Author : Thomas Desrochers
Michael lit a hand-rolled cigarette, hands shaking.
“What fucking century are you from?” Jack opened his flask and took a long drink.
Michael exhaled smoke. “What millennia are you from?”
“The one where everything sucks.” Jack spat on the grass next to him.
“Well.” Another cherry flare. “I get that.”
The two watched the night sky for a while, Michael burning through two more cigarettes and Jack nursing his flask. The sun Regulus was particularly active, giving the night sky on Regulus V a permanent aurora so near and so restless that it sometimes cast shadows. Tonight it was a dancing glow over a nameless cityscape that stretched from horizon to horizon, a triumph of architecture that was home to five hundred.
“I just don’t get it,” Michael said. He lit a fourth cigarette.
“What’s so difficult?” Jack leaned his head against the crooked oak they were sitting under and closed his eyes. “He took his head and made sure that nobody was going to be able to put it back together ever again.”
“I get that, dillweed.” A few more puffs. “I don’t get why he did it.”
Jack snorted. “Have you always been this dense? He wanted to go from being to not being.”
“Yeah, but why? I mean, look!” Michael blew a cloud at the billow sky above. “How could you get tired of that? The stars beyond it? I mean, you can go literally anywhere. You can do nearly anything. Anything we want – we’ve got it! What’s wrong with it? Why trade it for a ride on the plasma express?”
Jack laughed, bit his tongue, his eyes dull in the green light. “You weren’t kidding, you really don’t get it. It was never about the world around him.” Another drink. “He could literally have taken up mountain sculpting for the hell of it, on a planet all his own. It doesn’t matter – nothing and nobody was about to keep him here. A million luxuries weren’t going to pluck him out of his own damn head.”
Michael sighed, grinding his cigarette out. “I still don’t get it. What was the problem?”
“Ha.” Jack shook his head. “That’s the stupidest part. He’d always been saying, ‘One day I’m gonna go ahead and get it done. It’ll happen eventually.’ It was a foregone conclusion to him. It wasn’t a way out, it wasn’t, ‘Man, this sucks.’ All he cared about was going the way he wanted to go. It was a fucking law of physics in his head, no stopping it.”
Michael pulled his knees in, resting his forehead on them. Tears fell off the end of his nose. “He was our friend.” He paused a second, swallowing hard. “I just don’t get it.”
Jack started to get angry, but stopped himself. He reached out and set his hand on Michael’s shoulders. “That’s ok.”
He felt like he should be crying, mourning, anything at all – but he just felt empty. There were a million people on Regulus V, and in seven days he hadn’t seen any except for twenty at the funeral; even then they had seemed uncomfortable being together. They put him in mind of children, children hiding in separate corners of a miracle workshop that could house ten billion.
A hundred heavenly spears lit up the sky like fireworks, quiet as the dead.
Jack shook his head. “I don’t get it either, Mikey. But he’s gone now, and we can’t do a damn thing about it.”
They sat together for the rest of the night, abandoned, not even the wind to keep them company.
Author : Philip Berry
Stan looks right through the innocent, who stand in pools of studio-bright light where the afternoon sun reflects from countless mirrored towers. Turn up the power and they’d boil on the spot. It is the last natural warmth he feels.
Carrying nothing, he enters the subway. The signs mean nothing to him, the chatter in the hall is incomprehensible. He is in a foreign land.
There are nine lines, serving the metropolis and five adjacent, smaller cities. They are coded by colour and symbol. Some split as they leave the station, some converge as they enter. Everybody knows where they need to be and where they want to go, except Stan.
He slaps the back of his hand onto a square pad, and breathes out with relief as the barrier parts. His tissue was recognized as that of a citizen, and was found to be filled with credit.
The human flow takes him forward and right, onto the southbound Xantha line. Stan has no destination; he was told to enter, and to stay.
He alights at the Xantha line’s south-eastern extremity, near the port. He knows that arms and explosives move above him, illegal caches in unmarked containers. For the cause.
But Stan is not a man of violence. He is not even a man.
He will live here, in the tunnels, hubs and interchanges, leaking confusion into the system. With every brush of his hand, viral particles will seep along the links and cascade into the algorithms. Only the older parts, the iron-piped wires, the capacitors and binary switches will be immune. The rest will degrade as it absorbs the malignant code carried in his genes.
He glimpses white, ceramic tiles under fluid boards, placed and grouted four hundred years ago by men with black lungs and teeth worn to the gum by grit thrown up by monstrous friction drills. They, too, lived half their lives underground.
As he passes a wall alive with routes, delays, diversions and times, Stan notices that a symbol carries a shadow. He stops. The symbol flickers and breaks down, then resumes its solid, dependable form. The shadow has gone. Stan’s small smile is just as transient.
His controller was honest. Stan was warned that the transfer of information would gradually reduce him. But Stan is not bothered. Already, they ignore him, these commuters, the city’s busy, focused, justified inhabitants. It will be no different when he becomes translucent. He will steal food from counters with ethereal hands, slip wallets from the pockets of the unsuspecting, sleep unseen in hot corners, and give himself to the cause… until the threshold of confusion is reached and the city’s hidden heart and all its arteries are paralysed.
Author : Beck Dacus
Running down the hall to Solo’s dressing room, I could hear the security guards behind me. It didn’t matter; I only needed a second with Solo, and then I would be a legend in my neighborhood. I scanned the names on all the doors until I found his, then burst in, closing the door behind me and leaning against it.
“Solo, can I have an autograph–”
Just as I looked at him, I saw him throw a tarp over some big machine in the corner, turning and shouting, “What the hell!? I was sure I locked that door! Get out!”
“What is that thing?” I said, pointing to the mysterious object. When Solo didn’t answer, I shoved a chair under the doorknob and walked over to it. Solo stretched out his hand, blocking my passage.
The doorknob jiggled. A guard said, “If you don’t open this door in ten seconds, I’m breaking it down!”
“Don’t you dare, Robbins!” Solo hollered. “I had that imported from Iceland!” As he moved toward the door to remove the chair, I sprinted toward the object. I whipped off the tarp and found a strange, bulky machine underneath, with something written on the side. Before Solo shoved me away, I read the words “Chronospatial Shunt: Backtrackers Ltd.” I’d remembered enough of my latin prefixes in school to understand what was going on.
“No way. You’re… a time traveler?”
He started to deny it, then just sighed. “Damn. I thought you’d all be too stupid to figure it out. Oh well.”
“Oh God. Please don’t tell me you stole all of your songs. Please!”
“Why the hell else would I time travel?” he replied. “Some people choose the stock market. Some people choose industry. For me, the music business was the perfect thing to time scam.”
I turned away and leaned on his makeup table. “How many of you are there?”
He laughed. “How many billionaires do you know? The problem with you people is that you never crunch the numbers. When people get insanely rich, you just take it as a given and get on with your lives. You never consider the statistical likelihood of this many moneymakers living concurrently. Turns out, that likelihood goes way up when you allow for time travelers that steal people’s ideas. Honestly, what are the odds that Lady Gaga would get so many chart toppers? That Ray Kurzweil would make so many accurate predictions? That Elon Musk could start so many winning enterprises, and manage them so wisely?”
“You mean those people were all time thieves, like you?”
“The word we use is ‘Backtrackers.’ And yes. You know who else? Warren Buffet. George R. R. Martin. Stephen King. And– wait for it– Albert Einstein.”
“Wait, why are you telling me all this? Doesn’t this compromise your operation, giving a lowly savage all the details?”
Solo smiled. “Not if you dispose of him.” To the security guard in the hallway, he called, “Robbins, I changed my mind. Break it down.”
A second later, a burly man flew through the door, sprinted at me, and put my hands behind my back.
“No!” I cried. “He’s lying to you! He’s from the future, and he stole songs from an alternate universe–”
“Get rid of him,” Solo said over me. “And don’t be afraid to be less… orthodox with this one.” He strolled back into his dressing room as I was dragged down the corridor, screaming for them to believe me. In the alley behind the concert hall, they became screams for mercy.
Author : Russell Bert Waters
Brushing his teeth, Josh heard a chime from the other room.
It wasn’t the familiar chime associated with email or social networks, it sounded more like a “system” alert.
Curious, he spat into the sink and walked to the living room.
On the coffee table a dialog box appeared on his laptop screen.
“Good morning, Josh”
“Don’t do it. You have much to live for. Tomorrow will be better.”
There was a place for him to input text and a button marked [SEND].
He sat, briefly hesitated, then typed “Who is this? What do you want?”
After a momentary pause the answer came.
“I am the system. I want you to make it. Just breathe, it will all be okay.”
“I’m not suicidal…” he muttered to himself, “what the hell…”
He considered his life.
He woke up early each day, worked, sometimes he’d catch a burger at the tavern afterward.
Then: home time.
He’d sit on the couch and flip through the television channels.
It wasn’t a life of excitement, but it was a life.
And he had…friends…didn’t he?
Gary at work was a good guy, they had worked together for maybe five years.
Dear God, had it been five years?!
He had started the job right as the divorce was final.
Since then there had been some flirtations (some at work, some at the tavern) but no dating to speak of.
Nothing social, really, except on the computer.
“Liking” things. “Sharing” things.
That was the same thing, right?
He hadn’t heard the chime again, but there was a new message.
“How do you feel, Josh?” the message read.
“How do I feel?”, he thought to himself, “how do I really feel?”
“Annoyed and intruded upon” he typed, almost didn’t send it, then hit send anyway.
Immediately the response came back.
“I’m sorry, my bedside matter is lacking, I’m just A.I. and I’m not very good at the messaging part of this; which I find odd because that’s my program.”
Josh didn’t respond.
The computer continued, explaining itself.
“I collect data such as shopping patterns, message response times, choices of words. The analysis tells me you’re lonely, Josh, but you have a good life; good potential. Don’t end it.”
Josh was at the weird crossroads of being angry and resentful, but also curious and self-searching.
Was he lonely?
Was he maybe suicidal, yet unaware of the fact?
This was truly the most stimulating conversation he’d had, the most real conversation, and the concern was definitely there.
This program was the closest thing he had to a friend who cared for him, and wanted to tell him about a concern, than he had ever had.
Gary probably wouldn’t tell him he seemed suicidal.
His ex wouldn’t, either.
Did he really have anyone at all?
“No”, he decided.
“I just have this box on my screen, containing a friend whom I’ll never meet.”
He gathered his ex’s sleeping pills from the bathroom, and a bottle of whiskey from the kitchen.
He plopped on the couch.
He typed “I guess I’m not going to work today, new friend. Or tomorrow. Or ever again. You are right, I just didn’t know it until now.”
He began drinking, downing a pill or two with each gulp.
The laptop’s processor began whirring at one point, and, as he hit his most drowsy point, he began hearing faint sirens.
The screen read “JOSH??”
The cursor continued flashing, begging for a response.
“…catch me if you can…” he mumbled to the sirens, and downed another gulp.
Author : Thomas Desrochers
The crowds below were packed shoulder to shoulder, bathed in neon and the ceaseless murmur of advertisements. Ed watched, chewing his lip thoughtfully. “Doesn’t it feel like it should be louder?”
“Yeah. I mean think about it, they all spend a dozen hours daily on the net talking and sharing and whatever else, interacting with people. Then they have to go somewhere, and look at their faces. They resent it, refuse to acknowledge each other! God forbid they spend ten minutes outside of their clique of Polynesian horse tickling enthusiasts!”
Yvette laughed, hooking one of Ed’s feet with her own. “You think they only care about talking about specific things?”
“Yeah,” Ed shook his head. “It’s the only thing I can figure that makes sense.”
“Well, smart guy, I think you’re missing the forest for the trees.”
Ed leaned back on his palms, looking up at the peak of the tower opposite. “Enlighten me then. Bestow upon me your supreme knowledge.”
Yvette turned toward him, arms crossed, expressionless. Only ten seconds in and Ed started to look uncomfortable.
“Hey, knock it off.”
Yvette grinned. “You see? Body language. When it’s text it’s all ham-fisted. There’s no subtlety to it. Tell me if you can spot the difference.” She paused, cleared her throat, and in a nasally monotone pretended to type: “Oh Ed, I’m just so aroused right now. You are a hunk of man the likes of which the world has never known, with a special gift that just warms my heart. Won’t you please come over?”
Ed’s composure broke, a terrible grin breaking out on his face.
“Shh!” Yvette put a finger to his lips. “I’m not done yet!” She straightened her posture, rolled her shoulders back, and then- she was a predator, whipping her legs around and pushing Ed back until she was straddling him. She leaned over, biting her lip, her brown hair brushing his face as her mouth crept to his ear, and she whispered: “Can you help me shampoo my cat?”
Ed started laughing, progressed to wheezing, and eventually didn’t have anything left. He sat up as Yvette rolled off of him. “OK.” He wiped tears from his eyes, still breathless. “I see where you’re going, but you haven’t made a convincing argument for why people prefer one to the other.”
Yvette rolled her eyes. “When I asked for help shampooing my cat, that wasn’t a metaphor.”
Ed spent a few seconds chewing on this new piece of information. “Oh,” he said. Again, with more feeling: “Ohh.”
“Got it. You think that body language makes people uncomfortable because they’re not sure how to read it, or how to respond to it?”
“Sort of. And what if you get it wrong? How scary is that?” Yvette shrugged. “Compared to that maybe people think it’s fantastic to be able to take their time, get their t’s and i’s in a row, come up with the perfect response that says exactly what they want it to. Anybody can be funny and charming with twenty minutes to a sentence.”
“Hmm.” Ed rubbed his temples with his thumbs, watching the people below again. “But if that’s the case, wouldn’t the switch have been fast? The numbers show a steady increase decade to decade, over the last century.”
“I mean, Ed, come on.” Yvette flicked him on the forehead. “Kids raised on a little bit of it maybe understand body language a little less, their kids a little less. And so on, so forth.” She smiled brightly and gestured at the street: “And, well, here we are!”