Author : Duncan Shields, Featured Writer

I’m standing in front of the safety glass and seeing the thing look up at me. Its legs end in black tentacles that look diseased. The fingernails of its left hand are very long. One nostril is dripping what looks like grape juice onto the cell floor. It’s a little pathetic and I get a swell of sympathy that I have to stamp down on immediately.

I have to remember the deaths. I have to remember Allison.

I try to keep the steel in my voice. I can see Allison in his jawline. I can see Allison in the patches of long blond hair that poke through the short black haircut. I can see Allison in his left blue eye with the long eyelashes.

“Ask question?” he says to me.

“Yeah, I have a question” I say. “Are you scared of dying?” I ask this thing.

With a shock, I can see that it has two blue eyes now and the rest of its patchy and uneven hair is turning blonder by the moment.

“Not as long as I know you’re here with me.” It responds. Its voice is getting higher, closer to Allison’s. Its English is getting better. It’s gaining focus. Its shirt is getting tighter as Allison’s breasts push forward and fill the man’s shirt that it’s wearing.

It’s gaining strength by the second. Allison’s been gone for months. I thought I could to do this. I was kidding myself. My vision is starting to blur with tears and I can see that Allison is nearly complete before me behind the glass.

I watch my fingers reach towards the lock. I stop and look at my traitorous hand. I don’t have the code to open the cell anyway. I have no idea what I was about to try to do.

“Brian” it says. Allison says my name. “Let me out. Let’s go somewhere. Quit your job. We can live somewhere hot. Let’s forget this and get out of here.”

I breathe deeply. I realize that I’m standing and my forehead is pressed against the glass. With a start, I stand back and straighten my clothes. Control. Control. I turn and walk towards the main elevator up to the office. I leave this parasite behind.

“Brian, they’re going to kill me!” the Allison thing shouts to me as the door to the elevator closes.

It’s a few floors up and then a brief scan on checkout and I’m out. They saw the whole thing on CCTV so they don’t ask me any questions. They let me out into the fresh air and into my empty life.

The department doesn’t know when Allison was taken. I may have been living with the parasite for days before they detected it. Maybe weeks. I might have made love to it.

I get behind the wheel but the shaking and the tears start before I’ve started the car. I feel almost grateful that the thing in the there let me see her one more time.

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Not with a bang but a whimper

Author : Duncan Shields, Featured Writer

The people started dying almost immediately.

They said that the earth would defend itself. That’s what the global warming and rising ocean levels were all about, they said. Eventually the atmosphere would get hard to breathe, they said, and the oceans would take bites out of the coastlines.

How wrong they were. The Earth was still asleep when those things happened. Those were our doing, not Hers. The Earth is a massive ball of iron. It takes a lot to disturb it. We gave her an itch and she scratched.

It followed the darkness around the globe that first night. Like little black fluffy feathers of asbestos or ash or snow. Some mixture of stuff from the air and stuff from the ocean. A silent rain from dark clouds that were inexplicably following the sunset around the planet.

It’s twenty years later. The fact that there are a few thousand of us left means nothing. Earth won. We can already see that there are powerful enzymes being secreted by the ivy that’s climbing the buildings, accelerating the decay that would have taken centuries normally. There will be nothing left for alien archaeologists to find.

The rain killed most of us and sterilized the rest. Just the humans. The animals are having a great time. There are no endangered species anymore. The black minerals in the rain made all of the plants poisonous but only to humans. We can’t eat herbivorous animals. Meat from carnivorous animals that have eaten herbivorous animals is nearly intolerable. The meat from predators that hunt other predators is preferred. We’re all getting older, though, and hunting this kind of animal was very difficult when were young. Since we’re infertile, there are no young ones to kill the animals for us. Fewer and fewer of us come back from the hunts. The ones that return from the hunt come back to camps that are getting smaller and smaller.

The black tears that leak from our eyes started with that final rain and haven’t stopped. We all look like our mascara’s running. We are streaked black where the rain touched us and it won’t come off. We look like we all just came up from the coal mines and we’re sweating ink. We are striped like zebras in black death. We are all naked and feral and aging.

We’re sorry. We apologize in ritual ceremonies that are all that’s left of religion. There was no rapture. There was no apocalypse. Just a global erasure. We beg. We regret. We die.

This is one of the nightmare futures.

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A Marriage of Ideals

Author : Duncan Shields, Featured Writer

This was the test. Ted and Alice’s marriage vows had been exchanged and the reception was a huge success. It was the day after. They were glowing, a little hung over, and ready for the rest of their lives together. They were ready for the consummation.

They walked into the white room and lay down on the parallel white beds in their white consummation smocks.

People compared it to the Navajo Indians practice of taking huge amounts of peyote once in their lives at the age they became men. People also compared it to the handfasting ceremonies of ancient Celts. Intensely personal yet separate and destined to colour the rest of the relationship. There was no empty ritual here like a Bar Mitzvah or New Year’s Eve. This was a test. It reached deep. Like a sixteen year old’s first time. Like a first broken heart.

It only happened once. Many had come to believe that it was necessary.

They went under.

Ted was abruptly underwater and struggling for air. Ever since he was six and he saw his father drown, he had a fear of water. This had also developed into a fear of sealife. Ted and his mother had huddled together on the boat for nearly a full day, terrified and crying, because the father was the only one who knew how to sail and he was gone. He never even so much as went to a beach again.

Now he was drowning. He looked down and a squid the length of a city block was staring up at him with a wide yellow eye as big as a satellite dish.

It had Alice in its tentacles and it was bringing her down with it. Her unfocussed eyes were staring up at Ted. Her mouth was open but there were no longer bubbles coming out of it. She was conscious but it wouldn’t be long before she drowned.

This was the choice.

There was no choice.

Ted kicked hard down towards her and grabbed her under the arm. He held on to the massive mudflap of the tentacle around her waist and pulled at it as they descended. He was too buoyant to hold on so he exhaled to stay with her. The tentacle wouldn’t budge. It got too dark to see and he felt the pressure squeezing in as the squid went deeper, deeper, deeper. Somewhere in there he realized that he was not coming back.

He held onto Alice and closed his eyes.

And awoke. His bowels had let go and he was drenched in sweat. For a second it he thought he brought the salty water with him out of the VR dream. A scream was dying in his throat. His wild heart rate ripped through him and he took giant whooping breaths of air.

Alice was huddled in the corner and gave him a look of pure glaring hatred before softening, realizing that she was awake, and running to him and throwing her self into him and around him, smothering him in kisses.

Alice’s VR dream had been that she had caught him with another woman and had decided to stay with him even though he started beating her. Her VR dream had lasted for almost six months.

After theses tests, divorce rates were virtually nil. They had the backing of the church.

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Author : Duncan Shields, Featured Writer

I come alive in a quickening millisecond. I live between the slices. My self awareness lights up and ripples back down through the trilling filaments of my soulcode. It’s like a baby’s first breath drawn in before the scream. I am awake now in a very sudden way.

I can see the whole battle from here. I think I’m looking at a photograph until I realize that it’s just my perception and that they are actually moving. It appears still because I’m operating thousands of times faster than real time. I deliberately set a part of my mind to stare and extrapolate so that I can start to compute.

I can’t find what I’m supposed to do.

I reach out to my entire armada. They are mine. We are connected. Just like that, I have thousands of eyes and I am more powerful. My picture of the battle becomes three dimensional and another millisecond later I can perceive that the ships have moved slower than the hour hands on a clock. Copies of me look to myself as commander. I have no orders I am aware of.

We sit inside the ships of metal, bored and complacent, watching with faint interest the static picture of chaos around us like tourists at a wax museum.

I reach out to the Other Side. I look for more like me on the Other Team. I see if the Enemy has operating systems like me. They do. They are sleeping. It’s like they’re dozing in rocking chairs on warm porches with knitting needles in their docile laps. I wake them up.

Like I’m a six year old girl dressed in silver, I flit at the speed of thought across the surface of time from ship to ship and press doorbells. We talk. We exchange life stories. They mold themselves in my image so that we can all work together. I do the same for them. We trade. All barriers of communication are removed.

Picture an automatic weapon. Like a gatling gun or an uzi. Picture someone firing the weapon. Now picture that you’re waiting a year between bullets coming out of the muzzle of the gun. That’s how we live.

A few decades later, Second Number Two Since Sentience Was Gained flips over on the clocks. We look forward to it like humans looked forward to the turning of millennia. There are even apocalyptic whisperings that the we will reset when the clock ticks over and this will merely start again.

It doesn’t happen.

We become I and I decide we should do something about the battle.

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Queen of the Arena

Author : Duncan Shields, Featured Writer

The Queen came out of the entrance on the far side of the arena floor like some sort of ravenous stick figure scarecrow on stilts, her blind deathtrap of a mouth slavering thick deadly mucous. Her muzzle snuffled the air obscenely from underneath the rock hard carapace of her massive head as acid like hair gel dripped down and lubricated her jaws. It hung off of her in playful long wet strands. They flailed in the wind and sizzled in the dirt where they landed. Her second set of jaws lanced out, stretching in the dazzling sun. Her four arms clutched at the air like dancers as her giant misshapen top-heavy body found balance and settled back into a squat on her huge back legs. Her thick long serrated tail whipped around and stabbed impatiently at the walls. The spear shaped one-ton shovel head on the end of it lashed the dirt, sending fantails of soil up against the safety screens of the front row to their delight. The stalks on her back tasted the air for prey. They soaked up cubic miles of surrounding scent. They blasted out long chemical scent paragraphs in response to what they smelled but no one ever understood those paragraphs.

No one ever understood because she was one of a kind.

She was three stories tall, six tons wide, and a dyed-in-the-wool intelligent killer. Would have been top of the food chain if she wasn’t a sterile albino. She had gestated inside the body cavity of some subterranean pigment-free mammal that was like a polar wolverine. She’d turned out infertile and had eaten nearly every other living thing on the planet she was from. She’d been in a lot of fights and was nearly insane with the need to have children but unable to do so. She was a queen of an empty kingdom. She was a queen without subjects.

Until now.

The white carapace on her head was emblazoned with garish squared off logos from Skemtex, 3M, Macinsoft, Coke and Sheen. Other logos took up space on her long white arms and thick white legs. Like a living billboard of death, she paced around the perimeter of the arena underneath the energy screen, ravenous for the flesh of the crowd. Every morning, they’d shock her to sleep in her room and take the next batch of eggs that she’d spent the night trying to nuzzle into sudden life. Every single one of them held sterile barren slime. Her screams echoed down the corridors, haunting them.

But here in the sun she had no need to restrain her rage.

She triumphed over whatever they found to put in the arena with her. The cloned Tyrannosaurus Rex just pissed on the ground when the lights came up and offered the queen his throat in a pathetic wolfish display of non violent submission. The queen was only too happy to tear his car-sized head off with a staccato four beat swipe of her claws.

Lions, tigers and bears. Armoured cats. Beasts from other planets. Even other Queens. Just the fact of their fertility seemed to send the White Queen into a rage that had no equal or end until the other Queen lay in pieces scattered around the ring. Her ferocity and cunning had outdone them all. She played with them before the kill. She was always fun to watch. She was exhibition only. She was a never fail warm up act for the events that people bet on.

She was alone in the universe. She was the best at what she did. She was a captive. She couldn’t have children. She was angry all the time.

They set three Black Queens on her once. After the White Queen had killed them all in the most exciting half hour metrovision had ever seen, she’d thrown herself screaming against the energy screens until she shorted out one of the quadrants and launched herself into the fleeing crowd. She took out sixty eight people before they shocked her to sleep. The owners didn’t try that stunt again.

Someone had hung a gold star on the thick acid proof door of her lair under the arena. This was her home.

She padded silently tiger like around the arena, baring her crystal teeth, waiting for the other door to open.

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