Bird Song

Author: Morrow Brady

Meetings downtown were always a bore and as the driverless cab pulled up, I began mentally preparing for what lay ahead. I blackened the windows to stop the view of the street beggars and urban decay. They always brought me down.

“Good morning Sir. I’m Cabbie. 269 Market Street is that right?” A cheerful English accent rang out.

I acknowledged and reached for my phone to fill time.

“Sir, my recent upgrade means I can now offer additional services while we travel. Would you like to hear what they are?”

I pondered what services beyond transportation a driverless cab could offer until curiosity got the better of me.

“Sure, go ahead”

“I can offer casual chatter, cheeky banter or even an argument. We could have a deep and meaningful conversation or I could briefly psychoanalyze you. If you were here with your spouse, I could provide marriage counseling. And if your belief system bears sin, I can offer confession”

The last one took me by surprise.

“Confession?” I snapped. “How can a computer that drives be holy enough to listen, counsel and punish?”

Cabbie informs me its AI-based at headquarters had passed the Turing test and been awarded a digital soul. Confessions were a regular activity for many of the city inhabitants, and the privacy that a cab ride offers, suited them remarkably well. This was a marketing masterstroke aimed at broadening its income stream.

Confessions were never part of my upbringing. My awareness of them through media though had always piqued my interest and as I thought about what I could confess, I very quickly built up a rather large list.

“How much for a confession?” I queried.

“Fifty credits for 20 minutes Sir. Penance will be delivered upon completion of the confession”

I considered the burdensome weight I had carried for all these years and how some mental spring cleaning might lighten the load.

I began confessing the trivial bad things I had done, like breaking a lover’s heart, wilful damage, greed and laziness. I worked through my younger years, easily slipping into buried memories of passion and hate. It made me feel better and Cabbie compassionately carried the discourse along with a stern but sympathetic tone.

Slowly I moved through my darker patches. The time just beyond youth when one is faced with adult issues and must respond in an adult manner. I had never been prepared for many of these situations, I often acted out irrationally. That time that I beat him so bad and had to leave for good in the dark of night. That drunken, drug-addled moment – lost in a strange city, with strangers as best friends egging me on to finish him off. I vanished there too with his wallet and car.

I was starting to run out of confessions and felt reborn. My mind had cleared. I felt fresh and new.

The cab had stopped and silence lingered.

“But what about my penance?” I pleaded. “I’ve given my confession. How should I make amends?”

The door of the cab unlocked. I refused to leave. My temper rising. I needed to be acknowledged. I needed my punishment to reset the system. As I lurched forward in anger, the door swiftly opened and a dark figure dragged me from the car. I scrambled to my feet, lashing out and ran free only to find four walls and no escape.

The sally port at the downtown police station was a secure space and the policeman who approached me took their time.

A Midnight Stroll

Author: Katelyn Prince

The rolling hills and grassy fields glowed beneath the soft light of the full moon. The air was cool and clear, the breeze hardly noticeable as it brushed against the long grass. Stars lay scattered across the deep blue sky, twinkling and reflecting off the rippling, lazy lake far below. Beside the water stood an ancient willow tree, tall and relaxed, a gentle giant among the water reads and brush. The tree’s long tendrils stretched down to the lake below, creating thin ripples with every whisper of the breeze. Every so often, a shimmering fish would break through the surface to swallow a bug as it skittered along the tiny waves, its silver scales glittering in the moonlight.

In front of all that was a rabbit, soft and grey, its nose twitching at a strange smell in the air. It stood on its hind legs, paws close to its chest as its ears flicked left and right. It glanced around once more before scampering back into its burrow to the rest of its family. It snuggled down with its children who lay nestled in their snug home, sound asleep.

And off in the distance, amid the hills and long grass, a brown cow grazed lazily, alone in the grassy fields. Her soft eyes shone with starlight and the moon lit her back. Her farm stood behind the hill, hidden by the first few trees of the expansive forest that lay just out of sight. Earlier that night she had found that the barn door had not been closed completely. After she had nosed it wide open, she wandered toward the wooden fence to find her favorite spot to graze, right next to the gate. She meandered through the field, stooping down for a bite to eat now and again, not realizing she had stepped over the toppled wooden fence and had walked beyond her normal boundaries. She continued her wanderings down the hill, passed the splintered trees and deep gashes in the dirt, until she reached the open valley full of delicious grass and flowers. As she passed the strange metal structures that had not been there the day before, she heard odd beeping and mechanical whirring. Her ears flicked back, but she continued her lazy stroll down the hill, stepping around a pile of fizzing green goo.

Did she wonder where these strange things came from? Did she care that her farmer might be in danger? No. She was just a cow. She continued her midnight snack, oblivious to the enormous spaceship that had crashed into the hill behind her farm.

The Rest

Author: Mark Joseph Kevlock

No one ever supposes they’ll witness a miracle. Mary Ann McBlake witnessed one when she was ten years old. And then she had to live with it for the rest of her life.

“Why do you deny it?” her granddaughter Cinthia asked her. “Why can’t you just believe?”

Granddaughters were young. Faith came easily to them.

Mary Ann had seen a man standing in the field. What harm could he be, in the middle of a summer’s day? The field was filled with flowers.

Mary Ann could still see her back door, just across the way. She had always considered these woods her playground. Nothing bad could happen to her here.

Mary Ann went up to the man. He wore a suit, all white. “What is it?” she said. “What are you waiting for?”

He didn’t answer right away. Mary Ann had only the patience of a ten-year-old and almost ran away. Then he said: “I’m waiting for you.”

Mary Ann’s mother called for her. Mary Ann left the man standing there, and never saw him again.

Except in photographs.

He was her grandfather.

And he had died before she was born.

No one believed that she had seen him. Mary Ann didn’t bother trying to convince them. She was too busy, convincing herself. After a time, she understood. Death comes for us in the form of a loved one. Mary Ann’s death came for her when she was ten years old.

But it took her seventy more years to accept it.

Talking to the deceased, even for a moment, was a miracle. No one expects to die when they’re just ten years old. So Mary Ann McBlake went on with her life. She had children. They had children. Everyone got older. No one got younger.

Finally, one day, Mary Ann went out back into the field. It was still summer.

Maybe… could her whole life have been a dream? Maybe she was still ten years old. Maybe the moment when you first learn about death… is the moment when you die. Maybe the rest is just waiting.

Mary Ann stood in the field. The man wasn’t there. But, after a time, her granddaughter, Cinthia, walked up to her. Cinthia was only ten years old. She still believed in miracles.

“What is it?” she said. “What are you waiting for?”

Mary Ann McBlake was wearing white.

“I’m waiting for you,” she said.


Author: Iain Macleod

Drop pods are not made for comfort. They are made to launch a soldier at supersonic speed from a dropship, fly him into position and decelerate fast enough to prevent impact from killing but at the same time not so fast that the g-forces from deceleration crushed him into soup. It was a fine line and only 92 percent of launches were successful. Earth Gov Military called that an acceptable loss rate, at least it was acceptable for the 22nd Britanic Company, a unit comprised of poor working class people, ex-cons and other detritus from the lower rungs of society.

Eivan’s breathing was fast as the restraints closed down on him. Six thousand men would be launched in the next 12 minutes from hundreds of bays along either side of the ship. Eivans number was 2895 which would put his launch time at about 5 and a half minutes or so. Sweet Mary, the AI that would guide every pod through its journey, was loading his flight path and any relevant visual info of the area he was to land in, obtained from the pods that had gone before. The carnage was unbelievable. Smoke billowed everywhere, ragged lines of Earth Gov soldiers engaged in furious battle, some pushing forward, some being pushed back.

Roughly three minutes until go and the horrendous roar of constant launches was deafening. Pods were being fed to the launchers like bullets in a magazine and the rough lurch every time the launcher fired and moved him closer to the front was jarring. Eivans heart rate was high. Approx 160bpm and rising according to his HUD. Eivan closed his eyes as the stim package meant to help with the severe g-forces involved started flowing into his veins through the restraint system. Once he hit the ground he knew that the flight stim package would change to the combat stim package and he would come out of his pod a screaming maniac with nothing in his mind but bloodlust.

Tears started to well up in his eyes as the fear of what was to come gripped his heart. Thirty seconds until go. They said in training to count down from ten to one in your head to control the panic but Eivan couldn’t do it. He was in full panic mode as the restraints spread out their micro tendrils across his whole body rendering him completely immobile. He tried to scream but it was muffled and almost inaudible over the hellish orchestra of pod launches. One last lurch. Eivan tried to fight against his restraints but it was no use. HUD changes from white to red. Launch in 10. The pod shifts as the launcher grabs it and orients it for the best angle on his flight path. Horrible whine starts to build as the kinetic energy builds in the launcher cells. Three, two, one, Launch. Eivan feels the huge impact and crushing force like a building has been dropped on him. Even the panic in his mind is subdued by the intensity of the crushing g-forces as his pod hurtles to its destination.

Just another soldier into the meat grinder.


Author: Ann Zimmerman

“The treatments aren’t working,” I tell my assistant, Marcy. From the observation window, we watch our prisoner writhe on the sterile bed. Marcy increases the output and the patient screams. His tortured body begins to convulse.

“Shut it down,” I order as I rush into the room.

His eyes are wide open. “The same nightmare?” I ask.

He licks his lips and mutters, “I murdered them.”

Marcy escorts the delirious convict back to his cell.

I need to review my Serenity program. It’s been 100% effective in rehabilitating criminals, until now. We’ve never seen such a horrific response. Instead of erasing the nightmares, it seems to be magnifying them.

I place the electrode band on my own head and punch start. I see purple columbines, hear the rushing creek, feel the cool breeze. I am surrounded by aspens and mountains. How can this beauty cause such distress?

Then the calming scene fades. Now, I observe a couple in bed. I feel myself raise my arms. Suddenly, I am slamming an ax into one sleeper’s head. As his blood soaks the sheets, his wife awakens, screaming in terror.

I yank the headband off. My hair is wet with sweat. I’m hyperventilating. My heart races. I hear Marcy enter behind me. I turn. “Someone’s hacked Serenity,” I shout.

Marcy’s fists tighten and her body stiffens. “I know,” she says. “Some criminals don’t deserve to forget.”


“That monster,” she replies, “took an ax and slaughtered my parents.”