Once in a Lifetime

Author : Matt Brubeck

We’re in the Starbucks next to the club, hanging out after a show. Aaron looks up and gives a brief snort. “Check it out,” he says, nodding toward the door. I see a trio of young kids, studying the menu and trying to look cool. I recognize them from the crowd at the concert.

“Time travelers,” Aaron says through a mouthful of croissant. “New arrivals, I’m guessing.”

“What? I think they’re college students.”

“Look again.” Aaron’s eyes twitch toward the newcomers, then back to me. “Their clothes are totally ridiculous, like they were picked out of random fashion magazines from the last decade.”

“I thought they dressed like that because they’re hipsters,” I say, looking again at their off-brand sneakers and thrift-store sweatshirts.

“You know how you always see these kids in low-paying service jobs?” Aaron goes on. “Retail, food service. It’s because they don’t have time to learn the period knowledge they’d need for a trade or professional job. See, I’ve figured it out.” Aaron leans over the table, whispering. “Say you’re a rich kid from the future on wanderjahr. You’ve got a time machine, but what do you do with it? Great Moments In History aren’t going to impress your friends. But if you can see a classic band from the twenty-first century before they made it big?” Aaron raises his eyebrows syly. “Watch, I’m gonna go mess with them.”

Aaron washes his pastry down with a swig of coffee, then wanders over to talk to the trio. I can’t hear their replies, but Aaron’s voice carries across the room. “Weren’t you guys at the show? Oh yeah, I know… Did you see them play here last week? Oh man, it was probably their best set ever… Yeah, a real once in a lifetime thing… Yeah, cool… Hey, I gotta go.”

Back at our apartment, we unearth my camera and download the last month’s worth of photos onto Aaron’s laptop. Aaron flips through images until he finds what he’s looking for. “Got ’em,” he proclaims, handing me the computer. On the screen is a photograph from last month’s show. In the back of the club, next to the exit, a trio of hipsters stands in familiar outfits, holding paper cups marked with a distinctive green-and-black logo.

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Children's Programming

Author : Kevin Byrne

The adults were all sitting down, watching the children interact with one another; to a soul, they all said the same thing to me: “I cannot believe how well-behaved your son is. We try so hard just to get our child to even listen to what we’re saying, much less do what we tell them.

“What’s your secret?”

I lean in and whisper. “My wife and I drill it into him.”

They all smirk and nod. “Yeah, right.”

At that point, I call my son over; when he arrives, I continue the conversation. “Seriously, we’ve drilled it into him.”

I lift the flap of scalp to show the inch-by-inch square where you can see his brain. “We opened up his skull and inserted electrodes; we were able to turn the behavioral patterns we wanted him to follow into binary code and transmitted them directly into his brain.”

I replaced the flap and told him that he could go back and play with the other kids. I picked up my drink and smiled.

“Next week, we’re teaching him French.”

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Best Friends

Author : Alex Meggitt

I shift around on the couch, flipping through the channels and trying to make myself comfortable. Tim is sitting on the other end, watching the television cycle through sounds and images. The complacent look in his eye clears for a second as he sits upright and slaps me on the shoulder.

“Go back a couple,” he says, and I tap the down arrow on the remote until he gives the signal and the screen settles on a familiar sitcom.

“You’ve seen this like a dozen times,” I say.

“Yeah, but I like it,” he says. I sigh and try to balance the remote lengthways on the couch’s arm. It wavers for a few seconds then falls. When blindly groping the floor proves worthless, I turn on the only lamp within arm’s reach.

“That lamp kind of sucks,” Tim says without looking away from the TV. “Wal-Mart’s having a sale this week. They’ve got some good ones. Saw it in the paper.”

Still bending forward in my seat, now looking under the table next to me, I turn my head to look at him. He’s still transfixed by the screen. After a second, I give up and say I’m hungry.

“Then let’s go to McDonald’s when the show’s over.”

“Why McDonald’s?”

“What? Cause I like it. It’s good. You like it, too.”

I lean back into a normal sitting position. “We go there all the time.”

“Cause it’s good.” He doesn’t close his mouth completely at the end of the sentence, and I stare at the bottoms of his front teeth. They’re very white despite the number of cigarettes he smokes per day. Mine aren’t comparable. He’s been telling me to buy his brand of toothpaste for a while.

When the commercials begin, Tim slouches a little and looks at the ceiling. He’s thinking, and the moment he opens his mouth, I cut him off.

“Tell me something,” I say, pulling a folded piece of paper out of my pocket. I’ve practiced in my head for a while now. Slowly and purposefully, I unfold the paper at an angle that lets him read. His eyes get a little wider as he recognizes the words printed on the gray watermark pattern. It’s his pay stub, a weekly check from a job he’s never mentioned. I have a question to ask, but it comes out a mashup of every topic in my head. “The catalogs, the checks. Honestly. Just tell me how long.”

“Why’d you go through my stuff?” he says.

“I went to borrow your toothpaste because mine ran out. I found it in there.”

“It’s good stuff, isn’t it? Whitens,” he says, smiling a little.

“Come on. How long have you been doing this? Tell me how long you’ve been selling me things.”

He looks at me, makes a sound, and hesitates. I glare.

“Remember when we were sixteen? And I told you to get a few more controllers for your Nintendo?”

“Jesus.”

“I mean, it was just meant to be a summer job at that point. But they liked me. And it’s good money.”

I stand up, looking at the floor as I rise, and walk out of the room. When I return a minute later with my coat on, he’s still looking at the point where I turned the corner and went out of sight.

“Are you going to tell the rest of the guys about this?” he asks. “If they all know, I’ll find another group of people. I’ll have to move. I like you guys.”

“I thought we were going to McDonald’s. Come on.”

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The Skein Tree

Author : Michael “Freeman” Herbaugh

“Sit down Philip,” the old man sighed, “I’m going to tell you a unique story.”

Philip had never seen the Old Man look his age, yet today he looked every day of his 94 years. He’d only been working for him for five years now but the Old Man seemed to like him and had treated him very well.

“Every trillionaire has some cliché story about how they used to be down on his luck and worked his way up from nothing. I’m no different, I have the same story. But what I am going to tell you is what turned me around. This is a story I’ve told no one.”

The Old Man went on to lay the story at Philip’s feet. He told him of the time when he was 19 and in school. He felt his life lacked purpose and that if he were gone it wouldn’t affect another living soul around him. This was when he attempted to kill himself and failed.

“The bandages were still tight on my wrists and my hands were tender when I was released back to my dorm room. She was waiting for me there.”

The Old Man told of a young co-ed girl he didn’t recognize who was waiting for him. She didn’t say anything to him but immediately kissed him. In his fragile emotional state he allowed her to make love to him.

“When we were spent, she gave me a present, you see, a length of thread. She explained to me that this thread was my life and that if I truly wished to end it, all I had to do was cut it. She said, ‘Every life has a destiny, but it’s not spelled out for you. Fate only goes so far.’ I thought she was some new age depression counselor, but I kept the thread anyway. When she left I caught her reflection in my mirror and I swear to you her face looked immensely ancient while at the same time extremely young. I kept the thread”

Philip listened as he explained how he had never seen the girl again and that each year the thread had grown in length. Eventually he came to believe that the thread did truly represent his life. At the age of 30 when he purchased his first home he cut away the bark of an oak tree on his property and embedded the thread just underneath the length of its trunk.

“As that tree has grown, so has my life. I have a large family now and a large corporation as well. My one life has touched countless lives. I only hope that my affect has been positive on the majority of them. One or two I’ve crushed like bugs but I do not regret that. I just hope that the ones I care for most, like you Philip, live their days without regret and realize that they do affect the people around them.”

Having finished his unusual story, the Old Man slumped in his chair and looked even more fragile than he had at the start of their meeting. He explained to Philip that the tree he had put the thread in was dying from some arboreal disease and that it was scheduled to be cut down the next morning.

“I have one last task for you Philip. Make sure no one stops that tree from being cut down.”

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Swarm

Author : S. ‘Hrekka’ Clough

The launch chamber decompressed, the escaping air flushing Will’s Swarm from the Carrier like so much flotsam. His sixteen Swarm were joining others who were launching from the Colichemarde and her two sister ships. His visor highlighted each group as he looked at them, bringing them into focus against the inky blackness.

“Remember, the enemy ship is down!” Talen barked over the radio. He was remonstrating a few of the most inexperienced members of Will’s Swarm. They had been falling upwards, their faces pointing towards the ship that they were assaulting. The Athena‘s guns could shred their helmets like wet cardboard. It was only the wasplike sheath they wore from their waists down that was truly armoured. Soon enough, they were all dropping together, like oversized shells, towards the doomed Athena. His Swarm dodged the Athena‘s anti-missile munitions with ease. William scanned the battlefield. Everything seemed illuminated in the dull secondhand light. Except the three carriers. Now high above, each ship gleamed, a newmade coin hanging in the heavens.

The first of his Swarm touched down onto the Athena‘s hull.

“Hook! Andrew! I need some holes in this bloody ship!” Will bellowed over the radio. He hovered about ten metres off the hull of the ship, AG humming. A little dartgun secreted in his glove spat four darts. Red circles blossomed onto the hull, and the two drillmen got to work. Their armour split, and retracted partially, allowing them to stand and brace against the industrial drills they carried. It didn’t take them long to finish. The drills quietened, and Andrew carefully dropped a blasting charges into each of the holes. He finished just before the ship’s lattice attempted to heal over the surface wounds.

“Hold fast! Blast in five!” Will shouted. Hook and Andrew cleared the area, discarding the drills, and drawing their assault weapons. The rest of the Swarm did likewise: boarding axes and pistols, shotguns and blades of all descriptions came out of their sheaths. Will drew his long-handled chainaxe, and waited.

The explosion, when it came, was quite beautiful. The four charges detonated in succession, blowing pillars of fire down into the bowels of the ship, and up, fueled by solidox and the ship’s atmosphere. Gas vented from the breach, and the panel floated away. Then Will’s Swarm were pouring in, their agrav packs keeping them aloft against the pull of the expensive gee-floors. They tore through the ship, blasting holes in bulkheads, forcing decompression. Choking, dying technicians were dispatched by the Swarm’s flashing blades.

And it was all over. The bridge still had air. All the command crew lay dead at their stations. Five Swarm stood in a semicircle in front of the captain’s chair, their armour fully stowed. The captain lay on the floor. Will’s axe lay across his exposed throat.

“Separatism is a doomed cause,” said Will. He lifted the axe, and smashed it down, just once.

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