My First Pet

Author : Leanne A. Styles

“You’re insane, Estella,” my sister said, peering out the window to catch a glimpse of my new pet.

“Stop being so dramatic, Maia,” I said. “The breeder said if you care for them correctly they’re the perfect pet. Besides, I wanted something rare, and nobody else we know has one.”

“There’s a good reason for that. Anyway, that’s not true. Leda’s friend had one, remember? It escaped and nearly killed her. It’s still on the loose now.”

“Well, then, she must have been careless. She probably didn’t take the time to bond with hers. Trust me, they’re harmless. Come and see for yourself ‒ if you’re brave enough,” I added with a smirk.

She glowered at me. “Let’s do this.”

Outside, in my compound, Maia cowered behind me as we watched my pet pacing in its enclosure.

“Isn’t she beautiful?” I said, admiring her golden blonde mane and the lines of her slender body.

“Weird looking, more like. It doesn’t look very happy.”

My pet had come to a stand and was staring at us through the bars. Looking into her deep brown eyes ‒ so hard, so much raw animal simmering under the surface ‒ made my stomach fizz with an addictive blend of fear and excitement.

She hissed something at us in a language we didn’t understand, then, faster than I’d imaged her capable of, she lunged at the bars. Stretching her limbs through the gaps, she clawed wildly for us. She screeched and growled and spat, slamming her body against the titanium.

Maia staggered back, and I couldn’t help laughing.

“Harmless?” she said.

“She’ll be fine once I’ve tamed her.”

“Where did you get it, anyway?”

“Her.”

She rolled her eyes. “Where did you get her?”

“The galactic market on Quiari.”

“That hellhole?! It’s a wonder you made it out alive. Didn’t they have something less terrifying for you to bring home? Even one of those giant acid-spitting centipedes would have been safer than this.”

“It’s not the same.”

My pet grew tired and dropped to the floor. She scratched at the dirt, and a strange sound started to emanate from her throat ‒ an awful wailing. Water was trickling from her eyes. I’d never seen anything like it.

“What’s wrong with her?” Maia asked.

I shrugged. “I’m not sure.”

“Maybe she’s… sad.”

I shot her a mocking look. “Don’t be silly. They don’t have feelings ‒ not like we do, anyway. She’s probably just hungry.”

I mixed a bowl of oats and water (a good staple for my pet, apparently), walked around to the wall at the side of the enclosure, and placed it in the serving hatch before shoving it through to the other side. I made my way back to the front. My pet used the bars to pull herself to her feet and shuffled over to the bowl. I grinned as she picked it up.

With frightening force, she hurled the bowl at the bars, lumps of oats flying across the compound.

“Not hungry, then,” I said, wiping the sludge from my face.

My pet retreated to the back of her enclosure and crouched down in the corner, fixing her gaze on me.

Maia came to stand beside me again.

“I’m keeping her,” I said, smiling warmly at my new possession.

Maia sighed. “Obviously. You’ve wanted your own pet for as long as I can remember, and I’m happy for you ‒ I really am. But of all the pets you could have chosen, did it really have to be a human?”

The Tomorrow

Author : Jae Miles, Staff Writer

There’s a beautiful morning reflecting in the waters of the Donaukanal. On the opposite side to Franz-Josephs-Kai, a young man sits behind an easel and smokes a cigarette between sips of wasserwine: a diluted fermentation that ensures taste and refreshment rather than intoxication. His watercolours will never be hailed as high art, but they make him a modest living when combined with his government stipend.

A woman emerges from the narrow strasse behind the artist, moving toward him with a strangely fixed gaze. That fixation is what allows me to accost her and slip a stiletto into her heart. Only a deep sigh marks her passing.

The artists turns to see me struggling to hold the body up.

“Need a hand there, friend?”

I shake my head: “We’re fine, thank you. Famke just had a little much last night – and this morning, in truth.”

He laughs and turns back to finish his smoke and contemplate the morning. I stagger off with my ‘drunken’ burden until I can find a quiet back alley in which to search the body for anomalous items. Which will also allow me dishevel her beyond anything bar cursory investigation. The police will draw obvious, but erroneous, conclusions. She will be buried in a pauper’s plot. At worst, the artist may be questioned. He’s getting used to that.

Just like I’m getting used to Vienna in the first decade of the twentieth century. And killing misguided fuckwits trying to kill Hitler and ‘save the world’. For some reason, every time-travelling do-gooder seems determined to off Der Führer before he Führer’s himself. Which is absurd. Every time travelling story hits problems with paradoxes or drops into multiple timeline wonderland. There’s a reason for that.

You. Can’t. Fuck. With. History. It’s that simple. There is no scenario where you can kill the bad person’s parents, or the bad person in their nursery, or ‘warn the pilot’, or whatever, thus averting the impending catastrophe. You stop one bad thing and a new bad thing will do far worse whilst effectively achieving the result you tried to avert. Causality is not as you think you understand it. It’s actually the brutal enforcer of a fixed course.

You read that right: ‘course’. Singular.

There is only ONE future that features humanity. It’s not pleasant, but we’re there. Still warring with each other, still exploiting each other, still messing up the planet. Every other future is a flavour of wasteland. I know this to be true and trust me, if I went ‘back’ to the time I came from to find a future where the Earth was devoid of humans but a green and pleasant land, I’d give up trying to return to the future I came from, and stop intervening there and then.

But, so far, there isn’t one. Every time I ‘go home’, it’s a ruin, a crater or an inland sea – which may just be a really big crater, but I haven’t got the time to explore. Because I have to flicker back and check the common interference points for a stray temporally adept hero or heroine – and kill them before they can do their heroic best and end humanity. Again.

I’m getting tired of my involuntary vocation, so I’ve started leaving little stories like this in the hope of influencing future do-gooders. Go volunteer at your local poor people helping place. Find a cure for stupid. Or how to make useful stuff from household waste. Just stay away from the time manipulation thing, because I can promise you it’ll be fatal.

Hack

Author : Steve Smith, Staff Writer

Saykoe felt the agents following her, unseen, but their presence always just a corner, just a doorway behind.

She slipped into the narrow gap between two buildings, opened her communications system and coded in to decrypt the tunnel. As she stepped into the street at the end of the alley, the evening disolved into blackness.

“Got her,” the agent spoke aloud, the need for stealth now passed, “she’s out cold and her comm channel is decrypted and open.”

Hours later she awoke, a throbbing pain in the back of her head. The cold asphalt damp beneath her, and the street empty.

In the corner of her heads-up, a nearly open channel blinked, waiting for input.

In the control room, two agents watched Saykoe through the observation glass. She was strapped to an inclined table in the interrogation room, her head wired into a highly restricted VR rig, her every move recorded and scrutinized by the system.

“She won’t know she’s not on the street,” the seated agent spoke, “she’ll still think she’s outside.”

“You were sloppy,” his partner snapped, pacing, “you should have realized there was more than one level of encryption. If it occurs to her she’s being virtualized, she’ll never open a channel and we’ll never get the codes from her.”

Saykoe pulled herself unsteadily to her feet, looked up and down the street but saw no one. There was still the omnipresent feeling of being followed, but the sense of urgency had abated.

The blinking comms-prompt begged for attention.

Slipping back in-between the two buildings, she gave the prompt focus, and started feeding it a complex series of coded keys.

In the server room, the intrusion system slowed the virtual environment and captured every bit with the highest fidelity, while in the control room the agents studied the console with intent.

“I’ve never seen anything like this before. Get me a channel to over-ops, priority, encrypted, they’ll need to see this.”

The seated agent opened the session, coded-in and then fed through the appropriate keys to get over-ops online. A fraction of a second later everything froze.

Under the flickering glare of a single fluorescent tube, Saykoe looked up from the makeshift console to the agent taped tightly to the chair before her, his head wired into a highly restricted VR rig.

“Got you, you fuck.”

With the virtual environment on pause, she executed the code that she had staged, and watched the progress as it crawled through the agent’s open line and into the over-ops cerebral cortex, creating a series of back doors and opening communications ports for future incursions.

Stepping back onto the street, she felt the heat of the thermite as it consumed the heart of the building behind her, and everything within. Turning up her collar, she welcomed the cool breeze as she disappeared into the night.

Erasure

Author : Andi Dobek

The instrument panel flickered longer than I’d have liked before its glow intensified, and the loud knocking finally quieted as the machine entered standby mode. I focused on the snugness of the harness around my chest, rather than what was about to happen.

I didn’t have the credits to buy one of the top of the line, government-sanctioned time reversers, the ones that came with a “money and time back” guarantee. If you weren’t completely satisfied with your trip to the past, your credits would never leave your bank account, and security would stop you at the door. They’d hand you a card that read “We’re sorry you didn’t enjoy your trip” with a list of reasons you gave in a survey, filled out before they’d even unstrapped you. The QR code on the card provided a link to FAQs, so you could figure out how you didn’t enjoy a trip you’d never taken.

Ones sold illegally were built in basements, chop shops and abandoned warehouses. You used them at your own risk, and all of them had the same flaw: they couldn’t monitor your activities like government ones did, and therefore could not guarantee your safe return. These were one-way tickets, banned nearly everywhere.

Mine was one of the “newer” models, in that it provided such luxuries as a cupholder and charging port for devices that still required them. It tracked my heartrate (spiking at the moment), brain waves, and lung capacity. The latter had been steadily depleting, but smoking two packs a day will do that, and my desire to quit had long since abated.

I wiped my thumb on my pants and held it to the thermal scanner. I had to wipe it a second time before the screen was able to scan accurately. Once my identity was verified as the purchaser and sole user of the machine, a backlit keypad slid out of the dash.

[Arrival date?]

I could choose any moment in my life, from as little as 60 seconds prior to the jump, to as far back as the day I was born. It had taken me months to work up the nerve to make the highly illegal purchase, and another half a year before I could even bring myself to sit in it. But I had known since August 12, 2181, what date I would revisit.

I entered February 9th, 2170. The default time was 00:00, just when the day was beginning.

[Confirm?]

I thumbed the scanner to confirm. The knocking started again, and I felt its vibrations in my seat.

[Date confirmed. Have a nice day.]

As the knocking swelled to a roar, I tried to picture my wife’s face one last time. I had memorized the day we met, knew exactly where I needed to be in order to meet her for the first time, and fall in love with her all over again. And what I needed to do to ensure that didn’t happen.

I closed my eyes, trying to hold on to her smile, the way her eyes crinkled above blushing cheeks, because in a moment, I was going to ensure we never met. She’d marry someone far richer, someone who could afford the life-saving treatments I couldn’t.

I gripped the armrests of my seat. My teeth rattled. Scenes from our life played back in reverse, and my breath hitched as I watched her grow healthy again, then younger and younger in my memories. As an afterthought, I reached to thumb my wedding ring, one last time, but it was already gone.

I Love this House

Author : Robert Lafosse

I love this house. It is full of memories. The kids were brought up here. The family had its best times here. There are marks on the wall that map the growth of the children. The scars and scraps are a testament to the love and happiness that reined. It is sad that it has to be sold. The kids are gone and the place just feels empty. The estate agents have come and gone. People have tromped through, poked into cupboards and flushed the toilets. Someone liked it and made an offer. It was accepted. So now we go through the final steps. The movers have taken away the furniture; the pictures are off the walls. Soon a team of painters will go through to erase the spoors of our life here. It was a condition of sale.

There is a great pain in my heart as I realize what is about to happen. A new place has been found, but it will not be the same. It will not have the provenance of this place. It will not have the spaghetti stain at the top of the stairs that Anna made and I could never get out. It will not have the gouges in the bannister that Nathan made when he was foolishly given a pocket knife for his 13th birthday. It will not have the secret hiding places the kids used. We let them have these places. Children need their fantasies.

The doorbell rang. I answered it.

Two men wearing General Automatic’s coveralls were there. They each had a case.

“We are here to do the final retuning of the house for…”, the shorter one with no hair pulled out his tablet “Mr. Sorento. Can we come in?”

I let them in, I had no choice, it was part of the condition of sale.

“Where is the house control system?” The tall one asked.

“In the basement on the left. You can’t miss it.” I said. I opened the basement door for them and turned on the light.

They trotted down the stairs.

“Over here Bill”, the short bald one said.

“Wow this is old – must me one of the first on the market” They were looking at the grey metal box that held the house management system.

Bill was rummaging in his bag and pulled out a universal interface cable. He plugged into one of the free ports on the side of the box. “Doesn’t matter, they haven’t changed the maintenance passwords since the beginning of time.” On his tablet the familiar login screen popped into view. He let it scan his retina then put in the maintenance password.

“Holy shit – this has never been patched – not for… 22 years”.

“Really… never seen that before. I think we just wipe it and put in the latest firmware. Be faster than applying all the patches.”

“Yea, I agree. Can you imagine? I have never seen a house system so out of date.”

“These early versions had too much empathy. Proved to be a real problem. They got really attached to the owners and would start to glitch up if the family had any problems. This one is showing no major issues though.”

He opened the main maintenance page on the home system. At the firmware update page, he pressed the ‘reset to factory’ icon. This would effectively erase everything in the house’s memory.

I watched as he pushed the button and the scroll bar popped up. My memory faded as the scroll bar inched forward.

Hole in the Ground

Author : Tony Sandy

‘Stop!’

The shout rooted Martello to the spot.

‘If you step forward, you’ll regret it.’

‘But it’s only a puddle surely?’

‘You’re new here aren’t you?’

‘You mean this planet?’

‘Yes, this planet.’

‘Yeh but-‘

‘That puddle isn’t a puddle.’

‘What do you mean?’

‘It’s a portal to another dimension.’

‘How do you know?’

‘My people have observed this phenomena for many years. We have seen rocks, animals, people fall in and never come out again. We have also had to put up with what came through from the other side.’

‘Like what?’

‘Things’ He gave a shudder.

After a few seconds he went on again.

‘Once a horrible, black slug like creature got into our world. We eventually killed it but not before it had killed and eaten many of our people. We didn’t realize it was there for a start because it hid from the harsh light and heat of the day. There have been other, similar monsters too. Then there was the invasion. People like us but organized into a relentless and ruthless army. We capped that hole after fighting them off but who knows if they’ll come back and where? Maybe next time we won’t be so lucky and they’ll chose a remote location or come through several portals at once.’

‘Does nobody who has fallen through return?’

‘Sometimes bits of of people or animals reappear but they are not a pretty sight. We always assume one of those slug like creatures or worse got them.’

‘Why don’t you fill in the holes?’

‘Because they are bottomless. we cap them but even then it can be counter-productive as cutting off the light seems to make them grow because they swallow whatever is put on top of them.’

‘What about digging underneath them?’

The alien looked at Martello in a world-weary kind of way, like an old man talking to a child.

‘My people did dig below one. What they found was that it was like looking through a hole in the ground, up into the sky but deadly.’

‘Deadly?’

‘Yes. One guy tried to put his hand through and his whole arm disappeared.’

‘Nasty!’

‘He was none to pleased!’ The old man gave a grim chuckle.

‘Snyppe, what have you been telling our off-world guest?’ A smart suited person, interrupted the conservation.

‘About the holes.’

The new alien turned to Martello.

‘You didn’t believe a word that old joker said, did you? He plays tricks on all visitors like you. Nasty psychological fun, according to him’

The old man shrugged his shoulders.

‘You can step into the puddle with no worries – it is just water after all.’

Martello did just that, laughing at having been taken in and instantly vanished without a trace.

‘I told you before old man – this is our business. Don’t betray our secrets to off-worlders or next time I might put you down that goddam hole too!’ The secret policeman walked off and Snyppe finished his drink, before heading home from the cantina.

‘Politeness.’ Was all he said before disappearing down the dusty road.