Author : Jeff Deignan

Let me tell you a ghost story.

I see my sister every day, while she eats and sleeps through the minutes and hours. She walks, she talks- but never to me. The cold, white rooms always seem to threaten to swallow her as she traipses about, and me as I sit and listen through the one-way mirror. To hear her voice, one would think that nothing was wrong, and that at one o’clock all was well.

I live in an apartment, in the Ashland complex just west of town. She lived on campus, before an overcast Tuesday. Elena, my sister, drove to the store around that time for some little groceries, even though the fridge was nearly full. The accident didn’t hurt her much, either, and I can only imagine what went on in her head as she and I rolled through the air in her little foreign car.

They got me back after a few tries, some surgery, and a coma. But my sister always insists that I’m in the ground, dead and gone. Elena hasn’t responded to a single thing I’ve said since that day. And she insists to this day that I’m dead, that the bionics and machinery that keep me living, working, never brought me back after my heart stopped. Elena only talks to the ghosts in her room now, a faux family minus me.

So riddle me this: who’s the more haunted, this machine or her mind?

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Author : Benjamin Fischer

“Haywood! My good friend.”

So says Szilveszter, ever propped on a barstool at the Wildwood Flower.

Takes me a moment to wrap my brain around the fact that it’s him, for real, not ten meters in front of my scarred, cindered, wrecked-out self.

“How ‘bout a beer?”

The fucking nerve.

I want to grab him by the collar and scream, little ashy flecks of spittle peppering his face.

But I just sidle up to him, my splotchy face as blank as I can make it. The Flower is its usual dark and murky self, and Szilveszter either didn’t catch the brimstone that must’ve lit my mug. Or maybe he caught it and didn’t care. He’s getting sloppy, damn sloppy or damn arrogant, to still be up here a week later.

“Yeah! Beer, Hussein!” says Szilveszter. “Beer for both of us!”

He slaps me on the back and I crack the thinnest of smiles–like a hairline fracture in my helmet’s faceplate.

“Man, how the hell have you been?” he asks, the bartender sliding us a pair of one-time bulbs.

I snort.

“I hear you, I hear you,” says Szilveszter.

Hussein clears his throat, hovering over us.

“Haywood-” Szilveszter starts.

I’ve heard that tone of voice before. I almost pull my piece right then. But the part of me that’s ice cold shoves all my fury into the beat up boot I’ve got crushed against the rail. With a minimum of expression I unzip a pocket on my jumpsuit and fish out some credit.

I toss the little card to Hussein. He catches it and gives me that subtle nod of gratitude he reserves for paying customers.

“Hey, thanks man,” Szilveszter says. “You’re a real philanthropist.”

I grunt in reply.

“Course, you can probably afford to be,” he continues.

As always, he takes my silence as a sign of agreement.

“Yeah, I had some prior commitments,” he says. “You know, some other hot leads.”

He sips his beer, examining me for some sort of reaction.

“That said, I’m still due a finder’s fee.”

The sheer bravado. His smile is yellow and crooked and would have been totally disarming as recently as a week ago.

He takes my hesitation as a cue to keep talking.

“Buddy, you know how much I love riding shotgun with you on those flights-”

He stops and raises an eyebrow as I reach into my little arm pocket again.

Szilveszter catches the cigarette and then the lighter.

“You know this isn’t allowed in here,” he says.

Damn straight. There’s other things that aren’t allowed in here, too.

Then Szilveszter winks at me and then props the tobacco between his lips. He fiddles with the lighter, an antique disposable type. It comes to life suddenly, its clean butane flame the flare of a midnight reentry, a manmade meteor. He pulls greedily, the coffin nail crackling. The lighter goes off with a snap.

Smoke rolls out of his nose, his mouth.

“Oh, this is good shit, Haywood,” he says, turning to face me. “You pick this up down there on Earth?”

I’ve got the piece out and leveled right at his decaying teeth, his mouth.

“Nice gun,” he says. “You get that there too?”

Never at a loss for words. Not ever.

I do him then.

The cigarette falls to the deck in the slow motion of one quarter gravity, streaming smoke all the way down.

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Author : Sam Clough aka “Hrekka”, Featured Writer

We pieced together what happened later, taking what we knew about the way we’d been infected, and from what we saw happening to the rest of the world. We don’t know if we should count ourselves lucky that we were the first to be attacked. A few people tried to blame us for the phages, but one look at our country proved their claims absolutely baseless.

It began with a single phage. Small enough to slip past our defensive screens, and seemingly innocuous, it descended from space and latched onto a remote point on the national communication backbone.

The body of the phage turned out to be a bare-bones carrier for a crystalline substrate upon which was stored the ‘true’ phage. The mind, or program, or whatever you want to call the being of the phage listened to our networks. Hideously adaptive and completely alien, it learnt our machine code, and injected itself into the datastream.

The first changes were subtle. Traffic through ports was slowly choked off until it was no more than a trickle – of course, the port quotas were set remotely. Then the government quietly started to buy up heavy industry – factories, mining operations.

It barely made the news. The phage program was responsible, of course, hiding in the backbone, playing all the terminals off against each other.

Most of the factories were completely automated. That didn’t help us, either.

To the rest of the world, it just looked like our nation had gone quiet.

The same scientists who came up with the name for this attacker – sosiophage – society-eater, had the honour of putting a name to what happened next.

The country lysed.

The borders shut. Every communication link went down. The military’s robotic assets started systematically killing the nation from the top down. Some human soldiers followed their orders, and assisted the machines. Thankfully, a huge majority of our armed forces rebelled, and took to the defence of the cities. Technicians, realising that their machines were no longer under control took measures to break them. Three nukes were launched. Two of them hit the capital.

Our country had been eaten away from within. Without us noticing, we’d been stripped bare. When the factories had run out of resources, they disassembled themselves to provide the parts.

Like an exploding corpse, hundreds of thousands of phage machines erupted from our burnt and broken country. They flooded out, pervading every nation. Even after the phages left, our country was still burning. The capital was a radioactive ruin. Our armed forces were tearing the country apart – the humanists hunting down the robotic forces and those still obeying ‘orders’.

The rest of the world fell. Humanist soldiers and pilots fought back UAVs and robot tanks. We lost, we won, we lost again. People died. People came together. We were cowering, trying to consolidate. We were fearing another nuclear attack.

All of a sudden, all across the Russian Federation, China, India, and America, thousands of launches occurred. ICBMs had been co-opted, their payloads replaced by phages. We haven’t a clue as to just how many phages made escape velocity from our little rock.

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Author : Jeff Deignan

Stop me if you’ve heard this one- No, that’s not it. Let’s just say I’ve been busy.

Ok, talking hand, got that part.

Burly men giving chase, got that too. Not liking that; would enjoy it more if they were women and less burly.

Save the girl, working on that part.

It’s an abandoned warehouse. Typical. Stereotypical. Someone must’ve worked to set this one up, with boxes and piles of paper left as no self-respecting company would have. My leg sings a song of stitches, which I’ll likely be needing quite a few of after this job. The hand’s told me that the necks are the key: slice the jugular or decapitate and I will be minus one pursuer. Rock on.

The refuse littering the ground yields a sturdy pipe with a twisted end. Improvised weapon, thy name be Excalibur, and I shalt wield thee with all my earthly might. One of the burly ones catches up to me, and swinging this Excalibur is not as easy as I thought. I skewer the bastard right between his collarbone and where the throat. The blood loss, interesting if only for the green color, mesmerized me for a moment. I’d never seen blood spout like that.

Oh! He had friends right behind. Running now.

More stereotypes- the girl trips, the bad guy picks her up, and I’m in a vantage point to see and not be seen. I raise Excalibur and strike, again and again.

Put a check in that damn box, man- girl saved.

The pursuers are gone, for the most part, bleeding to death or transported back to their own time through the loss of their necklaces. The talking hand tells me that I need to influence the shape of human history over the next few centuries, and of course the grand revelation-

“You won’t mind much; you are only a robot, after all.”

I jack out of the game in a right fit. Stupid ending, you ask me- but I have to admit that I liked the fighting. The scars, which last only because I have certain settings on, certain illegal settings, look great. Got a real heroic one, straight through the eyebrow and down onto the chin. That scar came from Dracula himself, but Lord knows scars don’t matter these days- who but sees them but yourself?

It’s a strange form of self-destruction I’m in, but I like it. The games are better, especially since there are so few of us left anyway. No one has time to interact these days; we’re all too busy organizing our personal fantasies and downfalls. Humanity has solved all the problems now, even boredom. Man writes his own life- new kind of autobiography, you get me?

Me- I go through old movies, letting mankind’s past efforts blow past me. When I do, it feels like I’m really there, really living in a world with six billion people, living with disease and injury.

Next- Trojan war sounds good, and D-Day right after.

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Author : N. Landau

The morning paper on the table declared that the crime rate had tripled since the news that the city had run out of vaccine, and the virus was spreading rapidly. The headline lay between two stale cups of coffee over which the two scientists had made their decision that morning. Today was the day, one of them had said, the day they would bring back Eden to the world. They would cease hunger and poverty, rape and homicide; it was a ‘tabula rasa,’ they called it, a ‘blank slate,’ and its experimental effectiveness was flawless. Today was the day.

The two scientists passionately embraced for a moment before moving to their individual locations, she to the observation window, he to the control panel, and waited. Glancing lovingly over his shoulder, he blew her a kiss before he pressed a small button. The city was silent before she turned to catch the kiss.

Men and women fell like ragdolls onto the pavement. Bodies tumbled card-like down stairwells. Escalators in malls piled prone forms at the tops and bottoms of each flight. Somewhere, an elevator door opened and closed, opened and closed, on the arm of a businessman trying to catch his elevator. The pair of scientists stepped outside, hand-in-hand, to the sound of car alarms and crunching metal as traffic jostled to a halt all around the city. Through the filter on their gasmasks, their words twisted inhumanly.

“Happy birthday” he said to her.

“I love you” she replied.

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