The Latest Model

Author : Jennifer Parsons

To any who watch television, the researcher’s setup should be plenty familiar, especially so to an old R&D man like myself. Two rooms, divided by a big sheet of glass; on one side sits a table loaded with datatablets and a control panel of various buttons and switches. On the other side of the glass is a car, yellow markers placed strategically all over its surface, a dummy belted into the front seat. There are straight lines painted on the floor and walls along with more yellow markers.

The only difference between this room and any other crash test facility is the two deer wandering in front of the car, looking scared and confused.

“What’s with the fauna?” I ask.

The guy in the lab coat smiles at my question. It’s a greasy smile. I don’t like it.

“They’re part of my demonstration.” He tells me as he tweaks a few more knobs.

After checking the status of a readout screen, he presses a button and speaks into the air.

“We’re ready, go ahead.”

Technicians in another room somewhere flip a switch and I watch helplessly as the car jolts forward, gaining momentum. The mother and fawn freeze in the headlights and a second later blood and bone fly everywhere along with crash debris.

My stomach churns and I turn away from the wreck in disgust.

“What the hell was that about?”

The researcher is checking his readout again, still smiling as if he knows something I don’t.

“You dragged me down here so you could prove how efficiently the Electro IV kills off wildlife?”

“Sir,” he fixes me with a steady, serious gaze. “I would never waste your time on something as trivial as that.”

The grin creeps back across his face as he points at the glass. “If you’ll please return your attention to the wreck?”

My curiosity is piqued. Bracing myself, I turned back to the glass.

Two bloody carcasses lie a few feet from where the deer once stood.

“Watch carefully, please.” The researcher says, his voice full of anticipation.

He pushes a button on the remote in his hand and the carcasses pull in on themselves, forming two ovoid shapes on the floor. A moment later a hard shell forms around the outside of each, their bright, red blood darkening to a rich black.

After another moment, the shells crack open and a pair of feet emerged from each husk followed by a head, then a torso and soon two beautiful deer stood side by side, glancing around the room nervously.

I turn to the researcher, a grin of sly knowledge now creeping across my own face.

“Impressive nano application you’ve got there.” He chuckles under his breath and I continue. “You know, there are some stretches of Route 287 where something like that could cause a lot of accidents.”

The researcher nods. “Disaster does keep the economy flowing these days.”

I return his nod. “Insurance rates would go up, hospitals beds would fill, car dealerships would have their hands full.”

“Not to mention the increased need for mortuary services.” He fiddles with a knob and waits for me to ask the question already forming on my lips.

“I think my employers would be most interested in any other models you might have to offer. What else have you got?”

He presses a button, opening a hatch in the wall. An adorable, spotted puppy trots out, wandering up to the deer. He starts sniffing their feet.

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Secret Agent World

Author : Grady Hendrix

John’s antenna went up, his senses clicked into hyperdrive, adrenaline slammed through his veins: grilled chicken breast!

“Really?” he said.

“I picked it up at Fairway. You want to eat while we watch ‘So You Think You Can Dance?’”

TV during dinner? Eating off trays? It meant a blind drop. Charts, diagrams, lists of coded gestures unfolded in his mind. His mnemonic devices were always old, heavy paper with brittle edges and the solid feel of starched linen. In his mind, the light was always the warm organic glow of candlelight.

“Sure. I don’t know why we’re watching, though. After Hok got voted off that show is dead to me.”

Mira heard his Hok reference: her ready message acknowledged, he was primed.

They continued to chitchat while he got plates: the red ones. On top of the Signal Language they both knew, there was their own private code. The chicken was skinless, a low fat meal, this meant she’d had personal contact to receive this mission.

“Do you want wine?”

“But use the old glasses.”

The old glasses, meaning the target would be revealed later. They talked to each other in gestures, and it was as clear as speaking. He thought it was as clear as speaking. But they’d never exactly worked out the meanings together because there had never been a time when they weren’t being watched. Watchfulness was eternal because machines never slept. The TV was always pumping your image back to the buried engines, the bugs had always been in the walls, their doorman had always been reporting on them, they had always been reporting on their doorman. So they had worked out their secret language through trial and error and for one vertiginous moment he thought: what if I’ve got it all wrong. What if the old glasses mean something completely different?

“Do you think Lacey’s got a big ass?”

“I think Lacey tries too hard,” he said, as they ate off the coffee table.

Mira paid close attention to the order of the contestants and which one was assigned which call-in number. At the third commercial break she said, “Did you return Netflix?”

He put his tray down.

“I’ll do it now.”

“You don’t have to. I just wanted to watch something tomorrow night and I think ‘Dirty Pretty Things’ is next in our queue.”

He grabbed the Netflix envelopes and an umbrella.

“I’ll be right back,” he said.

He waved to the doorman and walked to the mailbox. Listening devices, video cameras, pressure plates in the sidewalk, they surrounded him, here in the heart of the city, in the heart of the enemy. He dropped the envelopes in the mailbox and on his way home, he opened the umbrella. It was broken. He left it, upside down, jammed in a trash can on the corner, sending a secret signal out into the city, waiting to be seen by someone he had never met, another soldier in the invisible army. He never looked back. You had to take this war on faith.

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The Last Days of an Imaginary Man

Author : Andy Bolt

I am in a hole. It is a filthy place in a bad neighborhood in Bucharest, surrounded by government troops who are about to evilly stomp their way in here. They are having some trouble getting past my photon tent. It creates an alternating series of forty-two hundred force fields that borrow from the energy matrices of forty-two hundred non-parallel dimensions not yet tapped by physical probes. I enjoy these powerful, swirling forces, several of which have bizarre and horrible effects when introduced to our universe.

And yet, they will be through my shield soon. Already, I can sense the cold boxes creating a localized zone of absolute zero. This will disrupt the functioning of all but a dozen of the alternating fields. Of those remaining, all but two have well-developed counter measures. Those two will simply be shot until they overload. I can feel the bombardment starting.

I am watching reruns of “Guess What’s in Your Mouth” and buzzcasting doctored images of the Eastern European governor, Milt Sill, committing obscene and illegal acts with obscene and illegal entities. They have tried to cut me off, but there’s just too much information in the air these days. Gel phone frequencies and omninet signals. Quantum vision and mindblower wavelengths. Extradimensional routers and redigitizer stations and retro-radio transmissions. You can’t get them all. So my buzzcasts go out and they try to break in and libelous pictures of Sill get passed around campuses and electronic office parks and meanwhile, my storewell gets nondescriptly dumped into Gabrielle Denizen’s system in Managua.

There are only twenty-six of us officially involved in the Mythical Revolution against Worldgov, including me, Dither Todd. They are panicked enough to send two hundred shock troops and eighty million dollars worth of heavy artillery to kill me, a guy in his basement watching shitty reruns. We are very good with computers. We know things they do not want us to know. We say them very loudly.

I am surrounded by angry men with guns who wish me harm. I let them have a glimpse of me, all ruffled blue hair and black glasses. Then I’m gone. “Dither Todd” is a collection of digital information and optical rewriters. I am an invisible ball of data programs and consciousness frequencies with the tools necessary to physiologically manipulate a bio-optic system into “seeing” a physical body that isn’t there. I am an imaginary form of life.

My dataself dissolves and goes out a dozen different ways. They can’t block them all. I’ve gotten enough on Sill, of the gross legal and ethical variety, that he’ll be forcibly removed from office within a few days. He was a high-up in Worldgov, third in line for Man Prime. Eastern Europe will be in chaos for months, but hopefully, they’ll learn something from this.

It’ll take years for my dataself to coagulate back to the point where I’m capable of having a coherent thought. I welcome the rest. Let Gabby change the world for a while.

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Blue Plumes

Author : Duncan Shields, Staff Writer

The new planet’s soupy air made twin blue plumes out of his suit’s exhalations when the carbon dioxide reacted with the unbreathable atmosphere. It turned into blue rust flakes that scattered around him like snow.

He walked over the rocky service in a grav suit that would have looked right at home on the ocean floor in the 1760s back on Earth. Bulky, slow and primitive looking.

He looked like a train pretending to be human blasting out powder-blue fairy dust.

His face peeked out of a circular faceplate inset into a large spherical metal helmet. It amplified his breathing as well as the creaking of the servos helping him to walk across the high-gravity shale. It was like living inside a bell.

He could see the bright blue plumes coming out of his co-researcher’s suits all down the line if he turned his head.

It was actually quite beautiful.

He’d appreciate it a lot more if they all weren’t currently looking for their ship.

He’d left the ship second-to-last in the queue so he would run out of air second-to-last as well. It wasn’t something he was looking forward to.

Already, a suit with the number 28 painted on the shoulder down the line was starting to slow down. Its blue gusts of CO2 were becoming yellower as the combination started to change. It was Yolanda.

We’d only gone a few steps out. We’d left the ships sentry programs on. I suppose it was folly of us to desert the ship entirely but no one wanted to be left behind for the first walk.

There was no life detected in the area. It had seemed safe.

Then our tracking devices stopped working properly. And our directional qualifiers.

We had no points of references. The atmosphere was a fog that gave us thirty feet of visibility. It ended in a starless ceiling above us as well. The ground was scattered rock.

We were lost. The ship, according to our scanners, was in twenty-seven places around us.

We’d turned around one hundred and eighty degrees and started walking back towards the ship, following our own blue rusted trails of encrusted CO2 flakes.

We should have been there by now.

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Press Conference at March Field

Author : Viktor Kuprin

March Air Force Base, California.

“These are the rules,” instructed Major Diehl, the public affairs officer. “Report your observations. Tell them what you saw, but if they ask for your personal opinions about little green men, the press conference is over. Understood?”

The security policemen nodded in understanding.

“Take your seats. I’ll call you up front when it’s time,” said the Major. “How many guests, Bob?”

The old Lieutenant Colonel peeked through the conference room’s double doors. “Forty, at least,” he said.

The reporters quickly filled the room, colliding with each other and the creaky government-issue metal chairs.

Diehl stepped to the lectern. “Good morning, everyone. First, I’d like to present Airman McAlhaney and Sergeant Brandum from our Security Police Squadron. Both were on duty last night. Both witnessed the incident. Go ahead, Airman McAlhaney.”

The nervous young man stood. “At 0245 I was on guard duty at the Alert Facility, walking patrol.”

The LA Times reporter waved his hand. “That’s where a group of B-52s and in-flight refuelers are kept ready for takeoff, right?”

“That’s correct, sir. At that time I saw two very unusual aircraft approaching the flightline at a high rate of speed, on an east-to-west track. They looked like black triangles and, uh, they were glowing blue.”

A lady reporter from Riverside’s Press-Enterprise newspaper called out, “What did you do?”

McAlhaney looked questioningly towards Major Diehl, who nodded to show approval.

“I reported it to my supervisor, m’am, by radio,” McAlhaney continued. “He confirmed my report. He saw them. Then the base went on full security alert.”

The Orange County Register reporter held up his hand. “Major, did your air-traffic controllers track these UFOs?”

“Yes. They were tracked visually,” Diehl answered. “I have no information about any radar contacts.”

The reporters began grumbling incredulously.

“Thank you, Airman McAlhaney,” said Diehl. “If you please, Sargeant Brandum will give his statement.”

Brandum took a deep breath and began. “I was in the weapons storage area when the alert sounded. By the time I got outside, the, uh, objects were directly overhead. Both had blue contrails …”

A young man from an alternative newspaper shouted, “Do you think alien invaders are preparing to attack your base?!”

Major Diehl flew out of his seat. “I think we need to stop here. Thank you for coming, ladies and gentleman.” The reporters yelled and complained as they were ushered from the room.

As the two security policemen walked toward the exit, Airman McAlhaney wondered, “Think we’re the first base they’ve buzzed?”

Behind them a voice said, “No. I’ve seen them before.”

It was Bob, the near-retirement Lieutenant Colonel. “In North Dakota, Germany, even Greenland. And they always, always fly over the nuclear weapons storage areas.”

Both men stared at the old officer. “Sir, what do you think it means?” asked Sargeant Brandum.

Colonel Bob smiled. “Well, if you thought the kids might be playing with matches, wouldn’t you check on them now and then?”

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