Lastly

Author : G. Grim

Do I know you? Maybe. Let me think.

I think we met on Betelle.

When I look at your face I remember tasting strange fruit. Like persimmons, but wetter. Sweeter. Like water falling in a garden. They don’t have fruit at home. I remember that. Something to do with pollination and bees and … something. There is a word for that fruit, but it’s gone now. Like the apple trees are gone and I can’t remember why. I can’t remember why I’m not at home.

No, it wasn’t Betelle. It was Lastly, and the fruit came from Betelle. The fruit seller looked old, but someone told me that she wasn’t. The journey changed her.

Was it you who told me that? Or was it you who handed me the fruit?

I’d love to have just one more mouthful of that fruit. I remember that people used to hate the rain, and now I’d give anything for that fruit because it tastes like water falling from the sky.

Do you remember the sky? I do. It was a blue so intense it was almost purple. Not the sky at home, of course. The sky on Betelle. There was something wrong with the sky at home.

Stop interrupting me. It’s very rude. You can’t make a memory wake up, you know. You just have to wait until it’s ready. Sometimes if you push it goes away and never comes back.

We went away, didn’t we? We left home because the apple trees and the sky were gone. And we’re never going back. But you were with me. I remember your hands. I remember squeezing them as the engines roared. Ripping apart what was left of the sky. Crying because there wasn’t any rain left.

Why aren’t you old? If the journey made her old, why aren’t you if we took that journey together?

Am I old?

Am I?

Who am I? I don’t remember. Do you have any fruit for me? I miss the taste of raindrops.

We stopped on Betelle. That’s where I tasted it for the first time. Oh. Oh yes. They grow it there, the rain-fruit, and then they send it to other places. All the places where people remember apple trees and skies.

You were there. I remember that. You held the fruit for me as I ate it. I remember the taste of sweet juice on your skin.

Why are you sad? It’s a lovely thing to remember and you look so sad. I was so happy.

Why aren’t you happy? Aren’t we safe here together?

I remember…

I remember I offered you some. You liked persimmons, back when they still grew at home. But you refused. You were so angry. I don’t understand why you were so angry. A whole world that smelled like rain and flowers and you hated it. And I was angry.

I don’t want to remember being angry. I was happy before. Why did you come here? This isn’t your home.

This isn’t my home, either. I want to go home.

I want to go home.

I want to go home!

Oh, Lastly. Lastly isn’t home, but it’s all there is now. I remember that. I remember the day we came here, ripping another hole in another sky. I had my hands in my pockets that day. I would have held your hands, but I was holding my last fruit.

You were so angry. You took it away. You threw away my fruit and brought me here.

I remember you.

I hate you.

I love the fruit that tastes like rain.

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The Console

Author : Rachelle Shepherd

He came into the house throwing looks back over his shoulder. He had the shuffle to his step that suggested less than legal activities.

“You have something?” I asked. He gave me a quick nod and shut the door. He slid the bolts, city lockdown style.

Barrel pulled something from his pocket. It was a tangle of wires around bottle green plastic.

“Are those headphones?” I asked. Maybe I whispered. Maybe I even choked.

Barrel brought me the bundle and laid it in my lap. We both looked at it, full of wonder and paranoid fear.

“Bring me the console.”

Barrel went into the closet and came back out with a box made up of processors, audio chips, memory chips, and software. He placed the black box at my feet. It was smooth except for one jack. It had no logo or label and it was fashioned with the old kind of power plug that went straight into the wall.

Interface unnecessary.

The one jack was a headphone jack, phased out of legal electronics before I had hit puberty. It produced sound. It ran voltage across its circuits to create the cold electronic beats of a constant current. Auditory hallucinations.

It was the kind of drug you bought from the back of pawnshops.

We tackled the process of untangling the wires, uncoiling the dusty knots of a decade, relaxing the tension behind stiff black rubber sheath.

Headphones are a method of injection. I could feel the straightened wires vibrating in my hands, heavy with a history of music. Emotion, straight to brain, quicker than the fastest intravenous hit. Humming with the potential for overdose.

“Do you think they work?” Barrel asked. Headphones are brittle things, prone to sound in one ear and static in the other. Familiar with abuse. Close relatives with silence.

I sent him stumbling around with the power cord looking for a plug in, that vacant expression made up of what goes into it. While empty it represents nothing but potential.

Barrel plugged in the console. With a spark, it lit up its circuits.

The console couldn’t be commanded. It couldn’t be controlled or directed. It could only be trusted. I put the headphones on, let them settle comfortably around my ears.

I plugged them in.

Silence.

I let the console work, let it figure up the complex algorithm behind the method of creation. Barrel was in my line of sight, asking questions. I couldn’t hear him beyond the mute sensory deprivation but I saw his expression, his excitement and anxiety visible in the shifting focus of his eyes.

The console heated up long cold components and pumped lifeblood electricity through stiff circuits. Within the headphones I heard something building. Something creeping up the wires. I heard sound.

Not the sound of language but the sound of expression.

I handed the headphones to Barrel. He slipped them on, slid into pure ecstasy. Sunk to the floor and closed his eyes, opened his mind.

There was a heavy pounding on the door. They were here.

I stood up, shaky and nervous. Altered, like an executed program, unable to erase the data log of my experiences, unable to close those forever open logic gates.

I knew who they were. Towering figures of authority, coming to investigate the electricity spike. Coming to sniff out the outdated illegal electronics of an era of art. I kissed Barrel on the cheek. He never opened his eyes, again. Then I answered the door.

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Android Adoption Day

Author : Jacqueline Bridges

SWF seeking SM, 40-50, human or android. Looks not important.

The blinking type flooded John’s inbox. Delete, delete, del—he paused on the last: Android adoption today, new shipment, Middleton Square.

The Organization of GoodWill toward Men, Women, Children, and Android caught him as he slipped in.

“Have you considered adopting an Android, sir?”

John stopped, paying no attention to the aid, his eyes on the reader board above them. Android Adoption: Save a droid. Two models set for recycle.

The aid talked on, “We have many in need of a home. They’re very good companions, and still useful. No more shoveling snow.”

John cleared his throat, “I’m looking for a girl.”

“Yes, yes,” the aid’s voice rose with animation, “we have a number of females today. Many—“

“Seven.” John’s eyes went to the manifest list, “I’m looking for a seven-year-old.”

The aid recovered, “They’re often older, not the norm.” He referenced his list, keeping it from John’s view. “Oh.” He shrugged. “We do. She came in this morning…”

It was all he needed to hear. John stormed the registration table, fumbling for something to charge his account with. “Number 72108,” he spouted, “I’d like to make an order.”

The woman at the desk verified his registration. “Yes. You are clear to make an order.”

“I’d like the seven-year-old girl.”

The woman frowned at her keyboard, “Let me see what we have in inventory. A young girl–”

“She’s in there.” John tapped the table with his writing instrument, engraved with the GoodWill’s unification logo. “Came in this morning.”

“Ah yes,” the woman smiled. “Straight from Japan. Retrieved from the docks this morning.”

“Yes.” John grumbled. “Where do I sign?”

The woman nearly laughed, “It’ll take a while to process the paperwork and register the droid. And then there’s programming.”

His eyes dropped.

The woman twisted her lips, reading John’s disappointment, “Maybe we can speed this up.”

John’s urgency returned with the start of a smile.

The woman’s smile was more playful, “Let’s start with your registration.”

John pushed the buttons, signed the documents, and answered all the questions for programming.

“Alright then,” the lady clicked her tablet once more. “Your droid will update tonight at midnight. We’ve gone ahead and programmed her with the name you’ve chosen for now, Anne—?”

“Anne—a—See—a.”

“Yes,” the woman fluttered her eyebrows, “a very pretty name.”

“Her mother chose it,” he said, “named after her grandmother.”

“Ah,” the woman cooed. “Yes, very nice.” She was used to this sort of thing, humans naming Androids. “Well, she’s all yours.” The woman motioned for someone behind her, “William, please take droid E0067 around for pick up.”

She turned back to John, “Here’s your slip—just follow the signs for delivery. William will meet you in back.” When John hesitated, she motioned to the crowd of protestors behind him, “It’s better this way.”

John grabbed the pink ticket from the woman and hustled to his car. He didn’t bother with a thank you or a pardon.

By the time he reached the loading area, his hands were moist, sticky with sweat. He gave himself a once over in the mirror, smoothing his gray hair in place, checking for food between his teeth, and for his final preparation he tried on a fatherly smile.

The girl was small, skinny, with hair lighter than he liked, but close enough. He held out his hand for hers and she slipped her small fingers in his,

“Hello father,” she said.

“Hello my dear Annacia. I’ve missed you.”

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Second Shot

Author : Patrick Hueller

The footage is grainy, and getting grainier with each viewing. But Peter Nevins doesn’t notice. To him, what’s on screen is crystal clear. The TV isn’t flickering; the colors aren’t blurry.

There the soccer field is, looking just as it did exactly thirty-seven years ago. The grass remains as green as ever, as chewed up from two weeks of competition.

There the other players are, frantic, scrambling, converging.

There the clock is—not technically on the screen—it was extra time, and they didn’t put extra time on the TV back in the ’80s—but it’s ticking away in his head just the same: “9 . . . 8 . . . 7 . . .”

There the goalie is, striding, slipping.

And there Peter’s younger self is, among the other players but slightly ahead of them, surprised to find the ball at his feet, the net unoccupied.

“Calm down,” Peter tells his younger self. “You have time.”

But his younger self doesn’t listen.

He rushes the shot. A wide open net, but he sends the ball high and wide.

There’s the sound of the other shot, the other kind of shot, and there’s Peter crumpling onto the field.

There’s the blood, blooming on his jersey.

He was lucky, everyone had said.

An inch or two to his right, they said, and bye bye heart.

They’d called the shooter a fanatic, a lunatic, a soccer-watching sociopath.

And in his head, Peter has always known they were right. He should forget about that guy, just as they advised him. Forget about the whole day.

One bad day doesn’t define a person, they’d said—let alone one bad moment.

In his head he knew they were absolutely, unequivocally right.

As for his almost-bullet-ridden heart, though . . . well, it won’t let him forget.

For thirty-seven years, he and his heart have spent the anniversary of that day pleading with the footage.

Relax, they’ve implored his younger self. Slow down.

You have plenty of time, they’ve insisted. The net’s wide open.

Go in, they’ve begged the ball. Please. This time please go in.

That’s what he’s doing now. Pleading. Supplicating. He’s on his knees, straining his eyes at the TV, beseeching the ball to find the net.

But it won’t.

No matter how many times he rewinds and re-watches, no matter how many years pass, the tape shows the same missed shots. One misses the net; the other misses his heart.

The same thing, over and over.

And yet he keeps going. Keeps rewinding. Keeps re-watching.

Again and again.

Each time, he’s sure the next viewing will be different.

After all, he’s done it before: thirty-seven years ago to the day, he wished for something so strenuously that he made it happen.

He wished to die.

As he watched the ball soar into the stands, he told himself that his life might as well be over, that someone might as well end it right there and then.

And, okay, this desire didn’t exactly come true, but it was pretty close. One or two inches, to be exact.

So maybe, just maybe, he can once again alter the course of events through the sheer force of his will.

He rewinds, re-watches.

Repeats.

Repeats again.

He watches the ball leave his younger self’s foot and he entreats the forces that be for a different outcome.

Please. Please. PLEASE.

And it works.

Finally.

After thirty-seven years and thousands upon thousands of viewings, the forces that be actually cooperate.

Instead of soaring, the ball merely rolls.

Slowly.

Honestly, Peter can’t believe how long it’s taking for the ball to cross the goal line.

Long enough for him to realize that he’s no longer a young man. He’s standing there, on the field—he’s somehow been transported from his living room back to this stadium—but he hasn’t regained any of his former leg strength. He’s still an old man, stiff and arthritic.

Which explains why the ball is rolling so slowly.

And why it comes to a rest right in front of the goal line.

He watches in horror as the goalie scrambles to his feet and scoops the ball up before Peter’s teammates can get to it.

He hears the referees’ end-of-game whistles.

And he shuffles, just in time, one or two inches to his right.

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I Ran

Author : Ken McGrath

My mother often said that before I learned to walk I ran.

I ran everywhere; probably why I wasn’t so quick at learning to read. I couldn’t sit still for very long, didn’t like having my feet parked beneath a desk you see. I’d an abundance of energy, that’s why I was always darting around the place, chasing everything from footballs to girls. Heck I even chased the odd dream.

And I caught a few too, like the one thing that got me through school. Relay races, the sprint, hurdles. I did it all, although I wasn’t so good at that last one. Seems I never was great at overcoming obstacles. The one minute mile however, that was what stole my heart. A stretch of open track, pure focus and immediate results. Sheer beauty.

When I went from my teens into my twenties I kept upping the distance, ticking off boxes. 10k, 20k. Even the big one a few times.

Then when I was 29 I ran into Bernadette Walters. Beautiful, slender, ambitious Bernadette Walters who had lips that would set you weak at the knees and a shard of ice for a heart. But I found that out much too late, because after we married I ran into a wall. Work, bills, the mortgage on a tiny apartment that went too quickly from bijou to coffin-box. It was too much. I ran myself into the ground.

The pounds began to slide on and, for the first time, life ran away from me. Yet somehow in the midst of it all we conceived and along came my little Suzie, my precious girl. And for a while she brightened everything up, but it didn’t last. We quickly fell back on old habits, staying together just for our little girl.

When Suzie was three I started to run again. Tentative steps in the park at night. Some men might have cheated on their wives but I did the only thing I knew how, I put one foot in front of the other and built up laps. Every night, always coming back to the same place no matter how fast or how far I ran, life had become a circuit of cold stares and bitter, poisonous words.

We were out on Christmas Eve pretending to be a real family when the first attack came. The blast dropped from the heavens like God screaming and tore the shopping centre we were walking towards into pieces. I grabbed Suzie, turned and ran. There were screams but I didn’t look back. I just kept going. I had to make sure my girl was safe.

Weeks have passed now. The snow is melting and buds are appearing on some of the trees. From talking to other survivors I’ve learned of the hundreds of simultaneous attacks around the world. They say those first blasts were an extermination front-wave, firing pulse after pulse and reducing our cities to rubble, disrupting humanity for the coming alien invasion.

They say there’s a Resistance coming together but I don’t want to be part of it. All I do is run. I have my girl and I teach her to run too.

So long as I have legs beneath me I’ll continue to do run. It’s all I’ve known since I was born. If my daughter is to survive she’s going to have to learn to run too and maybe then I’ll have done something good with my life.

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The IF

Author : Kraigher Lutz

They had first found it, there at the highway split. They had seen its design in the leaves and grass. The design spiraled out, burning the soil.

We had worked quick trying to contain it; cranes high overhead, holding harshly shining spotlights. Trenches were dug and cinder-block walls were built; clear plastic sheeting covered it, but the loose pieces of the vapor-lock blew in the breeze, spiraling upon itself and unfurling in the design.

They had tried to dig it all out, but it was still there; dry dirt crumbling out of the tines of the backhoe, falling, curling and twisting the design in the breeze.

At the lab, they tried to contain it. Locked away in Petri dishes, its design crawled through the agar.

It was then that we first started hearing it. A soft and melodious symphony of pulses and beats, flowing into each other and bouncing off of another; like a tribal rendition of Morse Code.

It was quiet at first, like an afterthought of white noise. Then it started to incorporate into everyday noises, the pop of the toaster, car horns, children’s songs at recess. It became all-encompassing and fully integrated into everyday life.

After forty-two years, there wasn’t hardly anyone alive who could remember a time before it; without it. Those who were older simply could not remember. Large chunks of memories spontaneously vanished.

But we are pattern seeking animals. Slowly but surely, the pieces were coming back together.

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