Service the Masses

Author : Steve Smith, Staff Writer

He eyed her cautiously as they undressed, her gaze wandering over his muscular frame, he picking out the subtle characteristics that identified her as a mech; her stance, the symmetry of her body and its flawlessly calculated motions, the perfect geometric arcs her hips cut as she walked. Afternoon sun seeped reluctantly through smokey acrylic to carve dusty fingers in the stale air. The light accentuated her form as she closed the small distance between them on the balls of her feet. In an instant, she was on him, twisting him in a wiry embrace that found them both locked together on the bed. He felt the sheets beneath his bare skin, faux cotton made soft from too many washings.

‘Are you ready?’ She barely breathed the words, but he was, and they rolled together as one on the bed, exacting murderous complaints from the wood and metal frame beneath them.  He could feel the corded muscle beneath her polymer skin, feel the way the fibers contracted and released as she flexed, her body a geometry text of angles and curves, throwing shadows on the rice-paper walls, one moment acute, the next unnaturally obtuse.

‘Come on baby. Harder – Faster.’ She was on her hands and knees now, looking back over her shoulder, her irises ratcheting through various degrees of dilation, straining to optimize the light. ‘Pull my hair.’ He wrapped one hand in the long soft fibers cascading across her back as their bodies blended into one. He could hear her air exchanger accelerate and then stop suddenly, her entire frame in an instant becoming rigid within the supple flesh of her body, seizing almost completely before fail safes spurred the air exchanger back into motion, and each pair of joints were reflexively released.

He sat on the end of the bed, smoking a cigarette, and watched as she dressed in silence and then strode purposefully toward the door. ‘I’ll see you again next week.’ She paused a moment, pulling a handful of paper money from her purse and tossing it on the desk. ‘You know, you are my favorite.’ She smiled at him then, a warm, almost caring smile, before she disappeared behind the closing door.

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Girlfriend

Author : Marco Chacon

She had one of those new things: A USB port in the back of her neck, just under the skull. We’d plug her in at parties and, with the controller, she’d do all kinds of wild things—karaoke, belly dancing, there was even a “Mardi gras button”–but we didn’t use it too much.

Afterwards, she wouldn’t remember anything but a soft warm feeling.

My friends said I was the luckiest guy alive (none of their girlfriends would do it) but I wasn’t too sure.

When I hugged her, I’d run my fingers through her hair and I’d feel the little holes with their metal teeth.

We tried some downloaded porno-ware but her eyes were like glass marbles when she was jacked. It kinda creeped me out.

When they came out with the new ones she didn’t have the money to upgrade and I don’t think it’s a coincidence we got into a lot of fights around that time. We sort of drifted apart.

“You’re whacked,” my friends said. “That’s a dream girl.”

“It’s totally on fire,” they said, “no one’s getting hurt.”

“What’s the matter with you,” they said, “it’s hotter than you deserve—you better hang on to that.”

But I let her go. Today when I’m asked, I tell people we were incompatible.

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Time and Again

Author : Steven Perez

The drive to Persepolis from Shiraz had been longer than expected due to an unexpected radiator leak, and at that moment, all I wanted to do was stand up and walk around. I’ve always loved to visit the ruins here, mostly because I have a fondness for the era of the Persians. This time, though, my visit had a much darker purpose.

The Land Rover finally came to a stop near the entrance of the tomb in question, and the team piled out and started taking out the gear in the back. The local authorities always groused a bit whenever we showed up in the area, but they realize that the work we do is vital to the good of the entire world, so they don’t kick too much. But it still spooks some people to see us in the flesh, so we tread carefully.

The perimeter finally comes together, and Saunders fires up the generator. The lights coalesce together, and the rift is finally visible to the human eye. I hate dimensional rifts.

“Looks like we have more fugitives,” Kendra says with no small amount of disdain. The suits upstairs call them “temporal trespassers”. The teams spread out across the world came up with a simpler name for them: “fugitives”, after a story by Harlan Elison about time-travelers.

“Geez, you’d think these guys would learn,” Sung Li growls.

I bring everyone out of their reveille. “OK, so let’s find them.”

We lock onto their temporal signals and locate them quickly; scavengers from the 22nd Century. That figures; with all the horrible wars from that century, it’s a wonder that the human race survived as long as it did. Things must be really bad if the fugitives had taken to trying to alter history from distant locus points along the continuum.

We quickly seal the breach and leave a little something in case the rotters come back. Satisfied that we performed out jobs adequately, the team repacked our gear and waited for the extraction point back to the 835th Century. I would drive the SUV back to Shiraz so as not to arouse too many suspicions. Right on schedule, the null point formed and swept the team up into the vortex and back home.

I stared out over the remains of an ancient human civilization for a long while and couldn’t help but wonder how much might have been different had the humans not killed each other.

The things a machine thinks about with time on his hands, eh?

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Mickipedia

Author : B.York, Staff Writer

“So why did you come on this trip, Micky? You didn’t bring a crew. Not even a single camera.” Charles was loading the grappling gun like he could do it blindfolded. In fact, he was just staring at his partner while he twisted the grapple into the loader.

Micky was glancing up along the passing walls of the mine elevator shaft; the twinkle in his eye was more than just enjoyment of the scenery. At last he glanced to Charles as the elevator came to a halt. “You tell me, Charles. Is there something down here worth checking out?”

The gruff Charles Hannon rubbed his four-day shadow as he opened the gate of the elevator leading into a barely lit descending cavern. He stepped out and waited for his associate to exit before shutting the gates again with a loud clank. “Could be, Micky. People got scared; they think they found some garbage from before the war. You know how they get spooked when radiation gets involved.”

“I do, Charles. I know how all of them get scared.” Micky was walking out further into the cavern than a normal man would; glancing at every nook and cranny. Stopping at the edge of the cliff and staring down into the darkness he inquired, “Down there?”

Charles smirked and hooked up the anchor of the grappler to the wall. He knew nothing of Micky’s involvement here other than the fact the media was paying him good money for this. “Yep, just below us. Listen… you never told me-”

“Let’s go, Charles. People need this.” Micky was being more than cryptic and it was bugging the other man terribly. Charles shot the grapple down into the dark where it hit something moments later. The line tugged taught and he motioned Micky over to latch him into the glider. Both men hit ground at the same time and no sooner did a click herald a light from Micky’s hand.

Both surface men glanced as the light ran over the object in question. It was big, neither could dispute that. A distinct color of green and deep decaying rust permeated it. It had fallen out of one of the walls and it had an almost human quality to it.

“Do you see the face?” Charles asked in a hushed whisper.

“Indeed. I’m recording it now.”

The guide snapped at that remark, “Recording!? Micky what the bloody hell? What’s going on?”

Micky’s eyes flashed in the dark and the hard-drive uploaded it as fast as he could see it. There was a feminine face and a raised arm. The thing looked like a statue with one arm outstretched to hold up a torch. He ignored the cries of his partner Charles as he smirked at the wonder he just found.

Charles now tugged Micky to look at him, “What the fuck is that thing and what are you doing?”

The man just smiled at Charles, looked him dead in the eyes and spoke with curiosity, “You tell me Charles… would you like to be the first to edit?”

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Screening

Author : Daniel Longwing

Two steps forward, don’t shuffle your feet. You already accrued three points in the way you took off your shoes…

Don’t look at the carpet. Don’t look at the carpet! Sod, that’ll be another four points for not looking the guard in the eye with a friendly and nonchalant smile.

The man in riot gear with the machine gun and the mirrored face-mask gestures to the left. Smile at him. Friendly. Friendly. Yes, that’s it, pretend your reflection is his face and give him a nod. This man is your friend and is here to help you. Tell yourself that.

Good. Keep your face relaxed, calm but alert. Only affable expressions of optimism and happiness. Place your belongings on the conveyor belt. Yes, they could get stolen while you go through the scanner… Don’t think about that, don’t get nervous. Don’t look nervous…

Your brow was creased while you talked to the scanner operator. That’s going to be an easy 5, maybe 6 points. The interrogation went well though, you revealed all relevant information about your age, sex, political, religious, and work background. You even managed to ease in your financial status without breaking the veneer of a pleasant conversation. Good. That will all go into the database, they know nothing has changed since the last time you were asked in the lobby.

Think positive, think happy. You are happy. Being surrounded by guns and scanners and trigger-happy paranoiacs makes you safe. That was a bitter thought. Check your face… Expression still good, it didn’t get out. It was funny, but you’re just a few points shy of being singled out for “examination”.

There are your belongings. Don’t look at them for too long. Good good. Concerned, but not too much. They’ve got your shoes and clothes ready too…

One last step. Don’t screw up… Talk to the woman holding your clothing….

“Social Security Number 358-63-3269?”

“That’s me.” Smooth. Good smile, just hold it for a moment…

“Here are your clothes, please retrieve your belongings from the belt. You’ve passed initial screening and psychological profiling. The background check will clear momentarily.” The woman handed him an official document. “Show this to all personnel, hesitation could lead to arrest, and 3269?”

“Yes?”

“Thank you for flying with us today.”

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Looking Forward

Author : Steve Smith, Staff Writer

With an almost discernible sigh, the bridge ceased its seemingly endless attempt to shake the crew unconscious.  Captain Jax waited until he was sure the worst was over before instructing the muscles in his body to unbrace themselves from his seat, and it took some time before those muscles began to obey.  The space around him was filled with a haze of smoke and sublimated material that before the storm had made up control surfaces and various other parts of his ship. The giant view screen was dark, and as the fire suppression systems shut down, and the environmental control systems began to scrub the air, he realized that large portions of the bridge were dark also.   Around him restraints eased, and tired bodies released themselves into the slack tethers.  The immediate danger, at least, had passed.

‘Django, damage report.’ The captain’s voice carried easily across the cramped space, and he waited as the engineer struggled to coax a console to life. Reams of text chased themselves across the screen before flickering out only to begin again.

‘Engines are up, warp drive is down.’ Yellow fluid oozed from a crack in the engineers craggy forehead which he dabbed at absently with a sleeve as he continued. ‘We’ve all but lost the recyclers, the atmosphere reserve is online but degraded, estimated hours of breathable air – thirty seven.’ The captain instinctively began to slow his breathing. ‘The storms knocked out our eyes and ears sir, we’ve got instruments for navigation, but no visual.  Our distress beacon is broadcasting, but only from the bow, and the long range sensor on the bow is alight, but it’s the only one.’

The captain slumped back into his chair, pushing the hair back from his sweating forehead. His eyes tried to focus on a point beyond the blackened display, as though expecting to see somehow through it into the void of space.

‘Weapons Django?’

‘Ballistics are offline sir, the light spear appears intact’

‘Direct whatever energy we’ve got to the beacon and sensors, we need to find a ship.’ The crew began to execute his commands even before he’d finished speaking them.

Nearly a dozen hours passed before the long range sensor panel lit up and the comms officer, Sharak, broke the silence. ‘Sir, there’s a ship straight off the bow, quite some distance, but she’s parked and in our line of sight.  She’s in a line to receive our beacon sir.’

‘Django’ The captains voice boomed with new found purpose ‘All ahead full, let’s catch up to that ship’

The engines wound valiantly to life, shaking loose bits of the bridge that had been tenaciously holding on while they’d sat at idle, filling the cabin with the clatter and dull thuds of falling alloys and polymer composites.

‘Sir – the ship ahead is in motion sir.’ Django struggled to read the flickering display in front of him. ‘We’re accelerating sir, and they’re matching our speed.’

‘We need to catch that ship and we’re a little low on options right now’ The captain knew it was pure luck a ship happened across their path and he wasn’t going to let it get away. ‘Bring the light spear up, fire a volley up his ass and see if we can’t take his engines offline.  Mobility we’ve got, it’s his atmospherics I want. If he’s ignoring our beacon he’s brought this on himself…’

Sharak spoke over her shoulder ‘Captain, the aft transceiver array’s come back online, and there’s a ship back there, it’s broadcasting on the emergency channel but it appears encrypted sir, I can’t make out a message.’

‘Forget them, we’ve got our own problems, we’re in no position to help anyone else right now.  If we can catch this ship and make repairs, we can think about going back later.’ The captain was leaning forward now, straining his eyes at the void of the view screen for some glimpse of the space outside, an image that wouldn’t come.

‘Sir… the ship behind us, it’s fired on us…’ Sharak was afraid, and her voice could do nothing to hide the fact.

‘Fired?  Fired!  We’re broadcasting a distress signal, what kind of bastard fires on a ship in distress?’ The captain, giving up on the dead display stood and wheeled on the comms officer, gripping his seat back to steady himself against the surging of the wounded engines.

‘Sir… the signal from the ship behind us.  It’s not encrypted sir, I don’t know how I missed it, it’s inverted and sir,’ The comms officer’s voice dropped almost to a whisper. ‘Sir, it’s from our bow beacon.’

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