Author : Kathy Kachelries, Staff Writer

They’d followed the grishna since the beginning of time. Their elders described uncountable days and night, each lasting several lifetimes, since the first keeper had been formed from hard-packed snow and melted by the grishna’s breath. They had never neglected their duty. They hibernated with the large creature, curled up in a vast pile of limbs between the grishna’s tusks, and when they woke they gathered food to care for the endless being. It never spoke. It was a god, so it never had to. When they spoke it was in whispers and gestures, mimicking the silent movement of the grishna’s several mouths with the one tongue they possessed, and this was what fascinated the linguists.

The first outsider came during night, while they slept. Before they awoke a half-dozen had arrived, with boxes that trapped voices and forced them to perform at will and other boxes that clicked and whirred, frightening the grishna. Once, it tore through the outsiders’ enclave, reducing their boxes to brightly colored shards, but everything was quickly replaced.

With time, they learned to live with the newcomers. The grishna adjusted to their presence, and the keepers followed suit. They accepted that the new beings must have been charged to follow them in the same way they were charged to follow the grishna, so they did not interfere.

The first word the linguists learned indicated the most solid snow, the kind that could best hold the grishna’s weight. The kind they’d been carved from, at the dawn of time. The second word was the word for heat, particularly the heat of the grishna, though they believed it also applied to fire. After that, the words came quickly, and although the outsiders lacked the limb used to indicate the passage of time, they could communicate their origin.

And the keepers communicated theirs.

More arrived. Too many to count. Again, the grishna was frightened. Again, the grishna adjusted. The linguists offered food in exchange for words spoken into the box, and the keepers no longer foraged. The grishna was fed as well, food that it seemed to prefer to what the keepers had always gathered. The outsiders were no longer outsiders. They became a part of life. Some of the keepers learned the methods of the boxes, some even learned the second language. They were told about the light, how it came from far away, and how the stars did not mark the days of the grishna’s life. New words were created, to describe new ideas and new objects. When the first one was taken away to be studied, he returned with stories that terrified and thrilled the others.

All of them wanted to see the lights and feel the nauseating movement. Many of them did. The elders waited for this to pass, knowing that all things passed, but some of the younger ones never returned. If they did, they wore coverings over their fur in shades no keeper had seen. They no longer hibernated. They spoke words no keeper’s tongue should be able to form. The grishna grew restless. Nobody studied the grishna.

When the elders left, the linguists noted it with interest. The smaller footsteps of the oldest keepers made small indentations in the larger footsteps of the grishna as they walked away from the lights and boxes just before another uncounted nightfall. They’d followed the grishna since the beginning of time. They had never neglected their duty.

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Author : Brian Armitage

“He’s up. Turn it on,” someone says. The doctor.

As I open my eyes, the whiteness hits. It’s like I’m having an idea, but it’s too much for my brain to hold. I squeeze my eyes shut and gasp, trying to…

…where am I? The doctor is looking at me, smiling. Confidently. Behind him, the other doctor, holding an implant control. “What’s going on?”

“Always the first thing they forget,” Dr. Meyers says, the one in the back. Like I’m not even in the room. How do I know his name?

Dr. Canton pats me on the knee. I can barely feel it. I’m strapped to the bed at the knees. “Watch the wallscreen, Mr. Daughtry. This video should explain everything. Screen one, play.” The white idea is alight again, and it’s burning… and I can’t remember where my house is. The video starts, and a face pops onto the screen. I jump, and the bed slides against the wall.

It’s me.

“Hey, Mike. It’s me. You. Well, yeah,” the recording says. Chuckles. “But man, soon we’re not gonna be anyone anymore. We’re getting the Parson Treatment.” The recording grins. “It’s all getting erased.”

Another pulse. What’s my last name? What’s my dad’s name? And the recording just grins at me. It starts talking again, and I just gawk. I grip my hair, eyes vibrating. “No, no, no… you dumb bastard. What did you do?”

The doctor in the back of the room laughs aloud. The doctor by the bed shushes him, but he’s trying not to laugh himself.

“…done, you’re not gonna remember anything! Nothing! Not Kiera leaving, not…”

“Kiera left me?” When? I start crying. The white idea roars. Why am I crying?

“…won’t hurt. They say they need you to be awake for the procedure, because of the brain chemistry. It’ll be weird, but… we’ll finally be done.”

What procedure? I can’t remember any… no. Not a Parson Implant. No.

“People say it’s suicide, but it’s not. They’re wrong.” The man in the video clenches his jaw, looks like he’s going to point a finger at the camera, but he doesn’t. Who is he? “We’re finally going to be useful for someone. They’ll use our body, but we won’t have to deal with it anymore.” He tries to smile. “Finally done.”

“85 percent,” says the doctor with the device in his hand.

“Good enough. Go ahead,” says the other.

The doctor’s finger taps the device. What is it-

A white idea rushes at me. It burns, but… it burns, but… A white idea. A white. I try speak. I try stop. Wall man say okay. Is okay? No! Not wanting!

Not wanting.


* * *

“And, done,” said Dr. Meyers. Flatline on all three scales. Nice and clean.

Dr. Canton patted what was Mike Daughtry on the knee again. The patient started, then squinted at his own knee. “Screen one, pause recording.” He waited for the confirmation chime, then burst into laughter. “Oh, man! We’re watching that one again tonight. Did you see that? He forgot his wife left him! Perfect timing.”

“Perfect timing,” Meyers repeated, shaking his head. “Classic. We should probably think of a better excuse to wake them up first, though. Someone’s not gonna buy it. But thank you, Mr. Daughtry, for totally buying it.”

The patient had turned toward Meyers. His jaw moved slightly, once.

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The Virgin Nature

Author : Tim Hatton

The hull was a likely prospect. Nothing much else caught his eye. The inside seemed neglected – full of potential indeed, but sorely neglected. There were also certain crucial updates missing from the internal computer system. The map array was as recent as his salesman’s overcoat. Jack noted with slight surprise that even his home world was uncharted.

“And you said this craft was used for freight delivery – “

“Yes, yes,” the unsavory salesman injected, cutting Jack off in mid-sentence, “not a sturdier hull anywhere, sir. Max load exceeds 23 tons.”

Jack moved a short distance to the left in order to avoid the spittle shower that erupted every time the sleaze-bag spoke.

“It doesn’t seem to have made very many deliveries, though,” muttered Jack, “the map entries only cover the nearest seven systems…”

Despite his tone, Jack rather appreciated the virgin nature of this particular Trellis Shipyards Courier Class. He had always admired the smooth curves and easy movement of the Trellis ships. Imagining his first craft to be from that elite stock brought a slight tremble to his hand.

The trouble with Jack was his own virgin nature. He had never piloted his own ship into space and the uncertainty ripped his confidence apart. He had never seen a terrible accident or been in any firefight. No, there were no terrible memories. As of yet, there were no memories at all. He was simply too insecure. Nothing else brought so much wonder and so much terror to him like the thought of striking out on his first voyage. His life was not exactly fulfilling there on Phams, but at least it was safe and steady.

“I’m sorry Mr. Gantry, I just don’t think today’s the day…” Jack began to make for the exit. He cast a sorrowed glance back at the Courier and tried to block out the nagging protestations of Gantry, the salesman. He reached the gate and looked down briefly at the cluster of signs on its grate. A yellow and blue ad caught his attention. It flashed a message at him; “Meet you’re true love today! You only get one chance at life, don’t let this opportunity slip…” Jack stood dazed.

Sure life was safe, secure and easy on Phams, but to hell with Phams! The universe was out there. Just a few miles away, adventure, uncertainty, thrill and peril was resting, staring at him with a thousand bright eyes cast against a never-ending onyx sheet. What a waste he was!

He turned around and resolutely strode back to Gantry. Without a word, he transferred in the required funds and firmly, wonderfully, pressed his thumb on the scammer and felt the lasers probe his pupils. A green light confirmed his identity, and Gantry, now smiling genuinely, passed Jack the slot disk that belonged to the Courier.

“She’s all yours Jack,” said Gantry.

With a smile and a thrill of fear, he climbed the hatch into the heart of his mistress and resolved to express his undying love for the universe to which he belonged with every new journey he endeavored upon.

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Author : Amy Monroe

By way of introduction: Sweit was the one who kissed like a file cabinet and she was the one who kissed like a plate of raw liver. Rays of light came through the subway ruins, skating through the upper Bronx and into Westchester, and they caught Mardi blinking, stretching, falling asleep. The sun was always out; the sun wasn’t special, but the way it lit in her hair—it seemed like a reason to wait till Poughkeepsie to wake her.

“I think it’s beautiful to us because we know it’s never going to change,” Mardi said, hitching her skirt, talking about the sun.

Walking, they saw a man turning a “CLOSED” sign, the old sign, the “CLOSED after dusk” sign.

“Do you think anyone would even know dusk, now?”

“What, baby?” Her eyes were closed, face tipped up.

“That sign. Does anyone alive today remember dusk?”

“It was when the sun went down. Come on.”

“You know that I’m never really complaining about you.”

“Of course not. Hey, there—that guy there—d’you see? He’s leaking.”

“Were you still little when they changed the sun? Did you hear all the adults complaining and not understand?”

“By the time I could remember it was like this. But leaking! It was sliding down his ankles and dripping.” She rubbed the toe of her shoes in the dust, frustrated.

“I’ve seen it before. They’re still fixing all the kinks with liquid. Not all of us are perfect.”

“But you missed it. That’s the kind of thing I mean. You miss so much with sim eyes. They’re not made for—” She scratched deeper, dug a trough. “They’re not made for living, really.”

“Does it bother you?”

“No, baby, no.”

“Because Jimsum has some techs. I could be in on Saturday and noticing malfunctions with you on Sunday.”

“I don’t want you to change what you don’t want to change.”

She said this, but her eyes, the real eyes, her secret real eyes, they dripped all night.

Sweit went home and read about Anastasia, the other fakes, and he thought about his secret real girl, his girl who was not a file cabinet or made in any sense. He held his sim-fingers over his face, flickered them in front of his eyes and stared dimly at the blur they created.

Sweit called a number in the morning. Excited Korean on the other end—Jimsum’s girls waiting for the old country to call.

“Jimsum. I need to talk to Jimsum.”

More Korean, this time angry.

“Sorry, hon. Jimsum, please.”

Jimsum came on all laconic, “Techs.”

“Why haven’t you told your girls that Korea is underwater?”

“I can’t fucking speak Korean.”

Jimsum’s excuse for an excuse.

“I wanted to talk about some eye tech.”

“We got blue, green, zoom lens, yellow cat-eye.”

“You’re joking. I could get better from the hookers on Canal Street, man.”

“It’s what we’ve got.”

“Fuck it. I’m going to Canal. I’ll see you.”

Sweit fast-sim-thinking, he ran there. He knew Jimsum’d heard about Canal’s recent cleanouts and the hookers having fled to the subway tunnels; he knew before he saw Jimsum’s girl at the Korean grocery.

“Eyes? Jimsum say Saturday for eyes?”

She articulated, hating the English words in every syllable. “He say no-ow.”

“They’re on your communications?” Sweit asked instead of saying hello.

“Just the in-and-outs. I guess you want the meat eyes.”

Jimsum was laughing while he put him under.

Mardi almost screamed when he came rolling up to her in the alley, with those horrible wet-bloody eyes.

“What color are they?” she said, and started to cry.

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Temp Guard

Author : Duncan Shields, Staff Writer

Being a temporal border guard is an okay job. It pays the bills.

It seemed like a cool perk when the position was first created after the The Great Restart of 205?. You’d get to work, do your eight hours, and then get put back into the time stream a millisecond after you’d left.

You would be tired, though, and end up sleeping the day away and then you’d be up all night. Unless you were single or married to another Temp Guard, it sucked. Plus, it aged you a little quicker. Those eight hours didn’t pass for others. After a while, you would be ahead of everyone else in physical decrepitude.

So now, it’s just like all the other jobs. You work eight hours, they put you back into the time stream eight hours after you come to work. It gives the illusion of normalcy that most humans need to cope and survive.

It’s head-bending, really.

There’s a political movement afoot that doesn’t respect the temporal borders. They think it’s all just a nefarious plan by the temporal government to restrict people’s ability to research the past and investigate what they call ‘The Truth’. They use guerilla time sliders to flit about all over the place.

To their credit, these ‘tempests’ generally do seem to leave the time line somewhat intact, keeping interference to a minimum, not a lot of fuss, but it’s the principle, really. If they were to do something in a non-interference time zone accidentally, the consequences could be retroactively catastrophic.

Not that we’d know that difference. That’s why the Temp Guard doesn’t hire thinkers. Me, I don’t get bored easy. I’m great and doing nothing, filling out forms, following orders, or just staring at the wall.

It’s the ones that start to really try to figure out how it all works, what it all means, and whether or not this reality is really the real reality that start to slide off the rails eventually.

It’s actually a rogue Temp Guard that’s leading the Tempests right now. Alazariah Hackson. Reputedly insane but if you ask me, a guy would have to pretty smart to wage a careful non-interference war of attrition with the government.

Myself, I actually take comfort in the fact that I’d never have any idea about retroactive changes.

Like if I woke up tomorrow with one eye and no children, I wouldn’t even know that there had been a difference.

I’m happy enough sipping on my sugarwater and wanding my tachyon detector over the folks coming through the borders and filling out the forms. I’m not even tempted to think about the changes that could be happening around me every day.

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