Null Geodesic

Author : Jim Wisniewski

She smiles and tilts her head to push a lock of brown hair behind her ear. I run the image back a few seconds and watch it again, entranced as always by the fluidity of the motion. The machines can show me any moment of her life, but this is the one I keep coming back to. Such grace, such elegance encompassed in so simple a gesture. Even so there is no sense of artifice in it. The beauty is simply a part of her, in everything she does.

I play the scene back in slow motion, studying every changing nuance of her face. The detail of the image is excellent, now. Resolution was low in the early days of the project, but at this point there’s enough holoscopes to sift even the tiniest detail from the shell of thirty-year-old photons. Before long we’ll push the cloud out to a hundred light-years and begin again. That much distance will be hard on the algorithms, but with enough patience we’ll see everything. Dirichlet will not be denied.

A changing shadow on the wall alerts me to one of my colleagues passing by in the hall. As casually as I can, I flip over to a different display until the coast is clear again. Everyone knows some bandwidth goes towards personal uses, but we’re not supposed to flaunt it.

Not that they’d understand anyway. This way I can be with her at every point in time, sharing in each completed perfect moment. Here I wince at the pain when she was twelve and broke her wrist. There I feel the stress when she has to decide which school to pick and which friends to leave behind. Laughing along with her and her classmates at the commencement party, worrying about her new job, right up until the accident–

I don’t watch that far ahead, usually.

It’s better this way, it really is. Unrequited love is the purest kind. Watching from out here we will never fight, never grow distant and drift apart. She will never age. Photons don’t experience time flying along their lightlike paths. I suppose they carry my own image outwards as well, to anybody who knows how to look closely enough.

But no matter how long I watch, I can’t seem to find myself in the picture with her.

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Artificial Claus

Author : Patricia Stewart, Staff Writer

Kathryn opened the door to let her fiancée in. He brushed passed her and parked in front of the hall mirror. Carefully, he fluffed the snow off of his hair. Satisfied, he turned to kiss her, but stopped short when he noticed that she was still wearing her work overalls. “Kathryn, you’re not dressed yet? My parents are meeting us at Ducasse’s at eight.”

“I’m sorry Quincy, I was so busy that I lost track of the time.” Bouncing on the balls of her feet, she added, “I have a surprise for you. I activated my android this afternoon. Kris,” she yelled, “come out and say hello to Quincy.”

A plump android with a long white beard wearing cotton long johns walked out of the den. His cheeks and nose were a rosy red.”

“What? You’ve spent the last six months building a drunken old man?” exclaimed her fiancée without humor.

“Ho, ho, ho,” bellowed the android. “Don’t be silly, young man. I’m Santa Claus.”

Kathryn smiled. He was soooo perfect. “Kris,” she said, “go put on your red suit.” After the android returned to the den, she turned toward Quincy and put her index finger to her lips. “Shhhh. He doesn’t know he’s an android. I programmed him to think that he really is Santa Claus. I’m taking him to Macy’s tomorrow. The children will love him. He’s so full of joy, it’s contagious.”

“Kathryn!” Quincy snapped. “Have you lost your mind? You’re wasting your degree in cybernetics. You couldn’t think of anything practical to construct? That thing is worthless.”

Belittling her dream angered her. “Would you be happier if I created another pompous ass?” she retorted.

“You could do a lot worse than me, Kathryn. There are millions of eligible women who would kill to be in your shoes. Now, turn that damn thing off and get dressed.”

Kathryn’s eyes began to tear, but she didn’t move.

“Look Kathryn, you either do as I order, or I’m going to the restaurant without you.”

“I have a better idea. Why don’t you just go, for good.” She pulled the engagement ring off her finger and slammed it into his hand.

“You can’t be serious. Okay, forget it. I’m better off without you.” And he stormed out the door.

Kathryn sat on the couch, weeping. Suddenly, she felt a strong, reassuring arm reach around and hug her shoulder, as the android sat next to her. “There, there, Kathy, please don’t cry. Everything will be all right. Look,” he added, “I want to show you something.” He took a magazine from the coffee table and tore out a sheet. He deftly folded the page a dozen ways and produced a beautiful origami swan.

Kathryn managed a smile, although she was still sniffling. She wiped the tears from her eyes and said, “It’s beautiful. But, I didn’t progra… How did you know how to do that?”

“I’m Santa Claus, my dear, I can do anything.” And then he produced a red rose, as if from thin air.

She took the flower and sniffed it. “It’s real. But how?”

“Consider it Christmas Magic. You know,” he added thoughtfully, “Quincy is the world’s greatest fool. And on Christmas Eve, I think I’ll put a big lump of coal in his stocking.”

Kathryn laughed, something only a few minutes earlier she thought she’d never do again. She hugged the cuddly android. “Thank you, Santa.”

“Come,” he said, “let’s go to the kitchen for some milk and cookies?”

“I’d like that,” she replied. “I love milk and cookies.”

“Me too,” he said as his eyes literally twinkled.

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Codename Winter

Author : Duncan Shields, Staff Writer

The body was huge. Seven feet tall, at least, and heavy.

X-Rays had shown a delicate tracery of machinery throughout, strengthening the huge frame to allow it to move quickly.

Its bright, neon-blue hair glowed in the dark. It was the same colour as the lips, fingernails, and nipples.

It was the same colour as the glittering eyes.

It was dead now.

It stared out at the scientists, unblinking, and awkward.

It had been found, naked, stumbling through the snow up in Alaska close to a week ago. Its skin was as white as the snow.

We called it Codename Winter because of it.

In the week before its death, it had picked up a few words of our language and could respond to rudimentary questioning. It was a slow process as it seemed to be straining not only to find the words but also the concepts behind them. I hate to say it, but it seemed really stupid.

Its story, told through clumsy mime and pieced together as best we could, was that it had come here from space and had left its ship to explore the wilderness in Alaska. A passing human airplane had spooked Codename Winter’s ship. The ship bolted and the alien was left alone.

It insisted that it was the only one on the ship. It insisted that the ship was probably worried about it and was looking for it.

It had been dead for two hours and there had still been no contact with the ‘ship’ of its story. Planes that had passed in the region she was describing witnessed nothing.

While it was alive, a tennis-ball sized lump of what we took to be biocircuitry in the center of it had given off a steady stream of data that seemed to be directly tied to its sensory organs but we couldn’t decipher the data we collected from it. We were still trying to figure out what the densely packed stream of trinary data meant.

However, it had not issued any transmission that we could detect after the alien’s death. No homing beacon, no SOS message, nothing.

Its death had been immediately preceded by a burst of a data washing through the biocircuitry that burned it out. Codename Winter had looked at us, puzzled, and died that way.

We’d come up with a saddening hypothesis:

Its warranty was up and it had been switched off like a light.

Its ship had scanned our planet, looked at the dominant life-form and made a copy out of the material it had on board. The ship drank in all the information that skin, eyes, ears and nose could provide. Maybe it didn’t waste time on colour or maybe it just had no idea what colour was.

Maybe the next step would have been to make a better copy that could fool us and let it wander around downtown Los Angles or something.

The ship wasn’t coming back for this creature any more than we would return to the site of a picnic for a lost fork.

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Inside Joke

Author : Roi R. Czechvala, Staff Writer

Purple waves gently lap at an azure beach. Our footprints quickly wash away in the encroaching tide. The setting twin suns of Rijos, the red giant aptly named Rojo, and her blue companion Danube cast an eerily beautiful violet light on the endless expanse of beach.

We walk hand in hand, her flowing red hair reflecting a dazzling colour for which I have no name.

“It’s so beautiful,” she whispers, almost too low to hear, “I wish we could stay here forever.”

“We can,” I replied, stroking her cheek, casually pushing back a loose strand of hair, “we will.”

We sit down to watch Danube make his death plunge into the smooth waters of the sea. We lay down to sleep

In a shabby, cramped yet somehow immaculate room the bodies of two elderly people lay on a cold, brushed stainless steel table. A technician in a coffee stained lab coat watches as his colleague removes the electrodes from their shaven pates and wipes away the conductive saline gel.

The bodies are those of a man and woman well into their centenary years, ravaged by time, hands locked tightly to one another, inseparable even in death.

As the technician carefully cleans and replaces the electrodes in their foam lined drawer and prepares the bodies for further processing, his companion stares intently at the flickering glow of the readouts on his iPadd.

“Marbling good, protein quality high, lipids fine…,” he mumbles as he checks off a box on his list.

“Hey Arnie,” he calls to his friend wheeling the bodies through battered double doors, “I’ll bet Edward G. Robinson would get one hell of a laugh out of this.”

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Flipped to the Sky

Author : J.R. Blackwell, Staff Writer

The last thing I remember before I hit the jagged edge of mountain rock was falling backwards, my feet flipped up, shoes dark against the snowy gray sky. Perhaps that’s a way our bodies and minds conspire to protect us, screening out the moments of painful impact from our memories. When I woke I was in a small, dim hospital room. Next to the window there was a teenager perched on a high stool. She was looking outside, white light on her face. She could have been my daughter, with our deep set eyes, high cheekbones and full lips, but I never had any children.

I heard the soft chime of a monitor. She turned to me and put both hands on her knees, in a movement so familiar that I blushed with embarrassment. How could I have forgotten my mother’s face? Then again, this was her face before she was my mother. I never knew this younger woman.

“Yong,” she said, and I saw that her cheeks were wet.

“Oh, Mom,” I said, my voice a surprising rasp, “don’t cry.”

She hopped down from the stool to stand by the bed. “It’s all these hormones.” she said, wiping her cheeks with a handkerchief. “Puberty sucks no matter how many times you go through it.”

I reached out to her but my ribs shifted painfully at the movement, sending a stabbing jolt along my left side. “How bad is it?” I said.

She pulled her hair back into a high ponytail. “You cracked your hip, slipped a disk and got a concussion. They called me when I was in a business meeting.”

My emergency chip. I had never bothered to change the contact information. Stupid. The emergency chip didn’t know that I had stopped talking to my mother sixteen years ago. It didn’t know about the holiday where she demanded that I go to her doctor and where I yelled at her the catchphrases of the pro-aging movement, words I didn’t mean, words I regretted. The chip only knew what I had told it when I first entered it under my skin, that if I was severely injured, it should call my mother. I suppose I thought myself immune to injury. I had been arrogant.

“Hiking on a glacier?” My mother started to pace around the room. ” You are too old to go hiking on a glacier.”

“Mom, you’re 35 years older than I am.”

” Yong, if you were rejuvenated you could go hiking on glaciers whenever you wanted. Why do you court death? Are you really so in love with your romantic notions of a limited life?”

“It’s not about dying, Mom.”

She took my wrinkled hand in hers. “Then you are going to stop this,” she said with certainty, with a finality that seemed humorous on someone so young. “You are going to get rejuvenated.”

“Mom, I want to get old, I want to experience dying. It’s the way nature intended us to live.”

She shook her head, her ponytail bouncing. “I can’t believe you’ve fallen for that ridiculous argument.”

I blushed. “I’m sorry I brought you here.” I spat the words. “I’m sorry I dragged out of a meeting. I forgot to change my chip. It won’t happen again.”

I meant to her hurt her but she didn’t wince, didn’t pout. I saw then how old she was in her young skin. She touched my forehead with her cool fingers. “I hope you never remember to change that chip,” she said. “Because no matter what you believe, I’ll always come for you.”

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