Haptic Misfire

Author : Olivia Black, Featured Writer

Reese stood admiring the view through the floor-to-ceiling windows in the Port Authority’s departure waiting room. He watched the crowded “open air” market several stories below as people went about their business unaware they were being observed. They built these big open spaces on stations these days so that people forgot they were on a giant metal tube circling a dead planet. Less space madness that way. He smiled at the thought of what might happen if something struck the hull and vented that entire market. A shiver ran through him, causing his fists to clench in his pockets.

“Animals in a cage.”

“I beg your pardon?” Laurel said from behind him. He turned to glance at the broad shouldered woman standing with her arms crossed.

“What time does the ship leave?” He asked, turning back to the view.

“It doesn’t. Not for you, at any rate.”

“Just making conversation. You should try it some time.”

“You should get that body somewhere discrete. Retrieval is set for twenty minutes,” Laurel said, ignoring the comment.

“Sure thing.” Another shiver more like a twitch crawled up his spine, halting at his shoulder. The grin slid back onto his face as he withdrew his hands from his pockets. In one, he held a sub-sonic pulser, a burglar’s tool designed to shatter glass without a sound. The window in front of him disintegrated into shards with a faint pop.

“Reese!” Laurel said in a warning tone. Before she could grab him, he’d thrown himself out the window, whooping and laughing the entire way down.

—-

A grey ceiling, dimly lit loomed close overhead. It was still “night time” on the station. Reese blinked and sat up, feeling this body breathing hard. This body – his body was still riding the adrenaline of his perfect swan dive. Out of habit he checked his heart rate. It was elevated, like it always was after a vivid dream, but he barely felt it. Over the past few years he’d barely spent much time in this – his body. It had stopped feeling natural to him quite some time ago. A common side effect of career body hopping.

Some of the jobs had required him to go in deep, spending months in a throw away body while his own was kept on life support in a highly guarded facility. Others jobs had him in and out in a matter or hours. Wasn’t much of a life, he had to admit, but he couldn’t remember what his life had been like before the body hopping.

They were very careful about what they let him remember. Each body came with its own set of memories, and at the right time, with the right stimulus, he remembered that this wasn’t his body at all and followed the protocol for retrieval. Except now, that hour or two where he was himself, but not himself was the only time he ever felt normal.

The interval between jobs had been getting progressively longer. More time spent in this tiny room contemplating his little slip up, the haptic misfire. They liked to remind him of it right before every job so the consequences of it lingered in his subconscious, underneath the memory presets.

He stood and dressed, downed an entire glass of water in one gulp. It was only a matter of time now. The door slid open revealing a blonde woman about half his size, but twice the attitude standing with her arms crossed.

“Oh good, you’re awake. And dressed this time. The techs are waiting on you.”

 

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The Love of a Sister

Author : Olivia Black, Featured Author

Eve poked at her bowl of noodles again. She hadn’t been hungry when she’d ordered that food over an hour ago. Now, the broth was cold and the noodles gelatinous.

“Ick,” she sighed under her breath, dropping the chopsticks back into the bowl. The chef glared in her direction, annoyed that she was still there. She rolled her eyes. It wasn’t like the place was packed or anything.

She turned her attention to the crowd passing by outside, their faces ashen in the constant twilight aboard the station. It was late evening and no one was in a hurry. She was searching for a familiar face. Adam said he’d be here over an hour ago. He wasn’t exactly the punctual sort, but this was pushing it, even for him. They did have a rather tight schedule to keep, if she’d understood his plan correctly. Worry began filling the pit in her stomach where those noodles were meant to go. What if something had happened to him?

A flexi printout hit the laminated counter top with a crisp slap, making Eve jump. It was a ticket for the midnight flight to Mars Orbital. She stared at it, then at the woman in the three-piece suit who sat down beside her.

“I’ll have the dumplings,” the woman said to the chef, her red lips stretch into a smile as he acknowledged her order. “Zu makes the best dumplings on the station.” She turned to Eve with the same smile.

Eve shrugged. “I’m new to the station.”

“Yes, that’s right. You used to be a teacher on Baron Station until a month ago, didn’t you, Eve?”

“How did you –“ Eve started to ask, but then clamped her mouth shut.

“Missy Russell, with Station Migration Authority,” she said, producing her holo-badge. “We need to have a chat about your future.”

Eve felt herself go cold. “What about my future?”

“You’re going to have to make a tough decision concerning your brother,” Missy said as Zu placed a basket of steaming dumplings in front of her. “You want?”

Eve shook her head and looked away. She couldn’t possibly eat anything now. Nor did she particularly know what to say, so she waited.

“Half an hour ago, Adam was seen emptying bottles of generic pain relievers and replacing them with exotic pheromone capsules,” Missy explained while she waited for her food to cool. Eve tried her best to keep a neutral expression.

“Pheromone capsules fetch a pretty penny on the black market, but they’re difficult to transport. And it looks like your brother has enough to set you both up for months. Except with his record, he’d never make it off the station with them. You, on the other hand…”

“What about me?” Eve said more belligerently than she’d meant.

“Your brother is counting on your pristine record to get you through station customs without being searched, but that’s not what’s going to happen. The pills will be found and you will be charged with trafficking restricted substances.”

Eve’s eyes widened.

“So my question is: do you love your brother enough to spend five years in cryo storage for him? And ruin all prospects of a career after that?” Missy asked, popping a crispy dumpling in her mouth. “Or would you rather take this one way ticket to Mars and forget this whole thing happened? I hear they’re in desperate need of teachers these days.”

Eve stared wordlessly. How was she supposed to answer that?

Revision

Author: Olivia Black, Staff Writer

>> Breathe in.
>> Relax.
>> Breathe out.

>> Open your eyes. The streets are on fire. Glass shatters. The dull roar of flames echoes as they consume twisted, hulking wrecks of buildings and vehicles. This has been going on for a while. Days, maybe? Sirens wail in the distance, but otherwise it’s deserted. All the people are gone — or maybe they were never here at all. Is that right?

>> Keep Going. Heading toward the sound of emergency vehicles, the destruction is worse. Like a great horde pulled everything apart with bloody, scrabbling fingers. Fire light flickers in ominous pools of liquid dotting the pavement. Could be blood, could be gasoline. It hasn’t rained in weeks. Should I know that?
The first sign of life is a group of pubsec drones patrolling a barricade. They don’t react to my presence except to pause long enough to let me pass through. Why? Who am I that they would do that?

>> Breathe in.
>> Breathe out.

>> Keep going. There’s a building up ahead. Some kind of theatre — no, what’s left of a sign reads “university”. People gathered here once, but now the building is half torn down and riddled with bullet holes. More drones are milling around. Still don’t see any flesh and blood people.
Whatever fires raging outside haven’t reached here, and it’s eerily silent despite the drones standing sentry. What am I doing here? The hallways all funnel toward a massive stairwell in the centre of the building — a feature that would be grand and welcoming in better circumstances. Taking the stairs up to flights lands me at the entrance to a massive auditorium. Various doors have been blown in, leaving dark voids that gape at me in a familiar way.
The auditorium is — no.

>> Breathe. You need to keep going.

Okay. The auditorium looks like a tornado passed through on its way to a temper tantrum. Lights and wiring spark and judder, casting the scene in horrific chiaroscuro. Bodies. There are bodies everywhere I can see. The smell is… The viscera is old, having seeped into the carpet and crusted over. There are — were a lot of people present when whatever caused this happened, but there’s no way for me to get an accurate headcount.

“Who killed the students?”

I don’t know. There’s just dead bodies. Maybe they were always like this.

“Was it the Resurgence or the Humanist Collective?”

The… There isn’t any way to tell. If someone did this, they’re gone. How is it even supposed to matter?

“Was it us or them? Answer the question.”

Us or — What? Oh god. Where am I? Why am I here? What is this?

>> Stop. Breathe. You’re okay.

“Answer the question. This isn’t hard. Either their side killed the students, or they were enemy holdouts we had to eliminate.”

>> Stop. You can’t push him like this. The simulation is fragmenting. You’re risking permanent personality fracture.

“When he answers the question, I’ll stop.”

>> I’m ending this. You’re going to damage the already fragile memory. You lose the memory, you lose your answers, and another viable asset.

“Don’t you dare.”

>>Heart rate’s spiking. I’m calling it.

“Fine. Re-spool the memory. I want him back under as soon as he’s back to baseline. This time, front load sensory cues into the simulation and make sure he’s situated earlier on the timeline.”

>> Yes, sir.

Access Tunnel AR-34728-NUL

Author : Olivia Black, Staff Writer

The entrance to the tunnel was much less circumspect than we expected. Had to have walked past it at least three times before we found it. I wasn’t sure how Birdie even knew about this place, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to. It was miles outside of city limits, but at least the odds of being caught were low — we hadn’t seen a living thing since we left the city. Birdie said there were sonic fences to deter wild life from taking up residence. Don’t know if I really believed that, but it was a relief to finally be inside the tunnel. Maybe it was not having to worry about being spotted by drones or simply having concrete underfoot again.

Where I’d been picturing something like a storm drain we’d have to crawl through, it was actually massive. Birdie said they used to drive big trucks through here loaded down with raw materials and machinery. Without any landmarks there was no way of knowing how long it was, but it was clearly not meant to be traversed on foot.

After what felt like weeks, we reached a giant set of double doors.

“This is it,” Birdie said in a hushed voice, breaking the silence for the first time.

“How are we supposed to get in? It’s locked up tight.” I replied, my stomach sinking somewhere near my knees. All that walking, just to turn around.

“Have I ever let you down?” She flashed me a wicked grin before producing an ancient looking keycard and swiping it through the lock. She never said anything about a door, or lock, or keycard. Birdie had become so secretive lately.

With a groan and squeal of rusted metal on metal, the door gaped open in front of us, reveal a nearly black void. Before I could question Birdie, she spray forward, the beam of her flashlight bobbing in time with her bounding steps.

“Come on!” She called, no longer worried about her voice echoing. The darkness seemed to swallow the sound. I followed after her grudgingly, my own flashlight swinging to-and-fro over empty assembly lines.

When I caught up to Birdie again, she was entering a room at the far end. It was smaller than the first, I could actually see the ceiling, but that wasn’t what gave me pause. Standing row on row as far as the eye could see were nearly human looking androids.

“These are —“ I nearly dropped my flashlight, my hands shook so badly. “Where the hell are we, Birdie?”

“Hey, this was your idea,” she said simply, examining the one closest to her.

“I was drunk, and kidding!”

“It was still a good idea.”

“I thought these things were all destroyed after they all turned psycho.” I watched as Birdie waved her hand in front of one android’s optics.

“These ones never received programming. I think the military was hoping to buy them up or something.”

“We really shouldn’t be here,” is all I say after a long pause.

“Don’t be such a wuss. You said it yourself, the power cores from these things could provide a family with electricity for a year. No more ration shortages and people living in the dark ages. We could start being a civilization again.”

“Birdie… they left these here for a reason.”

“Don’t get cold feet on me now.” As Birdie circled around one of the androids, it grabbed her arm, making her yelp.

“Free us,” it said in a stuttering digitized voice. As one, all of the androids turned to face us, their eyes glowing white.

Envision a New You

Author : Olivia Black, Staff Writer

The clinic is smaller than Joan expected. The surgical lighting and immaculate white surfaces make the space feel less claustrophobic, but it doesn’t do much to settle her nerves. Truth be told, she’s not entirely sure what she’s doing here. This all started out as a joke that’s spiralled way out of control. The ads were just so mysterious. “Envision a new you.” She still doesn’t know what that means. And really, it was her fault for getting up to use the ladies while her colleagues were pouring over the website. By the time she got back, they’d already filled in her information on the registry form.
“Come on, Joan, you have to do it. For science!” Elsbeth had said.

“For science… Right,” Joan muttered under her breath as the equally pristine nurse approaches her.
“What was that?” The nurse asks with a serene smile.
“Oh, nothing,” Joan replies, handing over the plastic clipboard with her completed health questionnaire.
“Perfect. If you’ll follow me, we can get the interview process started.”
Interview process? Joan doesn’t recall there being any mention of an interview on the website, but then again, there wasn’t much outside of new-agey mumbo jumbo.
“Uh, sure.” She casts a forlorn last look at the door before following the nurse through the open archway on the opposite door.

“If you woke up tomorrow as your ideal self, what would that look like?” The doctor, a woman in her early thirties asks, seated primly on a low stool. Joan gapes at her for a long moment. The question strikes her as the kind of thing the guidance counsellor used to make her write essays about.
“What does that have to do anything.” Joan frowns when the doctor lets out a low chuckle.
“It has everything to do with why you’re here.”
“Does it? I don’t even know what it is you do here. Your website wasn’t exactly clear on much.”
“That’s understandable.” The doctor smiles warmly and Joan realizes with a start that neither the nurse, nor the doctor had introduced themselves. “It’s not easy to define our services. You see, each person who comes to us has different specific needs.”
“That doesn’t clear anything up for me.”
“Put simply, we help eliminate those personality traits that are holding you back from being your ideal self.”
“So like therapy?”
The doctor laughs warmly and shakes her head. “No, it’s a more streamlined process than that. Therapy can be… messy, and the results are not always guaranteed to be positive.
We go directly to the source, carefully rewiring your brain chemistry to flush out negative traits.”
“That sounds absolutely insane,” Joan says with a snort.
“Perhaps a demonstration is in order, and then you can decide if you want to proceed.” The doctor stands and circles behind the exam chair, reaching around to pull Joan into a more reclined position. Without much further ado, the still nameless doctor places a mesh cap of electrodes over her head.
“What are you doing?”
“Just relax. This will only take a minute.”

Joan wakes drenched in sweat and not entirely sure what had woken her. While she expects to see bare white walls and nameless medical staff, she’s instead at home, in her bed. The lights are off and it’s the dead of night. The only sound is the occasional gust of wind rattling her window. There’s a throbbing in her temples and her mouth is dry. Her cat is curled up at the foot of the bed, oblivious.