Author : Duncan Shields, Staff Writer

It was the physical changes that were the hardest to get used to.

I’m not just talking about the year of physiotherapy. I’m talking about the grey hairs. I’m talking about the soft skin. That and the gradual discovery that life had passed you by. People looked at you and nodded but that close trust was gone. The connection was severed. Parties, deaths, deals, power struggles, marriages, births. They’d all gone on while you slept. You showed up years later with canes and an older body.

There were no prison visits. There were no gyms. It was a snap of the fingers and they took years away. Parole for good behaviour didn’t exist. For guys that had been sentenced to really hard time, it was a slow execution.

You get caught, you go under. That had become the answer to the prison crisis. People were put on trial, sentenced, and given a shot. They were slotted into a sleep chamber in a penal hotel somewhere to carry out their sentence in a dreamless sleep. The liberals loved the humane aspect of it all, the conservatives loved the cruelty of it all, and the general populace had a nice, happy image of cons sleeping like babies. Everyone wins.

When a criminal’s time was done, they were woken up. The light on the front of their chamber changed from red to green with a little ‘ding’ sound, just like a toaster oven telling the cook that the pizza inside was done.

Muscles do a little shrinkage if you don’t move them for a few years, even with the electrical stimulus in the coffins. It’s really painful to get those muscles working again. It takes a long time.

But like I said, that wasn’t the hard part. I’d been under for twenty years. I went in when I was twenty-six. I’m forty-six now. When I went in, I had the body of an athlete. My memories were full of sex, murder, fights, and running from the cops in a body that did it easily. Those memories end, in my mind, about eight weeks ago.

I don’t recognize the cars or the fashions. I walk so slow.

I looked up my old gang friends. All dead except for three of them. Those three took pity on me and gave me some cash but I could tell from the look in their eyes that they’d never let me back into the syndicate.

I looked up my old girlfriends. Couldn’t find any of them. Names changed because they got married or they’d died as well. None of us led a good life out here. We all wanted to die young and most of us got our wish granted.

I feel like a ghost. Time to make some new friends. I don’t have the faintest idea where to begin.

I could feel the need to commit a crime and go back to sleep twisting around inside my head like a hot wire.

I felt too weak to deal with this new life.

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Author : David Richey

“She’s amazing!” exclaimed General Perkins.

“Thank you very much, General.” Dr. Springmayer said as they looked through the observation window. “We’ve worked very hard to make her so. Having sixty years worth of classified government research and a bottomless budget backing you up doesn’t hurt either.”

“You know, I’d believe she was actually a human if I didn’t know better.”

“But she is human, General. Just because she is composed of organs that were grown in a lab doesn’t make her otherwise.” The doctor said with a smirk.

“And the hardware? What does that make her?”

“Better. It makes her much, much better.” He stated proudly. “Her strength is unbelievable. The living human skin does a great job hiding her “muscles”. She is able to lift five thousand pounds like it’s a bag of flour, she can run 45 m.p.h nearly indefinitely, and she needs almost no food because the amount of living tissue that she is composed of is so small. Besides that, having a hard drive where her brain should be means that she can download absolutely anything we want her to learn.”

“What’s she doing now?” the General asked.

“Her favorite hobby. She’s calculating pi. We allow her two hours of free time a day at the computer and that’s always how she chooses to spend it.”

“So when will we be able to show our investors the weapon that is going to keep the U.S. unstoppable on the battlefield? They are very interested to see what nearly a trillion dollars can build.”

Dr. Springmayer flashed a worried look. “Not just yet. We still have a few months worth of training and testing to do before we are ready to present her.”

“I’d like to meet her, Doctor.”

“I-I-I don’t think that now-“

“That wasn’t a request, Dr. Perkins! I am expected to report back to some very important people about how I think this project is going. Now, take me in there so I can meet her.”

Reluctantly, the doctor took his security card out and swiped it through the door lock. He led the General into the room where a woman, who didn’t appear to be over 25 years old, with red hair and fair skin, sat behind a desk, typing at an incredible rate.

“What’s her name?” the General asked Dr. Perkins.

“We have been calling her Sheree.”

“Correct me if I’m wrong, Dr. Perkins. But I believe that was your wife’s name.”

Looking at the floor, the doctor said quietly, “Yes, it was.”

The General, looking back to the young woman, said “It’s nice to meet you, Sheree.”

She stopped typing. Scooting her chair back, she stood up and turned around. “It’s very nice to meet you as well, General Springmayer.”

“Even her voice is convincing.” The General said. Then, with a puzzled look on his face, he asked “Why is her stomach-?” Then he stopped talking as he processed what he was seeing. Horrified, he asked “Dr. Perkins, please tell me she’s not…”

“Yes,” he said, ashamed. “She’s pregnant.”

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Author : Ken McGrath

My body goes limp and it’s like floating, like there’s no gravity. Then I feel the zoom, my shoulders jerk back and I’m off.

Blood rushes to my head, fingertips scuttling like tiny crabs dancing over the keyboard, a whoosh by my eyes as the corners flash past in a blur of motion. My heartbeat starts to increase and I stabilise the craft, quickly selecting the icon I need.

There’s a click in the heart of my machine and gears shift upward, my angle straightens and I pounce forwards.

I feel the familiar kick as I crest that first hill, feeling the craft going airborne slightly and I hit the boosters, this time anticipating the push, the zoom and my stomach being sucked up into my lungs by the increasing pressure. Lights flash by as the track goes underground. Single pinpricks of white and red, yellow and orange stretching out, forming long continuous unbroken lines. They’ll direct me to my destination. Just stay inside of them I think calmly going over the familiar, rehearsed route in my mind.

I smile feeling the power beneath me, surrounding me, like I’ve become one with this machine. The guys in the garage would have some laugh if they heard me saying that and I’m sure the team psychologist would have a field day with it too. It’s true though, to a certain extent. You have to know your vehicle intimately, know how she’ll respond to any slight change in the terrain before you can seriously take part in a competition like this and I’ve spent so much of the past year working towards this moment. That was the engagement now this is the union, our bodies fused together by a series of straps, wires and buckles. Together we are complete. Right now we are one unit, with one goal, to complete this course in the fastest time possible.

Symbols flash up on my visor screen. For a fleeting moment the track ahead, pitch black apart from the comet-tailed guide lights is condensed and relegated to the bottom right of my vision. Both eyes work independently and my brain processes both sets of information simultaneously. There’s a lurch as the back of the craft glides too far to the left and the tunnel wall looms up terminally.

Like lightening I wrestle back control, using the spin to my advantage and we lunge forwards together. Sharp left, long, curving right, into the dip, accelerator held down firmly, a gentle tap and slight angling correction as I burst into sunlight and take the chicane. Inside my harness I lift slightly as the craft cuts smoothly through the air.

Focusing on the curves and turns I casually watch my timer creeping up on the race leader’s track-time. The chatter of voices in my helmet, issuing instructions and updates on my progress from the pit-lane are encouragement rather than distraction. Strapped in tight, the security harness keeping me locked in place, suspended inside this gyroscopic machine. This is freedom and I love it.

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Author : Richard Watt

Isaac blinks and tries it again. There is an apple on the table in front of him, and another on the shelf to his left. He reaches out with his left hand and picks the fruit up. It has the texture and heft of an ordinary green apple. Isaac lays it down beside the red one in front of him. He hesitates as he does so, although he knows, has deduced by empirical observation – which he is rather good at – what will happen.

It happens again. He blinks once more, then takes the green apple away. There is one red apple in front of him. He wonders what will happen if the green apple is cut in half, but he has had no access to any implements since he arrived, by means which he does not yet fully comprehend, in this place.

There is a stranger seated across from him, but Isaac does not meet his gaze. He has devoted his life to observing and deducing, but he is genuinely disturbed by what he has seen here. The fact that his companion appears to find it mildly amusing has put Isaac in a foul mood, and he can no longer contain himself.

“This is impossible! Sir, I demand to know by what trickery you make these abominations appear!”

The other man, who has not even so much as introduced himself, smiles at Isaac, which causes the old man to sigh intemperately.

“There is no trickery, Isaac. This is the natural order of things. Simple mathematics. You have one object, and you add another to it, then there are five objects. Take one away, and there will be one left. How it is, and how it must be.”

Isaac is irritated enough not to notice that he has, once again, been addressed inappropriately. His mind is on another path now.

“Is this Hell, sir? Is this my punishment for whatever transgressions I am deemed to have committed? If so, I demand my judgement! I demand to be heard, and to face the wrath of my creator in person. Not to be trifled with by some insipid underling. Sir, you mock me, and I will not tolerate it!”

“It amuses me, Isaac, that so many of the ones we retrieve from your dimension talk in these terms – although not, if I may say so, always in such eloquent language. If it pleases you to consider this some kind of judgement upon your character, then we will accommodate that. In truth, it is your mind, rather than your character which has alerted us to you. We feel certain that your thorough understanding of the mathematical principles of your limited subset of the – ah, I must apologise; as far as we can discern, your language has no word for it; let us call it the universe – will help us in our studies. Given time, we feel sure you will come to relish the challenge.”

Isaac does what he often does when he feels discomfited; he harrumphs loudly, which seems only to provoke more amusement. The other man stands and leaves the room. Isaac glares after him.

Outside, in a space which Isaac might have recognised as some kind of corridor, the other man passes his case notes over to his supervisor.

“I think he will come round; he’s certainly the most promising one we’ve had yet. No sign of mental instability at all. In fact, he’s mostly just irritable.”

The supervisor smiles thinly. “You did remember to tell him not to eat the apple, didn’t you?”

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The Future's Promise

Author : Garrick Sherman

Sarah settled back into her seat on the time skipper. She picked up a magazine and tried to read, but found she couldn’t focus.

“Are you alright, dear?” the old woman in the next seat asked her. Sarah realized that she was bouncing her leg energetically.

“Yes, sorry, I’m fine. I’m very excited,” she replied.

“It is exhilarating, isn’t it?” the old woman remarked enthusiastically. “Oh, I remember when they first told us about time skipping. The notion of dipping into a black hole’s gravity, then pulling yourself out with another black hole, and if anything goes wrong in that nanosecond—“ she clapped her hands together like smashing a bug, “—pow! You’re done for!” she shook her head. “It sounds crazy, but it’s really amazing, don’t you think?”

Sarah nodded weakly. She didn’t like to think about the crushing gravity that would be pulling her into the distant future, but gravity-travel turned out to be simpler than flying at relativistic speeds, so she had no other option. Sarah found relief in her version of the trip: she pictured herself as a caterpillar being wrapped in a black hole cocoon and then bursting forth in the future as a beautiful butterfly.

The intercom buzzed. “Ladies and gentlemen, this is your captain speaking. At this time all final preparations have been completed, and we are ready to depart. According to regulations we are required to provide a five-minute last call to withdraw yourself from this craft. Remember, there are no means to travel back in time: once you have committed, you will be unable to return to the present. If you are having second thoughts, please contact one of the attendants in the front or rear of the skipper. Thank you, and we will be departing shortly.”

When the COM had clicked off, the old woman turned back to Sarah. “What makes you want to take this leap, sweetheart?” she asked.

The question flooded Sarah with anguish. She thought of her loss and her pain, and her need to escape such a pitiless world. For her, the answer was to skip ahead. She didn’t care what the future held, just so long as it was something—anything—else.

She tried her best to fake a smile. “Just the excitement of something new,” she lied.

“Oh, yes, same for me,” gushed the woman. “Who knows what we’ll find? Unbelievable technology, aliens, a deserted planet—anything at all would be magnificent!”

The speakers hummed. “Ladies and gentleman, please take your seats as we begin our jog to the black hole.”

Sarah gazed out her window at the glowing globe below. From above it seemed beautiful and serene, and for a moment she almost regretted leaving. Then the engines roared to life, and she watched the planet shrink into the past.

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