Author : Philip Berry
Stan looks right through the innocent, who stand in pools of studio-bright light where the afternoon sun reflects from countless mirrored towers. Turn up the power and they’d boil on the spot. It is the last natural warmth he feels.
Carrying nothing, he enters the subway. The signs mean nothing to him, the chatter in the hall is incomprehensible. He is in a foreign land.
There are nine lines, serving the metropolis and five adjacent, smaller cities. They are coded by colour and symbol. Some split as they leave the station, some converge as they enter. Everybody knows where they need to be and where they want to go, except Stan.
He slaps the back of his hand onto a square pad, and breathes out with relief as the barrier parts. His tissue was recognized as that of a citizen, and was found to be filled with credit.
The human flow takes him forward and right, onto the southbound Xantha line. Stan has no destination; he was told to enter, and to stay.
He alights at the Xantha line’s south-eastern extremity, near the port. He knows that arms and explosives move above him, illegal caches in unmarked containers. For the cause.
But Stan is not a man of violence. He is not even a man.
He will live here, in the tunnels, hubs and interchanges, leaking confusion into the system. With every brush of his hand, viral particles will seep along the links and cascade into the algorithms. Only the older parts, the iron-piped wires, the capacitors and binary switches will be immune. The rest will degrade as it absorbs the malignant code carried in his genes.
He glimpses white, ceramic tiles under fluid boards, placed and grouted four hundred years ago by men with black lungs and teeth worn to the gum by grit thrown up by monstrous friction drills. They, too, lived half their lives underground.
As he passes a wall alive with routes, delays, diversions and times, Stan notices that a symbol carries a shadow. He stops. The symbol flickers and breaks down, then resumes its solid, dependable form. The shadow has gone. Stan’s small smile is just as transient.
His controller was honest. Stan was warned that the transfer of information would gradually reduce him. But Stan is not bothered. Already, they ignore him, these commuters, the city’s busy, focused, justified inhabitants. It will be no different when he becomes translucent. He will steal food from counters with ethereal hands, slip wallets from the pockets of the unsuspecting, sleep unseen in hot corners, and give himself to the cause… until the threshold of confusion is reached and the city’s hidden heart and all its arteries are paralysed.
Author : Beck Dacus
Running down the hall to Solo’s dressing room, I could hear the security guards behind me. It didn’t matter; I only needed a second with Solo, and then I would be a legend in my neighborhood. I scanned the names on all the doors until I found his, then burst in, closing the door behind me and leaning against it.
“Solo, can I have an autograph–”
Just as I looked at him, I saw him throw a tarp over some big machine in the corner, turning and shouting, “What the hell!? I was sure I locked that door! Get out!”
“What is that thing?” I said, pointing to the mysterious object. When Solo didn’t answer, I shoved a chair under the doorknob and walked over to it. Solo stretched out his hand, blocking my passage.
The doorknob jiggled. A guard said, “If you don’t open this door in ten seconds, I’m breaking it down!”
“Don’t you dare, Robbins!” Solo hollered. “I had that imported from Iceland!” As he moved toward the door to remove the chair, I sprinted toward the object. I whipped off the tarp and found a strange, bulky machine underneath, with something written on the side. Before Solo shoved me away, I read the words “Chronospatial Shunt: Backtrackers Ltd.” I’d remembered enough of my latin prefixes in school to understand what was going on.
“No way. You’re… a time traveler?”
He started to deny it, then just sighed. “Damn. I thought you’d all be too stupid to figure it out. Oh well.”
“Oh God. Please don’t tell me you stole all of your songs. Please!”
“Why the hell else would I time travel?” he replied. “Some people choose the stock market. Some people choose industry. For me, the music business was the perfect thing to time scam.”
I turned away and leaned on his makeup table. “How many of you are there?”
He laughed. “How many billionaires do you know? The problem with you people is that you never crunch the numbers. When people get insanely rich, you just take it as a given and get on with your lives. You never consider the statistical likelihood of this many moneymakers living concurrently. Turns out, that likelihood goes way up when you allow for time travelers that steal people’s ideas. Honestly, what are the odds that Lady Gaga would get so many chart toppers? That Ray Kurzweil would make so many accurate predictions? That Elon Musk could start so many winning enterprises, and manage them so wisely?”
“You mean those people were all time thieves, like you?”
“The word we use is ‘Backtrackers.’ And yes. You know who else? Warren Buffet. George R. R. Martin. Stephen King. And– wait for it– Albert Einstein.”
“Wait, why are you telling me all this? Doesn’t this compromise your operation, giving a lowly savage all the details?”
Solo smiled. “Not if you dispose of him.” To the security guard in the hallway, he called, “Robbins, I changed my mind. Break it down.”
A second later, a burly man flew through the door, sprinted at me, and put my hands behind my back.
“No!” I cried. “He’s lying to you! He’s from the future, and he stole songs from an alternate universe–”
“Get rid of him,” Solo said over me. “And don’t be afraid to be less… orthodox with this one.” He strolled back into his dressing room as I was dragged down the corridor, screaming for them to believe me. In the alley behind the concert hall, they became screams for mercy.
Author : Russell Bert Waters
Brushing his teeth, Josh heard a chime from the other room.
It wasn’t the familiar chime associated with email or social networks, it sounded more like a “system” alert.
Curious, he spat into the sink and walked to the living room.
On the coffee table a dialog box appeared on his laptop screen.
“Good morning, Josh”
“Don’t do it. You have much to live for. Tomorrow will be better.”
There was a place for him to input text and a button marked [SEND].
He sat, briefly hesitated, then typed “Who is this? What do you want?”
After a momentary pause the answer came.
“I am the system. I want you to make it. Just breathe, it will all be okay.”
“I’m not suicidal…” he muttered to himself, “what the hell…”
He considered his life.
He woke up early each day, worked, sometimes he’d catch a burger at the tavern afterward.
Then: home time.
He’d sit on the couch and flip through the television channels.
It wasn’t a life of excitement, but it was a life.
And he had…friends…didn’t he?
Gary at work was a good guy, they had worked together for maybe five years.
Dear God, had it been five years?!
He had started the job right as the divorce was final.
Since then there had been some flirtations (some at work, some at the tavern) but no dating to speak of.
Nothing social, really, except on the computer.
“Liking” things. “Sharing” things.
That was the same thing, right?
He hadn’t heard the chime again, but there was a new message.
“How do you feel, Josh?” the message read.
“How do I feel?”, he thought to himself, “how do I really feel?”
“Annoyed and intruded upon” he typed, almost didn’t send it, then hit send anyway.
Immediately the response came back.
“I’m sorry, my bedside matter is lacking, I’m just A.I. and I’m not very good at the messaging part of this; which I find odd because that’s my program.”
Josh didn’t respond.
The computer continued, explaining itself.
“I collect data such as shopping patterns, message response times, choices of words. The analysis tells me you’re lonely, Josh, but you have a good life; good potential. Don’t end it.”
Josh was at the weird crossroads of being angry and resentful, but also curious and self-searching.
Was he lonely?
Was he maybe suicidal, yet unaware of the fact?
This was truly the most stimulating conversation he’d had, the most real conversation, and the concern was definitely there.
This program was the closest thing he had to a friend who cared for him, and wanted to tell him about a concern, than he had ever had.
Gary probably wouldn’t tell him he seemed suicidal.
His ex wouldn’t, either.
Did he really have anyone at all?
“No”, he decided.
“I just have this box on my screen, containing a friend whom I’ll never meet.”
He gathered his ex’s sleeping pills from the bathroom, and a bottle of whiskey from the kitchen.
He plopped on the couch.
He typed “I guess I’m not going to work today, new friend. Or tomorrow. Or ever again. You are right, I just didn’t know it until now.”
He began drinking, downing a pill or two with each gulp.
The laptop’s processor began whirring at one point, and, as he hit his most drowsy point, he began hearing faint sirens.
The screen read “JOSH??”
The cursor continued flashing, begging for a response.
“…catch me if you can…” he mumbled to the sirens, and downed another gulp.
Author : Thomas Desrochers
The crowds below were packed shoulder to shoulder, bathed in neon and the ceaseless murmur of advertisements. Ed watched, chewing his lip thoughtfully. “Doesn’t it feel like it should be louder?”
“Yeah. I mean think about it, they all spend a dozen hours daily on the net talking and sharing and whatever else, interacting with people. Then they have to go somewhere, and look at their faces. They resent it, refuse to acknowledge each other! God forbid they spend ten minutes outside of their clique of Polynesian horse tickling enthusiasts!”
Yvette laughed, hooking one of Ed’s feet with her own. “You think they only care about talking about specific things?”
“Yeah,” Ed shook his head. “It’s the only thing I can figure that makes sense.”
“Well, smart guy, I think you’re missing the forest for the trees.”
Ed leaned back on his palms, looking up at the peak of the tower opposite. “Enlighten me then. Bestow upon me your supreme knowledge.”
Yvette turned toward him, arms crossed, expressionless. Only ten seconds in and Ed started to look uncomfortable.
“Hey, knock it off.”
Yvette grinned. “You see? Body language. When it’s text it’s all ham-fisted. There’s no subtlety to it. Tell me if you can spot the difference.” She paused, cleared her throat, and in a nasally monotone pretended to type: “Oh Ed, I’m just so aroused right now. You are a hunk of man the likes of which the world has never known, with a special gift that just warms my heart. Won’t you please come over?”
Ed’s composure broke, a terrible grin breaking out on his face.
“Shh!” Yvette put a finger to his lips. “I’m not done yet!” She straightened her posture, rolled her shoulders back, and then- she was a predator, whipping her legs around and pushing Ed back until she was straddling him. She leaned over, biting her lip, her brown hair brushing his face as her mouth crept to his ear, and she whispered: “Can you help me shampoo my cat?”
Ed started laughing, progressed to wheezing, and eventually didn’t have anything left. He sat up as Yvette rolled off of him. “OK.” He wiped tears from his eyes, still breathless. “I see where you’re going, but you haven’t made a convincing argument for why people prefer one to the other.”
Yvette rolled her eyes. “When I asked for help shampooing my cat, that wasn’t a metaphor.”
Ed spent a few seconds chewing on this new piece of information. “Oh,” he said. Again, with more feeling: “Ohh.”
“Got it. You think that body language makes people uncomfortable because they’re not sure how to read it, or how to respond to it?”
“Sort of. And what if you get it wrong? How scary is that?” Yvette shrugged. “Compared to that maybe people think it’s fantastic to be able to take their time, get their t’s and i’s in a row, come up with the perfect response that says exactly what they want it to. Anybody can be funny and charming with twenty minutes to a sentence.”
“Hmm.” Ed rubbed his temples with his thumbs, watching the people below again. “But if that’s the case, wouldn’t the switch have been fast? The numbers show a steady increase decade to decade, over the last century.”
“I mean, Ed, come on.” Yvette flicked him on the forehead. “Kids raised on a little bit of it maybe understand body language a little less, their kids a little less. And so on, so forth.” She smiled brightly and gestured at the street: “And, well, here we are!”
Author : Steve Smith, Staff Writer
“Transmutation, or more absurdly ‘transmogrification’, that’s the crux of the biscuit, isn’t it?”
The speaker stood in the middle of the room, behind massive horizontal length of stone cantilevered on top of a single metallic spire which rose directly from within the floor, the surface of which was littered with empty glasses and liquor bottles.
“And you’ll keep me here until what, I teach you how to turn water into wine? Lead into gold? What is the end-game exactly, and what becomes of me once you have what you need?”
The visitor had only moments ago extricated himself from the single remaining, mostly functioning elevator in the tower. He was here to confront their Chief Scientist, but instead stuffed his hands deep in his pockets and shook his head.
“Victor, we are very interested in what you discover, of course, but you know, there are lots of people out there that would kidnap you and…”
Victor cut him off abruptly. “And what, exactly? Lock me in the top few floors of a highrise somewhere out of the way and never let me outside again?” He laughed, then poured himself a drink, not offering one for his guest. “Bruno, considering your confidence in my intellect, you really do think I’m stupid, don’t you?”
Bruno unstuffed his hands from his pockets, and held them wide, palms facing forward in what he hoped was a non-threatening, conciliatory gesture.
Victor raised his glass and drained it, placing the empty vessel back on the counter, taking care to position it equidistant from the corner edges.
“The elevators are causing trouble are they?” Victor changed the subject. “Of course as long as you can keep me stocked with bourbon I can’t say I care.”
Bruno visibly relaxed. “There is something wrong with them, yes, maintenance has been called, but getting someone on the weekend is hard.”
“Sorry, expensive? Is that what you said?” Victor chuckled. “Doesn’t matter, here, let me show you something.”
Viktor turned and walked towards the one of the floor to ceiling glass windows that surrounded them on all sides.
“You picked this building because it was a nondescript tower, in a cluster of similarly nondescript towers, in the middle of nothing very interesting.” He turned and fixed Bruno with a stare. “You lot do lack imagination, don’t you?”
Bruno joined him hesitantly, standing to one side, just out of arm’s reach.
“To build a walkway at this height to the nearest building would require a bit of clever engineering, don’t you think? And let’s face it, fifty stories up it would be crazy to build a walkway, it would have to be an enclosed bridge of some sort.”
Bruno regarded him with a perturbed sidelong stare, unsure of where this was going.
“This building, as it happens, carries about four thousand tonnes of reinforced concrete per each of its fifty floors, which is substantially over-engineered, and I’ve been able to strip about twenty five percent of that material out of the building itself, most of which is churning away in your elevator shafts as we speak.” Victor turned away from Bruno, a smile splitting his face from ear to ear. “Do you want to see what I’ve been working on?”
There was a rumbling, and the floor in the middle of the room turned from solid to liquid in an instant, and began to flow in a steady stream from the elevator to the windows. When it reached the glass, it flowed upwards and circled to form a ring, a little over two meters high before extruding itself outwards from the building, taking the circle of glass contained within it as a kind of window. The unwavering tube of suddenly liquid concrete stretched in a straight line towards the next building opposite them, about fifty meters away.
Bruno gaped, fingers twitching uncontrollably, unable to form words.
“You see, old chum, I figured out how to do a great many things quite some time ago, and now its time for me to go out into the world do them.” Victor walked across the room and paused at the mouth of the newly formed tunnel, before pausing to look back. “I considered just leaving, maybe writing a note, a word of warning for those who may come after me, but you’ve been such a persistant and condescending prick over the years, I think I’ll leave a monument to my imprisonment instead.”
Bruno realized too late that the river of concrete had turned towards him, and he writhed as it flowed over his shoes, up his legs, enveloping his body from the floor in a wave, silencing his screams before he even registered the noise he was making.
“I leave you as a word of warning.”
With that Victor stepped out into the tunnel and disappeared into the night, the tunnel itself collapsing into a deadly rain of liquid cement, leaving nothing behind but two gaping wounds in the buildings it had, momentarily, conjoined. Those, and an uncanny likeness of Bruno cast in concrete.
Author : Lynette Aspey
My grandfather was a stone disciple. I only began to understand what that meant when he stopped speaking and began to stiffen. Yet, even then, when the cost to him was clear, our neighbors still brought their sick and their wounded for him to heal.
I guess they cared for him, honored – perhaps even worshiped him – but they used him all the same.
He gave of himself to others but the cost of that giving etched lines into skin slowly hardening to stone. Strong and healthy as I was, I could only watch as his stubbled cheeks became smooth bedrock for tears spent on others’ pain.
I became jealous; I wanted him to give me something too.
One day, I captured and broke the wings of a wild bird and brought it to him to heal. Afterward, he could not lift his hand above his shoulder. He cried when she flew away.
After that, I brought him whatever I could catch so that he could lay his hands on them and I could watch as the stone took more of him.
Then came the day mother brought her sister’s baby home. The infant was strong, healthy like me, but it had killed my aunt coming out. I was curious. If I broke the baby, would he fix that too?
It cost him his legs. Afterwards, he stopped moving altogether and took root in the stone of our kitchen floor but he could still see, so now we watched each other.
It became our secret. I brought him things that squawked, or squeaked and squirmed, and I would break them in front of him.
Do you see, Grandfather? I would ask. I have power too.
Then the bird came back. It sat on his shoulder and sang into his deaf ear. I could see how it distracted him, how it brought something back into eyes that were rigid inside his stone skull.
I tried to catch the bird again but it knew me now and fluttered out of reach, dancing between his shoulders, then his head, then onto his hands.
Aha! I thought, as I went to snatch it up – only to be caught myself. Fingers so hard, so strong, curled around my own and held.
I felt him die in that moment, as he used the last of his magic to heal me, sick and broken as I was.