After Dark

Author : Steve Smith, Staff Writer

Kyle shifted in the metal chair, suspiciously regarding the toaster sitting on the table in front of him.

“So, it’s a toaster,” Kyle finally spoke, not taking his eyes off the appliance, “what’s so special about that?”

Niles cleared space on a desk in the corner, waking up his laptop and tapping impatiently as it warmed up. “I’m going to make it fly, and I want to see what you think when I do.”

“Flying toasters?” Kyle looked over one shoulder, eyebrows raised. “You’re shitting me, right?”

Niles left the laptop to finish initializing, and plucking a package from his pocket crossed the room to stand beside Kyle. “It’s going to fly, trust me, you’ll see.” He slipped a stubby antennae out of its wrapping, and held it up for Kyle to see.  “I’m going to pop this sensor on you so I can monitor and graph what you’re feeling while you’re watching, ok?” Kyle nodded, turning his attention back to the chrome box in front of him. Niles peeled away the wax paper backing to expose the adhesive pad on the device, and carefully stuck it sideways across the back of his friends neck.

Satisfied that it wasn’t going to slip off he returned to the laptop, apparently now in an operational state, keyed up a console window and stood poised with a finger over the ‘Enter’ key. “Ready?” “Ready,” came the response. Niles depressed the key and watched, dividing his attention between the screen and his friend, and periodically glancing at the toaster on the table.

Kyle stared at his reflection in the polished side of the toaster. Two slice. Very boring. For a moment, he could have sworn the cord had moved, but that wasn’t possible. No, it was moving, and he watched, mouth slowly sagging open as the cord withdrew from the clutter on the table to slide up the toaster and into the air. The wire flattened as it coiled into what was almost a propellor before beginning to swing in circles. As it gained speed, the room filled with the ‘whip-whip-whip’ sound of a small helicopter. As he stared, mouth agape, the chromed metal sides of the appliance seemed to peel away, unfolding outwards into wide wings. The toaster appeared as if to stretch once, then began flapping. Kyle moaned as the toaster slowly rose, clattering from the table to hover a few feet above it in the air. As he tore his gaze away to find Niles, he heard the toaster clatter back to the table, and as his head snapped back around he found himself staring again at a lifeless appliance, wings folded invisibly away, cord limp on the table top.

“Holy shit!” Kyle’s mouth moved, words started and stopped several times before he spat out “Holy shit” for a second time.

Niles stepped forward and retrieved the antennae from his friends neck before returning to his laptop and closing the lid.

“That’s incredible,” Kyle started again, still staring wide eyed at the now lifeless appliance in front of him, as though as any second it may leap back into the air. “Incredible.” He stared and then suddenly struck by a thought, turned to face Niles. “That is incredible Niles, and don’t get me wrong, but what the hell use is a flying toaster?”

Niles peeled the spent adhesive away from the stubby antennae before returning it gently to his jacket pocket. “Oh, don’t worry, I can think of plenty of ways to use this.”

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Awful News

Author : Cody Lorenz

Mike was nervous, you could tell by the stains at the armpits of his shirt, and the way he kept shifting, causing that awful gown to rustle. He coughed, if only to make the little man with his chart speak up.

“It is hard to put this,” he started, in a regretful, timid tone, “but you’ve got EIT.”

Mike had never heard this particular acronym before. But it was all in the doc’s words – fatal, terminal, the end of his long, strange trip of 233 years. It was too bad his shocked, gaping mouth couldn’t move, letalone come up with a word or sound.

“I can tell you that it will not be painful, and-”

He was cut off by his patient: “Just…shut up. Tell me if…what does it do…why…why me, why did it happen?”

“It is a new disease, but swiftly becoming a common one,” the little man took his glasses off, wiping them with a black cloth, “Tell me, Mister Evadne, how many times have you used a Rebooth, or one of their home products?”

“Every day, why wouldn’t I?”

“And that is the problem,” replacing his glasses, the doctor sat on a rather unpleasant looking stool, “You just can’t reorganize your body’s basic materials! Replacing cells willy-nilly! You’re ripping yourself apart for vanity’s sake!”

The little man’s outburst was quiet, still nervous-sounding, but it had force. Mike was taken aback. But rather than focus on a perceived insult, he chose the smarter option.

“I…I don’t…is it curable? Vaccine? Pills or…or something?” The panic was all too clear in his voice, now high, reedy, and discomforting.

The doctor pushed with a foot, gliding to his computer.

“I’m afraid not,” and, after a pause, “I am deeply sorry.”

That’s when every word the little man said lost all meaning to his patient.

The fog had lifted after nearly an hour. Mike had changed in that dream-like state, and had sat in the clinic’s waiting room amongst the young and old. He didn’t realize that his wife was in the car outside – seventh wife in his life, and he’d outlived two of them.

He just didn’t want to get old, didn’t want to fall apart.

The irony was lost on him.

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Count Bodies Like Sheep

Author : B.York, Staff Writer

The pills didn’t work. Private Dawns was still unable to recall anything that might help. Stuck between an ambush and a colony outpost somewhere off the Z sector of Alpha Centauri, Private Dawns had nothing but her rifle and the training she’d been put through. That meant that she and her squad were shit out of luck.

Lt. Jorgenson turned to them, “Anyone have any ideas? We’ve got less than 0100 to make it to the jump point with these people and these guerillas are pinning us down.” The digital input in their visor displays showed them the mess they were in. When red flanked the perimeters it meant that all hell was going to come raining down eventually.

The squad looked on the brink of madness, when suddenly Private Dawns remembered. She adjusted her display and sent a download to the Lt.

“Jesus, Dawns you think that’ll work?”

“Pills started working, Lt. I know it because I’ve been there.”

That’s all Jorgenson needed to hear as he gave the command to roll out. Squadron Hellcats broke through a small cushion of offensive in the perimeter and took cover. The smoke was clearing from the firefight when they split to south and north. The guerillas might have heard them coming, but it was too late for them to organize. The offensive soon became the defensive as the small group of thinly spread but well-trained soldiers became the new perimeter and locked the guerillas in the same outpost they were trying to exterminate without a means of escape.

“That’s the thing about guerillas”, Lt. Jorgenson remembered Private Dawns saying, “If they get organized, change strategy and execute. Takes those bastards forever to re-group.”

Within twelve hours the de-briefing started about the outcome of Colony Outpost Beta. The men and women sat around drinking their coffee and laughing about the recent jokes they’d heard or the funniest shit that had happened that day. When the de-briefing began all went silent and turned to face the Captain.

“Well done, troops. Colony Outpost Beta is alive and well and being relocated as we speak. I’d like to congratulate all of you for your hard work but mostly I’m recommended Private Dawns for a Prismatic Star for participating in our dreamscaping program. Her recall of the Panzer Strategy when defending saved many lives and completed the mission.”

Everyone cheered, they held Private Dawns over their head and they cheered. Private Dawns had never been happier. At least that’s what the readings said at the console. The doctor turned to the other as they casually wrote down their readings for the day, “Think they’ll ever find a cure to wake these soldiers up?”

“Cure? No. They should have never started that dream pill program to begin with.” He flicked the switch to the room Private Dawns slept in and the lights went out. A courtesy he gave her to make himself feel better.

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Europa's Subterranean Secret

Author : Patricia Stewart, Staff Writer

The unmanned Marius Lander (in honor of Simon Marius, the German astronomer who named the four large Jovian moons, and claimed to have discovered them before Galileo) successfully touched down on the icy surface of Europa. After a quick systems check, and notification to Earth Command, the fully autonomous probe began to deploy the scientific instruments that it had carried for six years and four billion kilometers. Of course, there were the unanticipated, but inevitable, glitches (e.g., recorder anomalies, electromagnetic frequency shifts, disrupted communications, etc.). These issues were either fixed, or successfully “worked around.”

The first mission objective was to launch the Nuclear Powered Thermo Boring Probe (NPTBP) as the prerequisite for the exploration of Europa’s subsurface ocean. It was estimated that it would take the NPTBP at least thirty days to penetrate Europa’s five kilometer thick icy crust.

As the NPTBP maliciously melted its way through the ice, Earth scientists were busy analyzing the plethora of data being transmitted from Marius’ extensive instrumentation package. To say the least, the data was puzzling. Tidal fluctuations were less than ten percent of the expected 100 meters. This was interpreted to mean that the moon must be a rigid solid; with a modulus of elasticity five times higher than tungsten carbide. Then the seismology data came in. No evidence of moonquakes. Seismologists could not explain how close approaches to Ganymede and Io did not produce gravitational instabilities in Europa’s structure. As if that weren’t enough, the Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR) and Ground Penetrating Sonar (GPS) packages revealed that the ice layer was only about a kilometer thick, and it abruptly terminated at a smooth spherical surface. Neither instrument could penetrate beyond the one-kilometer deep interface. At day six, the NPTBP encountered an obstacle at 987 meters.

After much consternation, the Mission Commander authorized the Boring Team to exceed the thermal design limits of the probe. Although the probe had been designed only to melt through the ice, in theory, the “business end” could be heated to over 2000°K. When the thermocouple indicated that the probe tip reached 1341°K, the probe began to move downward. However, after a few minutes, telemetry data indicated that the probe was in freefall. A few seconds later, it abruptly stopped. The NPTBP no longer responded to Marius’ commands.

After a great deal more debate, the Mission Commander authorized the Oceanographic Team to lower the tethered Hydrobot down the hole bored by the NPTBP. When the Hydrobot approached the depth of the original obstruction, its forward looking camera revealed that the NPTBP had melted a hole through solid metal, at least one meter thick. In addition, the camera revealed an empty chamber immediately below the metal interface. The scientist could see the NPTBP lying sideways on the “floor,” approximately 20 meters below. The Hydrobot was lowered an additional 18 meters. That’s when the monitor began to show an irregularly shifting image as the camera was being jostled about. Seconds later, there was an image of a large yellow eye with two parallel, black vertical slits, presumably dual pupils. A pair of green eyelids blinked from opposite sides of the eye. Suddenly, the monitor turned black, except for a quickly shrinking white dot in the middle of the screen.

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Inconspicuous Conspicuous Consumption

Author : Lucas Atkinson

“Tell me what it is you do, Mrs. Adam, In your own words.”

“Well,” she said, and leaned forward onto my desk. “I deal in luxury goods. One specific luxury good.” She smiled. “Obscurity.”

“That seems a strange way to say it. Usually one would…”

“Of course. But then my clients are not usual men. Lesser men seek fame, to increase their fortunes or what have you, but only a select few can know true obscurity. Those whose fortunes and position are secure…” She pulled at the sleeves of her suit. “The media’s a circus, you know. It can tear you apart. Fifteen minutes of fame can be fun, but the aftermath can kill. You’ll be associated with whatever gimmick you were a part of for the rest of your life. I’m sure you’ve also seen those celebrities with scandal after scandal, hounded by the tabloids.

“My clients don’t have to worry about that. Neither their face nor their personal life will ever appear on television, in newspapers, or in the internet. These days, being completely unknown is the ultimate status symbol. That’s how the technocorps and other companies hire their upper echelons. They only hire those they’ve never heard of, despite their numerous qualifications.”

“Do you have any clients I might have heard of? I mean, their positions?”

“You’ve never heard their names, but the man who invented the fluid processor, or author of the Countdown novels. You know the richest man on earth? Ryan Turner? He’s not the richest. By my count, there are over fifty people richer then the supposed tenth richest. The forty not on the list are all my clients.”

“It seems a wonder I’ve never heard of you,” I joked.

“Yes,” she said, and smiled. “I’m my own best advertisement.”

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