ReMax, Some Conditions Apply

Author: Steve Smith, Staff Writer

Max had started the day with anti-anxiety medication, some painkillers, and a mild sedative. He was so relaxed that the nurse had to practically pour him into a wheelchair to get him down to the transfer station for the procedure.

“Morning Maxwell”, one of the gowned and masked personnel in the brightly lit room spoke. Nobody was looking at him, so he had no idea who was speaking.

The nurse coaxed him to his feet, stripped off his gown and eased him back onto a slightly reclined board that softened and molded to his body as he was leaned into it. The nurse applied pressure with both hands on his shoulders until he had sunk halfway into the warm, enveloping material, then he did the same with his hips, arms, and legs, turning away only when Max was held firmly in place.

There was a flurry of activity just beyond his peripheral vision, and then another person similarly entrapped in a wall of black goo was swung around to face Max, their bodies just a few feet apart.

Max started as he recognized the face as his own, an unblinking mirror image of himself. 

Not a mirror though, this other face was a little softer. Gone were the frown lines, and the bags beneath the eyes, and the hairline wasn’t nearly as receding. This was a younger version of himself, not worn so heavily by the ravages of time.

“It’s not the years,” he heard himself say, “it’s the mileage.”

There was a chuckle from somewhere nearby.

“You’re going to feel a little disoriented, but it’s important that you focus as though looking in a mirror, it helps the reassociation with your self when the transfer is complete.”

A hum started somewhere, a sensation he could feel through the material molded to his flesh, the vibration of a sound he could hear in his bones more clearly than in his ears.

Then, as quickly as it had come, it was gone.

He studied the face before him again, looking for some reaction, some sense that the other Max had felt it too, but there was nothing, just the frown lines and bagged eyes he’d grown so accustomed to…

He stopped mid-thought as the realization struck him.

“Was that it? Are we done?”

The older, worn out Max was swung out of view, and a pair of nurses stepped up to help him down to stand on the floor.

“That’s it, we’re done.”

Gone was the fog of medication, gone too was the ache in the knees and the persistent throbbing from a shoulder separation that had never really healed.

He squatted, and launched himself into the air, nearly cracking his head on the ceiling before landing awkwardly, the nurses reaching out to steady him.

“We’ll need to adjust that…”, a voice behind one of the masks spoke as he made changes on a console.

“Wait”, Max felt a familiar anxiety begin to rise, “what do you mean ‘adjust that’?”  His voice started to shake as his mind raced. “Are you telling me you can make changes to me? What else can you do? Who has access to me? How do I know you’re not going to make…”

His voice trailed off, and a feeling of calm washed over him.

“There, that’s better, what was that you were saying, Max?”

Max squatted, springing back up to full height without the slightest ache in his knees, and the pain in his shoulder was a distant memory.

So to was some nagging thought, something just at the edge of his recollection. 

Mustn’t have been important, he thought.

Captain Dean

Author: Kemal Onor

Captain Dean returned home late. The welcome party had already made coffee and spilled through the halls and rooms to talk in bursts of stories. There was the initial buzz of salutations and welcoming home. Cups were raised and health was toasted. The captain did not slow his long-legged gate and went to the living room. He said nothing.

He leaned forward, his elbows on his knees, as though listening to some distant sound. He still wore his royal blue uniform, and he ruffled his hair, giving an audible sigh. Dean blinked long blinks, and his mind lingered on distant planets. Planets that drifted frozen as a lake in January. He pulled a folded picture from his pocket. Opening the folds, he smoothed it in his lap. It was a picture of a blue planet. Green, blue, white, and dark. The planet was spinning, always spinning without end. He had been gone a long time and had forgotten the sensation of constant movement.

He had spent too many days and nights in perpetual days, or everlasting nights. Now, as he closed his eyes and took in the familiar smells of his earth home, he wondered if he might be coming down with what many called earth sickness. He stuck his thumbs in his mouth and bit down hard. He opened his eyes. Everything looked to be spinning. His hands gripped the chair, and he tucked his feet under as well. He remembered suddenly the feeling of lifting off in a rocket. The terrible shaking, as numbers counted down. The jumping and jolting. He felt to be lifting from his very seat now.

He stood, holding his arms out, as though to catch himself from falling. He teetered in his stance. Feeling a terrible urge in his stomach he staggered to the bathroom and threw up. After rinsing his mouth, he looked at his reflection in the mirror. He was sweating, and thin in his face. His eyes looked to have shrunk. His lower lip still held the impression of his teeth. He grimaced and returned to his chair, collapsing as though fatigued. Looking before him, Dean saw a number of children had gathered near his chair. They looked with anticipation in their eyes at the space captain.
“What’s space like?” asked one of the children.

“It’s empty and dark, and cold,” said Dean. He now looked like a drunk man, struggling to keep his head up. The room was spinning. The world was spinning. And captain Dean knew that as he sat in his home on that blue planet that it was spinning and silently moving. Through the cold, and through the dark.

Flintstone

Author: Alex Z. Salinas

“I got to know some people.”

Something nobody says anymore. So when a guy behind me at the café whispered that in my ear, I turned around and shushed him. Put my hand over his mouth. I told him we could get killed if somebody heard that.

Nobody says anything anymore.

Back in my capsule after another night of pointless carousing, I’m restless again. Idealess again. The moon is out, but I can’t see the stars.

In this third and final act of civilization I call post-Socialization, we’re cooked. We’ve primed ourselves for a cyber-sunburn, and now we’re toast.

It’s the devices. They’ve changed us. They’ve scrambled us. Through them, something’s been put into us. We have no control. We’re not free.

Literature exists still. I’ve read some of it. But I’m one of the few, I suspect. I’m shocked at how things used to be. Now, I can’t get an idea out of my head.

In recent news, communities of violent humpbacks have sprouted up—people with re-engineered DNA from decades of looking down at their devices. They’re out for blood. They’re coming for them. And they’re coming for us. All of us.

Church is dead. Temple is dead. God is dead. Small business is dead. Land developers have destroyed them. Our religious have turned to webinars. If their servers are discovered, they’re risking everything. It’s only a matter of time. But I pray for them.

From what I understand, only hospitals remain mostly the same. A few months ago, out of curiosity, I snuck into an emergency room. I wandered the hallways until I came across an old man on a stretcher. I walked up to him to get a closer look. I assumed he was unconscious. Suddenly, he grabbed my collar and yanked me close to his face. His eyes were watery and yellow. I could smell something awful in his breath. The smell of death.

“Get out of here!” he shouted. “They’re watching you! Let me meet Allah in peace!”

I ran out of the hospital as fast as I could. I didn’t look back. For weeks, I had nightmares of the dying man.

I’ve been trying to write everything down. Trying to tell the truth. Trying to spark something.

I want to burn this endless prison we’re in to the ground. But I don’t know how. I don’t know how much time is left.

I’m being watched. I know it. I can feel it.

The devices still call out to me. The urge is eating me. I can feel myself ripping apart slowly.

We’re not alive, most of us. We’re not well.

Something needs to happen. Before it’s too late.

A spark.

Somebody’s knocking on my capsule.

I have to see who it is. I don’t have a choice.

There’s only one way in and one way out.

Perchta’s Daughters

Author: Jae Miles, Staff Writer

How did everyone miss a cabin in this Protected Nature Zone for so long? The windows are covered in ivy and the veranda is thick with brambles.
“Hya! Hya! Bellit, come now! We must away!”
The shouted sentence comes from a woman standing in the doorway, like a beacon of creamy white against the inky darkness within. Must be a companion of the elderly woman spotted earlier.
From the copse nearest the hut strides a huge bird, it’s golden beak catching the dying light. Snowy plumage shades to midnight blue at the tips of tail and stubby wings. Great legs the colour of dried blood end in wicked blue-black claws.
“I come, Yega, I come. Calm yourself.”
It speaks! I lean too far and tumble out of the tree, a frantic grab missing the only branch that might have saved me. Hitting the ground loosens the death grip I have on my phone. I watch it spin away as things fade swiftly to black.

A cool hand rests against my brow, then briefly strokes my temple. I smell mint as my head is lifted and a warm drink is pressed against my lips.
“Drink, manchild. That was a marvelous fall.” The voice is not quite husky. It makes me shiver as I swallow.
“His body knows you.”
Her chuckle is throaty. My eyes open of their own accord. Silver hair frames a face so angular it could be called inhuman, if not for the green eyes that turn it from alien to so desirable my breath catches.
My mouth moves. No words come out.
She smiles: “Chatter cheapens the moment. You’ll speak again, but never of this.”
Her eyes seem to get larger. The entrancement is broken by an enormous hooked beak appearing above her head. It cants and eyes like shiny night regard me. Whatever that is, I’m sure it’s amused.
“He’s thinking. That can get in the way.”
“I’m not a fool, Bellit. That restorative had lust and forgetting blended in.”
Snatching a look about, I see I’m in a rather traditional bedroom. Through the opening on my left, I see the traditional theme continues into the lounge. My gaze catches on the lights flickering across the oddly curved console under a window on the far side. Through the adjacent doorway, dense brambles frame my view of treetops passing smoothly, like I’m looking out the window of a train.
This? Wha-?
The sound of cloth sliding over skin brings me back to a vision that reduces me to nothing but the urge she wants.

I awake lying against a mossy trunk. A massive headache pounds behind my eyes. Stupid thing to do, falling out of a tree. Why was I up in it? Can’t remember. I’m naked! Scrabbling into a shivering crouch, I see my stuff piled against a nearby tree. Just how hard did I hit my head?
Dressing, I check my gear. The uniform is scuffed and torn, but fixable. Nothing that’ll stain. The taser is a write-off. Likewise, binoculars and phone. The memory cards are gone, too. At least I stuffed the car keys into my socks before tucking them in my boot.
I did?
Was I pranked while lying unconscious after falling out of a tree? An on-duty officer would be good sport. Hopefully, nothing shows up on social media.
By the time I trek back to the car, I know what I’ll say: I was returning to my vehicle, after thoroughly investigating the designated area, when I slipped and fell. The sighting? A hoax, most likely. Nothing to report.

You

Author: David Henson

A gust of wind found us while we were walking in the park. She opened her arms, skipped backwards, pretending to be a kite. Like you used to do. Before you got sick. Before you helped them create her, your dying gift to me.

We came upon the spot where you and I once had a picnic — cheese and a baguette. She had your memory of hiding red wine in a thermos because alcohol is against park rules.

When we got home, she made spaghetti for dinner. The sauce tasted exactly like yours. She knows all your secrets.

After the doctors said there was nothing they could do, you spent more and more time with her creators. You told them everything you could think of. About yourself. About us. Now it all resides in her.

She looks like you, laughs like you and cries like you. Just as promised. When I kiss her, I’m overwhelmed by the scent of you. When we make love, she moves like you. As I said, she knows all your secrets.

Tonight we sat and talked for hours. Just like you and I used to do. I lost myself in the rhythm of her voice — your voice. After a while, she began speaking slowly and softy, and her eyes dimmed. Reminding me I need to charge her. Reminding me, yet again, she’s not you.

I wish I could live without her.

A strange way to die

Author: Neil Otte

“What a strange way for an Arkansas farm boy to die”, he thought. He could imagine Gramps shaking his head and saying, “Son, you are a caution”.

Of course, his love of numbers, ability to fix mechanical systems, and delight in growing things – all traits he got from Gramps – were the reasons he ended up here. When he saw Hydroponics Lead as one of the positions on The Foundation’s roster, he knew he had to apply. Not that it wasn’t hard to become one of the “crazy, selfish dreamers” as the vocal deriders of the Foundation’s plans called the ones who signed up. Although Hebert’s implementation of the EmDrive made interstellar travel possible, the multi-decades voyage was a high-risk proposition. Years of acceleration to a large fraction of light speed, followed by years of deceleration gave large probabilities of failure in even highly redundant systems. World opinion was split on the prospect, but in the end, the multi-national Foundation was formed, and the first interstellar mission was born.

It was Gram’s influence that gave him the courage he needed to apply. He could remember sitting at the picnic table outside church and her saying, “You have a purpose in life and you need to pursue it with passion and integrity. If you do, you have nothing to fear, not even death, because, at the end, you’ll have peace.”

Now as he thought back over the last three hours, he wondered if he had seen the culmination of that purpose. When the explosion occurred in the transfer station it holed both tank 2 and 5, venting water systems that constituted 38 percent of their capacity. He knew to the liter what they were going to need to make it to Vaetta, and at the rate of venting, they had 68 minutes to find a solution. Even now, with time to think and ponder, he couldn’t think of anything else he could have done but vent the just harvested hydroponic bays 8 -12, and then vent the ruptured tanks into the bays. Not a perfect solution, but the bay filters would not allow moisture to vent, and the bays would hold enough water in vapor form to reclaim once the damage was repaired. The fact that the only way to now shunt water from the tanks to the bays was via the original loading system on the outside of Finaer, and the only available way to get to the loading system controls was the limited range/thrust IMU, seemed like a minor detail at the time. The IMU had barely enough propellant for him to maneuver his way to the control panels through the venting cloud of ice. In the movies, the hero would have been able to make it to the tether node and the hook would have caught by a fraction of an inch on his last desperate attempt. In reality, he didn’t get within 15 meters of the node before the IMU propellant was depleted, and the vapor accelerated him steadily away from the Finaer.

Now he floated silently through space as the Finaer dwindled to a gleam against the backdrop of red-shifted stars. They had run the numbers on using one of the CMU’s to retrieve him, but it was clear the delta-v was too great. The goodbyes had been said, the thank you’s and commendations given. Now as he gazed out over the expanse of the universe, he realized that Gram’s words were absolutely true.

“Thanks, Gram”, he whispered. “See you soon”