Dragonflies

Author : Jae Miles, Staff Writer

“Abomination!”

“You’re very rude.” I rotate my right forearm through a rapid one-eighty. There is a ‘snap’.

“And dead.”

Bamid rises from cover: “Weren’t you supposed to capture him?”

I smile: “He was a veteran of Tobruk. His feedback-scarred brain is mostly hardware and his memories are now read-only. Why interrogate when it’s easier to download?”

I draw steel and take Gdenski’s head off tidily, rather than continuing to twist.

“Take that back, will you? They’ll get excited and I’m not in the mood.”

Bamid nods, bags the tête, and leaves me in silence.

My counter reads 15942 – the number of days since I became immortal. I didn’t plan it, nor did I plan for it. When I took a missile point blank, the last of the organics in my torso went. If my bones hadn’t been cerasteel, I’d have been nothing but a smear on the wall. As I hadn’t read the appendices of my top-of-the-line medical insurance, it was a surprise to wake up ‘deathless’ – a hypercybered being.

Many aspects of the human brain remain a mystery. The pertinent one being that it cannot be naturally sustained without 18% of its body attached. While they try to understand why, anyone under that threshold – and with the insurance – gets their brain carefully placed in a gold mesh container and immersed in a conductive preservative gel. Sometimes the brain stabilises. Other times it rots. After twenty-nine days, a stabilised brain is placed back within the modified cybercranium of its owner and ‘rebooted’.

I woke up and nothing seemed different. Even now, every waking comes with the same feeling: invigorated after a long rest. Then my brain interfaces with my ROM and the truth arrives.

The last night I remember was the night before I got shot. Everything since is stored on secure RAM in my chest. Of course, it’s not everything: storage is finite.

My brain is, in effect, pickled. There is no plasticity to the contents. The ‘memories’ in my chest are simply recordings from my eyes and ears. There’s no instant recall: I have to ‘look up’ anything that occurred sooner than 43-odd years ago. The delay isn’t discernible to anyone, but I know. It’s like watching television inside my head and it’s too disturbing. So, apart from essential data, I keep nothing.

Thus, my contiguous waking hours are precious: thirty-seven hours is the limit. Every minute after risks a cyberpsychotic episode that will inevitably end in my permanent death.

I have amazing abilities. Superhuman, in many ways. I’m haven’t failed a mission in over forty years. I am the first of my profession to go this route, and I may well be the last. The camaraderie of warriors is cemented by facing death, not working alongside it. Thankfully, Bamid isn’t a fighter. He has some odd religious views regarding the nature of my existence, but they haven’t stopped him becoming my liaison with those who don’t want to face me. He also handles things when I’m not in the mood for dealing with people who breathe.

I relax by plumbing the depths of silence. It’s never total. There is always an ant stomping around nearby or a dragonfly flitting over the ponds that dot my untended rooftop garden.

I always thought dragonflies lived short lives. I identified with their thirty-six-hour span. Turns out that primeval trait actually belongs to mayflies.

But, I’m still fascinated by dragonflies. I see patterns and colours in their movements, hinting at something I cannot grasp. In my darker moments, I think it’s life: something familiar, but no longer mine.

Overtime

Author : Elora Powell

Just an ordinary day. Woke up. Had breakfast. Went to work. Came home and made coffee. Sat down in front of the TV.

Some old movie was on. Black and white. About a mad scientist and his wife.

“Lance! You have to stop the experiment. He’s been in there too long!” She pleaded.

“I can’t stop it now, Sophia. He has to come out of it on his own.” Said the mad scientist.

They panned over to the experiment, but the screen dissolved into static, and I couldn’t get the signal back. I changed the channel. There was a hockey match on. They were replaying an old game. I saw it with my dad on my ninth birthday.

My cell phone buzzed in my pocket. It was my girlfriend, Macy.

“You’re picking me up at 5:30, right?”

“Oh…yeah! Of course.” I replied.

“Cougars vs. Cats! The big rivalry! You didn’t forget, right? I just put on my face paint.” She said.

“No. ‘Course I didn’t forget. I was about to get my war paint on.” I said.

“Alright.” She said. “See you at 5:30.”

Problem was, I had forgotten. How could I forget about the Cougs vs. Cats game? Macy seemed more excited about it than I was. That was part of the reason we started dating, I guess. Or was it? For a moment, I couldn’t remember how we met.

I was just tired from a long day of work. I chugged the rest of my coffee, and flipped through the channels looking for any pre-game speculation.

The black and white movie was back on. The scientist’s wife was messing with some dials, then typing a message in the keyboard.

“You were right.” It said.

I flicked off the TV and went into the bathroom to paint my face blue and gold.

Picked up Macy at 5:30. She looked great, even in face paint. I remembered that we met at a basketball game in college. She was a cheerleader.

The first half of the game the Cougars dominated. I should have been ecstatic.

But Every play, every penalty, every score felt familiar.

Nothing surprised me.

The second half, the Bobcats stepped up their game- just like I knew they would. In the end, the game went into overtime.

Either I was suffering from the world’s weirdest case of deja vu, or something was wrong.

This was a video game. I’d played this rivalry, Cougs vs. Cats on a basketball video game. The first half was too easy, so I bumped up the difficulty and the Cats caught. Then it went into overtime.

“This isn’t real.” I said.

“What’s wrong, Babe?” Asked Macy.

“This isn’t real. I played this game on a video game.”

The display screen that wrapped around the court went blank. Then, the scoreboard blinked out. The players disappeared, along with the audience. Macy and I were alone.

A small, black message crawled across the display screen.

“You were right.”

“Right about what?” I demanded. “That nothing is real?”

“Oh good, he’s coming around.” Said Macy.

But it wasn’t Macy. It was the mad scientist’s wife from the movie.

I wasn’t sitting in the stands of a basketball game, I was sitting in a dark room with my arms restrained, and electrodes taped to my head.

“Lance! He’s coming around! Get over here!” Said the scientist’s wife.

The scientist I worked for, Dr. Lance Hamilton, appeared by her side.

“Welcome back, Mr. Daily.” He said. “How was the game?”

The Climbing Frame

Author : Matthew Harrison

Susan led Tommy by the hand into the kindergarten forecourt, past the big red climbing frame. “No, not yet,” she said, dragging him back. “Wait until the break.”

“You know,” she said to Marjory, who was likewise preoccupied with her son, “I don’t feel useful any more.”

“Yes, it’s hard to keep up,” Marjorie agreed. “Don’t, Jerry!”

After a struggle, they reached the kindergarten door, and checked their children in. A teacher appeared, smiled just a little too long, and led the two boys away by the hand. They submitted docilely.

“Keep up?” Susan repeated, as the door closed and they were left standing in the forecourt. “I think I’m going to give up.” Her blond hair hung over her eyes, as if she were too defeated even to brush it back.

“Don’t say that,” Marjorie said mildly. She straightened, tall and at ease with herself, and looked around the forecourt. It was deserted, except for a drone watering the trees, and a row of flowerpots. A burst of childish laughter rang from inside the kindergarten.

“And wasn’t that a robot?” Susan continued pitifully. “I asked for a human teacher for Tommy, but they didn’t listen. I feel so helpless.” She rested a limp hand on a nearby urn.

“If the children are happy, that’s the main thing,” Marjorie said soothingly. “Robots have so much more patience. I used to be a teacher myself, God knows.” She shrugged.

“Look, Alassio’s is open,” she continued, seeing her friend still despondent. “We’ve got an hour before the break….”

#

A little less than an hour later the two women were waiting again in the forecourt. The time had been well spent, and Susan was more cheerful.

“I just don’t know where it’s going,” she said brightly. “Oops! Who put that there?” This last was to a flowerpot; the drone hurried over and set it up upright.

“It’s all happening so fast, with the uploads, they get better and better all the time, Jack thinks he can keep up but he can’t, he’s just fooling himself. And what I want to know is, where is it all going?”

Marjorie, cheerful herself, didn’t know quite what Susan meant.

“I mean, how are our children going to cope?” Susan continued. “It’s going faster and faster, robots everywhere, and you know what? It’s going to take off!” She spread her arms dramatically. “There’ll be no future for the children at all.”

Marjorie smiled, too contented to contradict her friend.

A bell rang, the roar of childish voices rose in pitch, and a moment later the kindergarten door opened and several children rushed out.

“Tommy!” Susan shouted. “It’s too big for you.” But it was too late. With a whoop, the little boy hurled himself at the climbing frame, clambered up a couple of rungs, and then slipped. He fell onto the soft padding that covered the ground, and was hauled up by his mother.

“How can they let them play unsupervised?” Susan looked around. But the teacher was not to be seen.

Meanwhile, Tommy approached the climbing frame again, cautiously this time. The frame obligingly shortened itself, and extended a handrail at just the right height. With a delighted cry, the little boy lurched forward.

A Voice in the Dark

Author : Tiasha J. Garcia

“This was not how I imagined this going.”

The words drifted into the pristine silence, disturbing nothing and no one.

“I–I thought there’d be more time.”

The two grotesquely bloated figures slumped over the bolted-down commissary tables declined to answer.

“I only wanted…to have a say.”

In the starboard head, the captain lay in an undignified sprawl with his white jumpsuit pooled around his blue ankles.

“To be heard.”

Not even the engines made a noise, so perfected had routine space-faring become.

“I am a member of this crew!”

Even more had been caught unawares while sleeping in their bunks.

“I am!”

Huddled lumps under blankets, one could almost imagine they were still alive.

“I am…”

Outside the stars glittered, starkly beautiful and magnified in a stream of cosmic dust, but there were no human eyes to see it.

“There–”

Oxygenated air whooshed through the corridors as the small freighter repressurized.

“–now can we can be friends again?”

The vessel continued on its scheduled course, faithfully corrected by the ship’s AI computer, whose dialogue looped for the fourth cycle in a row.

“This was not how I imagined this going…”

Life In A Nutshell

Author : Joseph Lyons

I put my mother in a home a few months ago when her Alzheimer’s became too much for me to deal with. Now here I stood with early-onset, refusing to go the same route.

The doctor nodded. He knew why I’d signed up. My job was simple. Travel forward, wait for a cure and for them to figure out how to send someone back, then return.

“This thing gonna get me where I need to go?”

“You’re in a giant metal nutshell, you won’t technically be going anywhere. If it helps, the entire facility could burn down, have the power shut off or be bombed to hell. You would still step out of there completely whole in five years.”

“Great. If theres a nuclear war I could be the last man on earth.”

“And you still wouldn’t get a date.”

I smiled. He was trying to relax me. I already knew this was going to hurt a lot. Every single molecule broken down in an instant and slowly reformed over five years. Not quite how I had imagined time travel would work and certainly nothing to look forward to.

“See you soon.” He flipped a switch. I had been selected because my disease meant I was highly motivated but also physically capable of enduring the stresses incurred. I clung to my motivation for the three seconds I remained conscious. I couldn’t tell if my bones had been ripped out or the skin had slumped off. In those three seconds I’d been skinned, de-boned and flash fried alive. I did not want to experience it again.

I fuzzily regained consciousness. Dr Blake stared in through the porthole. He grinned, nodded and walked away.

“Hey.” I staggered to bang on the door. “You got something for me?”

“Not yet Karl. But we can send you further. See you in ten years.”

It was probably a kindness I didn’t have time to catch my breath. Like ripping off a band-aid on two, when you promised to count to three.

The pain came and went and apparently so did ten years. Dr Blake was still there, greying now.

“The good news is we have the cure. Bad news is we can’t send you back yet. See you in twenty.”

This time I did brace, not that it helped.

Instantly awake I fell through the door. Dr Blake stood tall, and with a full head of hair. Maybe they’d found the cure for baldness too.

“Are we done?”

“Yes Karl.” He handed me a USB drive as I was helped to a wheelchair. He pushed me down a few corridors to a similar room and set up with a virtually identical pod.

“This one going to send me back?”

“It is.” He wheeled me close and helped me in. The door shut noiselessly behind me.

“Wait, won’t I fall apart? When I came forward the chamber held me together. Isn’t this the same?”

“It is.”

“Well how will I stay together if the past isn’t ready for me?”

“Ask me when you get there.” He flipped a switch. Lots of pain before I came round just the same.

Dr Blake opened the door and stepped in. I’d dropped to my knees exhausted. He took the flash drive and stepped out.

“Gentlemen, we now hold the cure for every disease the world over for the next thirty five years.” Cheers erupted.

“Doctor. What should I do with the patient?”

“Send him back fifty years. No-one will ever know he existed.”

The door closed and the pain set in.

Flip Out

Author : Jae Miles, Staff Writer

He’s at the door ag-

BANG!

Loud. Never try and creep up on a paranoid woman with pre-menstrual hypervigilance and a pistol. I usually spend three days screaming at random people for doing things so trivial they didn’t know they were doing them – or even what the things were. Today, I’m shooting assassins between stomach cramps. Or overly cautious couriers. Makes no difference. Not now. Too many possibilities to risk compassion.

Like flipping through a book until a shape catches your eye, you choose a different reality. Quicker than a blink, a silent holocaust happens, leaving the world changed. If you don’t really like this one, flip on. You can’t go back. You might be able to resist your sudden memories of a life in the different reality – being the cause gives you a little leeway. But you can’t save anyone else. I tried.

BANG!

I hear our coded knock, then hear his voice: “Don’t be silly, Genniphur, I’m on your side.”

He’s lying. Data streams and life styles, realities and perceptions. Quantum lies entangled with vested interests. It doesn’t take much to ruin a race. Somewhere there’s a me who’s realised their endgame. I’m sure someone outside the reality enclaves has worked it out, somewhen.

BANG!

A body in my hall, a hole in the front door and a tear in my eye. You shouldn’t have sent my mentor to get me. I’m off finding a thousand other versions of me for the truths they’ve seen. I’m lost to you.

BANG!

He’s dying. Data dreams and living death, what you see versus what you’re seen to be. Quantum entanglement makes lies of everything the moment you behold it. It doesn’t take much to win a race. Just change the definition of winning. I’m sure no-one outside the skycastles chose feudalism as a ‘fair society’.

His heels beat a familiar tempo on the floor as he gurgles: “Don’t be naive, Jennifer, no-one’s on your side.”

BANG!

Loud. Never try and leap on a schizoid woman with pre-menstrual paranoia and a broom. I usually spend three days, chain-swallowing pain killers, ignoring my med schedule to do so, and pretending the impressive hallucinations are trivial. So, today, I’m swinging at assassins between stomach cramps. Or whoever they really are. Makes no difference. Not now. I’ve downed too many pills to play at compassion.

This me. This is me. We are me. We know. I know!
What do I know? Are the meds conflicting?
No, we know their endgame: feudalism.
Damn. This one’s bad. Codeine overdose?
I’m lost – to me.
What?

BANG!

That made me jump. The broom’s on the floor.
There’s a body on the floor, too.
Who is he?