Next Stop Vegas

Author : Jack Strange

Funny, I never saw myself going into showbiz.

I started out as a lawyer, would you believe? It was a good living. I was paid well and saved up a good-sized pension pot.

But not good enough, as it happens.

Because when I realised I was coming to the end of my life, and tried to buy myself a place in a cryogenic deep-freezer, I didn’t have enough money to pay for it. Not for my entire body, anyway. I could only afford to have my head frozen. And that took everything I’d got. Every last cent.

Then, when finally technology had advanced enough for me to be brought back to life, the first thing the technician said to me was:

“Where’s your money? How much ya got?”

“What’s that?” I asked. “What’s going on?”

“After you died, you were put into a deep-freezer, and that’s where you’ve been for half a century. I’ve just brought you back to life. Now I need to know if you can afford to pay to be kept alive.”

I was a little bit disorientated, but the realization of what had happened came to me quickly.

“I’m sorry, I don’t understand,” I said. “I paid to have my head frozen and be brought back to life.”

He crouched down so that his eyes were level with my own.

“Exactly,” he said. “And we’ve honoured your contract. We’ve frozen you and brought you back to life. But it costs an awful lot of money to keep you alive. So if you can’t pay for it, I’m going to have to pull the plug on you.”

“But – but – “

“No ifs or buts. That’s the deal. Unless – “

“Unless what?”

“Unless you have some special talent or knowledge you can use to earn money.”

“Like what?”

“I don’t know, but you’ve got ten seconds to come up with something.”

“I’m a lawyer.”

He shook his head and reached for a red button on a console.

“Wait, wait! I can sing!”

“Okay, try me.”

I gave him a verse of George Gershwin’s Summertime.

“That’s not bad,” he said. “We’ve got some more singing heads here. We could put you guys together and make you into a barber shop quartet. It’s never been done before. You’ll take the music world by storm.”

So they put the four of us resurrected heads onto a wheeled table with all the fluids and tubes that keep us alive on a shelf underneath the table top. We go everywhere together. I’m sick of it.

Must go now. Just had the curtain call. They’re about to wheel us onstage.

See you in Vegas next month.

Alien Exchange

Author : David C. Nutt

“What do you mean you’re not an alien?”

“Just that. I am not an alien. I am a herald from another dimension- another plane of existence-“

“Not from these parts, not a human, yup, you’re an alien.”

“No. I am not an extraterrestrial, well I am but,-

“Alien.”

“(Sigh.) OK. Look, I know you have come a long way as a race but I’m a pan dimensional being, not an extraterrestrial in the sense from another planet, as my version of Earth shares the same space-”

“Can’t. Two things can’t share the same space. It ain’t logical.”

“Before you cut me off I was going to say same space on a different level. Like levels in a building.”

“But we ain’t in a building, we’re outside.”

“Awww come on man! I’m trying to explain! OK, OK, new metaphor. The universe is like an onion. You guys are on one layer, me and mine are a couple of layers away.”

“Above or below?”

“Excuse me?”

“Where’s the layer? You above us or below us?”

“Look, it’s not like that really…it’s just a metaphor trying to describe….aw, crap. OK we’re from above you.”

“A’yuh. The layer above and not this layer so that would make you an alien.”

“(Sigh.) Right. I’m an alien. What I am-“

“A mighty fine looking alien at that.”

“Thanks. May I continue? Good. I am a herald-“

“Please to meet you Harold.”

“NOT HAROLD, HERALD! MESSENGER! ONE WHO-“

“No need to shout. I know what a herald is.”

“Good. Glad you understand at least that much.”

“A good deal more too, scout 0569R from the third quantum fold vector.”

“What?”

“A’yuh, you heard me. Know about your whole race. Know you are a bunch of pan-dimensional pirates. Arrogant little bastards too. Like thinkin’ just because we look like an agrarian society we haven’t stumbled on certain truths. Truths like in the multiverse there are loads of you pirate types dropping through your onion layers exploiting the weak and less evolved. Ever think folks like us skipped a few levels in evolution? Like, after our atomic age we had a radical development in our consciousness that unlocked near god-like powers?

“Wha-“

“OOO! Snap! Didn’t see that one comin’ did ya? Here’s another one you didn’t see comin’ either. While I’m chewing the fat with you, our council of elders have folded space in such a way that in your dimension, no matter how hard you try, not one of you damn pirates can leave your plane again. What’s more we’ll be keeping you all on a short leash for the next thousand millennia or so, until you fix all the damage you’ve done in the rest of the multiverse.”

“But I-“

“No you didn’t. Now, shut your mouth, take a deep breath, and come on inside and have some pie with me and the missus. It’s not every day I get to bring home a real, live, alien.”

Saturday’s Forecast:

Author : Thomas Desrochers

I read a lot of science fiction as a kid, and I think I made the mistake of believing that the futures I was reading about were like weather forecasts of what was to come. It’s an easy mistake to make – look at the weather forecast and see sunny skies, you look forward to sunny skies; look at the future forecasts and see miracles, you look forward to miracles.

The problem is that Saturday rolls around and that hope that you kept tucked in your back pocket doesn’t mean a thing when it starts to rain. I’m sitting in the doctor’s office with Aesha, looking out the window at all that future shit flying around, and I just can’t understand what she’s saying.

Spreading.

Too large for surgery.

Too diffuse to even get a good look at.

Resisting treatment.

I remember learning about cancer in school. When I was young I had always thought of it as a single entity, like smallpox, playing by a set of rules that you can learn to kill it by. Turns out that’s about as true as saying New Jersey is a single being. There are over 120 kinds of brain cancer, and that’s one organ. Dive into one person’s cancer and it gets even worse, a mosaic of impatient, heterozygous cells that decided that they wanted to try out natural selection right now – no time to wait. Another student in the class asked the question everybody had on their mind: “Why haven’t we cured it yet?” The professor laughed. Cure cancer? That’s like asking why we haven’t cured viruses.

We work our asses off now just as we have been for almost a century. Better tools, better strategies, better optics. We step into that fight cocksure, thinking to ourselves:

‘Granny would have been jealous – this sure beats the hell out of mustard gas.’

And why not? It’s the future! How could we possibly lose?

I’m looking at the calendar glowing on the doctor’s wall: 5th of November, 2044. It’s a quarter to 5. The doctor’s desk is big and tidy, with an enormous holographic display to one side littered with papers, emails, and to-do’s. This is the science fiction of my childhood, and though the forecast called for miracles Aesha is dying. The doctor looks embarrassed when I ask what went wrong, mumbles something about how there’s always a small chance that nothing will work.

When modern medicine fails, when all that’s left to do is watch ourselves and our loved ones waste away, when our thoughts turn to epitaphs just like in Granny’s day – is that the future too?

Aesha takes me by the hand and we leave. The guilt is overwhelming. I’m not the one who’s dying – I’m the one who should be taking the lead, the one who should be strong.

She takes me aside in the hospital’s lobby, home to the world’s first anti-gravity fountain. Impressive once, but now it feels like a gaudy trinket slapped on a plague-doctor’s mask. She’s trying to talk to me but I can’t make out any of the words. All I can do is stare into her rich brown eyes and see the future, see everything she is wiped away and written over – and then she dies.

“Jon,” she says. “Jon. Talk to me.”

I try to find the words, any words, but I can’t. What is there to say?

Aesha can see it in my eyes, kisses me on the cheek. “Come on,” she says. “Let’s go home.”

We step outside into the humid evening; It begins to rain.

The Wife

Author : Claudia Silva

“How do you want your eggs today, dear?”

He entered the kitchen with a big smile, happy to start the day. “I’m in the mood for some scrambled eggs, a little bit of tomato, onion. Maybe some mushrooms,” he replied.

“I’m sorry,” she said with a broad smile, “I’m afraid we are all out of those.”

He sat back, thoughtful. Not that he was expecting a different answer, but deep down he still had a lingering hope he could try something different for a change. “Scrambled are fine,” he reluctantly replied.

His wife, complete with the blue dress, white apron and the perfect hair, made her smile bigger – if that was possible – and went to the fridge where she produced an unmarked carton with four capital letters printed on it: EGGS.

While she began working hard on her cooking, he said, “I was thinking maybe we could go crazy today!”

“Yes, dear,” she agreed just like she always agreed.

“I was thinking,” he rubbed his chin with one hand as he thought of something completely out of the ordinary, “I was thinking you could go out with me today. Could be fun.”

His wife’s neck twitched a little before saying, “How do you want your eggs today, dear?”

The last of his hope quickly vanished. Whatever he had said hadn’t been wise.

“I’m sorry,” he sighed, “Scrambled, please.”

“Yes, dear,” the smile was back on her perfect face.

The pan began to sizzle as the egg mix touched its hot surface. Suddenly he realized he needed to try something different if he wanted to make her happy.

“You know,” he began anew.

“Yes, dear?”

“I was reading a book today,” he continued.

“Yes, dear?”

“About this guy who has adventures on different planets,” he explained, “It’s like a series. You know? There are many books about his adventures and-“

“Sounds fascinating, dear.”

He stopped to take in her automated replies. “So, I was thinking that maybe you’d like to read it.”

The twitch on the neck returned. “How do you like your eggs, dear?”

Dang.

“No, no,” he quickly muttered, this time standing up to take her arms with both hands. The woman turned from the eggs to face him, her face frozen in that same eerie smile. “Just, just make the eggs, it’s fine.”

It was too late; the damage was already done. The question came once more, “How do you want your eggs, dear?”

For a moment he just stared at her. After weeks of searching he had found someone new to talk to and he had thrown it all away. He always did in the end; he broke them. In front of him, the woman kept staring at him until she finally asked the same question again, “How do you want your eggs, dear?”

Utterly disappointed, he answered, “Scrambled, please.”

“How do you want your eggs, dear?”

He now raised his tone, “I said, scrambled!”

“How do you want your-“

“Aw, just forget it.”

He let her go. She was lost. Malfunctioned. Quietly, he began to walk to the front door. Glancing back, he could see she had not moved an inch. She was still there, staring at the same spot waiting for an answer to her question.

The man opened the door and stepped out. He stared at the wasteland in front of him, at the red sky and rusting cars around him. He was still alone. Everybody else was gone. He would still look for a robot in another house, a pretty looking one; although it always ended the same. Robots were not built to think, to make decisions. They just… obeyed. Would he ever find the exception? No matter how long he searched the truth was he was the only survivor on planet Earth and soon robots would be the only thing left standing.

The Fantastic Journey of Mr. Green Thumb

Author : Ronald Guell

Day 5482:
Here’s the problem with traveling at light speed. There’s no point in looking out of the window. You can’t see anything. It’s just a vast endless flat black. Trucking at 99.99999999% the speed of light, there are no stars visible to give depth to the picture. There no scenery, not even those clever Burma Shave signs. Do you remember those on our last vacation baby?

Day 5488
I’ve been gone for 6 years now, with 9 left to go. I’m sending you this message of love. I have no idea when it will reach earth but these messages will be put into memory in my assigned vault. There, all the records of your life and death and that of earth’s history will be saved for me to explore. I write these letters to keep your memory alive for all of my life. There, they will be kept safely awaiting my return.

Day 5497
I loved it when you’d call me your Mr. Green Thumb. I’m smart. I innovated growing hydroponics for this mission, but hell if I can fathom this time dilation stuff. Leafy greens for the crew’s , that’s my speed. Time dilation, I know the basics and they are grim. By the time I reach the star AZR8464 and its orbiting planet Azure, 34 thousand years will have passed on earth. I wish we would have had kids, my love. One would have been enough. No family will be there to greet me if I return, just a bunch of strangers in funny clothes. But till then, we’re off to Azure Blue, and as the crew says, we’re rolling with light in hot pursuit. I must sign off now. I’ll miss you forever.

Losses

Author : Jae Miles, Staff Writer

The woman on screen is stern of countenance, yet there’s mischief glinting in her eyes. It makes her even more beautiful.
“Who is she?”
“Melpomene Drenaly.”
“Why I am seeing the face of an inhabitant of the planet,” he pauses to query his headware, “Bresingamen?”
“Johan Marks.”
“This is her?”
“Yes.”
The black-suited man all refer to as ‘Alef’ gazes about the room. A room so secure even the air entering it has been vetted down to a molecular level.
“So, we’ve been watching her in the hope he drops by. I presume something has gone wrong?”
Heads nod.
Alef barks: “I’d rather be informed that mournfully agreed with! My telepathy is negligible, as is my patience.”
At the far end of the table, a figure in dockworker’s overalls raises a hand.
“Twelve years ago, Johan Marks decided the ‘blackened planet’ approach to resistance was unacceptable to anyone with a conscience. He went rogue.
Various departments pursued him. The only successes were in destroying his remaining family through over-zealous actions. In a moment of clarity, Miss Drenaly was deemed off-limits as she was the only bait remaining. After losing five operatives in the next few months, senior Ranks were convinced it was only a matter of time before Johan lost the battle to rescue his girlfriend.
Five years after that, losses had risen to eighty-five. Being assigned to ‘snare guard’ on Miss Drenaly was considered a death sentence. The entire organisation purged itself of unwanted and inefficient elements. Amongst the upper Ranks, it was tacitly accepted that some losses would be good agents falling foul of vindictive politics.
In the last six years, a further thirty-four operatives have been lost. In real terms, no progress has been made toward apprehending Mister Marks since the initial pursuit.”
Alef steeples his fingers: “Commendable brevity and honesty in a report that should have ended the careers of every Rank 18 and better in this room. Including me. But, instead, we are gathered. Does anyone want to venture a guess as to the reasons for our continuance?”
A woman in a grey robe raises a finger. Alef nods.
“Something dire has occurred. Dire enough that our services are more essential than our punishment.”
Alef smiles. Several attendees pale.
“Correct. Skipping the embarrassing silence that would occur if I asked for someone to postulate, let me answer directly: Earth no longer has an Outer Territories. As of seventeen hundred hours yesterday, they declared themselves the sovereign state of ‘Newbelt’, then promptly allied with the Farbelt nations. They were warmly welcomed. Mutual defence treaties were in place before midnight.”
Looks of confusion are exchanged.
Alef sighs: “He only killed the incompetents. The rest, he recruited. We’ve been outmanoeuvred because operatives we trained engineered it. As of this morning, he’s Johan Marks, Head of Covert Operations, Newbelt. And, I have to say, he’s got a formidable and loyal team under his command.”
From somewhere on the right, a quiet voice rises: “We should terminate the Drenaly woman immediately.”
The overalled figure doesn’t even raise a hand: “I don’t think we want to provoke him any further. Besides, I’d bet she went last night.”
Alef smiles: “Only a bet, Ethan?”
There’s a laughing reply: “Yes. Johan always keeps the details of covert actions to himself. Being over here, I’m an unacceptable risk.”
Alef raises his voice over the outbreak of shouting: “Ladies and gentlemen, may I introduce Newbelt Ambassador Ethan Marks.”
Ethan raises an eyebrow in mute query.
Alef relents: “Yes, she’s gone.”
Ethan grins: “New game?”
Alef nods.