Concentrated Data

Author: Steve Smith, Staff Writer

Abby woke with a start, a conversation with someone vaguely familiar against a kaleidoscope oceanview suddenly vanishing, dulcet tones replaced with a hockey organ ringtone her ex had programmed that couldn’t seem to be exorcised from her phone.

“Good morning, you’ll want to get a robe on, our package is about to arrive.”

The voice was familiar, but she wasn’t expecting anything, was she?

She jammed her feet into raccoon slippers, pulled on an Osaka Spa terry robe she’d liberated years ago, and shuffled towards the front door, startling as the buzzer sounded.

“Sign here,” the brown uniform all business, presenting a tablet and a pen, then, formalities behind them, wheeled a Pelican case taller than her into the front hall before turning and leaving without another word.

There was a label stuck to the front of the case above a hand-shaped impression. “Push Here” was scribbled on the label in a typeface a little too uniform to be hand drawn. She placed her hand flat on the depression and withdrew it quickly, a needle prick in her palm slowly oozing blood.

“Motherfucker,” she spoke out loud to the empty hall, and sucked the blood from her palm, staring suspiciously at the towering plastic case.

The hockey organ ringtone again.

“Sorry about that,” the familiar voice again answered, “we should get started.”

Abby needed coffee, and abandoned the monolith, turning towards the kitchen, taking the phone and the familiar voice with her.

“Who are you, and what is this thing? I didn’t order this, it’s blocking my hallway, and the lock stabbed me.” She fitted a pod into the coffee machine, positioned a mostly clean mug under the spout, and waited.

“You completed three telephone surveys over the last six months, and based on your feedback, employment, relationship status, and your browsing habits, we’ve determined you to be an ideal candidate.”

“Candidate for what? You’re supposed to ask permission before you send appliances to someone, what have you volunteered me for exactly?”

“You’ll want to get the door again.”

Abby had just retrieved the mug of coffee when the front door buzzed a second time. Frustrated, she shuffled down the hall, squeezed past the towering obstacle, and opened the door.

Another driver handed her a much smaller box, which she also signed for.

Back inside she opened the new package to find a very large, thick-plastic bag with a zipper running from one end to the other.

Puzzled, she squeezed through the gap and headed back towards the kitchen, pausing as the capsule hissed open behind her.

“What the actual fuck…”

She stopped mid-sentence. Inside the case stood the spitting image of her, moisture glistening on her bare skin, hair slicked back, but definitely, unmistakably her.

“The bag arrived a little early, I suppose it will save a little cleanup.” Mirror Abby stepped clear of the capsule and into the hall, leaning her head all the way left then right, the cracking of the neck joint echoing in the small space. “Please put the coffee on the counter, I’m going to want that when I’m finished.”

“We just needed your DNA to calibrate the appliance, sorry about the prick.”

Mirror Abby spoke in the voice she realized was familiar because it was hers, just spoken at her, not by her.

“Not the worst thing that’s going to happen today, I’m afraid.”

Safe Route

Author: Steve Smith, Staff Writer

Rip cleared everything off the dining room table, piling books on top of placements on the sideboard, and his discarded sweater over the back of one of the chairs.

“Doris, give me a map of the continent.”

He’d been dreaming of making the trip from his home on the shores of Hudson Bay to Southern California for as long as he could remember. A roadtrip to end all roadtrips.

“Continental map. Topographical, weather, street…”

Rip cut off the disembodied voice mid-sentence.

“Street maps. Local destinations, points of interest”

The surface of the table was bathed in monochromatic light, a surface map of the continent in three dimensions, with a softly strobing green light at the point at the edge of the bay where they lived.

“Plot me a route to Baja.”

A point at the southwestern point of the map glowed blue, and a spider web of light traces crawled across the map, highlighting highways and city streets as Doris carefully routed multiple possible ways of making the journey.

“No extreme right-wing towns or cities, I don’t want to deal with any crazies on the way.”

Doris dutifully dimmed large segments of the map, the light paths through those areas rerouting around them or winking out completely.

“Plot appropriate fuel stops, give us twenty percent margin for extenuating circumstances.”

Red lights peppered the routes at intervals, Doris adjusting routes as necessary so as not to leave segments too long for the range of the Land Cruiser.

“Steer clear of any super religious communities. You know how I get into trouble with those book thumpers.”

More large pockets of the map dimmed, more routes were moved, and still more winked out of existence.

“No rest stops or overnights in vegan territory. I mean, I don’t begrudge them their diet, but it’s not for me.”

Large portions of the western edge of the map were lost in gloom, the number of paths now easily countable.

“No guns. I don’t want to see them. No concealed carry states either.”

Most of the rest of the map dimmed out of focus.

“No forest fire zones, no drought zones.”

Small pockets and a handful of wildly snaking paths remained.

“And make sure there’s healthcare, just in case anything happens.”

The map all but disappeared, leaving only a green and blue point of light glowing in the darkness at opposite corners of the table, worlds apart.

Doris locked the door, and her disembodied voice asked gently “Shall I just order some Thai food and find a nice movie to watch.”

Rip stared at the darkened table glumly before nodding and wandering off to the living room without another word.

Latent. See.

Author: Steve Smith, Staff Writer

I’d never dreamed before, at least not that I could remember.

Sure, a lifetime in that chair, I’d hoped for things, but that’s different. Sleep was always empty, vacant. Dreamless.

Ever since I’ve become a retread, the visions have been relentless. This reclaimed meatsuit must have been saturated in deeply emotional experiences, and when they bleached it, some of them didn’t wash out.

Most of these meatsuits come from habitual offenders; death row inmates, the irredeemable dregs of society. Their family gets a payout, they get off the hook early, and people like me born with a body broken in all the wrong places get another chance.


I don’t know where this meatsuit came from, and the plastics work had all been done before I moved in, so I can’t even track down the history by likeness, but there’s something about these fragments that I see when I close my eyes that are undeniable, unavoidable, unnerving.

Standing here, now, at this intersection, I can understand why.

The wreaths are still wired to the guardrail, and the crosses, while leaning, remain stuck in the dirt.

Despite all efforts to wash it away – wind, rain, time – the evidence remains. Undeniable. Unavoidable.

If I close my eyes, the road, the railing, her eyes. It’s all so clear to me now.

I understand how someone could want not to relive these memories, be prepared to not inhabit this body anymore to be free of them.

I don’t blame them.

In time, I’m not sure I’ll be able to stay in here with them either.

In Absentia

Author: Steve Smith, Staff Writer

Rachel scrolled through what passed for news on her phone, coffee slowly cooling on the kitchen table. Malcolm would already be at work, leaving her in peace for this precious little time before she herself had to get dressed and head to the office.

She looked up as the kitchen light flickered and went out, and when she looked back Malcolm was seated across from her at the table. She jumped at his unexpected appearance.

“What the…,” she started, then froze.

She could clearly see the flowery wallpaper of the far kitchen wall through Malcom’s shirt, a shirt she didn’t recognize, and he’d somehow managed to grow the better part of a beard since he’d kissed her in bed that morning.

“Hey sweetheart,” he said, his voice tinny, flat, “sorry if I startled you.”

She looked around the kitchen for the telltale sign of a projector, assuming that this was some kind of practical joke.

“Rachel,” he waited until he had her attention again, “this isn’t a trick. We’ll talk about this after when I get home, and I won’t know what you’re talking about. I built this machine in your future, I wanted to see if I could come back to this moment and talk to you. I wasn’t sure if this would work, but I hoped it would.”

She studied his face and searched for something in his expression that might give away the joke, but she knew him well enough to realize he was serious.

“How far in the future?”

“It doesn’t matter, just the future.”

“I don’t understand,” she started turning her coffee cup as she spoke, thoughts racing through her head, “What’s it like there, or then I suppose.” She laughed, and he smiled, face full of emotion.

“It’s much the same, you know, nothing much I can say without risking changing things, you know how the paradox rules go.”

She nodded. “So what can you tell me? You look good, though I’m not sure about the beard, I can’t imagine me letting you get away with growing that damn thing, but clearly, I’ve softened. Any stock tips? Do the Leafs ever win the cup?” She laughed again, that dig never getting old with her.

“I’m not sure I should have done this,” he ignored her questions, “I wasn’t sure I could, locking onto a time, and a point in space that’s so far away from where I am right now, I didn’t dare to hope, but…”

He paused, studying every line, every curve, every freckle on her face, committing it once again to memory.

“But I missed you.”

And with that, Rachel found herself alone in her kitchen once more.


Author: Steve Smith, Staff Writer

“Traffic’s wild tonight,” the driver offered, making brief eye contact in the rearview mirror.

She gave him a thin smile but didn’t respond. She caught her reflection in the Plexi partition and wondered if he noticed her eyes. Wondered if this disguise would survive the evening.

She reapplied lipstick and steadied her nerve. She could hold it together a little while longer.

On arrival, the driver was paid without a word, a cash transaction and an unremarkable tip. She wondered if he’d even remember her in the sea of faces and fares on just another California evening.

The security seemed laid back and lax, but there were familiar bulges under loose-fitting jackets that spoke of imminent violence should the need arise.

The gentleman receiver scanned her invitation and checked against the guest list.

“Weather’s mild tonight,” he spoke without looking up, “you’re all set. Welcome, I hope you have a pleasant evening.”

She smiled a practiced cocktail smile and drifted past him without a word.

Did he suspect? Surely not, or he would have stopped her there at the gate, where she could have been dealt with out of view of the other guests.

She breathed the salt from the breeze off the ocean, composed herself, and walked the ground-lit pathway towards the polite cacophony emanating from the expansive grounds where the party was in full swing.

A waiter appeared with a tray of drinks, and she helped herself, sipping the cold martini while in flight, sucking the fat olive from the skewer, feeling the flesh tear between her teeth. She’d never cease to enjoy that sensation.

She drained the glass and exchanged it for a fresh one before slipping into the sea of suits and low-cut cocktail dresses, her senses aroused, she was hunting now.

For hours she drifted from pocket to pocket of vapid socialites, nodding and smiling at the talk of fashion, of celebrity, the latest jaunt to the South of France, or Monaco. She observed the object of her interest make his way among the crowd as well, shaking hands and kissing cheeks. She orbited the space opposite him, catching his occasional glance, but never allowing him to close the distance between him.

When everyone was starting to sway a little, when the voices got a bit loud, the laughter overly pronounced, she slipped away and into the house. She made her way toward the bedrooms, avoiding confrontation with anyone, but staying in plain sight of the cameras.

He’d be on notice and would follow. The low cut of her dress and his masculine drive to seek out in earnest that which had eluded him all evening guaranteed it.

She waited in his bedroom, sat in the highback armchair under the window, and clocked the passing time.

He wasted none of it.

“You’re not supposed to be here, you know that, don’t you?” The question in a mock-serious tone.

She crossed the room to meet him, held out both arms, wrists up, submissive.

“Are you going to arrest me?” Her tone was coy, inviting.

He put his hands atop hers, slid them towards her, and wrapped his fingers around her wrists, so delicate that his fingers touched easily.

She did the same, her fingers closed around his wrists, and then continued wrapping, snakelike, coiling around and around his arms.

She locked her eyes with his, and he found he couldn’t move.

She entered him, then, through the flesh of his wrists, puncturing the bone to the very marrow, feeling the flesh part for her as she exited her spent shell for this new one.

She’d never cease to enjoy this sensation.

They broke eye contact from this new point of view, the flesh of their previous host sublimating before them, the dress settling to the floor atop a pair of heels and a clutch that would be easily disposed of in the morning.

He adjusted his cuffs as he rejoined the perimeter of the party and motioned to security.

“Get them all the fuck out of my house.”

Climbing the social ladder was exhausting, and he very much needed to sleep.