The Interview

Author : Jason Frank

“Now, it’s just the two of us. Why don’t you start by telling me what it is about you that is special?”

“…”

“Come now, there must be something… some small ability you keep from everyone, some extra talent that no one else seems to have? You wouldn’t be here if there wasn’t something.”

“There could have been a mistake.”

“We are here only to talk about you. The competency of our Fifth Alignment’s Inquiry Board is not under discussion, though I would like to add that we don’t make mistakes. Relax.” He got off his stool and disappeared into the circle of darkness that surrounded her. The darkness was so thick, so palpable that it could have concealed anything.

Her mind worked on the darkness. Anything could be there beyond her field of vision but some things were quite unlikely. There was very little chance, she thought, that her friends and family crouched in that opacity, struggling to keep themselves from busting out and yelling surprise before the proper time. Her birthday was weeks away but her family was known to go to extremes to ensure surprise when surprise was called for.

“So…” he’d had a drink of water and used some of it to anchor the sparse hairs on his head more forcefully to the side they already favored, “… if you don’t feel like talking about how you might be different than other people, perhaps you wouldn’t mind going over some of the ways in which you feel you are just like everyone else.”

“I… I am happy to be a part of the Fifth Alignment.”

“Unfortunately, not everyone feels the same as you. Trust me. What else?”

“I want my parents to be proud of me. I want to be the kind of person that is well liked. I want to do what is right. I want to be closer to the me I imagine. I want all the cratecatchers on my block to celebrate me in song. I want to have a partner for the third dance of every sponsored shaexit. I wonder what other people think about me.”

“Perhaps your specialness has to do with being typical, perfectly typical. Perhaps it is your complete lack of specialness that is special? Could that be it?”

“It is possible_”

“Ha ha ha, I’m sorry, I couldn’t resist. That is assuredly not why you are here. Think harder. Think about any differences you’ve noticed in yourself, no matter how seemingly insignificant.”

“…”

“Come on, we don’t have all day. Ha ha ha, again, I’m sorry, we have all the time in the world. Don’t feel any pressure.”

“I imagine things.”

“Yes? What kinds of things?”

“Well, when you walked off to where I couldn’t see, I imagined that my friends and family were standing there in the darkness, waiting to yell surprise and laugh at how they had me going.”

“Hmmm, very interesting. You were rather accurate.” He waved his hand and the room lit up to reveal a startling percentage of her friends and family, bound as she was to lightly slanted, upright beds. Unlike her, their mouths were covered. Very much was being said by their watery eyes, however.

“Finally, we are getting somewhere. I would classify this as some rudimentary form of ESP at the very least. Hmmm, perhaps it’s time we move on from talking to more… productive tests.”

 

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Limited Options

Author : Steven Odhner

“I can already tell you aren’t interested in the admittedly confusing equations I’ve taken the time to write out, which is fine. So to give a quick and imprecise summary I will use the tired metaphor of Schrödinger’s Cat, where a cat is placed in a box with something toxic that will be released with a fifty-percent likelihood, triggered by radioactive decay of something else in the box.

“In the Many Worlds interpretation the universe splits, and in one the cat lives while in the other it dies. Obviously we only get to see one of the two, but both happen somewhere. In the Copenhagen interpretation, the cat is simultaneously alive and dead until a measurement collapses the wavefunction to just one option at random. In the Stockholm interpretation, the cat falls in love with the scientist that locked it in the box.

“Nothing? Well, my wife thought it was funny. At any rate, while the Copenhagen interpretation is currently the most accepted there are problems with all of the theories and they are all devilishly hard to test. In large part this is a philosophical question rather than a scientific one, until we can get more data. Rather, until they can get more data. I already have it, and know the answer. I’m just not sharing it yet.

“Imagine, for a moment, that the Many Worlds interpretation is correct. That means that entire universes are unfolding constantly, an unimaginable number of them every moment. Some have speculated that we could find a way to travel between them, see the alternate versions of Earth that might have been. That’s a pretty thought, and something that might come to pass someday, but what I’ve discovered while working towards it is far more productive – and profitable.

“The device you see before you provides limitless free energy. This one prototype could power every device in the world at once if you could find a way to plug everything in. Every instant our reality is remade along with an infinitely expanding fractal cloud of others, and this device just… nips one in the bud. All the energy of the big bang, for free. All for just one lost option, one that will never be missed.

“Destroy the universe? Not this one. No, it’s quite safe. Technically speaking it destroys a universe every ten seconds or so, but they’re more like proto-universes. It’s not a big deal, really. It very nearly collapses them before they exist. Very nearly. Honestly, you don’t need to look so horrified. We’re talking about free energy here. This is the holy grail of science. It’s… excuse me?

“No, I told you it’s perfectly safe. It can’t break in a way that would do any more harm than a transformer exploding – You would have to deliberately turn it into a bomb if you wanted it to do anything serious. Well, yes, in theory. I’m not sure that’s a productive use of free energy, but I suppose with the right design you could release a minute fraction of the harvested energy as an explosion before the device obliterates itself. Call it one-one millionth of a percent, enough to level New York. No, no. The state.

“But we’ve gone off-topic. Back to the matter of free, clean energy for… Pardon me, but I’ll thank you to put away those guns.”

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Adoption

Author : Harris Tobias

It was adoption day at the facility. All those humans slated for euthanasia looking so bewildered, frightened and lost. How can anyone just leave them all to die? Thork and I rolled by the glass fronts of the cages stacked three rows high. So many of them. There must have been several hundred. They stared back at us hollow eyed and distrustful. Most had given up any hope of rescue. It was so sad.

Thork and I would take them all home if we could. As it was, we had already rescued six over the years. They make such wonderful pets. So grateful to have another year or two of life. Loyal, loving and kind, there’s nothing like a mature human to make a bleem a pronk. I look at their faces. I believe I can read a lot into their expressions. These are the unwanted refuse that clutters our streets. Picked up like vermin, breeding in dark corners, mongrels the lot of them. And yet, I believe, there is a dignity in even the lowest of them. Clean them up and feed them and they are the equal of any pure bred expensive variety.

I have had nothing but good experiences from my rescue pets. Oscar was beloved by all in the years he lived with me. It broke my org to flush him but he was so broken, he was not worth fixing. To this day I don’t know how he got under my roller. But I believe that every life is special and that there is something cute and worth saving in all of them. I roll by slowly and check out their faces. I nudge Thork with my appendage and point to a female in the third row. A mature female beyond child bearing years with a soft belly and sagging breasts. Water streams from her eyes like they do when they are sad. It touches my org. “She’s the one,” I tell Thork and he rolls off to get the attendant.

The attendant expertly wraps an appendage around our female and rolls her to the front. They are so small and delicate. The attendant examines her and gives her her shots with a big needle. She lets out a little yelp of pain and he puts her in the carrier we brought. We give the attendant credits and Thork carries the human to the transporter. We will keep her in the cage with the others. They seem to like their own kind. Outside the air is cool. The human whimpers and cowers in the corner of the carrier. I smeem to Thork, “Look, she shakes. That means she likes me doesn’t it?”

“Perhaps she is frightened or cold,” Thork knows nothing about humans.

“Perhaps,” I smeem back unconvinced. “I will call her Oscar like my other one. What do you think?”

Thork smeems assent. I stick my appendage into the carrier and stroke the creature. It shrieks. I can tell it likes me.

 

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Sorry

Author : Richard Chins

Sorry fragments of the dead man’s face reflected the white of the setting moon, lighting the ragged road side hump of molten metal and highway slag. His burning flesh cocktailed with a tart tarmac stench that bit at the lip.

I thought of burying him, but one handed, it would have taken time, which would put me in danger of being discovered – the danger triggered the mechanism again, fire bursting unexpectedly from the stumpy weapon port, where my arm had once been. I searched for his face again, in the unnatural light of my incineration, but found none. I retched, one hand yanking to my mouth, automatically: the other burning on.

If I returned to the desert now, he would have died for nothing. The bonfire of twisted humanity that had tried in all good faith to batter me unconscious with a rock and prise this thing off my arm, burnt on. It wouldn’t have worked, I can feel its roots shift inside my rib cage, consolidating its hold on me.

I turn to the dented road, extend my good arm, thumb raised, my skin cracking in bloodless seams around my mouth.

 

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Red Tank

Author : John Xero

“BRRRRRRRMMMMMRRRRRRR”

“This is my dad’s tank.”

“B-B-B-BOOM, B-B-B-BOOM”

“It’s red and it has really, really big guns.”

“And it has scanners.”

“WJJJJJJJJJJJJ WJJJJJJJJJJJJJ”

“The scanners show him where the bad guys are and then he blows the bad guys up.”

“B-B-B-BOOM”

— —

In the kitchen Mary nurses her cup of tea and looks out of the window, into the sky. She listens to her son, George, in the other room with Doctor Ramsay. He’s having a good day today.

It will be George’s birthday soon and Jack will call them, like he does every year. The only time he ever calls them on a live feed. Jack will say happy birthday to his son, tell them he loves them both and hang up.

Afterwards she will tell herself all the awkwardness was down to the distance delay on the call.

— —

Some few hundred million kilometres away Jack is recalibrating the big guns.

Outside his tank the Martian wind howls. Red sand scrabbles for entry, trying every nook, every scar in the metal. The whole thing is due for an overhaul, but then what piece of equipment there isn’t. They will never leave this planet.

Jack sighs. He will have to call Mary soon, say happy birthday to George. Tell them there is no end in sight.

No one on Earth knows the truth yet. That what they fight is not a people but a planet. Victory is impossible. Every time they wipe out a nest the planet just extrudes more and they’re buried in little red men again. All they can do is keep things under control, prevent another attack on Earth like the one nineteen years ago.

Nineteen years ago; while Mary was pregnant with George; when the skies turned red and the clouds rained blood.

Jack looks at the photos pinned up in front of him; one of Mary and him on their honeymoon, and one of Mary and their son. It was the last time he saw George in the flesh, when he was three. The age George would always be, mentally. Mary had sent him newer photos, but he couldn’t bring himself to print them and put them up. This was George to him.

This was the George he spoke to once a year.

Jack didn’t know if he could ever go back.

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