Quisnam est Dominus

Author : John Logan

“I don’t want you to die,” said Vincent.

The words didn’t actually transfer as sound to any part of my ear. They were signals which ran from a dermal connection on Vincent’s body, through my hand, and up into my brain where they were interpreted by my cerebral cortex with the help of a nano-sized mechanism called a Xybot.

“So what,” I said. I actually spoke these words but Vincent understood. He just had his own way of communicating because he didn’t have a mouth. He was a gun. A Black Widow Class V made by the Demiyan Corporation. The shiny silver of his body turned a tint of green. A trick he often used to convey his mellow mood. He was only supposed to use it for camouflage, but Vincent loved melodrama.

“Why don’t you sleep on it?” he said. “We can talk again tomorrow.”

I lifted my hand, Vincent included, so that I felt the cold touch of his muzzle next to my temple. “Because I don’t want you to talk me out of it like last time,” I replied.

There was a pause. “You aren’t a bad person,” he said. He often told me this. It was one of the many techniques he used to console me.

“Of course I am. I shot that woman,” I said. “She just wanted her freedom, that’s all.” The memory of it stung me like it had happened just today and not two years ago on a colony world that orbited a star six light years away.

“I shot her,” said Vincent. “Not you. I’m to blame.”

My hand shook and I could feel my resolve weakening. He would have made a good psyche doctor. In fact I often wondered if one of the technicians at Demiyan hadn’t slipped a little something extra into his AI.

“She had a kid with her,” I said softly. “Do you think he survived the purge?”

Vincent felt suddenly heavy in my hand and so I lowered him.

“Nothing survived the purge, you know that,” he said. “Government policy dictates the extermination of all rebels.”

I sighed and stood. The idea of all those people dying under a hail of Kryon rays didn’t sit well with me. Moving to the window, I stared out into the night. A freight ship, the size of a small island, was just taking off. Many of the men on board looking forward to a little rest back home on Mars. I must have stood there just staring for a long time because when Vincent next spoke it startled me out of my dark thoughts.

“I want you to be happy,” he said.

“Well I’m not,” I said. “So why don’t you just let me kill myself.”

“It would be inconvenient,” he said. “I would have to wait for a replacement.”

He was of course talking about the next soldier unlucky enough to be paired with him. Vincent was much older than me—the intelligence that was Vincent, not the gun. I’d never thought to ask him about my predecessors.

“How many have there been before me?” I asked my melancholy forgotten momentarily as the question piqued my curiosity.

“Many,” he said and I felt a creeping feeling of jealousy now that he had confirmed I was not the first. The emotion was unexpected.

“Anyway, I don’t need you,” I said annoyed. “I’ll just hang myself.”

“No you won’t,” he said. “You tried that last time without success.”

Vincent always brought out the worst in me. “I hate you,” I said.

“I know,” he replied.

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Inevitable Outcome

Author : Roi R. Czechvala, Staff Writer

He had been a brilliant physicist, she a promising graduate student.

“I love you,” he said.

“And I you,” was her reply.

Autumn threw off her many coloured coat and bowed to the dominance of Winter.

“Marry me,” he said.

She did.

Implantation was new. It was expensive. They could not afford it. They were chosen.

His, a brilliant mind, two points shy of genius. Hers, lightning fast, intuitive, bordering on precognitive.

They were happy.

They recovered separately in identical white, sterile rooms.

“The implantation and assimilation was successful. You may feel some disorientation at first; that will pass. Welcome to The Community,” the doctor said.

She beamed.

“I’m sorry. It is rejected in some, assimilation does not always occur. You may experience severe headaches, they will diminish over time.”

“I’m happy for you.” He smiled.

“I’m sorry for you.” She wept

They fell apart. Satisfied. Glowing. Happy.

“I’m pregnant,” she said.

“But how? We Just…,”

“I know.” She tapped her temple. “It’s a girl,” She added.

They embraced. They were happy.

She spent increasing amounts of time linked to The Community. He couldn’t share. The baby cried, she didn’t hear.

He awoke one morn to find her in the throes of auto erotic stimulation. Moaning the name of another.

“What is it,” he asked, disturbed.

“It’s no one, it’s nothing.”

“It’s someone.”

“Look around,” she gestured “No one is here.”

“It’s someone,” he repeated darkly.

“It’s like a holo stim,” she said. She left to shower. The baby wept. The plaintive cries were drowned by the running water. She was with The Community. He was Other.

He found her again in the throes of singular passion.

“It’s him again.”

“It’s nothing, I told you. Look around. There is no one here.

“There is someone here.” He tapped his temple.

“It’s not like that. He…”

“Do you love him?” She did not answer, did not look at him.

“Do you love him in your precious Community? A gated Community, where I am not allowed. Do you love him? Do you?”

“Please” she said, turning to him tear filled eyes. “Please don’t do this.”

He picked up the lamp from the bedside table.

“I have to.”

“I know.”

“Have you always known?”

“It was inevitable.”

The baby cried.

He walked to the nursery, wiped the blood from his hands and took his daughter into his cradling arms.

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Lights Out

Author : Liz Lafferty

Three weeks ago, there were lights on the horizon. Solar lights from the small town to the south flickered in the night, reminding me that I lived within walking distance.

One day, I woke up and life was different. An eerie dark mist had settled over the desert region. Not the desert you’re used to. This desert was lush and fertile. Animals roamed freely in grazing herds. The area was desert because no one wanted to live here.

In my time, people are afraid to be alone.

The second night without lights passed without incident. My cat paced inside the battery illuminated walls of my earth home. I huddled on the floor, cushioned by numerous pillows, reading by a small lamp. I debated the merits of walking to town to find help or at least find answers.

The next morning, I opened the door and stepped outside. Except for the battery operated clock, I couldn’t tell the time. There was no sun overheard. I couldn’t even make out a glowing orb behind the mist, but it must be there because the temperature of the air wasn’t unpleasant.

I slid my hand through the darkness. I couldn’t see the tips of my fingers.

My cat screeched and shot into the darkness.

“Kitty. Come back. Kitty,” I said. My voice wavered. My ears hurt from the crushing silence of the mist. “Kitty?” I whispered.

I backed into the house and slammed the door. I stumbled through the front room, falling into the welcome arms of the cushiony pillows. I covered my head with a blanket and turned on one of the remaining battery lights. It flickered. Shaking it roughly, the glow came back.

Twisting the single braid that hung over my shoulder, I convinced myself that I should leave – take what supplies and lights I had and head toward the town. One day’s walk should do it.

I volunteered to live here. I had the misguided notion I could live alone, except I felt nothing but dread since the mist had settled over the land, suffocating the life out of me and everything around me. Had it only been four days?

The darkness seemed to invade my home. Slowly, one by one, the batteries dimmed than died. The clock on the wall ticked the seconds and minutes away with excoriating awareness. My ears hurt at the pounding. My psyche grasped at the only sound that made feel alive. Tick. Tick.

Would I have felt better to hear the grating sound of metal, the creaking sound of the house as it swayed in the wind, creeping things flitting across my floor?

I hadn’t moved from my spot for several days, except to find the gun hidden away in my closet. I horded the dry food from the kitchen and the water bottles were stacked next to me. In my head, I counted the clicks of the clock; with my hand, I counted and recounted the number of bottles remaining, before I had to make the terrifying journey to refill them.

Maybe once they were empty, I would stop. I could just stop eating. I could allow myself to die. Here in the mist. Alone.

I tried not to think of what was out there. Why they called this place the desert. It was both a place and a state of mind, I decided in one of my more lucid moments.

A sound, a new sound, pulled me from my lethargy. I gripped the gun.

Something pounded at my door.

Boom. Boom.

The door rattled.

I pulled the trigger.

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The Great Doctor

Author : James Boone Dryden

In the world beyond tomorrow, Dr. Gregor Lustovicz would be remembered for his greatness, his ingenuity, his wit. There were things that the doctor would invent that were beyond the imaginations of the people of St. Rustof. They would wonder how they had never noticed him.

The great stacks will belch out their black, soot-laced smoke and in the belly of his laboratory the great doctor will work tirelessly. His work desk, his table, his floor will be littered with tools and scraps of metal and half-finished projects. In the center of the room – the very core of his operation – will be the greatest of his inventions.

One time, it will be a great, iron automaton, defending the countryside from the marauding army of the vile Duke Ivanovski. The people will be grateful (indebted beyond reparation) to the doctor’s great invention and his genius.

The countryside around the town of St. Rustof is rich and fertile, and there is much to desire in its green pastures: the sheep that graze its fields are full and healthy, and the cloth that comes from the town is sought after. It is a quiet place, and the people enjoy their solitude. It is no small wonder that Dr. Lustovicz is a strange sight with his tall, lanky gait; his moustache moderne; his long, trim, street coat with trousers and leather loafers. The rustic cottages and glorified hovels would look strange alongside the looming brick and stone laboratory with its towering smoke stack and wide, metal doors.

Another time, the great center invention will be a ball made of pure brass, the size of a man’s head, and inside with be a collection of fantastically-worked cogs and wheels and whirligigs that drive the contraption. Its purpose: to sit inside a ship and act as a balance, to give it stability, and make certain that it never sinks in a storm. The fishermen and admirals will want them in great quantities, and the great doctor will provide.

What really goes on behind the doors of the great doctor’s lab? Why does he come out so infrequently? The rumors that abound about him would be quiet and harmless. He has done great things, they would say. Don’t bother him; don’t anger him. The people would be skeptical, but they would be proud to have him. He has done much for us.

One time, an unfortunate time, there would be a death. In the greatest of times, there is death. Inventors are great people, but they are not perfect – they are not god-like – and their mistakes can be costly, though the reward will be great. And when there is a death, the people will become enraged; they will question Doctor Lustovicz’s motives, his abilities, his greatness. His invention, while great, will be rejected.

The great doctor – Gregor Lustovicz – will be looked upon with fear. How can such a person craft such marvelous contraptions without some contract with the devil? What is the price that people have to pay for such greatness? Who has to die in order for such things to be successful?

They will force him from the town; they will burn his laboratory; they will delight at the sight and cheer. The great doctor will watch from afar and weep for his loss. Their fear was too great, and he sacrificed his work for his own life.

When they read of him in the papers – the newest communication marvel produced by the last great Lustovicz machine – they will nod resolutely about his institutionalization. It was no wonder. He was mad the whole time.

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My Branch of Work

Author : Jeromy Henry

Before the day ended, Tam knew someone would die.

He dug his claws into the tree branch and chattered to himself. Nearby, other squirrels scampered along the twisty highway made by branches of the great oak. Tails twitched, beady black eyes darted as they looked for nuts. A warm breeze blew, and leaves rustled all around him.

A lady passed below the branch. A gust of wind pressed her yellow daisy-print sundress against a slim figure, and she used tanned fingers to brush shoulder-length, auburn curls out of her face. A wide-brimmed straw hat with a pale blue ribbon wound around the top dangled from the other hand.

If she’d looked up, she might notice that Tam looked a bit different from the other squirrels. She might notice the odd bulge of his brain case, or his air of still watchful waiting. If she’d carried a Geiger counter instead of a hat, she might notice the needle lurch upward, and the ticks come faster and faster. But none of the brightly-clothed people in the park, laughing in the Spring sunshine, carried Geiger counters. No one looked up.

Tam balanced an acorn against a rough knot in the branch, and used one paw to scratch the loose skin on his side. He twitched his bushy tail. Unlike the other squirrels, his cheeks did not bulge with nuts. Though his stomach rumbled, he left these acorns for his brothers. His arms and legs hurt a bit from arthritis lately, and his fur was a bit patchy. He wondered when he could retire.

He thought of the comforts of his city apartment, with its closely drawn black drapes, and the specially designed windows that let him come and go. None of the neighbors guessed that the wealthy recluse next door did not belong to the human race. Tam hired and paid human minions over the internet. They stopped by the apartment in the guise of doctors every now and then, and told the neighbors that the poor old man inside had a skin condition that kept him out of direct sunlight. But even these paid helpers did not know the truth. He required a lot of money to hire human hands, human voices so that he could live a decent life.

There, below him, Tam saw the target! He tensed. A portly man in a tweed suit passed below. His smiling, reddish face beamed genially at the flowers and trees. A shock of white hair floated off from his head, gently tugged by the breeze, as if trying to join the like-colored clouds. That face matched the photo e-mailed to Tam’s computer the day before, along with a time and a place.

As the man passed underneath, Tam pushed the acorn.

An explosion rocked the tree. Red splattered. The woman in the yellow sundress screamed. Tam dug his claws in the branch and crouched. When the branch stopped shaking, he clambered face-first down the trunk. Grey-furred squirrels shrieked and sprinted in all directions, and he blended in perfectly as he ran for the edge of the park.

The most feared assassin on the planet got away once again.

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