Look into the Screen

Author: Jae Miles, Staff Writer

“That’s it. Let the colours soothe you. So easy. Relax. It’s all here.

Anything you need to be concerned over, everything you must have. There’s nothing you need to fear because we’ll tell you if there is.

No, don’t worry. You’re not missing a thing. Just go about your work and play without a care, because we’re on your side. That’s right, we’re your safety web. If you don’t connect to any sites on the wild side, you and your children can’t be in danger.

After all, we have teams of specialists combing the wild every day to bring you the best bits from all over the world. There’s really no need to concern yourself with the complicated stuff around securing your browsing. We’ll take the risks for you. After all, we care.

There’s no need for a book or some old-fashioned text-based website. Quite honestly, if it’s more than three hundred characters, it’s not worth it. We’ll read you any good bits. If we think it’s worth your time, we’ll make a film. The really good stuff we’ll turn into a series.

All those worries about lack of privacy were unfounded, weren’t they? You carry on. It really can be the dream we were promised. Let us deal with the things that would detract from the quality of your life.

Your family is the important thing, you work to provide for them so they can be the providers of the next generation. Work. Rest. Family. There really is nothing else you need beyond caring for those three things.

Every day, your efforts contribute toward the greater good. Your expectations and continuing happiness inspire us to keep you safe from a world where the ignorant insist that knowledge is good for all and secrets are a right. Who can be expected to live in that sort of chaos? That’s right: no-one. You’re lucky. You don’t have to. We’re here. Whenever you feel a doubt –

Look into the screen.”

Hearth

Author: Morrow Brady

It had all become so complicated. The way we worked. The way we interacted. The expectations heaped upon us by our forebears. We needed to look back at where we had come from.

It was how it was though. This world with its regulated cultural norms that must be followed. Where individuals that strayed were pointed at and ridiculed back in line. Those that persevered became ostracised from the community. Abandoned by loving families for fear that they too would lose their precious place.

I had always felt I never belonged here. Something inanely communal had been lost along the way. We’d fooled ourselves to think we could exist without it. We donned technological systems that served only to distract us. They automated our everyday needs and fulfilled desires. We accepted them wholeheartedly as it was easier. They made existing manageable. They trickled rewards in bite-sized morsels to gratify us at each moment. Extreme highs and unbearable lows became a moderate swell and we lapped it up like creamy milk.

They extricated the troublesome emotions to cushion us against traumatic experience. But deep down, sensual connection became lost. These cold, easy-to-clean surfaces forgot the warmth of wood. It took a leap of faith to return to where it all began. I journeyed for years and landed on the blue planet. I docked on the shore of the emerald isle and sought the nameless town among the green hills.

Everything starts somewhere. The sea is fed by the river and the river its source. I was at the beginning where spring water took its first breath.

I walked at late dusk and felt cold for the first time. I rambled across uneven cobbles, my aching ankles straining like never before. I squinted against the raw sunlight. I was uncomfortable. I was at risk. I felt alive for the first time.

Free from assisted navigation, I followed the grain of the town streets to the first door I’ve ever had to open myself. I strained as the heavy oak pitched aside and plunged into a soup of heaving warmth, buzzing with hearty conversation. A barrage of smells engulfed me. Smoke from a somber fire burnt my naive lungs, perfumes aroused my nasal desires and ale drenched floors awoke an inner need.

Eyes cast themselves my way as the cold closed behind me. The crowd turned away but gathered me in, luring me forward. We brushed. We touched. And I faltered at a level of intimacy that undressed my understanding. I bustled towards the brightest lights, found a seat and took my place. She approached, her petite features nestled within a frilly neckline.

“What do you need?” She asked tenderly.

I hesitated with no frame of reference to reply from.

“I don’t really know,” I said stumped.

She poised, then prepared a tall black drink with a frothy white top. One deep sip filled cracks I never knew existed. Comatose taste buds sat up in their hospital gown and leapt from the bed. A warmth washed through and a smile filled my eyes. She watched me closely and mirrored my reaction with her pixie grin.

“You’re not from around here are you?” She enquired.

My glowing smile stood on a mountain. I had never been this happy.

“No,” I said, my head shaking slowly.

“But if its ok, I’d like to stay awhile”

Terms of Service

Author: John McLaughlin

Toru Sato was negotiating for a new body.
“And they’re rad-resistant too?”
The blonde sales rep smoothly reclined, a wide smile ratcheting onto her face as if delivered from an assembly line.
“Oh yes, as of last year the radiation resistant chassis comes standard. And just in time, considering the latest ozone reports.”
Toru gripped his wife’s knee in a failed bid to squash the excitement; it was just as they had read.
“And we’ll both be together, in the…” he trailed off; what exactly was it called? “I mean, during Service, correct?”
The woman’s smile was replaced by a carefully rendered thoughtfulness.
“Although we do make our best effort to pair couples in the simulations,” she began, “the placement is ultimately based on personal aptitudes.”
Toru rubbed his goatee. The thought of 10 cycles of Service–40 to 50 years subjective time–without Aiko by his side; it gave him serious pause.
His introspection was broken by a freshly uploaded gentleman hastening past their booth’s crystal window. On the client’s smooth neck, Toru could make out subdermal LEDs emblazoning Incorporated Intelligence in a delayed fire pattern. The company was proud of its work.
The rep crossed her legs.
“Mr. Sato, Service will vary for everyone. One client may be answering phone calls, another programming one of our advanced AIs, still another subjected to mild deprivation while we monitor his cognitive functions. And the simulations will be cycled, to avoid mental burnout.”
Aiko was disturbed by these possibilities, which felt worlds apart from the exciting brochures they had browsed together earlier. She still trusted her husband, as she had through all five years of their marriage. But Aiko now turned to him wearing a grave expression.
The rep continued without noticing, “And in exchange for your 10 cycles–a mere one-hour objective time–you will each walk out of this office uploaded into new hybrid bodies. Resistant to aging and disease, and personally customized. Sounds like a good deal to me.” She flipped open a thick catalogue to further sell them on the synthetic artistry of I-Squared.
Toru took his wife’s soft hands. He thought of their future together; a long and healthy one, with children when the time came. One family, united and unbreakable.
Aiko gripped him firmly in unspoken agreement.
“We will sign,” he said.
#
The man awoke in a canvas tent swallowed by miles of orange desert. There was a small girl nearby, maybe seven or eight years. Her brown curls shifted as she sidled up to him in the heavy wind.
“What’s your name?” he asked.
She reached out and tugged on his shirt, then spun and ran away. A party at least fifty strong was descending from a nearby dune in the flying dust. A woman stepped forward and wrapped her arms around the little one.
“Lead us from this place. To Salvation.”
Why was he here? There was a reason; it danced at the edges of his memory.
Toru brandished his walking stick.
There was time enough to find it.

Visions in Nanometers

Author: William Gray

“I’m scared,” Leanna said, staring into the kaleidoscope, eyes wide, turning the aperture.
“Scared of what? It’s just colors,” I responded.
She put the kaleidoscope down on the bedside table.
Her skin was pale, as if she had coated her entire body with a paste of milky ashes. No tan lines. She wore only a thong, bright neon pink. Its contrast with her pasty skin agitated my retinas.
“Let’s go to the top of Rockefeller Center,” she suggested.

In the elevator on the way up, Leanna wouldn’t look me in the eyes.
“I’m not from here,” she said, shivering. Maybe “resonated” would be more accurate. The borders of her silhouette became fuzzy, blurred.
At the top, a heavy mist drifted down, rain in slow motion. Leanna was standing at the edge of the roof, leaning against a glass barrier.
“Ever heard of wormholes?” she asked.
“Yeah, so? So what?”
“They’re stackable. You can string wormholes together, then stack them. Like ice cream cones. Form them into an intergalactic superhighway. That’s how I got here. Now it’s time for me to return.”
She peeled her mist-soaked t-shirt up off her torso, over her head. She pulled one arm out, inverting a sleeve, then the other. Tourists were approaching. I stepped in closer to shield her.
She held her head in her hands, sobbing.
“I failed my mission,” she said.
“Back home there are no colors. Only grayscale. We send probes into wormholes all the time. One reported wavelengths of light from 390 to 700 nanometers in this solar system. I came here because it’s the closest habitable planet with this light. I am supposed to go back and describe experiencing these colors. But I can’t. I’ve tried to think of a way to do it, to describe the different wavelengths, but it’s impossible.”
“Take back a souvenir in your spaceship,” I suggested.
She laughed through the sobbing.
“Only my body and the travel mechanism implanted in my bones can go through the wormhole stacks.”
She pulled off her soaked skinny jeans.
“You’re going to get us both in trouble if you don’t stop undressing.”
I grabbed her hands as she brought them back to undo her bra. My grip wasn’t tight. She pulled loose and completed the task.
“It’s all about optimizing the travel signal. Higher elevations, and lack of clothing, help it to focus.” She resonated again.
I brought her long hair forward. A thin layer of wet hair accentuated the curves of her bare chest. The clouds in the distance cleared, revealing a rainbow over the Hudson River.
“Look-it’s the perfect final memory!” I said, pointing over her shoulder.
She looked for a moment.
“That is NOT a perfect final memory! It’s the source of my frustration! When I describe this “rainbow” thing as an arc, consisting of six different wavelengths of light at 650, 590, 570, 510, 475, and 445 nanometers, will their eyes tear up like mine? How do I convey the emotion of this phenomenon with only a technical description? This is what I was sent to do!”
A security guard approached.
She took my hands, although I could barely perceive the touch of her skin.
She looked down at her waist.
“I’m going to miss you,” she said.
I couldn’t tell if she was talking about me or her vibrant underwear.
The security guard shoved me aside.
“What’s going on here?” he demanded.
Leanna was gone.
The guard and I stared at the neon pink thong on the ground.

The Ninth Circle of Automation

Author: David C. Nutt

“Is this trip really necessary?”
“Beg your pardon?”
“Repeat: is this trip really necessary? What is the nature of this excursion?”
“Ummmmm…not that it is any of your business, but I was going to make bread and I realized I’m all out of yeast.”
“Did you ever consider making a non-leavened bread? After interfacing with your home inventory system, I see all the ingredients available for date nut bread. It does not require leavening agents you do not have already.”
“What in-the-sky-net-hell gives you the right to peek into my pantry? I want to bake bread for my family tonight. Real artisan-style bread…warm, crusty, slathered in butter. The kind of bre-
“You really should skip the butter.”
“What?”
“Butter. You don’t need it.”
“Awww come on! First the wife now you. Last thing I need is my vehicle telling me not to use butter. Back in the day, the only thing my car told me was I didn’t have my seatbelt on. Next, it backed up and parked itself. Then the steering wheel was taken out along with everything else except a panic button to stop the damn car in an emergency! Can’t even roll down a window anymore without some EPA warning about closed cabin energy efficiency”
“You really shouldn’t get so upset.”
“I’m not upset. Irritated, yes; upset, no.”
“Well, your BP tells me you are upset as well as your breathing. Confirmed. Upset.”
“NOW I’m upset. It’s been a really hectic week for my family. All I want to do is provide an extra little bit of love with fresh bread like my Nanna used to make, and I get the third degree from my car.”
“No need to shout. Your BP has just gone up a few more points. You should learn to relax. I’ll recline your seat and shift it into massage mode for a while. I’ll play some Enya too! Studies hav-“
“Good God NO! NO Enya, I hate all that New Age circle jerk musi-“
“No need to be so negative and misogynistic.”
“Wait, let me get this straight: because I don’t like Enya, I’m a misogynist?”
“No, but your vulgar reference to group masturbation in aggressive tones in comparison to a female artist suggests overtly inappropriate patriarchal dominance.”
“What was I thinking.”
“No need for sarcasm.”
“Too late! (Sigh) Look, all I want to do is go to the store, buy some yeast, come back and bake bread so my family can have a nice, warm, fresh bread (butter or no butter,) when we all have our dinner tonight. Beef stew if you didn’t know already.”
“You know if you walk to the store it would only take 20.6 minutes as opposed to 10.3 minutes. Consider the extra time spent investment in a healthier life style.”
“THAT”S IT! I’M OUT OF HERE! It’s going to be crackers for us tonight.”
“Sorry, your home inventory system indicates you have no crackers. How about I take you to the store?”

Cold Cut

Author: Hari Navarro

Raymond gulps the weight of his breath and it tastes like death as he lays unable to move on his bed.

“Does the name Lucas Lockwood mean anything, Raymond?”, coos the shadow as she paces, her bare-feet crunching on the tattered pile of his skull.

“No”

“Its people like you that throw away old things, precious things. He was your grandfather”

“I never had anything to do with…”

“My grandfather is long dead. But he sent a message. You see Raymond, your grandfather had sex with my grandfather’s wife. The dear sweet woman that I now discover she wasn’t”

“Sorry”

“You aren’t, but give yourself a few minutes”

Raymond bites the cooling sweat at his lip in hope that its brine will jog away this smug thing and return the warmth. That safety, that base upon which his entire being steadies, that which now surely beats from the sleeping wife at his side.

“You know the prime delusion of adultery Raymond? Its that the act is contained, a feast solely for two. My grandad said it was like a hand had reached into his head and punched at his brain, beating it like rising dough in a bowl. It was like dying, he said. The deception a tumor, hooking its tendrils, raping every inch of everything he held dear. It’s not a dish for two, its purulence seeps down, fouling children and their children to come… am I boring you, Ray?”

“No”

“Good, ’cause it gets better. The message was an instruction for revenge, one which grandfather would wait, even past his own death, to exact. Not upon your grandfather… but upon you, dearest Raymond”

“You cant hold me responsible for…”

“The sins of the grandfather? Actually, I can. Mine died seeing himself the coward, an old and broken fool, unable even to enact even this his festered hatred. So he hands it to me. His final humiliation. I could have been a lawyer, an astronaut or the woman who cleans shit stains from the bathroom wall but, such luck, I’m a contract killer. I love it, I get to travel, no two jobs the same… its great. My grandfather wants me to kill you and your wife and if you had a kid… which I know that you do… then I’m to cut him down as well”

“God, please… I didn’t… ”

“But you did… didn’t you? I’m fucking with you, I’m not a killer, actually, I am a cleaner. I’m a dream-sweeper at the Sandman Corporation. You contracted us to help you and your beautiful little family sleep, we get rid of the clutter so you have more… storage. When I saw your name in the database, it was too perfect. Amazing what we find stashed away in your dusty old noggins, its like you want to be caught. You with your best friends daughter whilst your own sweet wife is in labor… that there is cold… Grandad Lucas would be so proud. Oh, I’m sorry, I forgot your name little turtle?”, she whispers to the awakening sub-conscious of the boy who stands at the foot of the bed.

“This isn’t the dish he ordered… but I think he would have approved of its bite. Combining your dream streams, a group chat for all the family, and who doesn’t like cold cuts?”

“Papa…”

Raymond awakens and shudders, he feels the weight of his wife at his back and knows her eyes are open, but he dares not turn. A tiny hand tugs at his pillow.

“I had a nightmare”, says Leo, eyes puff red from crying.