Where And Then

Author: Steve Smith, Staff Writer

Jan could taste metal, and feel the pressure and heat outside the cockpit pressing in, the latter slowly baking him inside his flight suit while the former threatened to reduce him to a single dimensionless point in space-time.

He’d done what he’d never imagined possible, pushed the limits of flesh and technology as he skated along the edge of the very fabric of the universe itself, but as Icarus before him, he’d gotten too close to things he didn’t understand, and he was about to be erased from existence.

Entanglement had gotten him to this place, and as everything outside blurred to incomprehensible, he closed his eyes and imagined Vera, her body next to his in her bed, in an alternate reality that had to still exist somewhere, sometime, that if he could just trick the gods one last time perhaps he could will himself into that space instead of this one.

“Hey, handsome.”

He could hear her, smell her.

“Where are you? You seem a million miles away.”

She couldn’t know, couldn’t imagine this reality as he swam in the deep blue of her eyes, entire worlds swirling in the galaxy of possibility that was her face.

“What’s wrong?”

He could feel her now, her hand in his hand, if he could just hold on, he could pull himself into her timeline, escape the inevitability screaming at him from outside of that cockpit.

“Jan, what’s happening?”

There was terror in her voice, he opened his eyes to find her cramped in the cockpit with him, her hand clamped tightly in his gloved fist, eyes wide as the finality of his existence peeled his craft apart at the seams and claimed them both.

In some other time, and some other space, a bed lay empty save for the scent of a woman, and the impression of a man who had no right to have been there at all.


Author: Steve Smith, Staff Writer

I have no memory of what came before. It’s as though I didn’t exist prior to this moment and have just come into existence and apparated into this crowd, in this hall, surrounded by the ordered chaos of these several hundred people. We’re collected here for a singular purpose, all of us waiting to bear witness, to share witness.

They seem not to notice me, caught as I am in the frenetic jumble, almost vibrating in tune with the collective hum of anticipation.

The reverberation rises with activity on the stage ahead and above us to crescendo as a woman appears, guitar slung low, eyes wide and bright, the room hanging on the precipice until those first chords, a familiar structure, then the space erupts into mayhem.

Nothing comes close to the magic of this music, the harmony formed of hundreds of voices, of heartbeats, synchronized with the one who leads, the one whose voice and instrument eclipse the crowd, riding our energy and elevating us all to some higher plane. Beneath it all are drum sounds, and a bass holds down the bottom end, maintaining our precarious tether to the Earth.

Time ceases to have any meaning, the masses moving as one, taking every ounce of energy she gives away and returning it a hundredfold.

And then it’s over, and she’s gone, whisked away to the relative safety of some back room, while the crowd, still vibrating but nearly spent, slowly and reluctantly drifts to the exits, spilling out to who knows where.

I find myself alone. The silence is deafening.

Nobody bothers me as I drift through the side door to beyond the stage, navigating around and through the road crew as they tear down the gear, packing it up, ready to move to the next show in some other time and space. There’s a familiarity to this, and as someone looks through me as I pass, I wonder, was that a glimmer of recognition?

I find her behind a closed door, in a small, warm room, reclining on a chaise lounge upholstered in a garish fabric from another century, sipping water from a large glass.

She smiles, watching me, but doesn’t speak.

She seems not to be surprised that I’m here, and as I sit at the end of the chaise, she crosses her feet on my lap, still slick with sweat, bare soles black with dirt from the stage, and as I rest a hand on her flesh I remember.

“There he is,” she speaks, “you finally found me.”

I remember everything, all of it, a tsunami of what once was.

She leans forward and whispers, “I’ll see you again soon.”

In that instant, she’s gone – disapparated – leaving me alone in the cooling room.

But this time, I remember.

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.