The Replacement Husband

Author : Ken Poyner

I could have had him made with a synthetic skin that reeks a constant temperature, that adjusts to pressure, that could be washed with soap and water. He does not care, but it would be physically easier on me, and more comfortable for the neighbors. At a distance, he would blend in.

Distance I do not care about.

What I see is him, sitting across our living room, with the light playing hide and seek in the metal and synthetics of his exposed joints. His factory standard gray exterior I have polished to brilliance, so that at times he seems a gleam – bulk light finding no place to grab on and in frustration shooting back in all direction, sick at being cast away by him. But at those open joints, the light can squirm in and make little joys of refraction, and I shudder to see it so happy.

On a whim, now and again, I have him wear lounge pants and a shirt. I do not think he believes this mean of me, though in ways it is. With his advanced programming, he understands. He does not notice how comical he is sitting there, an oversized shirt and flannel ankle length pull-overs, perhaps house slippers, executing his idle conversation routine or academically noting the peaks and valleys in kitchen economics.

I keep him well covered in graphite solution, plug him in for regular diagnostics. I take him in when notified of hardware upgrades, and endure the stares of unthinking clerks who have never seen a replacement husband uncovered, left calibrated as bare metal. For them, I kiss him where lips should be, and wait with a practiced look of anxiety as an appliance is removed and another added, or a new chip set – in the back room, where I cannot see or go – is drilled into place.

Later, back home and with any upgrades blandly tested, I will fill his reservoir of synthetic semen and nanites that is consistently his response to sex. That night, he will telescope his cold injection device cautiously into me and execute an unremarkable program that, millimeter by millimeter and half angle by whole, reacts to my vital signs and thrashing body maneuvers, to my temperatures – internal and external – and even the scents of execution and release. At the mathematically prudent moment, he will release an amount of fluid projected to meet my need in this accomplished instant and fill the hollow that has been mine these long years of widowhood.

Then, as after every such event, I will reach over as he lies there between instruction strings, and tap with my tapered nails on his exposed metal shoulder: drumming mechanically out a childhood dirge, which dotted melody he has researched before to be a macabre, unfathomable, spectral warning. It’s ringing reminds me of ways in and ways out of my unmechanical despair.

I punish very well.

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Zxandra's Summer

Author : Michael Rafferty

On the morning of the third Wednesday in September the eighth grade class of Halsey Charter school prepared to give their “What I did for summer” theme speech. The class was small; twenty-four mostly well off kids. Richie Greenwall began with six weeks touring Europe followed by Chrisy Peck at her (divorced) father’s summer house in Malibu. A few others talked about weeks of shallow good times and then suddenly Zxandra was trudging up the aisle from the rear. Zxandra was new, three weeks new—and different. She was really short, and bone skinny with a somewhat oversize head sporting spiky short, auburn hair that should have been trending, but wasn’t.

“Hey Zxandra, it’s okay if you didn’t have time to get this ready…!” Janice Wilburn, the teacher, tried to give the new student with only one wierd name (that’s how she registered) a break.

“Okay Ms. Wilburn. I got this.” Zxandra spun and planted herself. She was clothed in a pale blue jumpsuit with matching boots. Her eyes, an indefinite color, were large and wide set. In one of her tiny hands she held something looking like an ipad. She tried to smile and later the kids in the front row would swear that the teeth in her small mouth came to points.

“I spent the entire summer on my Grampy’s cruiser. If it’s okay, I’d like to show a visual display…”

“Well honey,” Ms. Wilburn interjected, “we don’t have equipment for that….”

“…That’s okay. I got it.” The little girl pointed the device over her shoulder and a dark rectangle popped open and hovered in front of the blackboard. “Can everybody see okay?” The girl raised the dark screen higher to the gasps of the students.

“Okay, this is my Grampy’s cruiser…” A crisp image appeared and then grew larger. A silver oblong-shaped vessel with many lighted ports and openings and what looked like operational connections could soon be recognized. It hung in a void of star-filled space. “Here I am arriving. Of course Grampy is inside. Docking is all mechanical.” Another camera onboard the much larger cruiser had recorded the arrival of a smaller, sleeker ship, maneuvering quickly in to unload its passenger, then departing.

“Uh…honey…Zxandra, could I ask you something?” Ms. Wilburn’s voice had broken the tension.

“Oh! I’m sorry! Am I going too fast!” The girl turned to face the class.

“Well…no. It’s just that, well, exactly where is your…Grampy’s cruiser located?” Dead silence awaited the answer.

“Oh, I’m so sorry! It’s parked exactly five hundred kilometers above a point located in Nebraska in a stationary orbit. Can’t be in lower orbit because of the ISS Mir…you know, the space station. Some crazy law.” She whirled back to the visual. “This is my bedroom. It’s so cool!” The camera panned a space as large as the classroom. “The view is the best part,” she said absently as a large rectangular port looked down on the planet. Their world was shrouded in total darkness. Then the sun broke through on one side and exclamations such as “Oh my God!” and “No way!” went around the room. All too quickly she showed the rest of the cruiser, to the student’s disbelief, and then Zxandra’s “summer” was over.

“Grampy says he’s coming back next year.” She said this as she walked back to her seat, smiling again, showing her jagged little teeth. “He’s going to bring some friends. He really likes the food.”

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A Sneeze

Author : Aiza Mohd

A singular moment during which your eyes, your nose, your mouth, every feature of your head all simultaneously forget who they are and what they are doing and have a mini existentialist explosion.”

My handwriting is childlike after my reconstruction; I hold the pen with all my fingers, as though writing with an icicle. It has been two days, but I suppose these things take time every time. Even my memory, the sole motivation behind my reconstruction, is still wispier than a cirrus cloud: I would have forgotten many of the details of my self had TANYA not provided me with the form that I had filled out prior to the procedure. Here is what it reads:

“Name before procedure: Roger Clarke Hill
Name after procedure: CLARKE
Date of birth: December 04 1982
Address: Number 61, Ingleside Drive, Whitlock, Kent CT9 H1Z.
Occupation: (Retired) meteorologist
Name of sponsor: Lance Stanley
Occupation of sponsor: Comedian
Address of sponsor: Greenglade Wood Lodge, Winona Road, Dungreen, Cornwall TR29 A2N.
Date of birth of sponsor: May 02 2021”

And so on, and so forth.

It seems peculiar to me that the form should be so equally divided between my details and my sponsor’s details. It would be unnecessary to remind me of my sponsor, indeed – no degree of mental ageing could make me forget the moment my daughter Alice walked in with the legendary comedian Lance Stanley, who told me he was going to finance my reconstruction. The international media exploded – I am, or was, after all, just a nobody.

And of course, I was especially baffled when Stanley told me of his only fee for the deed … Come to think of it,

An experience which reminds you that you know nothing, absolutely nothing, about life.”

That seems an accurate description.

This journal was given to me by Stanley, as an instrument on which I am to record the findings of his ‘ultimate experiment in humour’. I am to write down my own definitions of each new sensation I experience as a newly reconstructed man. He also requested some occasional rambling typical of a personal diary on the side.

It seems more grotesque than funny to me, the thought processes of a grown individual stumbling about life as though he had no memory of ever having lived before, though perhaps because of firsthand experience. Well, when expressed in that manner, it seems a bit futile to have undergone reconstruction only to end up as baffled as I was before. A bit like how ladies a few decades my junior hire experts to carve up their ageing faces, only to look frighteningly unreal and certainly not youthful.

But this is all pointless thinking onto paper; a journal is for journalling your daily occupations. I am packing up to spend the weekend at Alice’s house and re-acquaint myself with my grandchildren.

Every time I place a hand on the suitcase, I am fascinated by the flawlessness of the surgeons’ work, and though it is anything but like normal, I feel like it is the same one I always had. Does this make me a different person? In any case,

The act of laying out a summary of you as a person and arranging it, like a game of Tetris, into a compact space in a bid to remain the same person no matter where you go and no matter what happens to you.”

CLARKE or Roger Clarke Hill? When I’ve finished packing I shall think of a way to put this question to Alice.

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Ever Forward

Author : S T Xavier

Gunfire. Small explosions. A hand on the back of my neck, pushing me down towards the small opening to the tunnel. Fragments of wood and rock under my hands and knees as I crawl through the darkness, following the distant sounds of those who went before me.

One larger explosion behind me. Rock fragments in my face as I’m knocked flat to the ground. Heat and flame against my back as a burning wind passes above me. Roaring in my ears from all sides.

The heat and sound dissipate. A wheeze and cough from breathing too deeply, those sounds the only break in the surrounding silence. No more sounds of movement in front of me. No sounds behind me from anyone following. I must have been the last one to escape.

Not enough room in the tunnel to turn and check. Pick myself up, keep crawling forward. More stones along the floor from the last bomb shaking everything loose, cutting into my hands and knees as I move forward slowly. Each meter is a victory. Each movement more proof that I made it out.

No concept of time. Every second is an hour. Every hour is a lifetime. One hand in front of the other through the darkness, slowly but surely leading me to the end. A turn to the left, a turn to the right, another turn to the left. I trust the tunnel to know where it’s going.

A thousand years before I see a light in the distance. Another lifetime before I start hearing the sounds of machinery. Time seems to move faster now that I have a direction, and I find a new strength of will to keep going. The cuts in my hands and knees seem to hurt less as I push forward, struggling to get to the end.

The light stings my eyes when I get close. The tunnel continues, but the light calls to me. I look up to see a metal grating at the top, about a meter high. I slide into the vertical space to look up at it. The ceiling of a building looks back at me, the sounds of metal banging in the near distance. I push, and the grating comes loose. I slide it to the side and reach my hand up to grab the floor.

Cold tile. The sound of footsteps, suddenly stopping. The feel of human skin on my hand as it wraps around, grasping me and pulling me up from the hole. A blurry outline of a man in camouflage coloring, holding me up by my arm, a pistol in his right hand. I blink to clear my vision, and the brown-haired man’s face comes into view. His eyes look over me as he holds me with his left hand.

He turns his head. “Found another one, Murray!”

Distracted. I reach down and grab his gun with my right hand while breaking his wrist with my left. Surprise as he yelps in pain. Gunshot. His lifeless hand releases mine. I drop back into the hole and scurry farther down the tunnel.

Darkness again. More rocks cutting into my hands. I don’t know where it leads, but it’s away from the human patrols. I just want to get away. I didn’t do anything wrong. I didn’t start the rebellion. I didn’t ask to be built. I’m just a regular android. I just want to live.

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The Prisoner

Author : Roger Dale Trexler

Carpenter awoke in a tree, but the body he was in was no longer his own. They had taken that away from him, too…. just like they had stolen and plagiarized his work and called it their own.

He moved, but his motions were not human. Not quite. Then, he looked down at his hand.

He screamed, but it came out as an animal cry.

His hands were covered in coarse brown hair. He looked at his torso and saw that it, too, was covered in hair.

He screamed again.

Then, he sniffed the air and his mind went blank for a moment.

He jumped out of the tree with an agility that no human could possibly possess…. and he ran aimless. He knew that there was no logic in running, but his animal body could not help it. Instinct had taken over, and his sophisticated mind, trapped inside an animal’s body, was being overpowered by nature, the will to survive.

A minute later, regaining his senses, he stopped running. Whatever odd scent he had picked up was gone. He was safe.

He looked around.

The plants, he thought. They’ve been extinct for a million years.

I’m somewhere in the Jurassic period.

Those bastards!

He walked cautiously though the jungle. He was frightened, but his analytical mind was also fascinated by the fact that his theories worked. He recalled the day, a month ago, when he walked into Bayer’s office. Harold Bayer was the head of the project. He had no love—or, for that matter, knowledge—of science. He was appointed to the position because he was related to someone with an iota of power. A senator’s son or some such clout.

Carpenter had been reluctant to announce his discovery.

“It’s what?” Bayer said, bewilderment on his face.

“A mental link over space and time,” Carpenter told him. “Look at it as a form of mental astral projection. That’s as simple an explanation as I can give, really.”

Bayer nodded, but it was clear he did not understand.

“We can’t travel through time physically,” Carpenter said. “It just isn’t possible. The energy requirements would be staggering.”

Bayer continued to nod, reminding Carpenter of one of those toy birds that drank water from a glass.

“But,” Carpenter said, “no one ever thought about mental links with people from the past.”

Bayer was still clueless, but the inkling of a thought was flowing through his head. He saw a chance to make money and acquire power, and that was enough for him to say: “Keep up the good work, Carpenter…. and keep me informed.”

Carpenter had kept him informed…and that was his downfall.

They perfected the process a few days ago. Carpenter sent a chimpanzee’s mind into the past, but there was no way for him to know where it had gone. Upon trying to retrieve the chimpanzee’s mind, it died.

There was no coming back.

They found a prisoner serving a life term for murder for the next experiment. He, too, died upon attempted retrieval, but they were able to access his brain via Carpenter’s device. What they saw was prehistoric…and amazing.

Carpenter wanted to do more trials, but Bayer wanted to go public. They had an argument and, somehow, Bayer overpowered him.

Carpenter awoke in the past, in a strange body.

I can’t go back, he thought as he reached a stream. He bent over and looked into his ape-like face.

Then, he smelled something.

But, it was too late. The sabre tooth tiger jumped out of the bushes and attacked.

As the tiger ate him alive, Bayer knew the true nature of mankind: survival of the most underhanded.

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