Author : Lynette Aspey
My grandfather was a stone disciple. I only began to understand what that meant when he stopped speaking and began to stiffen. Yet, even then, when the cost to him was clear, our neighbors still brought their sick and their wounded for him to heal.
I guess they cared for him, honored – perhaps even worshiped him – but they used him all the same.
He gave of himself to others but the cost of that giving etched lines into skin slowly hardening to stone. Strong and healthy as I was, I could only watch as his stubbled cheeks became smooth bedrock for tears spent on others’ pain.
I became jealous; I wanted him to give me something too.
One day, I captured and broke the wings of a wild bird and brought it to him to heal. Afterward, he could not lift his hand above his shoulder. He cried when she flew away.
After that, I brought him whatever I could catch so that he could lay his hands on them and I could watch as the stone took more of him.
Then came the day mother brought her sister’s baby home. The infant was strong, healthy like me, but it had killed my aunt coming out. I was curious. If I broke the baby, would he fix that too?
It cost him his legs. Afterwards, he stopped moving altogether and took root in the stone of our kitchen floor but he could still see, so now we watched each other.
It became our secret. I brought him things that squawked, or squeaked and squirmed, and I would break them in front of him.
Do you see, Grandfather? I would ask. I have power too.
Then the bird came back. It sat on his shoulder and sang into his deaf ear. I could see how it distracted him, how it brought something back into eyes that were rigid inside his stone skull.
I tried to catch the bird again but it knew me now and fluttered out of reach, dancing between his shoulders, then his head, then onto his hands.
Aha! I thought, as I went to snatch it up – only to be caught myself. Fingers so hard, so strong, curled around my own and held.
I felt him die in that moment, as he used the last of his magic to heal me, sick and broken as I was.
Author : David Henson
One morning I have a horrible pain in my right side. I go see Dr. Ivan, my organ manager. She concludes my body is rejecting my liver and quickly puts in another. Less than a week later, I can barely get out of bed.
“We’ll have to put in a mechanical,” Dr. Ivan tells me.
Surprisingly, my body rejects it, too.
“I don’t know how I feel about that.”
“You don’t have much choice,” Dr. Jenkins says. “Unless you want to be the first person to die in a thousand years. You’ll get used to it. We can give you the same appearance. Not sure you want it.” Wise guy.
I reluctantly agree to have my consciousness transferred into an android body. Mechanical organs are one thing, but I’d rather not be a full artificial. I tried it decades ago. The extra strength is enjoyable for awhile, but the thrill wears off, and sensations are never as genuine as with truly human senses. That turns out to be the least of my concerns. The artificial brain doesn’t accept my mind.
I lean back, and Dr. Wilson places the metal band around my head. The last resort, no pun intended, is to preserve my consciousness by uploading it into Virtual-Land. Virtual-Land! Where people go on holiday! What else am I to do? I choose to go to The World That Was exhibit. Dr. Wilson begins tapping a keypad. I close my eyes, and giant sequoias flicker into view then vanish. I open my eyes, and the doctor is shaking her head.
“We think a passing muon did something to your neural electrical system. A one-in-a-trillion occurrence. We don’t fully understand, but it’s stymied everything we’ve tried to do.” Dr. Spangler opens a box with 10 small bottles. “I did some research and had these processed for you. They’re called ‘pills.’ Take three of each every day.”
He cups his hand to his mouth and tilts back his head. “Swallow them. With water. They won’t cure you, but they’ll prolong your life. You are going to die though, no doubt about it.” I swear he’s trying not to grin.
Dr. Spangler wrote up my case and is now famous throughout the medical community. But as renowned as he is, he’s not half the celebrity I am.
I can’t keep up with all the requests for interviews. My face is on hover buses and sky posters. Whenever I venture out, I cause a commotion with hoards of people clamoring for my autograph. “No, don’t sign your name,” they always say. “Sign it Dying Man.” I usually oblige.
I’ve been offered a fortune if I allow my every moment to be continuously live-streamed till my last breath. The colonies are begging me to visit but I’m too weak for hyper-travel.
There’s even a memorial — a thirty-meter holo of me. I’m standing with my arms outstretched, staring pensively into the distance. It’s called “Dying Man Looking Into The Abyss.” Pretty corny, but it’s what most people want to know: How do I deal with the fact one day soon I’ll simply cease to exist.
I never know how to answer them. In fact, I’m embarrassed to admit how I’m coping. I’ve become proficient at one of the rituals practiced by the ancients. Like everyone else, I used to belittle it. Now I understand why our ancestors prayed. They wanted to live forever, too.
Author : Charles Paul Wallace
I thought I’d got lucky.
She was my type, you know? Late ’20s, not-too-pretty-not-too-plain, intelligent…and, apparently, interested. I was in one of those black-light bars by the Thames, near to the corporate headquarters of my employers, Allwood Associates. She took the seat next to mine and ordered a sesame-oil tequila infusion. Class, I guess. We got to chatting. Things went well. We retired to a booth, then went on to a waterfront okonomiyaki stand in the shadow of Canary Wharf and ordered a pair of prawn specials.
The name she gave me was Rita. Authentic enough for me. “So, Seb.” She laid a gentle hand on my wrist. That should have set alarm bells ringing – but I’d had a few, and…well. You know. Lonely souls in the city and all that. “Guess you’re one of the lucky ones, right?”
“How so?” I leaned in towards her. The chef flipped our pancakes over and hummed a tune to himself.
“Well…” She swept an arm to indicate the towering temples of commerce a hundred metres away. “Not everyone has the luxury of a job nowadays.”
“And you?” I replied. My head felt fuzzy.
“Oh, I’m just like you.” She extracted a flask from her handbag and unscrewed the lid. An odour of absinthe and mint drifted out, mixing with the cooking smells. “So here’s to luck, huh?” She tipped her head back and drank. I almost fell in love there and then. She offered it to me. “Share and share alike, Seb.”
“Then here’s to you, Rita,” I said with as much seriousness as I could muster, and put the flask to my lips. The drink tasted warm like blood and cool like permafrost. When I handed the container back her eyes flickered cold for a second.
“Ready,” the chef called. I paid him and passed her one of the pancakes. The first mouthful tasted strange; like something dead was squatting beneath my tongue, sucking my vitality out. By the second bite Rita’s face was phasing in and out. Was it me? Or something about her?
“Seb,” she said. Her voice sounded metallic now. Her right eye-socket shone, as if made of plastic. “You won’t remember any of this. Not consciously. But I am legally obligated to inform you that you are now the property of ProvoTech Ltd, company registration number 10429199. Any prior employment contracts have been rescinded. You will report to us any and all protocols, blueprints or minutes related to the period of your employment at Allwood Associates, Ltd, not limited to –”
But she never got to finish what she was saying. Never got to, because at that moment her face caved in on itself and the mesh of wire filaments thus revealed began to melt. She – it – stumbled forward into my arms. Behind her stood the figure of the okonomiyaki chef, legs akimbo in a combat stance, his heat-gun still pulsing.
“Lucky boy,” he said, shaking his head. “Getting taken in by a spy-bot, eh?”
‘Rita’ crumpled to the ground, its mouth emanating a low electronic moan. The chef murmured code into a lapel-mic. I ran before whoever it was he was talking to turned up.
Back at my apartment I found a black-light scanner waiting for me on the kitchen table. My right eye-socket shone beneath its unflinching illumination, as if made of plastic. Something clicked inside my head.
I got out my phone. “1042-18 reporting,” I – or something inside me – murmured. “Spy-bot neutralised. Returning to base.”
On my way out I shoved the scanner into the toilet. I didn’t lock the door behind me.
Author : Edward Turner III
This isn’t really about the divorce now. Nor is it about the cheating, I am coming to terms with the fact that he truly wants me to die.
He is still speaking, running his mouth, pretending to be the good guy. He is smiling a big toothy grin as he speaks, “I don’t give a damn what happened between us anymore. I don’t ever want to hurt you, I just want everything to be as fair as it possibly can.”
“Fair? How is this fair at all?”
The local Magistrate, sitting in on our divorce proceedings speaks up, “As you know, the law states that this is what must happen to proceed with your divorce. Your husband has not specifically chosen this punishment ma’am.”
I shake my head, “All right, let’s get on with it.”
I look down at the contract between us. The Magistrate speaks softly, “One berry and freedom from marriage will be granted. You will receive 80% of all money and property.”
I look up at him, “What about the children?”
My husband scoffs, you know that sound someone makes as though you are being nothing but ridiculous, “Don’t worry about the kids, if you survive, you can have them.”
The Magistrate nods and adds this to the contract. His pen leaves a shiny sheen on the paper as though it will never dry. He turns the contract around, “Please sign.”
I do and then my husband takes it into his bony hands. He reads it again as though it has changed in the last seven minutes.
The Magistrate open\s the box before us. The box is adorned in gold and beneath the lid three small blackberries sit on top of three tiny exquisite pillows. Lace is even sewn into the edges of those pillows.
I look at my husband, “You really don’t care at all do you?”
The Magistrate tries to keep the peace, “This really is standard procedure when one party is found to have committed adultery.”
The tears are beginning to show. I pick up the third berry. Supposedly you feel nothing in the three minutes it takes to kill you, drowsiness and then death.
With that you are, gone forever from the life and the world we live in. I pop the berry into my mouth. I bite down, it is too acidic and suddenly I know I am going to die. I am sure I can feel the fatigue coming on.
I should have chosen a different berry. I don’t want to die.
The Magistrate has already flipped over the timer. I am supposed to watch as the final 180 seconds slip from my life.
I cry into my hands.
I wipe my tears and as the final grains of sand fall, the Magistrate says, “You are safe, it was the second berry.”
A loud bang scares the hell out of me. My husband is staring at me. He has hit the oak desk hard enough that I wonder if he broke his hand. The Magistrate gives him a stern look but says nothing.
The Magistrate stamps the bottom of the contract and lists the results with that pen.
The house is mine, the kids are mine, I won.
I stand up and say, “Thank you so much.”
My husband grabs my arm, “You don’t deserve this.”
I yank my arm from him and I say, “Maybe I don’t, but neither do you.”
I walk out of the room, tears filling my eyes. I made it.
I made it.
Author : Adam Byers
Case File: C7-40415
Description of event:
At 8:42 am on September 27, 1988, Kenneth James Walker was struck and killed by a bus. The Deviation occurred at the intersection of Fifth Avenue and Rutherford Road, District C, Sector 7. Mr. Walker was 28 years old.
Rationale for Deviation:
Mitigation of projected damages from an aberrancy resultant of Deviation K3-04117. Analysis showed 97% likelihood that the Rutherford Express Bus would crash into the Third Street Market at 8:51 am, September 27. The event would kill forty-seven people, forty-six of whom had extensive connections to future timelines.
One individual—Kenneth Walker (timeline node NC7-108412)—had much weaker connections to the prime timeline. Mr. Walker had a cancer of the brain that was both undiscovered and incurable. Due to his imminent deterioration and relative isolation from future events, Mr. Walker was selected as the catalyst.
The night of September 26, Agent Six visited the subject in a dream, assuming the form of Mr. Walker’s childhood dog, Benji. Mr. Walker was informed of his latent illness and of the anticipated accident. The subject was guided through his future timeline links, as well as projected nodal connections of the three most influential casualties: a child piano prodigy (NC7-130873), a mother of seven (NH5-P089218), and an orthopaedic surgeon (NC9-064112). Mr. Walker understood the request and consequences, and consented to serve as the catalyst. Instructions were inserted and his memory of the dream was erased.
The morning of September 27, Mr. Walker forgot his umbrella. He doubled back to his apartment, retrieved the umbrella, and ran to catch his bus. Approaching Fifth Avenue, while crossing against a traffic light, Mr. Walker altered his gait to avoid a deep puddle. He stumbled into the path of the Rutherford Express Bus and was struck. The vehicle did not complete its route to the Third Street Market, preserving forty-six lives.
Paramedics responded to the scene but were unable to revive the subject. A preliminary police investigation ascribed no fault to the driver, and a small memorial service was held for Mr. Walker on October 9. It was a poignant affair attended by family and friends, the appropriate mixture of reminiscence and grief. None of the ninety-seven guests in attendance know that Kenneth Walker died a hero.
Case file to be monitored for aberrancies for a one year period, with weekly review of timeline connections surrounding Mr. Walker’s parents (NC7-053441, NC3-242168) and the driver of the bus ND3-041333). If no aberrancies are detected during that period, status will be updated as Deviation: resolved.
October 12, 1988