Mirror Girl

Author : Steve Smith, Staff Writer

She had a feeling when he’d pulled up that this wasn’t going to be like every other night, and experience told these feelings were seldom wrong.  The car rumbled at the curb as he eyed her up and motioned her inside.

“Hundred an hour” she intoned through the open window.

“Get in.” His voice was flat, not eager, not bored, merely the noise of purpose.

The door was heavy, and it made a satisfying clunk as it closed, helped by the sudden surge as the car leapt from the curb.

“Name’s Ayna.” She offered, but he didn’t respond, and she didn’t push, most men came here to be nameless anyways.

At the end of the main street was a familiar motel, the room obviously paid for as he palmed a key and walked straight inside. She could feel a deeper blackness, more than the lack of light inside, but she could use the money.

A lamp came on in as she closed the door behind her.  A handful of bills beside the coffee machine would save her having to ask.

He was looking out the window as she stepped into the room and put her bag down on the closest of the two queen beds.

She started unbuttoning her shirt, and in an instant, he leapt across the room, his blank expression twisted now into one of blind fury.  “Stop it, you think I want that?  You filthy whores won’t give a real man the time of day, but for a handful of bills you can’t get it off fast enough.”  Ayna backed startled against the wall, eyeing her bag on the bed and trying to remember if she’d bolted the door.

“What do you want then?” She breathed, trying to keep her voice calm, but she could feel a violent rage starting to burn in her chest.

“I want you to hurt!” The man spat the words as he swung his hand in a wide backhand arc across her face, knocking her off her feet into a heap on the bed. Her head rang as she put her hand to her mouth, fluid seeping from her broken lip.  She stared at the bright smear of blood from her mouth blazed across the back of his hand. He looked down as the smear began to smolder on his flesh. He frowned, puzzled, as he rubbed at the stain on his skin, transferring it to the fingers of his other hand.  Wisps of red smoke began licking across his hands before his startled eyes, then curling around his arms, crawling snakes of sublimated flesh slowly winding their way up to his shoulders.  Where the crimson vapor touched his skin, it left it’s mark, brilliant, scarlet and angry, leaving behind raw scorched flesh.

“What the hell?” Panic overcame anger. “What the hell did you do to me?” Panic gave way to terror as the crimson vapor spiraled around his throat and suddenly dived in through his nose and screaming mouth. He staggered, clawing at his face, chest heaving, the pounding of his heart visible through his shirt, for a moment, then a moment more, then silenced.  He dropped heavily to his knees, toppling backwards into a heap on the floor.

Ayna slid to the side of the bed, and with catlike grace put her feet down and stood in one fluid motion.  She retrieved her bag, pausing only to collect the money from the table before slipping out the door and back into the night.

Her mother, a Turk, had given her the name Ayna, which she said in her native tongue meant ‘mirror’, and a mirror was undoubtedly what she was.  For the lonely, she could be lonely with them; tender, she would be tender to them; but for those full of hate, she would turn that hate loose and let it consume them with unfettered finality.

Ayna took off her shoes and started back down the main-street. It was early yet and if she was lucky, there might still be some easy money to be made tonight.

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Author : Kyle French

Jeff stared: Surrounded by the usual crusty slop of a school nurse’s office was a fish tank, populated with 3-inch poodles, their gray-green hair wafting in the water. The nurse laughed.

“Soto’s poodles. Gotta love ‘em. Those Bolivians did some crazy things before the war, didn’t they?” She leaned in conspiratorially. “He bred these at the beginning, before they got really good at it. They say he drowned 10,000 poodles before he found one that could breathe water.”

“But…That’s not how you do –”

“Oh lay off. It’s a legend. It doesn’t have to be true. Now let’s have a look at you. Have a seat. Unbutton your shirt.”

Jeff sighed. 200 years ago, the medical profession was a highly respected industry, like telepathy, or smiths in ancient times. Now, who knew where this bimbo got her certification? Anybody could do this stuff.

As the nurse stared at his various parts and waved her wand over him, Jeff looked around. In the three years he’d been in college, he’d never actually come in for his physical. He wasn’t sure exactly how he’d managed to avoid it. The place was a mess, covered in dirt and old food wrappers, half-eaten meals, all evidence of the anti-microbial field in effect. Worst machine ever invented: it sterilized without cleaning. He sniffed. An engineer would never work in such clutter.

“Now let’s have a look at those reflexes,” the nurse said. She pulled out a small metal hammer and tapped his knee.

Instantly, his kneecap shot up six inches from his knee, the skin ripping away in searing pain. At the same time, an electric twinge went up his spine as he fell back in a spasm. Reflexively, he tried to straighten his legs, but the malfunctioning knee refused to let him, grinding against the femur.

“Whoa! Kinda twitchy, aren’t we? Let’s see what we’ve got going on here.” chuckled the nurse. She pressed a hypo to his thigh, and the pain stopped. As he sat up, she gripped the tattered skin on the underside of his knee and ripped, pulling it down his leg to reveal a complex piece of metal. The skin sagged around his ankle like a sock.

Jeff wanted to vomit.

“When did I get that?”

“Few years ago. Freak accident. You said you didn’t want to remember. There we are! I thought that was getting a little flaky last year.” She tweaked something, then shoved the kneecap back into place, rolled the skin back up the leg, and waved her wand over the wound. The skin healed over. “All done!”

Gingerly, Jeff stepped off the mat. Everything felt… normal. Slowly he walked to the door.

“Here. Have one on me.” The nurse tossed a packet to him. The label said, “Forget me shots – instant amnesia.” Jeff suddenly realized why he couldn’t remember his other physicals.

“You know,” said the voice behind him, “You really shouldn’t take those. You miss all the best parts. Last year after looking you over, we had a great time, right in this roo – ” He ran out, slamming the door to muffle her cackling.

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Phantom Limb Syndrome

Author : Joshua Reynolds

My brain burns with electric fire. Numbers cascade across the surface of my mind, one after the other. Geometric progression, X+Y=XY.

Numbers are the language of heaven, or so they tell me.

They replaced my gray matter with plastic parts and curling, multi-colored wires, tossing organic muscle in favor of synthetic. I am a difference engine sheathed in limp meat, my only joy to theorize, calculate, and process. To spit numbers out of chapped and bleeding lips in a pitch too high for the meat-men who control me, who made me, to hear.

I do it to spite them, I think. I’m not sure actually. I can’t remember what spite feels like. Or any feeling for that matter. Do I still have them? Feelings?

They told me I don’t. But is that an opinion…or a command?

Sometimes, amidst the cool rush of numbers, there is something that cuts through the datastream, a burning sensation that reminds me of something I used to know. When I look down at them from my web of cables and conduits, when I look at the gray little men with their clipboards and the number hunger in their bland little eyes, I think I catch the ghost of a memory of a feeling.

I think it’s called hate.

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Run and Hide

Author : Duncan Shields , Featured Writer

They say that there not very many places left on Earth to hide. People who say that have never been to the jungles of South America or the plains of Australia or the slums of Norway. There are thousands of places left on Earth to hide.

There are some colour and sex barriers that still make it difficult to hide. If you are a white man trying to hide in an Ecuador jungle and someone wants to find you, all they have to do is ask the locals about the Jungle Ghost. No matter how fluent a black man’s Japanese is, he’ll never hide long in a Hokkaido village. And by hiding, I don’t mean just off the grid, I mean hiding from yourself as well. Truly lost.

Remember the European missionaries? They came to ‘savage’ countries to teach the locals religion. The savages usually ended up teaching the missionaries that there was no god in that part of the world yet. A lot of missionary men with missing ears and fingers got lost in the woods and wandered in the wilderness, broken and alone, until they died.

They tracked him down fifteen miles southwest of an Aztec pyramid in South America. They cut through the jungle brush and loudly announced their arrival. They’d been tracking him for years. They found him sitting and hugging his knees and pointing a jagged homemade stone knife in their direction. He was backed into the corner of the little hut he’d built by himself. He was scared, starving and crazy. They’d come with weapons to force him to come back with them if necessary but in the end, they only had to throw a blanket over his shoulders and help him up.

He hooted softly with gratitude and a low constant keening. Three of his bright gold eyes were gummed up and blinded and the other six stared straight out at nothing. His limped with an odd rhythm that was different to the healthy constant triple beat of his captor’s hooves. His bright blue skin was naked and tinged with orange patches where the mold had taken root.

The hunters that found him brought him back to their prison transport after destroying the ancient remains of his shuttle and camp. He was going to have to face trial at Central but right now all he wanted was some food and warm place to reshape. They put him in stasis, rose silently into the night sky and eventually left this godforsaken rock in this backwater of a solar system.

They say that there are not very many places left on Earth to hide. There are wrong. There are still thousands.

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The Griffin Maneuver

Author : Patricia Stewart

“It’s called the Griffin Maneuver, and it’s going to make me famous,” said Stacy Griffin, a third year Earth Force Cadet. Her classmate at Jupiter Station, Marcus Rider, looked at her with dubious eyes, and a smirk that he knew would irritate her to no end.

“Look,” she said, “say you’re in a dogfight with a Kraken fighter. It’s hot on your tail, and you’re out of aft torpedoes. What do you do?”

“I can’t say I like my odds in that situation. I guess I’d make my peace with God.”

“You give up too easily. You need to think outside the warp core. You make a bee-line for a planetoid or large moon, and execute a steep surface grazing parabolic orbit at full throttle. At periapsis, you cut the main thrusters, tap the port lateral jets, and turn the fighter around so you’re facing backward. When the Kraken arcs into view, you blow it out of the sky. Then, you leisurely fly back to the barn to paint one of those little black Kraken stencils on the side of your fighter.”

“Are you nuts? A surface grazing parabolic orbit at full throttle? How many gees are you going to pull? You know you’ll black out at 10. It’s tough to shoot anything when you’re unconscious.”

“At closest approach I’d be pulling about 15 gees. But I’ve got that figured out too. You know the artificial gravity plates on the floor of our fighters. They’re there as a countermeasure to help us maintain our vestibular orientation during inversion maneuvers. Well, I reversed the polarity of the plates so they repel, rather than attract. I also boosted the gain by 800%. Therefore, instead of 15 gees, I’m only pulling 7. It’s so simple.”

“The commander will never approve this stunt.”

“He’s not going to know about it until after I do it. He can watch it on holotape. I’m on my way to try it now. Want to ride shotgun?”

“No way. I’ll watch you from the observation room.”

Stacy positioned her fighter 100,000 klicks from Callisto. She punched in the ignition sequence, and began accelerating toward Callisto’s southern pole. As she raced under the moon, the gee-meter crossed 9. She activated the gravity plates, and instantly felt the pressing gee-weight disappear. At periapsis, she cut the main thrusters, and activated the lateral jets. The fighter shook violently for a few seconds, and then exploded into a mini-nova nearly a bright as the sun. In the vacuum of space, there was no sound, only a plethora of expanding sparks that eventually winked out as they cooled.

Stacy sat motionless until the tapping noise broke her repose. She opened the simulator hatch to see the Marcus’ smiling face. “Not a word,” she ordered. “I think I know what went wrong. The reversed gravity field must have destabilized the plasma containment chamber. If I can strengthen the shielding, I’ll be able to…”

Marcus helped her out of the cockpit. “Come on,” he said, “we’ll talk about it over lunch.” As they exited the simulation room, Marcus paused.

“What now,” snapped Stacy?

“I was just wondering. In that virtual universe, is there a virtual Kraken painting one of those little black Earth Force Fighter stencils on the side of his virtual ship?”

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