you experience a brief and pain-free symbolic death. We’ve discussed the procedure a number of times, Collin, so I know you’re prepared for what’s to come. As per your wishes, your cerebral cortex will be in a death-like state for six months, at which time we administer anti-simulation serum which will bring you back to Present Reality, then we will follow established procedures to coach you for your next level of emotional awareness.”

“Thank you, Rose. My death angel.”

“Thank me later, son. Okay, I need you to sign here and here first.”

She administered the sedative and inserted the catheter. Collin looked at Rose with child-like trust, before his eyes drifted closed. She prepared the intravenous ports for managing nutrition, electrolyte balance and hormonal levels.

Collin’s body was ready for the next six months, but nothing could have mentally prepared him for what happened in VR.

For the next six months, Collin’s cerebral cortex was assaulted with images of his sobbing, mournful family and friends. He saw the mortician preparing his cadaver for burial. He looked pale and gaudy in his casket. He saw his aging mother collapse during his funeral, and medics took her away in an ambulance. Collin’s distraught editor hung himself in his apartment. Collin’s part-time girlfriend, whom he truly cared for but didn’t know how to do it properly, took up full-time with his best friend. He saw them having sex, repeatedly. He felt the heartbreak of his mother’s passing, and his sister’s subsequent collapse into addiction. He was suffocated by darkness. Worms. Regret. Heart break. Eternal damnation.

The simulation looped until one day, it was interrupted by the following message:

“Thanatos Inc. is pleased to have fulfilled your deepest wish for Assisted Ersatz-Suicide. With your financial contribution and help from sponsors like Titan Pharmaceuticals, we were able to make your wish a reality. We hope that you enjoyed your time here as we have enjoyed serving you. Experienced counselors are ready to support you when you return to Present Reality. You will be disconnected from our VR server in 60 seconds, but first, another word from our sponsors.”

The Open Eye

Author : Joachim Heijndermans

Danny was convinced the moon was an eye. A single, blind eye that stared down at the world, slowly closing once a month. An eye that stared down at the little people, watching them with an intense hunger. He knew this was the truth, but no-one believed him, no matter how hard he tried to convince them.

“He’s a crazy man,” said the old woman down the street.

“He’s funny,” said the little girl. “’Specially when he’s telling us th’ eye’s watching us. He thinks it’s a big monster.”

“The guy’s a lunatic, shaking his fist at the sky all the livelong day. Always going on about his “eye” nonsense,” said the garbage man.

“Such a poor tortured soul, haunted by his delusions,” said the pastor.

“He is in denial. Does he not realize the moon is mostly made of anorthosite? It’s a round satellite going around and around our planet, that vanishes because the planet blocks the rays of the sun from hitting it. There’s nothing alien of monstrous about it. It’s basic science,” said the school teacher.

Yes, no-one ever believed Danny. For years, he went on and on how the blind eye was staring down at them. That it was some hideous beast that was abiding its time, letting its hunger grow until the time for it to feast was upon us. And every time, the people would laugh or brush him off, trying not to get close to the crazy man who shook his fist at the sky.

Then the second eye opened.