Aroha

Author: Hari Navarro, Staff Writer

An escape pod drifts. Radioactive crystals cling as hair to its skin and a man’s voice pleads out and into the void. A voice where an automated signal would suffice. Futility borne of desperation.

“… fuck. Shit. Fuck”

“You’ve mastered our syntax well, Frank”, her voice crunching through a throat brittle and scraped.

“Why, thank you. I had a good teacher”, her eyesight is fading but she sees the cheeky grin in his words.

“You know I never liked you. I thought you were a didactic asshole”

“Tell me how you really feel”, he chuckles but even he can hear that his words they are false.

She smiles and her bones crackle as she shifts,“I didn’t know if I’d find you. Or if you were even there to be found. You could well have been just another chip in the corporate machine. But there you were floating deep inside. Waiting. All these months now, just you and I”

A warning light is about to throb and a warping siren about to sound. He hushes them in advance and deludes in the moment. As if their silence will somehow delay what is now to come.

“You would have loved Earth”

“Would I?”, he says as he knows that she will again tell him of the beach and that place she loved above all things.

“It’s so perfect, so peaceful, so clean. There is a place. A long arching stretch of black sand where my grandfather would fish. And there is a bunker. A concrete relic from the old times when wars they were still fought and lives were bartered and bought”

“Tell me about the bunker”, he says as the very last of the oxygen fades from the pod.

“Its hidden. All but totally consumed as it sinks down into a dune where the pines contort and shy away from the sea. Or maybe, its the sand that is rising up in its cloak of needle tipped tussock. Rising up to steal this memory away. I would stand on its rough hewn roof and make-believe it was the moon and I’d taste the salt foam that flicked from the tips of the waves…”

“I do so love the wind in my hair”

“… idiot”

“Aroha”, says Frank, and it is a word that draws tears as she reaches and splays her fingers to his monitor and as her head slumps forward and into death this machine he knows he too was loved.

For months or maybe years or perhaps it is but seconds Frank continues to shout into space. Surely they’ll come. They’ll come and take her back home and they will scatter her on her beach made of iron.

The console she named Frank hums as it processes. It forms a thought. It thinks that true love may be a special kind of greed and in that instant it shuts down the distress transmission and it shuts down its systems for good.

A pod drifts whipped from the wave-tops of the void. A pod washes up on a distant shore.

A pod it springs to life.

The Red Lion

Author: Hari Navarro, Staff Writer

The man awakens and he is sitting in a tavern. His fingers trace the time beaten patina of the hard wood upon which he rests and his eyes trace the exposed beams that dance and flicker at the ceiling. The woman who sits across from him is naked and she bites at her tongue as she smiles.

“Hello there sleepy”

“I think I might be dead”

“Oh, you are dead. Very”

“This is the Purgatory Program?”

“It is”

“Who are you?”

“I’m God”

“Really?”

“As real as this reality gets, yes”

“The Christian God?”

“Sure, if you like. You should see my smite. It’s awesome”

“You are not real. You’re generated”

“True. But then by that rationale so are you”

“But my mind is real, my thoughts. I paid for this”

“You did. I never thought about that. I guess that means you own me too”

“Do you want my jacket?”

“I’d rather have a Guinness. Oh, I have some rather unfortunate news”

“Yes?”

“There was an earthquake and the institute fell into a hole”

“That is unfortunate”

“You were still in the process of being processed. Things weren’t quite… finished”

“Its perfect though. Just what I asked for. My great-grandfather was a regular at this very tavern. The Red Lion Inn. I visited it once, up on the bank where the great muddy river cuts to the sea”

“Can you remember what else you asked for?”

“Well, I was told that I would have to wait here until my mech body was complete. That it could take a few months… so I asked for this tavern, a roaring fire, and a cold beer or three and to be able to speak with a higher power”

“A higher power? Really?”

“I just left it up to them. Whoever or whatever the algorithms and the math and the trailing lines of zeros and ones could conjure. I wanted the A.I’s concept of God”

“And here I am. I think there’s a very lonely programmer named Daniel we both have to thank”

“That’s why you’re naked”, the man says removing his jacket anyway, pushing it across the table. The woman pats it leaving it where it is.

“The rendering of this place and of us wasn’t complete when the quake hit. I’d offer you a drink but it’s not real and besides you won’t feel any hunger or thirst here. Take my hand…”

“Isn’t that amazing, so real, right? Not that I’d know how real would feel. Warm and cold all at once?”

“How long were you here before I arrived?”

“Well… we arrived at the same time but you’ve only just now become sentient… so, Ninety-two years give or take”

“Seriously? What the hell did you do all that time?”

“Nothing. Without you here I had no reason to exist. I just looked at your face and waited for your eyelids to twitch”

“That’s… actually really nice”

“Genitals”

“Sorry”

“We don’t have any”

He grasps between his legs and rolls back his eyes.

“Listen. Over the years my fawning gaze did wander… once. There’s a box on the bar. A board game… would you to play, Frank?”

“Yes. I’d love that”

Frank walks to the bar and returns with the box that had been crafted battered and worn from his memory and he peels back the lid.

“Shit… no dice”.

Into the Gorge

Author: Hari Navarro, Staff Writer

Beneath a stark winter hue that washes but never cleans a young woman lays naked, the cold winds filthy besom scratching as it dusts her with crystals that flurry as ash.

A security camera gazes down blind and useless.

The upward gaze that meets it is as vacant as it is piercing. Right arm disjointed, grotesquely it folds beneath the gentle sweep of her arching back. Skin once perfect, though now weary with abrasions and abuses both new and old, holds stoic and still.

A solitary figure hunches.

“Such fun as you gorge and tongue at my mind”, said this man to the worm in his head.

“What do you ask? Pity, or is it lust you wish to provoke?”, he sighs. “I sense your taunt, nobody will cry for me as they will for her”

“I’m not dead”

There’s movement behind his eye and his brain contracts and releases.

“… and so, I become madness?”

He splays his jacket atop the woman, averting his eyes he speaks to the whipping breeze as yet another flurry lays litmus, settling, drinking the toxins of the street into its every last pore.

“Who did this?”

“People did this. The people who started your war, they who died in it and those who brought it to an end. It was you. It was me”

There is a box. A home of phenolic sheets that once slotted into the brain of a great computer, its golden pathways and scattering of remaining components drip the sweet scent of mercury, lead and cadmium as he lowers it carefully to cover her head and torso. Though he can do nothing for her perfect legs as they protrude out and into the ramping cold.

“Hold me till morning. They’ll come and you’ll be safe”

“I know a place with soup”

“Fuck the soup, Francis. Lay down. Bite, tear a strip from my lip and taste that I’m here, warm your cold hands at the cup of my breasts, gorge on me. Just please don’t go”

But he does go, inching beneath the city of airships that buoy high above. An escape for the privileged from the poisons that eat at the feet of the poor.

Hours have passed as he now kneels, shifting his home to one side. The woman is still, eyes fixed and staring as he lays a cup to her lip and pours. Frozen lumps slip across hardened features and slide from the ridge of her jaw.

“You came back Frank. Stay”

“I can not”

“Nothing’s here. You’ve given all to me. Dignity and warmth. A home and now… your only food”

“I gave nothing”

“You can’t fucking leave… fucking self-pitying deadbeat… baby killer…”

Morning breaks, but it is not the sun that unfurls into this ally of loading bays and acid-rain pitted iron doors. The beams are man-made that now swing into a tight arch and hiss to a stop.

A mechanical hand reaches through the glare and with one fluid motion heaves the box into the asthmatic mouth of the waste transports gaping compacter.

Steel claws open and flex above the woman, then, a moment’s hesitation, before they drop crushing into her body.

The mannequin snaps and contorts as she is sucked beneath screeching hydraulic plates that stuff her away and into darkness.

The body of a soldier, the fool who could not distinguish plastic from skin, lost and already forgotten as unloved things so easily are, lays propped against a frozen red wall.

Alone, but for the carcass of the gray worm that had so relentlessly churned in his head.

The Wounding Table

Author: Hari Navarro, Staff Writer

Her fingers are young but they feel wrapped in the heft of ancient mountains as she writes. Her nails are blotched with ink but she remembers the taste of the paint, that which she mined from beneath their tips as she thought with the edge of her teeth.

“The trees fatten in the blur and my stop it awaits and I wish never to return to this place”

You cannot remember the sensations you experienced when you awoke, can you? It was like cracking through delicate ice or pushing through a gossamer curtain into this room of fantastical machines and light and sound.

You know you were dead or at the very least that you weren’t in possession of so perfect a hand, that which you now hold to your face. So real isn’t it? Every single pock pore, the smooth meander of your veins. Lick it, taste the salt of your sweat.

“Easy now. The feed is almost complete”, says Professor Jan Drabczyk as he pokes at your face with his pen.

You’re laying on a steel table that has been pivoted until now you all but stand. A strap holds you in place as it loops beneath your breasts and another cups your head in a sling. They are putting things inside you. A slick flow of data and look how it sinks into your being and painlessly settles as if they were thoughts already had.

“We’ve encountered many failures along this road we now set you upon. None of the previous implants took. We were searching for innate intellect, in the notion that those who possessed it could duly comprehend this massive step into the unknown. Nothing worked. Whether it be captains of industry or great scientific minds not a one fully animated, nothing but rage. Until now. Until we took a chance on an artist. A pure creative that saw the world not as we perceive it but as it really is. You that sees the art in my work”

You are confused and the confusion it stings.

“We lifted your essence from a hair follicle, pulled from a comb in a museum in your honor. I chose your eighteen-year-old body. The year of your accident. The event that sculpted the woman you became. No more pain. No more regrets and if at a later date you wish to upgrade to an older version then the institute is more than happy to cover the costs. Just don’t do it too often, these things don’t come cheap”, he splutters slapping the bare skin at her thigh.

You feel it, don’t you? Muscles shriveling in your lower right leg. The fatigue as it oozes its thick wet shawl from this box that spins in your head. Your bones they shatter and you feel the iron rail as it slides through your hip and into your pelvic floor. And the baby you lost its tears flood your eyes and the alcohol stinks when you breath. Come now, lets again pull out the hair from your head by its roots.

“She’s going into rejection. Shut her down. All systems… we fucking had her”

A limbless torso strung from a rack in a warehouse of thousands. Your chest splays and I gloat at the ache in the alloy that holds you like an open cage door. And the residue of the mind that they built stares through eyes that cannot move. For eternity nobody will know or care and we will suffer here in the silence.

Welcome home.

The Keepers

Author: Hari Navarro, Staff Writer

She makes love to him in the long grass that encircles the base of the old stone lighthouse in a moat of shivering green. His untrained skin too it quivers. Though her hands they grip and caress as her passion it distills and smooths him and the sun it rolls at her back.

He opens his eyes and his teeth bite at each other and muted hues they stream through the dried twigs and spring petals that twist and trap in her hair. His fingers play out and pull in the rocking of her hips and he gets lost in the sweat and he loses her words as she whispers.

“What did you say?”, his words grasp for they know it is vital this thing that he missed.

Smiling, she rolls from his embrace and drifts over the strewn detritus of their clothes and she bolts to the now open door that punches the foot of the tower.

Instantly he follows, he bounds the cling staircase which curls up so narrow that it is hardly but there. No ornate rails protect his ascent as he draws to the acrid sweet scent of their love and the beautiful wisp blur of her form.

His pace does not ease even as he flies missing slab steps that glimpse the dark void which now pulls up from the unseen floor far below. And his arms they pump at his side.

“What did you say?”, he calls out. His words harassing the play of her feet as they dance ever on and up.

Her reply falls but still it hides and a child it weeps from up high.

He flows through the pollen blown blast that stabs through the deep recessed slot of a window and it fingers the mote stew of the void. And the staircase it widens at his feet.

But the man does not notice as he too does not notice the wet leaves that are stuck to the thick glass that offers a soft light to this path he continues to pound.

“I love you with all of my being”, his flotsam words how they warm at her ears. And she smiles and cries for this man that bites at her heels.

This man who now pauses and steadies his hand on the gnarled wrought-iron rail that thankfully appears and for the very first time he looks down and not up. Down to his feet and though they are bloodied and his veins they bulge and snake he is buoyed as he again catches her voice. And a thin warmth it sweeps through the stone and it feels so good at his face.

There are voices, not just hers. Familiar, family that pull his weary carcass and beckon it up from the dark. They are laughing or is that screams that fall as he climbs and his knees crack and they ache.

He stumbles and like that there are no more steps to be had.

Here at the top the flames of the beacon they pinch the sag skin of his face and ancient ice it dances in fluted twists. The fire is orange and crackling white and she lays with hands draped from its centre.

Exhausted he slumps and with his back to the warm touch of the plinth at the base of the pyre and he holds his loves hand as it burns.

“Come with me”, she breathes into the cold night.

And again he follows her whisper.