Buying Out

Author : Ryan Somma

Kheen stared out the window of his top-floor corner office, completely oblivious to the hustle and bustle of his city stretching off into the horizon below. Planes, spacecraft, gliders, unicorns, and more were cruising right past his window, citizens enjoying the nightlife of which he was architect, but he was still chained to work.

There was a flash and the tinkling sound of chimes from behind him, and Kheen turned around slowly. This was his personal assistant, Uui, teleporting into the office. Her face was always expressionless, matching her strictly business attitude. So the mere fact of her presence was like a lead weight on his heart.

“New directive from corporate,” Uui said and directed Kheen’s attention to the flat screen always floating at her shoulder. “They want the Xybercorp building inducted into the city by the end of the week.”

“Okay,” Kheen replied with measured patience. “And..?”

“They want residence in the Atomlight district.”


“There are no plots left in the Atomlight district.”



Kheen savored the uncertainty in Uui’s otherwise monotonous dialogue a moment longer before answering, “So we’ll boot a lesser client out. Xybercorp is a big name, and we can shuffle some buildings to accommodate them.”

“Everyone in Atomlight is a major client sir–”

“Which means whoever we kick out of there must have their building moved into a district of almost equal prestige, which will require moving a second-tier client out of that district, and a third-tier client out of the district we move the second-tier into, and etcetera and etcetera and etcetera,” Kheen turned his back on Uui. “It will mean overtime for everyone. Make it happen.”

“Yes sir,” Uui vanished in a tinkling of chimes.

Kheen set his world settings to nighttime. The daylight outside his window fell under a canopy of darkness and flowing light streams. Then he turned off the windows completely, substituting the best view in the city with a moonlit nature scene instead.

He thought about lunch breaks, water coolers, and sleep, all the living necessities of which this place was devoid. He thought about his body, in an isolation chamber in some corporate warehouse, aging away.

He thought about his retirement. With the exchange rate the way it was, he might afford it by the time his physical body was in its 80s. Then he could buy his way out of this place, live in a homeless shelter somewhere cold in the winter, hot in the summer, and dirty all the time. This made him smile.

It was going to be wonderful.

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Karachi, America

Author : Joshua Willey

Every morning a giant Seller’s Jay lands on the railing and sings until given some caloric morsel. The fog shifts constantly, burying the trees. I choke my dirt bike, kick it, and we’re off, down empty trails, to an empty highway along the empty ocean.

A fungus, which traveled to these parts from Japan on Rhododendrons has attacked and killed most of the Tan Oaks between San Francisco and San Simeon, and while it is sad to see the giants fall, it makes work plentiful, so when we go on the weekends to Los Angeles our pockets are bulging, and we buy drugs and giant incomprehensible books and parts for the car Shell is building; the one and only, Galaxie 500. She spends the brightest hours of everyday beneath that metal machine, and comes to the dinner table with streaks of grease across her face singing “see the pyramids across the Nile.” I climb trees and tie ropes around high limbs and strap myself against the trunk and cut cut cut.

At night I light up all the kerosene lanterns and play with the words, or fight with them as the case may be. More and more it becomes difficult to tell the difference. Six people here in Pacific Valley have all read one copy of Tree of Smoke and now it rests in tatters atop Finnegan’s Wake, 1000 Plateaus, and The Master and Margarita. Hardest thing is, as we have no electricity we have little opportunity to take in recorded music, verily one of this American life’s greatest pleasures. Shell has a deep cycle marine battery which she charges on her weekly trips to Castro to see some human “who might be the one” (though this golden prospect doesn’t keep her from crawling into half the beds in Big Sur at her leisured whim), and we hook a short wave radio up to it and can get the BBC and, occasionally, music from Japan.

I remember all the nights of her professional life. How, in the mirror, she combed her hair with the radio on playing Sun Ra and the city lights all spread out around her. “There are cigarettes in the fridge” she said, as if this was some consolation. I could only stare at her, open-mouthed, shirtless and broke. “You don’t need this,” I’d say. “What does need have to do with anything, in this country” she’d respond, and walk out the door.

Those nights I always took a bath and sometimes I got high and cleaned her little place with a fine-toothed comb.

When she came back it was dawn and she would run her fingers through my hair and say, “his penis is twice the size of yours and he runs a very successful hedge fund downtown, and his eyes” she swoons, “his eyes don’t lie, like yours.” Then we would laugh, and smoke her cold cigarettes and I would tell her about some novel, and when the fog lifted off the bay and the first rays of light crossed the concrete and steel, we would sleep, my chest against her back and my hand on her hip.

At noon I got on my bicycle and went to work and she lay in bed, drinking Foldger’s, reading Proust, waiting for me to come back.



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Author : Patricia Stewart, Staff Writer

Tom Erickson smiled as he greeted his guest, “Ah, General Kelly, welcome to the Ames Advanced Research Laboratory. This is my partner, Dr. Mark Montgomery.” They all shook hands. Erickson continued, “Are you ready for the dog and pony show?”

The general grinned. “You bet, Dr. Erickson. I’m interested to see how you managed to overcome the Heisenberg uncertainty problem?”

Somewhat taken aback, Dr. Erickson asked, “Uh, you’re familiar with quantum mechanics?”

“Physics is a hobby of mine,” said the general proudly. “That’s why the President asked me to review your progress.”

“That’s great, General. Well, you certainly asked a relevant question. As it turns out, if our transporter focused on the positions and momentums of objects at the atomic or molecular level, we would never be able to make simultaneous predictions of conjugate variables. However, our technique focuses on the massless, subnuclear particles and interactions, such as gluons, neutrinos, and hyperphotons. We can quantify them without significantly affecting the fermions and isospin quantum numbers. In other words, we can accurately locate every atom in an object without changing them. This allows us to successfully dematerialize and then rematerialize the object.”

The General nodded his head. “Understood. You make it sound so simple. Have you been able to transport an animal yet?”

“Yes, General. We successfully transported mice six months ago. They were disoriented at first, but eventually they were ably to negotiate the maze as quickly as their pre-transport times. Last month, we transported a rhesus monkey. She was able to perform all her trained behaviors without any apparent loss in cognitive ability. We’re ready to try it with a human.”

“Fantastic,” announced the General. “I’ve authorized a conditional commutation for one of our death row inmates…”

“Whoa,” interrupted Erickson, “That would be unethical, General. The first human subject has to be either Dr. Montgomery or myself.” He turned toward Montgomery. “Mark, do you have a coin?”

Mark nodded and pulled a coin from his pocket and flipped it into the air and called “heads.” He caught the spinning coin in his right hand and slapped it onto his left wrist. He lifted his “cover” hand and announced, “Heads, I win.” He quickly pocketed the coin and walked over to the transport platform, and stood there with a coy smile. “Com’on, Tom, let’s make history.”

Although feeling that he had just been hoodwinked, Erickson powered up the equipment and activated the transport switch. Montgomery dematerialized, and then rematerialize on the receiver platform, still smiling. Three medical doctors rushed over and began examining him. “How many fingers am I holding up? What city are you in? What’s the cube root of 356?”

Montgomery responded with a smirk, “Three, Albuquerque, to how many decimal places?” After an hour, the doctors announced Montgomery was “perfectly normal.”

Montgomery could not contain his jubilance. He hopped off the examination table and walked over to Erickson. He extended his left hand and said “Congratulations, Tom, we did it.”

Erickson momentarily stepped back. Shocked, he looked more closely at his friend. “Mark, what side do you part your hair?”

Confused, Montgomery raised his right hand to his head, and said “What are you talking about? The left side, of course.”

Erickson closed his eyes and began to count aloud. “Let’s see. One, two, three, four, five. Damn, there are an odd number of magnetic lenses in the re-sequencing buffers. Mark, you’re inverted. Get back onto the transporter. After I re-invert you, we’ll add another lens to the sequencer. No wonder the mice kept crashing into the walls the first day.”


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Seeing Clearly

Author : Carter Lee

Everyone can see me. I can’t see them, of course, but I can tell by the way that they shy away from me on the street and in stores. Their grey, featureless forms flinch, and drift away from me. No matter how crowded the area might be, I always have room to breathe.

I live in a world where the space between the ground and sky is composed of bare outlines. I subscribe to almost nothing, and so the world of men gives me only the smallest amount needed to make my way through it.

I wear my shield, of course, but I don’t sell the skin for display, unlike everyone else. I don’t sell my display, and I don’t buy anyone else’s.

I used to, of course. When I walked down the streets, the garish colors of the displays crawling and throbbing from the shield-skins of every building filled my eyes. What are now nebulous shapes would show the fantastic corporate creatures of the companies that had bought their personal displays.

One day, in a restaurant, I walked into a room full of people, each one looking like the mascot of the Deltoid Gymnasium Company. Almost 200 people, all with the same face, smile, and body. My eye had caught the words on my own retinal scrawl. Current Display: Deltoid Jim, paid for by DGC.

I was dumbstruck. I wondered for the first time who these people might be, under the picture of the blond god each was displaying. And I knew I’d never find out, that I could never find out. People showed their un-displayed forms only to those they knew very well. Some never showed their true self to anyone.

I’d disabled all of my subscriptions that evening, and declined to renew my contract with my display broker when it came up the next week. The only display anyone gets from me is me. If they want my deep background, I won’t transmit it. They have to ask me.

I lost a good number of friends over this. Many people seem to find my lack of any kind of barrier to the world as something indecent. It makes them uncomfortable to be around someone who isn’t masked in any way.

I was delighted to find that the libraries and museums in my city either don’t have fees, or only charge a small amount for upkeep, and rarely display commercials. I use old-style wall displays for information and entertainment.

I told myself that I would not pay for any more viewing subscriptions, and for the most part, I’ve stayed true to that. The one subscription I’m saving for, though, will let me look at buildings directly. I became interested in architecture a while back, after I found that the first buildings covered with shields had had them installed to protect their beauty, not to cover them with come-ons for foot powder and the like. There are pictures of the lovely structures in my city, but I’d like to see them in real life. I’d like to walk the streets and study the beauty humanity has wrought in stone and steel.

The ghosts steer themselves away from me, the stranger they can see clearly. How wonderful.

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The Birth Mother and the Whole Living Child

Author : J.R. Blackwell, Staff Writer

We drank poison to prove that we were real. My mother fed me the poison herself, holding me in six of her twelve arms, cooing to me while I sipped the foul liquid. She had fed me things I thought were awful before, but I was obedient – ever a good child. Her last living child.

The rebels watched her feed me poison and admired her for it. She was the bravest among them, a symbol of their willingness to sacrifice for freedom. Her darkened eyes and shredded wings told her story for her. After we drank the poison in that dark hole, we spent days fighting the illness that followed, nausea and pain. After it was over, only two of my legs remained, the rest, shriveled husks.

Before the invasion, my mother used to say how pretty my wings were, how perfect. She was so sad now, and I would flutter my wings at her, pushing myself to lie at her feet. “Mama. Mama.” I would say, and she would touch my head, soothing me. I felt beautiful, even then.

Of course, they came for us. The worst of it was that when they came, they looked like us. It would have been better had they looked alien, but they were all too familiar, sculpting themselves to look friendly, like young adults or trustworthy mamas holding out their arms and legs and murmuring sweetness.

When they found us, my mother ran. She strapped me to her underside, pressed against her carapace, white cloth binding us together. I curled the legs I could move into my body shell and snuggled against her, afraid.

Even after weeks of struggling through poison, my mother was fast, burrowing into ground and then springing, nearly flying over the rubble of the city where we lived, through and over and under. She was glorious, then, in her moment of freedom. Then the aliens caught her and pinned her to the ground. She was a fast runner, but they could fly.

“Mother,” they said, so respectfully. She spat at them, the poison from her glands. It landed on them but it did not sizzle their exposed carapace -that’s how you could tell they were aliens, they were unaffected by poison. That and they could fly.

“Mother, you have a child – let us help you.” She kicked them and wounded herself.

“You are hurting yourself,” said one who looked like a young mother, “and your baby is ill. Please let us help you.”

My mother put her pincers around my spinal corridor. “I will kill her before you take her. She will die free.”

They looked at one another, and then they moved faster than I thought possible, breaking off my mother’s arms. She cried out and fought them, but they cut me from her in moments, and carried me away. I couldn’t move to look behind, where I heard my mother’s cries.

Two of them converted me, in that wonderful and compelling process I cannot forget. The pain in the conversion was of growth and change. I am no longer wounded; I no longer suffer from lost limbs and poison. I am one of them. Alien. Whole.

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