Author : Steve Smith, Staff Writer

Nick inhaled on his cigarette until the glowing ember reached the filter, then flicked it absently out the driver’s window. His younger brother James sat upright and fidgeting beside him, eyes wide trying to look at everything at once.

“Two hundred and forty meters. Turn left. Two twenty. Left.” James spoke outloud.

To Nick, James’ factual rambling had become background noise. James grew up locked inside his own head, overwhelmed by the world around him and unable to process any of it. When his doctors had wired him into the network, they’d armed him with everything he’d ever need.

James flinched as a police car screamed by in the opposite direction, lights bathing them for an instant in blue and red. “Metro pursuit, two one nine one four. Eric Waynes. Forty Two. Divorced. Two Children. Sixty meters, turn left.”

Nick saw the street as looming walkups and parked cars, but to James it was a seething mass of lines connecting objects and boxes containing datapoints; an infinite number of rabbit holes he could plumb for details ad infinitum.

When their parents had died, Nick had the hard line replaced with an array of wireless antennae woven into his brother’s dirty blond faux hawk. It was the only way he could get him out of the apartment.

They turned left onto Kinsella, slowing to navigate through the cars parked on both sides of the street. He could see the stop sign at Mathews when a shopping cart rolled from behind a parked car into the street, forcing him to step hard on the brakes.

“Pay and Save. Twelve thousand three hundred cubic inches. Fifty pounds,” he paused, eyes darting around the car before adding, “probably stolen.”

Nick smiled until a hand came to rest on his window sill.

“You got permission to be on this block?” The voice was deep, the speaker’s face lost in shadow with the sun blazing a halo around his head.

“Sorry, just passing through.”

James eyed the cart and the dark skinned man that had joined it on the street.

“Zoo York jacket. Sixty three percent sold to upper middle class kids imitating the lower class style.”

Nick winced, suddenly painfully aware of his brother speaking.

“What did bristle head say?”, the tone sharpened. As he leaned in closer for a better look the sun revealed deep brown skin under a pork pie hat, crisscrossed with fresh pink scar tissue.

“Nothing,” Nick said, “he likes your friend’s jacket.”

“Dolan Ryan. South Bronx Cricketers. Soldier. Fourteen arrests, no convictions.” James blinked repeatedly before adding “This year. Fourteen this year. Forty meters, turn right.”

Dolan yanked on the door handle. Finding it locked he reached in through the open window trying to open it from the inside.

“Out of the fucking car, dumbass. Rainman here just bought you a beating.”

“Seventy percent of altercations involving Cricketers result in violence. Fifty pounds. Forty meters, turn right.”

Dolan paused his brailing the door panel long enough to cuff Nick in the side of the head. “One hundred percent chance of violence asshole, out of the goddamned car.”

James pounded both hands on the dashboard and yelled “forty meters turn right”, then turning to look Dolan straight in the eyes he continued “Doctors appointment Thursday at two. Syphilis”.

Dolan froze for an instant and Nick stood hard on the gas, liberating the shopping cart from the Zoo York jacketed figure as he jumped out of the way. The cart crumpled under the bumper and was dragged into the intersection as he drifted right onto Mathews, the tangled mesh basket peeling off on a parked car as the sedan straightened. Not slowing, he turned left onto Morris Park and kept his foot planted on the gas until the Parkway loomed into view.

“Bronx River Parkway. Thirty and three quarter kilometers in length.”

Nick finally eased up on the gas. “Syphilis?” he asked.

“Spirochetal bacterium. Sexually transmitted.”

Nick laughed as he fumbled for another cigarette.

“I really did like his jacket,” James said, before slipping back into the data mass of the world outside.

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Pied Piper

Author : Kathy Kachelries, Staff Writer

There are two things I hate about a job like this: Carrie, and the viewer-at-home.

That’s not true.  There are dozens of things I hate: network executives, directors, producers, footage editors with their nasally little ‘we could have used a little better resolution here. ”  I hate pretty much everyone involved in a documentary, but it’s the viewer-at-home who matters.  Once that viewer decides they don’t like Carrie, don’t like fish, or don’t like learning, all of us are out of a job.

“There’s the entrance!” Carrie squeals.  If nothing else, she has enthusiasm.

It’s a low-budget gig.  Unlike Carrie up ahead, who was lucky enough to be female, skinny, blond, and (of lesser importance) a marine biologist, Tommy-crap-for-lighting and Joe-the-assistant-camera-guy (that’s me) actually have to lug junk into these tunnels.  The sound guy and lead cameraman are resting cozy on the boat, practically retired.

“Over here,” she calls, swimming smoothly over a long-still turnstile and into the submerged station lobby.  I bring the cameras around an ancient ticket machine but find nothing more than a ragged hole, smaller than a kid’s fist.  “There are thousands of these,” Carrie continues, looking at my headcam.  Who the hell wears makeup underwater?  “Even though their slowed metabolism gives them twenty or thirty minutes underwater, the skeletal structure hasn’t changed much.  If it weren’t for these nests, they’d make easy dinner for anything down here.  A single Long Island Crocodile could take out a whole school in seconds.

Great.  Crocodiles.  I really ought to read a pamphlet or two about this junk before strapping on the cam and jumping overboard.

My comm beeps and the cameraman patches in, private to me and Tommy.  “Can we get a shot of these rats?”

“Carrie, they want rats,” I say, switching frequencies.

“Be patient.”  Her primary concerns always involve creatures lacking higher brain function.

“She says be patient.”

“We’re working overtime here,” he says.  I hear the hiss of a bottle opening.

On the main channel, Carrie’s still rambling science.  “Marine biologists continue their search for the secrets of the tunnel rat,” she says.  “Despite intensive study, their rapid evolution remains a mystery, and we can only hope that in decades to come-”

“Joe, can you get a better shot of that hole?” Tommy comms.

Carrie, caught up in describing the rats’ miraculously pathetic life, doesn’t notice as I clickswitch my handcam to fisheye without turning my helmet camera from her face.

And then, Tommy delivers a kick to the ticket machine with so much force that I have no idea how he pulled it off with flippers.

They crawl and swim, dozens, maybe hundreds, not just from the hole but from the ticket slot as well, from unseen gaps behind and beneath the machine.  An emptying hive of nearly hairless grey and pink rodents, tails swishing and feet scrabbling for purchase as a stream of bubbles trail upward from a corner.

“That’s what we need!” open-comms the cameraman.  “We can edit out that kick, right?”

Only the glow of Tommy’s sidelight lets me see Carrie shake her head.  “You can’t just empty a whole colony like that!” she says, voice weak.  “Do you have any idea how territorial–”

“Look, Carr, we’re making a documentary here,” comes a new voice, the assistant director.  Asshole must have been monitoring everything.

“They’ll only invade another colony, and–”

“Let the marine biologists worry about that junk, okay?  All of you, back to the boat, and–”

“I am a marine biologist.”

“Back to the boat.  Now.”

It’s a month until filming starts on Carrie’s next Learning Channel adventure, and hopefully, it’ll be somewhere warm.

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Author : Petter Skult

“How was the game?” Ann asked as Jeremy crawled through the hatch. She had to wait with the answer until he had pushed it close, metal screaming.

“It was awesome!” He replied breathlessly, as he threw his bag off his shoulders and went directly for his cot to change clothes. “Jenny and Ahmed’s characters planned on having a garden party for Jia – that’s Mark’s character – on account of her getting that promotion.”

Ann chuckled lightly, continuing to fry that morning’s catch, the smell of meat permeating the whole container.

“Hey mom, what’s a ‘water cooler’? My character is supposed to go there to meet all of his new workmates, but I have some trouble imagining it.”

Ann explained what a water cooler was, and for good measure what it meant to ‘shoot the breeze around the water cooler’. Jeremy listened intently while gathering his .22 rifle, clearly making mental notes. She tried to keep the ruefulness out of her voice. By the time she was finished he was ready to go. He was already looking a bit glummer. Ann felt sorry for him, having to go out there again. When she had been his age…no use thinking of it.

“When’s the next game?”

Jeremy lit up.

“We talked shifts; I’ll be on night for the next week, Ahmed, Jenny and Mark are all crazy as well, but we thought Wednesday the week after that.”

“That sounds wonderful, dear. Be careful up there now.”

“Of course mom. See you tomorrow!”

Jeremy crawled back topside for his evening guard shift. Ann continued frying the ever-grey little pieces of rodent, stirring them in the sudden silence with her wooden fork. She was thinking absently of water-coolers and garden parties and promotions and regular jobs. Things that her children might only know through make-believe, role-playing games they play when they get together for those brief moments when there was no alert, no danger, no attack.

Still, she was happy they were allowed those moments of escapism into a world so completely foreign to their own.

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Machine Monastery

Author : Credentiality

Cynthia was reluctant when it came time to leave the Machine Monastery. Nobody had predicted that machines would be Buddhists. Crazed killers, perhaps. Indifferent to humanity, perhaps. Cold calculators, almost certainly.

She had learned the tactile pleasures of sanding the walnut sides of an imperfect jewelry box she had made herself with hand tools. The visual pleasure of brushing a finish with a wet edge.

The empty contentedness of sweeping a floor. The ragged exhaustion of breaking out old concrete sidewalks with a sledgehammer and hauling them to a skip. The gleam of a toilet scrubbed clean.

The machines had done all these things, mostly better than humans could, and had found the same peace from their lessons. Cynthia would go back to her life in the city, where her finance skills would pay the bills, and where machine and human craftsmen continue to do their jobs with the labor-saving tools that made mass production cheap. But perhaps in the summer she would take another vacation to the mountains east of town, away from the noise, and rejuvenate with the joys of manual labor.

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The Second and a Half Law of Thermodynamics

Author : William Garnett

The day the universe stopped expanding was the same day all the traffic lights failed to turn. But it wasn’t just the traffic lights. Cars didn’t start. Dogs didn’t bark. Radios were silent. Microwaves paused. Automatic drive-thru teller machines didn’t take cards and didn’t dispense any money. Nothing moved. All was at a stand still, and no one noticed because no one could think or remember, or even forget. No one could point it out to anyone else.

Then the universe began to contract. But no one really noticed it, because with the contraction of the universe, everyone’s mind and perception also began to shrink, so that any forward thought process ceased to occur and so people regressed and slid back along the evolutionary scale and grew hair in places where there had been none. They tore down the cities and set them on fire. They tore down each other in ways they had read about but had thought they would never do again because they had evolved to a point where popping brains out of a neighbor’s head was something only beasts did. But they were beasts now and couldn’t think straight or forward anymore. Blood ran thick on the broken sidewalks–on all the failed and burned infrastructure.

Men fought each other over women and killed each other’s young to ensure the advancement of their genes, which was ridiculous, because everything was regressing and going backwards so that the very idea of advancement itself was impossible, and the genes themselves would never survive. But they did it anyway. The blood lust that had never fully left the species reemerged to full strength as bodies were dismembered and emptied of their guts.

The universe continued to shrink, and as it shrank, all life regressed to globs of cells, and then just to cells, and then just to tiny strings of mindless amino acids. Eventually, everything was reduced to molecules, and then atoms, and then quarks, and strings, and then nothing.

The nothing regarded itself and found it paradoxical that it could do such a thing, and as it regarded itself, it found itself lacking and then once again it attempted to make something out of itself.

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