The Thank You Note

Author : Eric L. Sofer

Dear Cousin Pynn,

I want to thank you for the birthday present you sent from Proxima Centauri. You obviously remembered my love for plants and botanicals, and it was such a thrill getting a genuine extra-solar gift.

The HydroFern was lovely, and I carefully followed the instructions you included. And per the growth schedule, it bloomed and grew magnificently. The blues and purples sparkle in the sunlight (filtered, as you noted.)

Unfortunately, my imbecile of a husband did NOT read the instructions. I was on Mars for a weekend, and he decided to take care of it for me, despite his lack of any skill with plants at all. You would have thought that he might have known better, as he was perfectly aware it was from a different star system – or, as he referred to it, “that damned alien tumbleweed.”

He placed it into direct, unfiltered sunlight, and watered it – nearly a liter of liquid. He neglected to add the growth inhibitor, and he didn’t wear gloves. You can imagine that when it began to grow uncontrolled, the first thing he thought of was to grab it and throw it away.

I was able to get him medical assistance after I got home the next evening. Once the parameds got the plant unwrapped from around him, and started detoxifying his bloodstream, his skin began changing back from that lavender (which, really, did his features credit). They were able to remove the pods sprouting from his arms and legs also, and I’m told that study of these has yielded some fascinating data.

Of course, he is now institutionalized at the Center for Botanical Rehabilitation, but I don’t mind the peace and quiet around the apartment now. It’s so nice when I visit him… he just sits there, nodding and staring, quiet and nonabusive. They say he might recover his speech someday, too. And he’s finally achieved what I knew he could always become.

So thank you again, and best wishes from cousin Jek and her husband, the blooming idiot.


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To Die With Light In Their Eyes

Author : Jim Brown

Jaller scrambled across the engine’s surface, checking for microfractures and loose connections. The recon ship had taken a direct hit to its hull which both shut down the engine and sent them spinning off course. They had gotten so close.

As he worked, he listened to the details of the battle as they were announced over the speakers. Technologically speaking, this new race was a bit ahead, but nothing that couldn’t be dealt with.

Due to the unknowns of dealing with aliens, transmissions over air other than sound were banned. This meant Jaller flew around the engine with a large amount of wires connecting him to the main repair system. Along with the repair work at hand, he had to also continually reach back and unhook the wires from various snags.

The captain came over his headset.

“How far are you, Jaller?”

“Half way done, sir. Lots of microfractures. Nothing broken so far though, so just this patch work and we’ll be good to go.”


He loved fixing microfractures. Nothing made his day like knowing that he had taken proper care of the engine, especially things about it few others knew about. He knew this love was encoded in him and most of his personality traits had been chosen before he was born, but it didn’t matter. As with everyone, he was made for a purpose.

Then came that odd moment of pity he felt when he thought of all the worlds they had encountered where life was random and finding one’s purpose was a flailing in the dark. It had taken some doing but every race they had come in contact with had been given the joy of predetermination. No one had to wonder if they were in the right place. No one had to get up in the morning and dread the day ahead of them. He couldn’t fathom why anyone would want to hang on to such a miserable existence.

With that thought, his work was done. All fractures were repaired and the engine was ready to go.

“Done! Fire it up!” he shouted into his headset.

The engine came to life in a controlled explosion of energy and centrifugal motion. He laughed aloud as waves of joy washed over him.

They reached their goal a moment later, positioning themselves between their home and the star they were sent to investigate. He heard the lifepods ejecting and the subsequent evidence of their destruction. They weren’t making it very far at all. Though there was no sound in space, there was sound when debris from a destroyed pod hit the hull.

Jaller set the necessary traps and laid out various tools to give the targets a false sense of the tech they faced. Anyone analyzing the upcoming debris of the ship would assume their level of advancement was fairly low.

Heading to an escape pod, he paused briefly at a terminal to absorb more information that had been collected about this new race, focusing on propulsion and power sources. It became apparent that it would be a short fight and in the end, this race that called itself ‘humanity’ would be cured of the horrible disease ‘free will’.

As the pod shot out into space, he faced the star ahead and threw out his arms. He felt the pod tear apart and the burning heat of the explosion as it tore through his skin. Like his shipmates, Jaller concentrated on the facts of their targets, smiled deeply, and died, his essence and knowledge being caught in a stellar wind and carried along towards home.


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Save The Last Dance

Author : Steve Smith, Staff Writer

Emily sat, quiet and alone in a corner, waiting for the evening’s last song to begin. She watched the immaculate boys prowling the dimly lit room, chatting up pretty girls in hope of securing companionship. No one wanted to be alone.

Emily wasn’t like those girls. She’d been beautiful once, in her own way. A rising star perhaps, soon to be debutante, but never quite comfortable in that skin. Her socialite parents, always considering their daughter more ornament than offspring, hired the finest of artisans to re-craft her after the accident. She was a masterpiece, a fine blend of flesh with fantasy; her own body augmented and elaborated upon with improbable features forged from gleaming materials. She was equal parts girl and gallery piece. She showed wonderfully in public, cleverly hiding her wounds from admiring eyes. Whole again, but no more complete.

Hands folded in her lap, she closed her eyes as the band continued to play a song she knew by heart. She imagined herself dancing with one of the immaculate boys, imagined one would truly care to do so. She’d been asked of course, as though she couldn’t see them in their groups, daring each other, sometimes so brazen as to draw straws. She knew what they were after, the bets they would have made. Curiosity. Bragging rights. A night with the freak girl.

She was glad not to be as stupid as they assumed her to be.

Someone stepped into her space, and she opened her eyes to find a young man standing before her. He started a little as she raised her eyes from well worn and polished shoes to a face nervously hopeful, her look equal parts curiosity and distrust. For a moment he looked away, then returned her gaze and held it steady.

“Can you dance?” he stammered. “Would you, I mean. With me. Would you dance with me?” He relaxed visibly, apparently relieved at having gotten the question out more or less intact. He shifted his weight from foot to foot as he awaited her response.

“I can dance,” Emily answered cooly, scanning the room for the group of boys she expected to find watching him, but finding no-one that seemed to be taking an interest.

“I’m Colin,” he put out his hand as he spoke, letting it hang awkwardly in space until she took it. Reluctantly Emily allowed herself to be coaxed from the safety of her chair.

“Emily,” she offered after a moment, as she let him lead her toward the dance floor. People were casting glances now, she could feel their eyes on them.

“I know,” Colin smiled, “I’ve watched you at all the dances. I’ve wanted to ask you forever, but I daren’t as you turn all the better boys down.”

The band began again, a lengthy familiar ballad she’d listened to from the shadows so many nights before. Colin slipped a hand around her waist to the small of her back, the other holding her one hand aloft. He was sweating, ever so slightly, and smiling. His jacket beneath her free hand was soft from too many washings, and gave off the delicate aroma of mint and coffee.

“Thank you,” he whispered into her ear as they set off, the room twirling around them in complementary orbits, “you’re so beautiful, I was scared you’d turn me down too”.

He squeezed her hand gently, guiding her gracefully around the crowded dance floor. She found herself feeling every bit as beautiful as she’d been fabricated to be, her unbreaking heart beating in time with the music, and the most beautiful boy she’d never known could exist.


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Long Walk

Author : Duncan Shields, Staff Writer

One thing I like to do is set my iPod to ‘receive’, set the radius to ten meters, and just take a long walk.

Everyone on the street has their buds in. I walk through a group of teens. Track five from Linkin Park’s post-crash album ravages my headphones followed by the final strains of Cancer Seed’s classic debut, overlapping with Speed Coma’s new track Anthem.

Ever since New Year’s Eve of 2012 and Jenny’s famous walkout, I’ve been wallowing in self pity. I can’t shake it off. I’ve been trying but it’s her face that haunts my mind, the imagery of her laughing or specific moments of affection. That’s how I know that I’ve got it bad.

It’s raining out, a fine mist. There is footage up on the main square’s giant screens of the final troops coming home from Iraq. It’s been looping for days. There is a world-wide sigh of relief but a quiet unease for the future of energy. How Do We Keep the Lights On has become the new catchphrase for Obama’s second term. He’s up there on the screens, too, waving from his wheelchair, survivor of two attempted assassinations. Wu Tang 2.0 has dubbed him Teflon Black.

A gaggle of shoppers pass me with their buds gleaming white. Long, lithe women with that European air of lazy majesty. Flight attendants here on a layover, I guess. In my head, their Europop trickles in, all minimalist synth and languages I don’t recognize, layered as they pass around me. I hear what I guess is Scandinavian hip-hop fading into a German ballad as the last woman passes. She glances at me as I nod my head to her music and she grins.

It’s been raining for a year here. A new record every day. We’re at a higher elevation but the coastal cities have been in a state of emergency for months. Necessity is the mother of invention, though, and now that rich people’s estates are being threatened on both coasts, forward motion on Atmosphere Healing bills are being passed through the governmental law-making bodies at a regular pace. We are an entire planet of people that hope it’s not too late.

I’m walking past the art gallery now, past the drug dealers and the old people playing chess for money. Their headphones are big and waterproof, making the people look like ancient DJs or bugs. Strings of Mozart and Wagner trill through my headphones as I pass the chess tables, along with the slow reggae of Marley and the dubstep of RE-Shine from the dealers relaxing on the steps like the rain is sunshine.

It’s like spinning the dial on a radio tuner and every station has something different going on. I’m thinking of Jenny again but these walks always calm me down. I feel a kinship with the world, like we’ve both been hurt, like we’re both crying, but we’re getting better.


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The Collector

Author : Tom Mazanec

Everybody needs a hobby. I am a collector.

I just made it to slide implant technology. I was in my nineties when nanojuve came out, over 100 when I got my Slide implant. What I do is, I buy a small piece of jewelry. Then I walk around downtown Cleveland, using the View option to study a random timeline as far up the 300 year Masterson asymptote as I can get (usually at least a quarter millennium). I look for an empty alley so no one will see me Slide. Of course if I just see charred rubble or something, I View a different timeline. When I get there, I hunt out a pawnshop and pawn the jewelry. Then I look for a bookstore. They are getting tough to find, with readers replacing books in most timelines within reach (and my reader is non-compatible), there are enough bibliophiles in a big city like Cleveland to make one or two flourish. Then I buy a reference almanac or other “guide to modern history” with the money from the pawnshop. Some timelines are using biometric money, but I can usually still do cash, even if it gets me funny looks. I then slide back home with the book and change. I put the change in the coin and currency folders in my closet and the book in my bookshelf.

At first Cleveland had various names (once it was called “Smithburg”), then soon it was called “Cleaveland”, after Moses Cleveland (I go to a Point of Divergence before we changed our name). Lately people have started noticing that I am a Slider…my accent is off, or some point of ignorance in conversation. They ask if I am a “Jumper” or some other such word for sideways in time traveler (never “Slider”…they are lucky enough never to have had that TV show). I know Masterson was a prodigy, but when it is time for telephones, you get telephones (Elisha Gray submitted his patent the same day Alexander Graham Bell did). Before they just thought I was a foreigner.

I have learned a huge amount of history. For example, I have yet to find a timeline where nuclear weapons were never used in anger, or one where a man landed on the moon before we did (and usually well after). My first book was from a timeline with a French Louisiana bisecting the United States, my newest is from a timeline where a Mormon nation called Deseret fills the Great Basin.

It’s been fun. Everyone needs a hobby. I am a collector.

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