Losing Saffy

Author: Kim Kneen

“It’s rare but sometimes Saplings simply fail to thrive.” Dr. Moran peels off her gloves and drops them into a bin labeled Hazardous Waste.

Moran hands me a leaflet entitled Recalls: your obligations and I stuff it into a pocket and bundle Saffy up in her coat. Desperate to get her away from Moran I do the buttons up wrong. Saffy is skewwhiff. Half-cocked. A scruffy scarecrow with blackberry eyes and fine flyaway hair. Spindly legs planted in yellow wellington boots she insists on wearing though it hasn’t rained for nineteen years.

I take Saffy’s hand and coax her to the exit. I can see Moran’s reflection in the glass pane of the door and I pause before trying the handle.

“She’s three years old,” I say.

“Unfortunate.” Moran replies, though she doesn’t even look up. “You have five minutes to say your goodbyes.”

#

I think back to the first time I saw my daughter.

The pick-up point was a grand, Georgian house seized by government six years into the dry spell.

Fertility was in rapid decline before the drought struck, so when it did, and the few babies born in the early years perished, women were advised not to conceive. Scientists had come up with a compromise. Substitute children for those who could afford it. Child-like creatures who could survive the arid conditions on earth. Hybrids: acceptably human but whose DNA was woven through with that of drought-resistant plants.

I’d chosen a reputable grower. Ethical. Expensive. I’d read all their literature, knew what to expect, but the first glimpse of my daughter still came as a shock.

My new baby lay in a transparent cot. Roots sprouted between her fingers and toes and grew down through layer after layer of enriched vermiculite.

A nurse was removing a series of wires from the cot. She opened a drawer and selected some scissors.

“The baby looks terribly thin,” I said.

The nurse replied, “I read on your notes you gave birth to a human child once.”

“Leah.” I whispered.

I’d cried out her name so many times over the years it had lost the power to move me. How could a flick of the tongue convey anything of who she once was and what she had meant to me?

The nurse held out the scissors, holding onto them far longer than necessary, causing me to look into her face.

“Try not to compare,” she said.

#

Moran’s security staff don’t let us leave and they usher us into a holding suite.

I sit Saffy down and ease off her welly boots, roll down her socks. The silvery veins that used to pulse beneath her skin have almost faded. Once I could trace them as high as her knees. Roots still sprout between her toes but crumble into dust when I touch them. My little girl is fading.

I don’t need to read Moran’s leaflet to know what the future holds for a Recall like Saffy. In this world of scarce resources every last scrap of her will be pulped and pressed for fuel, or shoe soles, or bedding for livestock.

I kneel at her feet: gather her into my arms. She twists my hair round her fingers. Once the sweet palm-flower scent of her skin had the power to perfume the sour stink of the air, but now she exudes wet earth and wood smoke, decay.

I’m reminded of a time when earth still had seasons. Of Autumn. Granite skies and raindrop bowed branches. The clutch of a long-lost child’s blackberry stained fingers.

Losing Saffy will break me.

Martians is Lazy

Author: David Henson

My daughter is marrying a goddam Martian. They’ll probably end up living with me and Edith ‘cause he’ll never hold down a steady job. Martians is lazy. Just ‘cause Mars was the first to be terraformed, they think they shouldn’t have to work, that everything should be given to them because of the hardships in the early days. That was a long time ago. Get over it.

“Edith, doesn’t Sally have that dress on yet?”

Of course, my daughter’s trying on the most expensive wedding gown in the shoppe. She’s worth it though. Sally’s a good daughter. Even if she’s marrying a goddam Martian. At least she didn’t fall for a Mercurian. Vainest bastards there ever was. As long as they got a perfect tan, they don’t care about nothing else.

“Edith! Sally? Get a hurry-on. We’ve still got to go make arrangements with the minister.” I suppose I’ll have to give him a big tip. I never knew a Venusian that wasn’t a money grubber.

The reception’s the thing though. Gonna cost a fortune. That’s ok. Nothing but the best for my little girl. We’re even having Europans do the catering. Great chefs, the whole lot of them. And the bartenders are Saturnian. If things get dull, they’ll know how to put on a show. Singing and dancing are in their blood. Never seen anything like it. Don’t want them mingling with the guests though. I wonder if we ought to have a bouncer? A few of Sally’s friends are Plutonians. Everybody knows they can’t hold their liquor. I’ll get somebody from Jupiter. They’re good fighters.

“There you are finally…. How do you look? You look beautiful, Sweetie. That Martian doesn’t deserve you…. Yes, Edith, I know the Martian has a name…. Sally, if that’s the dress you want, you can have it; we want you to be happy….Yes, I’m sure we can afford it. I’ve got a Neptunian stockbroker. You know how good they are with money.”

Speaking of wedding clothes, I’ll have to get my tux altered. Too bad the only good tailors are from Uranus. They’re all assholes.

I guess it won’t be so bad if Sally and the Martian live with us. At least Edith and I won’t have to leave earth to see them. Earthlings — us you can trust. Except for the left-handers. Shifty bastards.

Eviction Notice

Author: Thomas Tilton

Hard, mean knocks at the door. That would be Mr. Farcus, the landlord. Chuck was already two months behind on rent, and today was the fifth day of month three. Mr. Farcus was coming to collect.

“Just a minute!” Chuck said, opening his closet and digging through the pile of clothes.

Where the hell was it? The thing was insentient and as big as he was — it couldn’t have just wandered off or gotten misplaced.

He kept digging.

At last, he found it. He did a quick check of the face, made sure there weren’t any giveaway blemishes on the synthetic skin. Satisfied, Chuck switched the thing on by poking it sharply in the left eye.

Slightly weirded out to be talking to a replicant of himself, Chuck instructed the avatar. “Landlord, Mr. Farcus, here to collect. Do not have money. Deal with.”

The avatar stood, walked mechanically to the front door of the apartment, and opened it.

For the next fifteen minutes, Chuck listened to himself get berated by Mr. Farcus, told that he was “an irresponsible fool,” “no good,” a “freeloader,” and a “layabout.” As Chuck listened, he imagined those insults had quotation marks around them, which helped to make them sound untrue.

While Mr. Farcus was laying into him, Chuck’s avatar remained silent except for a few minimal encouragers such as “Uh-huh” and “Yes, you’re right, Mr. Farcus.” His expression was one of contrite weariness calculated to appeal to the landlord’s sympathies. Only his hand, gripping the doorknob so tightly the knob was changing shape, gave any indication that Chuck’s avatar was having any kind of unscripted emotional response. And Chuck couldn’t see that, hidden as he was behind the door.

Finally, Mr. Farcus had enough and headed back to his apartment, all the while assuring Chuck’s avatar that his days were numbered, Farcus was no bleeding-heart, and if Chuck couldn’t make rent by this Friday he had better find somewhere else to squat on Saturday.

Chuck’s avatar looked none the worse for wear.

What did Mr. Farcus know anyway? He was more than likely bluffing about the eviction. The crazy old man lived off his army pension and probably didn’t spend his days any more productively than Chuck spent his. At least Chuck had the avatar around to deal with the landlord when Farcus decided to show up in person.

He tussled the avatar’s hair affectionately. For a peculiar moment, Chuck thought he saw the thing wince.

No, couldn’t have been.

Chuck poked the thing in the eye again and watched himself collapse haphazardly to the floor. If that were real flesh and bone, Chuck’s double would have broken his ankle in the fall.

He kicked some throw pillows onto the thing — he didn’t like looking at his own face when he was just hanging out at home, it was too uncanny.

Landfill

Author: Duncan Shields, Staff Writer

Slow Jim Parker. That’s me, friend. Please to make your acquaintance.

Nasty accident you had there, friend. Nas-teee accident. And I’ve seen some! And this shack of a hospital won’t do you any good, either, no offense.

Well, I’m here to help you out. Yes sir. Let me tell the how and the why.

I lived on WP286-Kestrel, or ‘286’ as we used to call it, for nigh-on 18 years.

I still don’t know why we didn’t just call it Kestrel but I always figured it was because a kestrel is a beautiful bird whereas this was a stinking cesspool that no one should have to endure.

Y’see, WP2886-Kestrel was a waste planet. Most systems have one planet devoted to waste collection and sorting as you know, to keep the planets from developing a ring of their own refuse, like Saturn in the old country.

Mountains of garbage poured in by starbarge and sky portal day and night.

Goes without sayin’ that 286 was toxic. Most of my fellow 286ers were prison labour. I was that rare breed of stupid. A volunteer. An entrepreneur.

Of course it’s not the place I call home now but 286 stays with you. Some of it’s the hereditary cancer you develop from the pollution but mostly it’s the mutations. And the memories.

That rock had developed its own Aurora borealis. Somewhere between a heat-mirage made of raw chemical stink and an electrical field from all the discarded appliances. Colors I never seen before or since.

Quite a motley community of scavengers we were. Toxicity suits all patched. Bright yellow on day one but after years of spot repairs with available materials and experimental upgrades from discarded equipment, most of us had a unique setup. Ray had those powerful vise-hands. Joe had those radio goggles for seeking out antennas.

Gradually, you develop a specialty there in the junkpile. A lot of us were inventors, looking for ways to build new weapons or technological shortcuts.

I myself was looking for biological patents.

You see the rodents in the landfill were horribly mutated. They might have been rats at one point but generations of radiation and very fast inbreeding had changed them. Bear-sized in some cases. Hive-mind swarms in others. To the point that they’d sometimes evolve new organs to fight the poison and in some rare cases, actually get smart enough to use tools to protect and augment themselves.

Course we all ran the risk of mutating as well.

I mean, I have that small clutch of eyes growing on one shoulder. They blink and look around but whoever’s using them to see, it isn’t me. And of course, if I use my fingers I can count to fourteen now. I suppose I should be grateful for the tail. I just wish it wasn’t coming out of my ankle.

But I’m successful. So there’s that. Doing well off the very things I came here to sell you today in light of your nasty accident. I’ve got a whole batch of little organs here that’ll put a smile right on to that terminal face. I can double your liver capacity, give your heart eight minutes of flatline capability with no harm to yourself, even got a little generator here that’ll let you alternate left and right brain so that you can stay up for weeks with no loss in productivity. Heck, I even got some accelerated stem cells here to regrow that limb.

What’ll it be, friend?

Oh.

Dang it. I always talk too much. He’s off with the angels now.

Slow Jim Parker is right.

Ten Any

Author: Steve Smith, Staff Writer

It breached the atmosphere in the late evening, the sun beginning to warm the far side of the little blue planet as it tucked into the shadows and dropped down to the clouds.

It swam in the moist air, swirling and cavorting with the storm formations as they coalesced and broke over the seemingly endless expanse of nothingness.

Below, a network of dark lines traced the curves of the earth, some streaming with lights, with activity, and it avoided these, settling on one instead that traced through a series of low mountain ranges, a rare pathway seemingly devoid of life.

It alternately swooped low, kissing the earth at breakneck speed before gaining altitude with the earth to burst from the peaks back towards the heavens, slicing through the clouds, again and again, tearing holes into the rain heavy night sky.

In time it tired, having traveled far, from another time and another place, and its gyrations and antics became less energetic. It allowed the pull of the little blue planet to strip it of its altitude, and it hugged the gray stripe on the ground as it weaved through the little mountains, rising and falling gently, and easing through the corners.

In the middle of a long straight stretch rose a monument that reached from the ground high into the night. Beyond it, a low structure clung to the earth, stretching off into the darkness, riddled with holes and reeking of neglect.

The towering construct captivated it, and it curled around the risers, rubbing against them and feeling the iron react to its touch. It wrapped itself around one of the columns and followed it to its peak where it found an intricate maze of glass. It traced the outside, hugging its curves and stretching out along its lengths. The shape fascinated it, and it busied itself for a while exploring its surface before discovering a small crack where it could squeeze inside. Once contained within, it was protected from the rain and the cool night air. It pressed outward against the restraint the almost clear labyrinth provided, and found the confinement calming; it was safe here, secure.

As it explored, it tasted neon, and hydrogen, helium and mercury. The flavours evoked feelings, and the feelings manifested themselves in a coloured glow. It spread itself thin, filling every inch of the glass resting space it had found, and waited out the night, and the arrival of the sun’s energy in the morning with which it would recharge.

As it idled it marveled at its own reflected beauty, painted in brilliant multicoloured light on the rain covered ground below.

Security

Author: Servaya

It began, as many things do, in the dead of night.

“Dad!” cried the boy. “There’s monsters under my bed!”

The covers were down before he was fully awake, and as he rolled smoothly to his feet, his mind begins processing the situation while his body continues with the rehearsed, automatic movements.

Automatically: Reach for the rifle while scanning the room.
Mentally: Consider whether to rouse his wife and review the room-clearing procedures they move through together if there may be a threat.

There is no one else in the room, save for his wife who is quietly awake now in bed. No alarms are going off, and no quiet lights signal a breach into the house. All is quiet silent since the boy’s initial cry.

Automatically: Shoulder the rifle and stride silently to the door, minding the sight lines around the frame.
Mentally: He’s finally reached the age where nightmares begin, but nothing is wrong. All the same, demonstrating security might help put him at ease.

He crosses the hallway and eases the boy’s door open, rifle still up but careful to keep the barrel clear of anywhere his son could be. A quick sweep in the darkness reveals the room to be clear, save for his son sitting up in bed.

Perhaps some theatrics? “You there, under the bed,” he challenges quietly, falling back on his old command voice. “What business do you have here?”

The response is just as soft, but gravelly and sibilant…and something stirs in the black beneath the bed frame. “There is no end to the monsters in this world.” His finger moves to the trigger. “We tire of flight, and seek refuge here.”

He considers carefully. “I am the end to monsters in this world, and none may breach this refuge. How many of you tire?”

“We are many.”

“Then I will build more beds. Do not wake my children.”