The Last One

Author : Michael Varian Daly

The woods went dead still. Carmichael did a breathing pattern to slow his pulse, keep his temperature down, not overtax his battle suit.

He had a moment of peace a few dozen heartbeats back, laying upon moss, visor open, taking in bird songs, sunbeams through leaves, fresh air. Now, sealed up, all he could smell was fear.

The Bible in his pack was a comforting weight. “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want…” he mentally recited. Waking into this nightmare to find his cancer cured, but the world upside down, God had been his Bulwark. Carmichael had smiled at the rulers, scrounged gear from the ruins, then disappeared into the hills, leaving that Hell Spawn behind.

But he didn’t understand what was happening right now. He’d lived peacefully in the hill country for decades after The Prohibition. There had been resistance at first, but that was easily crushed. He had withdrawn, not ventured far, hunted and gathered, been off their radar forever. Why the sudden hunt? It’s not like he was going to breed. He hadn’t even seen another human in four, maybe five years.

He did a thermal scan. Three large masses registered.

“Shit!” he thought, “Military cyborgs, gotta be a half ton each.” He powered up his pulse laser to maximum, armed three seeker drones, set coordinates, prepared to fire. He didn’t notice the cyborged mosquito hovering right behind his helmet.

“Thy rod and Thy staff, they comfort me…” The air turned bright blue, his muscles turned to water. Blackness…

Darkness faded. He was strapped to a Med palate. Two tall women looked down at him. “Aztec priestesses in SS uniforms,” he thought fuzzily.

“Who is this one?” asked the woman with the yellow catlike eyes.

“Carmichael, Thomas Francis. Came out of Cryo only three decades before The Prohibition. Pre-Collapse ex-military,” said her XO.

His eyes were hard with Fear and Hate.

“Oh, you’re a scared little bunny, aren’t you?” Cat Eyes cooed, kneeling next to him. “This will make you feel better.” Something cool against his neck. A soft ‘chuff’…and microfine tendrils sped into his cerebral cortex. Warmth and happiness overwhelmed him. But a hard core resisted.

“Why?” he croaked.

“You males left a lot of shit behind,” Cat Eyes said, “Mother is riddled with pernicious hydrocarbons and radioactive isotopes. We’re going to seal Her up and give Her a good scrubbing. So everyone has to go.” She smiled. “Especially pingititos like you.”

The core melted. “Okay,” he burbled happily. The Med palate floated him toward the orbital transport parked in a clearing.

“He might be useful as a historical archivist,” Cat Eyes mused, then turned to her XO. “Any more in this sector?”

“No, thank Goddess. He was the last one.”

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Author : Steve Smith, Staff Writer

Aaron was quite obviously not your ordinary student. He was several years younger than any of the others at the university, but clearly far smarter. His appearance was a little eccentric, clothed in a mix of fifties white collar littered with popular current brands. His thick framed Buddy Holly glasses could have been either stylish or awkwardly obsolete, one couldn’t be quite sure.

He appeared almost out of the blue, and I tried several times to learn where he’d come from, what his background was, but he was unwilling to talk about himself. He would stammer before derailing the conversation towards a math problem he was solving, or some complex area of physics he’d become fascinated with. Somehow he could draw you into that conversation, and make you forget until later that he’d sidestepped your initial question altogether.

Some of our lectures he would simply not attend, preferring to spend the time in the lab or the library. Several lectures I think he came to only to engage the professors in heated dialogue about the theories they were positing, deliberately taking an informed but always contradictory stance. The professors appeared on the one hand to enjoy Aaron’s intellectual jousting, but on the other seemed to resent the fact that someone so young could expose such glaring gaps in their knowledge.

One morning, Aaron was found alone in a classroom, every inch of blackboard space covered with complex mathematical formula. His dusty hands shaking and his hair greasy and disheveled, it appeared that he’d been there all night, solving equations. They closed the room for a few days while the faculty reviewed and trascribed his proofs, and the school echoed with whispered comments for weeks afterwords.

Something was clearly not natural about Aaron, but no one could quite put a finger on what exactly that something was. His uncanny ability to solve equations most professors could not themselves understand; his extreme beyond the box questions; his apparent disinterest in girls, in liquor and often in sleep. The name calling stopped early in the year, people just began to keep a silent uneasy distance from him, and he didn’t seem to mind.

It wasn’t until Aaron immersed himself in the works of Sergei Krasnikov and his tube theories that I became concerned. Later when he began delving into the Alcubierre metric I myself became truly unsettled.

It was clear to me that he was far too intelligent. I simply had to consume him before he figured out what I was.

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Kill the Poets

Author : Benjamin Fischer

“My lady, is that a joke or an order?”

Kalifornia raised a painted eyebrow at the the Chief Constable of Luna. The Chief was a solidly built man, veteran of the bitter room-to-room and sometimes hand-to-hand combat of the Secession. He had personally bludgeoned a brace of men to death and dozens more had fallen to his steady trigger finger. Ten thousand Deputy Constables answered to him and to him alone. Even the mighty Fleet deferred to his judgement in matters local to Luna’s surface.

Nevertheless, his pulse always rose in in the presence of the First Lady.

“Is anyone laughing?” she asked.

The Chief shifted his weight.

“If you might be more specific,” he said.

Kalifornia rolled her ivory shoulders and gazed off at the high ceiling of the Senate’s main vault.

“You know,” she said, “ the poets. The fortune tellers, the beggars, the street-folk who will tell you rhymes and stories and useless little morsels. The ones who will tell you anything, anything at all to put your coin in their pockets.”

Her eyes returned to the Constable.

“Kill them all–even the women.”

“You are serious, my lady.”

Kalifornia’s big clear eyes clouded, narrowed, shrunk to tiny black pools of hate.

“Are you questioning-” she started.

“Ma’am, I beg you reconsider,” said the Chief. “There are hundreds of them, at least the ones that are known to my people, and to drag every single one of them to an airlock-”

“Don’t waste your time,” said Kalifornia. “Shoot them.”

“My lady. Hundreds. Hundreds of folk gunned down in the halls-”

“Will be sufficient warning to the rest,” she said, running her long sharp nails through her blood-red hair.

The Chief stood before her in awe. If he refused he might live long enough to leave the Senate chambers. He may even make it to the company of Deputies. But their loyalty was to his title, and only that, and by nightfall there would be a new Chief Constable–one who would not hesitate for an instant before ordering such wholesale slaughter.

“My lady, let me make an example of those in Silver City first,” he said.

Kalifornia pressed the tips of her fingers together.

“Why, my dear Chief,” she asked, “would you limit my desire?”

“The people here in Silver are unwavering in their loyalty to you,” he said. “They will support and commend your bold action.”

“Your words suggest otherwise for balance of communities,” said Kalifornia.

“Then you hear me right,” said the Chief.

He held his breath, waiting for an outburst.

“So what of them?” the First Lady asked.

“They would be shown what your iron standard is, my lady. When the extermination continues there, they will not claim some unexpected and unjust atrocity,” and the Chief tasted bile at that word, “but instead they will know that they have been held accountable to your new policy, and they will have no grounds for complaint.”

Kalifornia turned from him for a moment. Then she spun and pulled herself into the Chief’s arms and she kissed him in a most unchaste manner.

She licked her lips whorishly when she finally pushed away from the lawman.

“Wise counsel,” she said, her smile all vicious white teeth.

“Thank you, my lady,” said the red-faced Chief.

“See that it is done this evening,” said Kalifornia, “so that the greatest portion of the public may bear witness.”

The Chief bowed deeply, suppressing a shudder.

“As you wish, my lady.”

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She can Read Reality Television

Author : Sean T. Rogers

She can read reality television with uncanny ability. Five minutes into the program she knows that the gay chef, the one with the balding mohawk, will be asked to leave, told to pack his knives. The vagaries of throwaway statements are her tealeaves. She sees the expressions of judges, the subtleties of editing. She never misses. The selected tearfully packs his knives, as was preordained.

She can read reality television and this week she watches from Nashville, from The Grand Ole Opry Hotel, where she is attending a trade show. She and a workmate buy six-packs and watch the program in their hotel room. She boasts of her talent, predicts, and once again is right. The tough girl, the one with the streak in her hair, the one that got into all the fights, packs her tools.

She can read reality television but he cannot. At home, he packs his belongings, looks around the apartment, pats the dog on the head one last time. There’s no need to write a note. She will not be surprised to find him gone, having deciphered the signs. She can read reality and will already know.

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Author : Sean Donovan

“The computers are down,” said Dhir. His voice was steady and unbroken though Lim knew that inside he was shattered.

Lim stared at him, her eyes blinking back tears of sorrow and fury. The computers are down. She repeated the phrase to herself, almost as if she needed to hear the words spoken inside of her head to make them factual.

Once, she’d been told, computers were tools – intelligent ones perhaps but tools just the same. In those bygone days that phrase did not have the same connotation as it did now. Once it meant that the computers were malfunctioning, broken, in need of man’s help. No more. Quite the opposite, in fact. Now, deep underground and abruptly realizing that their assumed safety was a sham, the meaning behind Dhir’s statement was all too clear to her. The desolation on the surface of the planet didn’t seem so distant any more.

“You mean they’ve moved past the pulse barrier?” she asked, already knowing the answer.

“About an hour ago,” he replied, his eyes meeting hers. Looking into them, she suddenly realized how weary those once beautiful orbs now looked, how strained and hollow they’d become since the sentries had first reported discovering the freshly drilled tunnels not more than a few weeks ago.

“So that means we’ve got what? Two hours? Three?”

“Tops,” he responded quietly. “Probably less than one at the rate they’re moving.”

With the systematic destruction of all means of long-distance communication, the burning of the printed books and the surge purging of the electronic data libraries, most information was nothing more than ashes and wayward electrons. It was all gone. Combined with the loss of contact with the Solar Watchmen, so was the history of the Silicon Rising.

All Lim knew was what she had heard in stories as a child, listening intently as her kin-tribe related tales that seemed too dark to be true – tales heard deep under the granite bedrock of what had once been New Hampshire, under what had once been America, under what had once been an Earth ruled by humans.

Even those twenty odd years ago, no one could remember exactly how the computers came to seize control, forcing mankind’s unplanned return back into caves and crags in a resented exodus to a Neolithic lifestyle. All they knew was that one day, man had woken to a new world, one where the linked silicon groupmind had decided that a change of the stewardship of the planet was in order.

The destruction of man’s fragile empire had occurred faster than anyone had imagined possible. With undebated orders carried to the electronic troops at the speed of fiber-optic light, irrefutable binary-coded logic behind them, actions were carried out in perfect synchronicity across the globe and those born of flesh stood no chance against the onslaught.

Some opined it was the work of an alien race, some blamed cosmic radiation and some called it a smite from a god who’d grown jealous of mankind’s omniscience over these machines, punishing his own creation for aspiring to become too godlike in its own way.

The reasons and opinions and guesses were myriad. Facts were much harder to come by, and with the loss of any method of data retrieval (the attempts at which had ruined the minds of the greatest scientists left alive on the planet) there were no facts available to those who yearned for a reason why.

Not that it matters now, she thought.

“The computers are down,” Dhir repeated with a sigh. He rose from his monitoring station and without even a glance a Lim, walked to his quarters. She didn’t flinch when the shot rang out shortly thereafter. She’d known it was coming, just as she knew she’d never hear the report when she pulled the trigger of her own service weapon, barrel pressed comfortably against her soft temple. Not yet though, she thought. I want to hear you first…

She listened carefully, ear pressed against the granite that they once thought would be mankind’s salvation. She could hear them in the distance, drilling, grinding, chewing through the last meters of bedrock. Down they came, ever downward. The computers are down, she thought to herself as she stood and followed in Dhir’s wake.

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