Ravages of Time

Author : Steve Smith, Staff Writer

My eyes were the first to go. They’d been deteriorating since my mid thirties, and after a bacterial infection in my early forties I couldn’t focus on anything anymore.

I had coverage, so I had them replaced.

I remember the change was immediate and incredible; I could see things close to me with incomprehensible fidelity, and see things miles away with striking clarity. I could make out things of interest that I couldn’t easily get to, at least not in any reasonable amount of time.

So I had them replace my legs too.

There was no more forgetting why I was walking towards some far-off things that had caught my eye, I could sprint there in almost no time without even getting winded. I ran everywhere, exploring, it was a new dawn of discovery.

It was on one such exploration that I lost my footing and fell, tumbling in a flailing jumble of limbs across the gravel and glasphalt, breaking both my arms.

It was good that I had coverage.

It would have taken months for my bones to knit, and for the physio to get them strong again. I was in and out in a few days with brand new ones.

From there it seemed like every few months there was something else that needed replacing, or upgrading. No longer having limbs wreaked havoc on my circulation, and while they were replacing my heart it seemed only natural to replace my lungs and digestive system, ‘while we’re in there…’, the doctor had said.

It was covered, so why not?

I’ve got a hundred year warranty on all my parts now, so I figure I’m good for the long haul.

You look familiar, do I know you?

Wife? You’re funny, I’m sure I would remember if I had a wife.

You do remind me of a girl I used to know, back in the day. Prettiest thing I’d ever laid eyes on.

My eyes were the first to go, they’d been deteriorating since my mid thirties…

Ro and Ju Play with Fire

Author : David Henson

Ro and Ju are holding hands on a platform under a busy leviway when a sparrow lands nearby. Ro releases Ju’s hand, draws his DeathRay, and fires. The sparrow glows brightly, then disappears.

“Nice shot,” Ju says. Ro steps back and shoots her in the forehead. She glows briefly before the light dissipates. “Mmmm, I love that tingly feeling. Your turn.” She shoots Ro under his right eye.

He flares momentarily and smiles. “I’ve about got my father talked into coding this baby up to full power so it’s not just a bird and butterfly killer.” He twirls his gun back into its holster just as a woman wearing Bluecone Party colors and another showing Redrods walk past each other, hands twitching by their DeathRays.

Ro glances up. “Here he comes. Same time here tonight?” Ju nods.

The hoverbike glides down. “Hello, Sir,” Ju says. Ro’s father revs his bike’s magneton. Ro hops on, and the two soar to the leviway.

Weaving through traffic, they pass a Bluecone candidate hologram with spray-flamed devil horns. Ro’s techpath implant chirps, and he accepts his father’s thought: Real jerks, whoever did that. A few seconds later they pass a hologram of the Redrod candidate with a flaming tail. Better, Mr. Mio thinks to his son. Ro doesn’t transmit anything back to his father.

***

Ro’s father laser-knifes his steak. “Ro was with that Liette girl again.”

“You know her parents are Redrods.” Ro’s mother stares at him. His techpath implant chirps. He ignores it and goes to his room.

***

Ju is waiting for Ro when he glides his father’s hoverbike to the platform. She secures her mother’s bike with a force field and climbs on behind Ro. They rise to the nearly deserted leviway. When they reach the Bluecone hologram, the horns are barely smoldering. Ro swings close, and Ju retraces them with fresh spray-flame. Then they hit the devil-tailed Redrod hologram and a few others from both parties before returning to the platform. They dismount and embrace. Ro steps back, draws his DeathRay, and playfully shoots Ju between the eyes. She begins to glow, then suddenly gasps and vanishes.

Ro screams. “Ju! What happened?” He chirps her implant. Nothing. He jumps onto the bike and streams home.

***

“You!” Ro shouts at his father. “You knew I liked to shoot her. You coded my DeathRay up to full power without telling me so I’d vaporize her for real. Just ’cause her folks are Redrods.”

“I didn’t,” Ro’s father says.

“You did. Well, I won’t live without her.” Ro activates his tech-kinesis implant, and his father’s DeathRay flies into Ro’s outstretched hand. He fires the weapon into his chest, glows brightly, then disappears — just as Ju bursts into the room.

***

Ro’s mother and father are on their knees, wailing. After several minutes, Mr. Mio turns toward Ju. “What are you doing here? Ro said you were dead. Blamed me.”

“Get out,” Ro’s mother shouts.

“Not yet.” Mr. Mio stands. “Tell me exactly what happened.”

Ju struggles to breathe. “A horrible prank … a joke. I snuck out with my mom’s invisibility cloak. When Ro shot me, I activated it so it’d look like … He took off so fast. I tried to … What have I done?”

Ro’s father approaches Ju. “Filthy Redrods.”

Ju holds out her hand, and Mr. Mio’s DeathRay flies to her. “I can’t live without him.” She fires the weapon into her chest, glows brightly, and, with a final sob, is gone.

Father Son Time

Author : Joseph Lyons

A few years ago I was lucky enough to land a reasonably well paid job. Like most well paid jobs in this system it meant not great work in a not great place. It was a mining facility on an uncomfortably hot but habitable planet. We were encouraged to bring our families, so I did. My wife and I had just had a son so the new start and good money were very welcome. Worker’s housing was a good deal better than we’d had before, an old world looking wood-effect two storey home with its own small plot of land and full mod cons. For a long time I was happy, but my wife was not. It was no surprise when she left me, but it was a surprise when she left our son.

The work had been long shifts on rotating patterns till this point. Now I had to cut back to set hours, have friends babysit, enroll him in nursery and eventually school. My colleagues and friends were incredible throughout the adjustment, very supportive, but no one can really tell you how to raise a young boy by yourself.

I had always been the fun parent; discipline was never my thing. I knew enough to know smacking wasn’t the route to go down so I tried naughty steps, time outs, removal of privileges. He continued to become more unruly until I stumbled across something that worked. Once, as a child I had spilled my cereal on the floor and my mother made me count every single piece back into the bowl. My son dropped his on purpose so the memory kicked in and I set him to counting. It worked very well. Eli was five then, he’s six now. He’d been young enough that I’d had to help him once he reached a certain number. It felt oddly good and rewarding for us to work together, even if he was being punished.

Tonight he’d been avoiding his homework and not turned his console off when I had repeatedly asked him to.

“No, no, NO!” he eventually screamed after I asked for the dozenth time.

“That’s it.” I killed the power myself. He stormed out back. “If you’re going to sulk out there you can count the stars while you’re at it.”

“ONE!” He shouted. “TWO! THREE!”

I sat down and tried to block it out. He’d simmer down eventually.

“FIFTEEN! SIXTEEN!……One, two.”

“Hey, no shortcuts. You keep going till you hit a billion.”

“Seven…eight…nine.”

“Speed it up. Count to a hundred fast and you can come back in.”

“Fifteen, sixteen, seventeen, eighteen.”

“That’s better, keep it up.”

“Dad, they’re going too fast for me to count.”

“What’re you talking about?” I mumbled as I headed out.

“I got to twenty three less but they’re going too fast now.”

“Twenty three less?” My son looked back to the sky and I followed his gaze. “Oh god.” I took a second to make sure I held it together infront of my son. “Wait here.” I headed back inside and came out with a blanket, ice cold lemonade and the last of his chocolate. I poured us both a drink and we laid on our backs.

“I’ll help. You point and I’ll count.” He raised his arm to the darkness as he took a sip of lemonade. “Here.” I moved it up to the left. “We’ll count the ones that are still there. By the time you’ve finished your chocolate that’s going to be the much easier job.”

Deal With It

Author : Jules Jensen

He looked like the most average business man in the world. He even carried a briefcase in one hand. I wondered if he packed away a pitchfork or angel wings or horns or a halo in that thing. These days, no one could tell if they were selling their soul to an angel or a demon.

“I think I’ll pass.” I said.

He blinked. I swear, if I weren’t told from the moment I could walk and talk that these things were a spirit-being of some kind, I’d think he was a computer that just had to force itself to reboot to figure out this problem.

“You’re brother will remain sick, if you do. You don’t want him to die, do you?” The businessman asked. People walking by on the street didn’t even pay any attention to him, or to me. I snorted. As much as it tugged at my heartstrings, I knew that my brother would not want his only big sister to throw my soul away for a bad deal. He’s the one always talking about numbers needing to make sense, after all.

“Twenty years isn’t enough to do everything he wants to do in life, anyway.” I said, to which the businessman frowned. I turned, starting to walk away, but I felt I had to say something else. Did these businessmen make some kind of commission, or were they just dicks? “This deal sucks. I don’t know if your kind have customer service reviews, but I’ll make sure that all my friends will know that you make crap deals.”

I took a single step, and I felt his hand gently on my shoulder. It made me shiver and flinch away, and throw him a dirty look.

“How about forty? Same price.” He said.

Forty? Then, if he was going to die, he’d be forty-nine. He could have gone to college, had fun, found a career, made the best friends in the world. Settle down with the perfect girlfriend. And then he’d die before old age stole away his vitality.

That actually sounded pretty good.

“Forty, and two less lifetimes.” I don’t know why I asked, but he didn’t seem so offended by the counter.

“Deal.” He waved a hand over the paper, and I saw the numbers change. I took the blood-red pen from his other hand and signed the paper, which floated in the air as if it rested on an invisible table.

Four years later.

The funeral ended hours ago. And all that time, I’d been trying to call him. Over and over again, I shouted at the sky, at the ground, because I don’t remember where he said he came from.

Eventually, he came. He looked exactly the same. He even smiled at me.

“You bastard!” I threw the words at him and his smile seemed to only get bigger.

“What?” He had so much nerve.

“You killed him!”

“Honestly, a gas fire is a pretty random event.” He shrugged. Shrugged, like that’s all my brother’s fiery death was worth.

“He was supposed to get forty years!”

“It’s not like I’m going to go out of my way and make sure he lives all those years. If he was going to die some other way all along, then that’s just what happens.”

“Refund. Now.”

“That’s not how it works.” And then his smile changed. And I knew that this was no ordinary demon or angel, this must be the devil himself. “Maybe you should have stuck to the original deal.”

And then he was gone.

SolMatch

Author : D.J. Rozell

Liam’s eyes wandered down the conference table of potential investors calibrating what level of formality would be perceived as both confident and competent. “OK, so there are many dating apps available. Some of them even make money. However, they all share the same two problems – they rely on user self-knowledge and honesty. Filling out a questionnaire or selecting dates from profiles requires users to know themselves and what they want. Countless studies have shown people consistently lie to themselves and others. Some of our competitors see this as a feature rather than a flaw because it ensures repeat customers. But we at SolMatch believe a lot more money can be made without resorting to cynicism. Our goal is to help every person find their actual best possible relationship.”

“So this is how it works. You download the SolMatch app. Our proprietary AI system accesses and analyses your browser history, social media presence, phone logs, and texts. From this data, the SolMatch system determines your current or most recent romantic partner and then searches all publicly available data for that person. Within 24 hours – one Earth sol – the system sends you a short narrative that explains why you were incompatible with your last partner or what is dooming your current relationship.”

“Don’t you turn off potential customers if you criticize them or their partner?” asked one of five grey suits at the table. This one was balding and wore the only tie in the room.

Liam was prepared. “SolMatch doesn’t critique people, just relationships. Besides, no one downloads the app if they are happy with their current relationship.” The suit nodded and Liam continued, “So, it turns out that diagnosing the basic faults in a relationship is not that hard for SolMatch. The general feedback from customers is amazement – how did we know their relationship so well? In beta testing, 93% of downloads go on to be paying users.” Liam let that sink in. There were several more nods around the table.

“Once we have demonstrated the value of SolMatch, we offer to find customers the best possible future relationship within one Venus Sol. This problem is much harder, so it take about eight months of machine learning to generate a reliable solution. The cost is $1 a day. Once they sign on, the app continues to track what the customer reads, texts, and posts, but also includes microphone analysis and GPS tracking. The SolMatch AI analyzes all interpersonal interactions and all movements and builds a probabilistic attribute map for each customer. At the end of the assessment, we match customers with the most overlapping attribute maps. We have generated a map for every person on the country with a digital presence, but, for obvious reasons, SolMatch customers will have the least uncertainty in their maps. We plan to have global profiles within three years.”

“What about sociopaths?” asked the only woman in the room.

“Good question. They generally avoid SolMatch because they get paired with other sociopaths, not the victims they’re looking for. Plus, SolMatch reports criminal behavior to authorities.” The remaining questions were as easily dispatched.

Later that evening, Liam stood to toast the executive team of SolMatch in a private dining room. “Here’s to our phenomenal team. Turns out SolMatch works just as well on selecting which venture capitalists to pitch as on finding a mate.” Cheers and laughs. “And some additional good news, after the meeting we were contacted by a super PAC. They’re ready to advance some real money towards selecting the ultimate relationship…the next president.”

Dialogue of War

Author : Suzanne Borchers

The black button seemed to sneer from its instrument panel at the two technicians facing each other with their hands resting on either side of it. They were the only two humans left on the warship. Neither had tasted battle with the aliens. They had only kept the technology intact for their now dead soldiers on the planet below.

Anger distorted their faces. On the view screen, the smoking planet was the background for a wounded, miserable alien. The translator blinked on.

“We surrender whatever is left of our world. Let us rescue our people from the rubble. Show us mercy.”

“We will consider it.” Simon switched off the screen. He turned to his companion. “All our warriors are dead so we are left with the job of deciding the future. Perhaps it’s time to examine why we are here fighting these beings. Carl von Clausewitz said, ‘War is the continuation of politics by other means.’”

“I am so sick of your endless dead people quotations. We do have a huge decision to make and all you can contribute are useless platitudes.” Georgia sighed. “They killed us too. They showed us no mercy.”

“We need to change our thinking about aliens and war. ‘We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.’– Albert Einstein.” Simon paused to push Georgia’s hand a millimeter farther from the button. “The war is over. We won. You and I have the chance to change the future toward a peaceful existence with our other neighbors.”

“I look down there and all I see are the bodies of our people.” Georgia nudged Simon’s hand away from hers.

“Mahatma Gandhi said, ‘An eye for an eye only ends up making the world blind.’ We don’t have to destroy our enemies. We can use this moment to start a path toward peace.”

“Are you seriously going to consider showing mercy to those deceitful creatures?” Georgia’s face became stone.

“We can’t always be at war!” Simon pleaded. “’Nothing can exist forever.’– Stephen Hawking.”

“Well, maybe…maybe you’re right,” Georgia said. “But, how can you forgive them?”

Simon relaxed into his chair. “Mahatma Gandhi also said, ‘The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.’”

Georgia smiled. “Let me think about it.”

‘”What we think, we become.’ — Buddha.”

Georgia grinned. “I’ve got my own quotation. ‘When somebody challenges you, fight back. Be brutal, be tough.’– Donald Trump.”

Georgia pushed the button.