Author : Steve Smith, Staff Writer

The big bike tugged at his gloves, pleading for the roll of the wrist that would send the 6 cylinders into a frenzy of combustion and release. Patience. He eased out of the garage, coasting down the parking ramp onto the drive before gently throttling up to escape the confines of the ‘civilized’ community in which he lived.

Outside this walled world, miles of twisting and drifting asphalt were waiting.

The smell of hot metal and spent fuel evaporated in a torrent of burnt rubber, and then nothing but the rush of country air as he stretched out atop the gargantuan engine held aloft by two massive gyroscopes of alloy and polymer veneer.

This was what it meant to be alive.

The tach alarmed through each gear shift, redline overlaid in his visor as he pushed the hardware as far as his courage would allow. 200 kilometers came and went in a heartbeat as the world rushed towards him through the ghostly image of the speedometer, the machine purpose built for speed tightening and tuning on the fly. The countryside blurred, thousands of milestones on the periphery of his vision turned liquid in a single stream of molten landscape.

A sudden sharp rise in the road forced the suspension to load up, and as the bike flew over the crest of the hill, that potential released as bike and rider caught air and flew. The sudden rush of adrenaline and endorphins lasted only a fraction of a second before the image of a truck crashed through the ‘260’ emblazoned in his visor, through his brain and turned his world dark.

The light was faint at first, and there was the sound of some throaty beast heaving breaths nearby, keeping time with the rising and falling of his chest.

Antiseptic, and ammonia, the smells were unmistakable and cut through the haze. The light was bright now, and defined as he opened his eyes to the silhouette of a woman hovering over him.

“Nathan… Nathan, can you hear me?” The voice was pleasant, calming. A different voice spoke from somewhere nearby, one almost familiar. “Yes… what happened? Where am I?” Nathan realized the words were his own.

“You were in a terrible accident Nathan, you’re in the hospital now, you’ve been here for some time. It’s a good thing your RAAC tag was up to date.” He vaguely recalled the ‘Resuscitate At All Cost’ tag he’d been issued when he reached his eighteenth birthday and his donor commitment was up.

“They’ve done a wonderful job with you.” The cheerful voice moved around him now, straightening sheets.” I was able to get you prime plus a quarter on a twenty five year term, so you’ll be able to make reasonable payments. You were partially at fault, so the Insurance company only covered the basics. We’ll go over the documentation with you when you’ve started rehabilitation.” Nathan’s mind reeled, twenty five years of payments on what? He felt a sudden rush of anxiety.

“There will also need to be a change in your accommodations once you’re released. You’ll go through mandatory integration into a restricted community.” The woman stopped fussing for a moment and stepped back.

“Restricted?” Nathan puzzled aloud.

“Oh, yes, restricted. You lost both legs, one arm from the shoulder and one from the elbow. Your jaw and voicebox have both been replaced as have your kidneys, spleen and a significant portion of your digestive tract. Your left lung and two valves in your heart are new and your torso has been extensively reskinned. You were above the threshold for integration for a while there Nathan, until your second kidney failed, but I’m afraid that tipped the scale.”

“Scale?” Nathan’s voice shook as the scope of his injuries began to set in.

“The Scale Nathan, your Humanity Index. I’m afraid with the amount of synthetic material in you, you no longer meet the burden of humanity, and as such we can’t exactly integrate you with the mainstream communities. You’ll be found work, of course, and a residence. Don’t worry Nathan, we won’t abandon you, we do pride ourselves on being humane.”

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The Career of a Psychic

Author : J.R.Blackwell, Staff Writer

The recruiter says that you are a dumbass. He tells you he wouldn’t put you in the infantry for the eighteen worlds, because you would get someone shot. Later you learn this is the worst insult he could give. The recruiter tells you that you would never make it as a pilot, because you haven’t got the head for numbers. Your test scores are low enough that they can’t place you anywhere based on skill. The only thing you can do, he tells you, the man who will decide your fate as a human, is get the genetic restructuring and become a psychic. A councilor.

It’s serve in the military, or slave in the mines, and though you don’t like the idea of changing your genetic code, you know you don’t want to be in those dark mines, so close to the core that you sweat out your life under artificial light. The recruiter gives you that choice, smelling like tobacco and piss, a bus out back to take you to the military and a truck with metal doors waiting for anyone who can’t find a place. You take the bus.

The genetic restructuring has you vomiting in a hospital for a week. The doctors laugh as you spit up blood and chunks of meat from your insides. Get it all out, they say, everything human must go. Laughter, but it’s distant, hollow. Maybe that little grey piece came from your liver; maybe that red slice is a shaving off your heart. At some point, you start to hear voices, bouncing around people, things they tell others without talking, words they tell themselves. A doctor hears her mother telling her she is a whore. A patient sings a pop tune to himself over and over.

Shave your head. Take a post on a military transport. Everyone hates councilors, reading minds, prying, looking for hints of treachery or deviance. They short sheet your bed, spit in your food, and dump your things out onto the floor. You know who did it, you know because you can feel their guilt like warm winds, but you can’t say a word. You tell on them and the captain would spit on you herself, and the rest of them would never forgive you. You are locked in a metal can with people who hate you, spinning through space.

Out in this silence, surrounded by cold, you reach out beyond the glass and plastic ship to the silent falling cold. There in the falling dark, you reach out to the thoughts of planets, hear the thrumming song of their replies.

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Einstein’s Last Words

Author : J. S. Kachelries

I walked into the offices of Temporal Travel Inc. A bored agent three rows back motioned me toward him with his free hand, as he peered around his upturned coffee cup. “Good morning, Sir.” he said as he placed the empty coffee cup squarely on a coaster. “Where and when may we send you?”

I sat down in the large chair at the side of his desk. “Yes, hello,” I said. “My name is Dr. Marc Strohm, Dean of the Physics Department at MIT. I’m interested in going to Princeton, New Jersey, April 15, 1955, at about 1:00 AM. Specifically, the Princeton Hospital. I need to stay about 20 minutes.”

The salesman motioned to his AI assistant to begin the temporal calculations as he scanned the iridium credit transponder implanted in my forearm. He said, “I don’t believe anybody ever asked to go there and then before. Sounds boring. You sure I can’t talk you into Mars, say 3.5 billion years ago? Tropical climate, twenty foot waves slowly crashing onto orange beaches? Very beautiful, and we’re having a special this week.”

“No, it has to be the hospital room of Albert Einstein on the day he died. You see, just before his death at 1:15 AM, he uttered his last words to the attending nurse. Unfortunately, he spoke them in German, and she only understood English. Nobody knows what he said. I’m hoping that during the heightened brain activity at the end, he may have solved the unification problem. Einstein had spent the last half of his life trying to develop a single equation to unite the four fundamental forces in the universe. As far as we know, he never did it. Two hundred years later, we still haven’t solved it. I’ve been studding German for three years for the opportunity to understand his last words.”

The salesman looked disappointed. His commission was based on years traveled, not scientific merit. “Listen, professor,” he said, “what if Einstein said, ‘Nurse, you’re standing on my oxygen hose.’ You would have wasted a trip for nothing. How about the end of the Cretaceous? You can watch The Great Asteroid impact the Yucatan peninsula.”

“Sir, I’m a Theoretical Physicist, not an Astrophysicist, or a Paleontologist. Look, if you’d prefer, I can go to Time Excursions.”

The eyes of the AI began blinking green. The salesman quickly changed tactics. “No, no, no. You’re the boss. OK, I think we’re ready now. Please step into the Phase Transporter, and we’ll send you on your way. You’ll be able to see and hear everything, but you’ll be in ‘phased-time,’ so you’ll be invisible to them. Have a good trip. And, good luck.”

When he shut the door to the Transporter, everything went pitch black. Then there was a flash of intense light. When sight returned to my eyes, I was indeed in Einstein’s hospital room. He lay propped up in his bed. He looked so old and feeble. But even at this hour, as weak as he was, he was feverishly writing in his note pad. I drifted behind him to study his notes. Fantastic, he was working on the unified field equation. I started to get chills up my back. He appeared to be on the verge of something, when his eyes closed, his hand went limp, and his chest stopped moving. The pen fell out of his hand, rolled off the bed, and dropped onto the floor. The attending nurse ran to his side and shook him gently. “Mr. Einstein, are you all right? Can you here me?”

His eyes suddenly fluttered open. He motioned for her to come closer, and whispered, “Gott zeigte mir die Lösung. Sie war… schön.” Then he smiled, closed his eyes, and died.

It was a bitter sweet moment for me. Although I was disappointed, I was happy for Einstein. His last words were: “God showed me the solution. It was…beautiful.”

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Alternate 7816JS

Author : Joshua Reynolds

Dinosaurs thundered through a post-industrial city on their way to work. Suits and ties. Briefcases built to fit thick, knobby talons. The stink of mammal bacon on the breath of some, boiled plant on others. Pollution choking the air and grease and oil and garbage on the streets. A thriving, productive society.

This wouldn’t do. Oh no, not at all.

Not because the dinosaurs had evolved, or even because they had simultaneously supplanted the mammal and driven it to near extinction (except for those in processing farms, getting fat from no movement and squirting out infants every nine months) but because they intended to do it elsewhere.

The Censor stood on top of the tallest building in the city, invisible to the saurian eye, his coat heavy with light-bending circuitry and Ellison cells. He tapped the side of his head, bringing up a HUD screen on the insides of his eyelids. A series of tiny screens within screens appeared on the display, an infinity of bureaucracy. The Timeline Validation Bureau. Bland faces appeared in each screen. Gray little men leading gray little lives in their chronal separation cubicles hard at work, never to know the joys of the infinities of the continuum. And to prevent others from doing so as well. That was the job of the Censor. Of all the Censors, though they were all the same man.

They were all him. All Wight.

And they all loved their job.

“Report.” A multitude of somber voices echoed in his ear.

“Alternate 7816JS is experiencing a major chronal incident.”


“Scientists have discovered the back roads. They have open doors to Alternates 7826JS, 7846JS and 7886JS respectively and a fourth tacking directly into the continuum itself.”


“My thoughts exactly.” The Censor smiled. “Initiating reality disruption.”

He stuck his hand in his coat and pulled out a smooth sphere-an entropy grenade-and twisted it’s top half lightly. The sphere began to glow as he tossed it up into the air where it rose higher and higher finally fading out of sight altogether. It would phase itself into the heart of the sun. When it exploded it would send out an entropic pulse and erase the rogue timeline from existence as well as the three it had infected with its disease in a controlled ‘Big Bang’. The Censor leaned over the edge of the building, arms resting on his knee and breathed in the humid, swampy air. How many sentients would perish? The machines in his head began to calculate and he hummed to himself as he prepared to leave. Overhead, the sun seemed to flash for a moment, growing brighter with every second as the entropy wave devoured it from inside out.

The Censor smiled as his eye lenses polarized against the glare.

He did so love his job.

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The Last Beautiful Thing

Author : D. Magliola

Ron was sprawled on a park bench. His dirty hands were tucked into the kangaroo pouch of his salvaged Nike hoodie. He exhaled a cloud of vapor and wheezed with his next breath. A single tear ran down his cheek and was absorbed in the dust mask that protected his mouth and nose. Everything had gone to hell since the day before. The scene that previous evening had been different. She had been there.

People had been fighting over things for longer than anyone could remember. First it was for oil. Then it was bombs. Then it was freedom, then food, and finally people just fought for themselves. All around the filthy world, people had stolen shotguns from WalMarts and fought for their lives. Later, people lost hope even in themselves. There was no reason to go on, death was easier than fighting.

Then, in the broken cement jungle of Chicago, a small group of scavengers found the girl. She was small, soft, and autistic. It was as if her fractured mind had turned down the volume of the fighting. She was the only one who hadn’t lost hope. She shared it with those who found her. They became the Protectors. The group of men and women, only a few dozen strong, defended their little bubble of hope for years. She was the last beautiful thing. In a world of horror, she was the only relief. The Protectors risked their lives to steal her food. When she became ill with typhoid, they tore apart every abandoned supermarket and pharmacy in Chicago until they found penicillin that hadn’t dried up and become like chalk. She could play the piano, so the Protectors stole her one. While a handful of them stood night watch in the entrance of their decrepit subway station, she had played beautiful music. Wonderful random little notes would tinkle through the frigid night air and help people forget their dead families and hunger. Sometimes she’d sing.

Then one night some freakoids came through in a minivan. They had all the seats taken out and a .50 caliber M-2 Browning bolted to the interior. They hit the guards and crashed down the stairwell, throwing the passenger door open and filling the depot with hot lead before Ron could blow the bastards away.

She had been sitting on the bucket next to the piano with her head on the keys. Her torn dress was an off shade of muddy red, the puddle beneath her matched.

Ron took another ragged breath through his mask. The world had ended that night. There was nothing left to fight for. What would he do? Maybe he’d join the other Protectors, at the bottom of the Sears Tower. Their broken bodies felt no pain. Why go on living in a world with nothing beautiful?

Ron removed his mask and took another breath. He hawked a pint of warm red relief, his scarred lungs liberated of life by the razor dust. If she couldn’t come to him, he’d go to her. Ron closed his eyes and departed to find the last beautiful thing.

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