Author : Steve Smith, Staff Writer

The air was heavy with the stench of decay and turbulent with dust. The walls reverberated with the sound of treads biting into the war torn asphalt outside. A man half crouched and half ran from one shattered row house to the next through holes broken in walls and battered door frames until an overturned bathtub offered itself as a hiding place, and he crawled gratefully inside. He pulled a well worn thermal blanket around himself and the infant girl strapped to his chest, careful not to leave any skin exposed to the scanners outside. He then ceased all motion, and waited.

It was not supposed to be like this. He would not have brought a daughter into this world if he’d have known that a day before her first birthday he’d be fighting for their lives hungry and homeless. It shouldn’t ever have come to this.

She seemed to understand, she never cried, never fussed, just curled up against his chest and waited with him patiently until the danger passed. These streets had been vacant for months, no one lived here, nothing lived here. Soon the patrols would leave and he would be able to forage food for them both in relative peace, at least for a time.

He could sense the prying electronic eyes burning through the walls, scrutinizing the spaces for any living creature they may have missed. He dared not move, he barely breathed for fear the warmth of his exhale would expose them, and all would be lost.

The grinding of the machines faded, yet still he waited until he could be sure it was safe before climbing out of the tub, and venturing tentatively outside.

A sudden flash of light on the horizon caught his eye, and he could but stand and stare as a wave of bright light walked the landscape towards him in silence, obscuring everything beyond it’s boundaries, bearing down on them like a judgement.

He clutched his daughter to his chest, and looking down, was suddenly caught in her gaze. This would have been her three hundred and sixty fifth day of life, and he’d failed to keep her safe. She stared back at him, eyes filled with a light of their own, of peace and understanding. He was still staring when the wall of light struck them.

Blinding light turned to utter blackness, blankness, and then the dizzying rushing of his world gave way suddenly to the sound of a new born baby’s cry.

“It’s a girl, you have a baby girl”. He followed the sound of the words on waves back to the nurse who had spoken them. “Would you like to hold her?” With trembling hands he accepted the pink mass wrapped in blankets and cradled her to his chest.

In the hall outside the delivery room, a news reporter spread across a wall of TVs spoke of unrest overseas, of diplomats trying to diffuse a delicate situation before it could escalate into armed conflict. He warned of a potential world war.

“It’s good luck you know, to have a daughter born on the first of the New Year.” The baby was silent now, straining half closed eyes against the light, trying it seemed to find his gaze with hers. “Have you picked out a name?”

He had. “Hope.” Speaking the name out loud released a torrent of emotions, tears suddenly streaming down his face. “We’ll call her Hope.”
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Author : Steve Smith, Staff Writer

Zero hour is struck on an instrument of time beyond the grasp of mortal men. Above the sky over the northern pole of the earth, a great creature slowly shakes off the remnants of a rather lengthy slumber.

Eight bristling legs unfold and stretch, then hoist aloft its swollen belly after having lain dormant for three hundred and sixty four revolutions of its ward below. Plucking silken web strings like a harp, the guardian navigates a path along the lines of longitude, effortlessly traversing the vast distances around the globe, from one pole to the other and back again, pausing only to check the latitudinal lines for damage or intruders.

The reflected moonlight shimmers and dances across eyes of a billion facets or more. In each of these facets, were you to get close enough to look, one would see a life reflected from the planet beneath. Through the sleeping months, the spindly spider sated itself on the love and loathing of the broken beings of the earth below, growing fat on the endless feast of emotions, and now, its web once again secured, she begins to weep. A single tear falls for each human being, tears cascading in sheets as she traverses the planet once more with meticulous care. Billions of droplets plummet to the earth as she covers every square mile of the globe, traversing the latitudes slowly so as to stay always in the hour of darkest night. As the slow moving blanket of astral droplets fall, each passes from the ethereal to the real, trailing behind a spiral of silken fiber, coiled and shimmering through the sky. Upon finally reaching the earth, each unfolds and on eight tiny legs of its own delivers its own self by following a signature trail of emotion to the place where the life of its origin sleeps. The tiny creatures negotiate a passage in through letterboxes, open windows or down cold chimneys to arrive at their predetermined destinations.

It is here that, were anyone present to see, one might question whether one was really awake, or simply in a state of childlike dreams. In each house, the tiny creature shakes rhythmically, drinking deeply of the wants and desires of their chosen one, fattening themselves on raw emotions before transforming themselves into some meaningful token to leave in their place, first spinning themselves into a cocoon of coloured silk and then metamorphasizing into some little trinket of deep personal meaning.

Having traversed the whole world again, and with her work now done, the guardian lumbers to the top of the northern pole once more, emotionally and physically spent, to slumber again, until another year has passed, and the time should come for her to awaken and restore the balance of wakeful dreaming once more.

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Author : Steve Smith, Staff Writer

The big bike tugged at his gloves, pleading for the roll of the wrist that would send the 6 cylinders into a frenzy of combustion and release. Patience. He eased out of the garage, coasting down the parking ramp onto the drive before gently throttling up to escape the confines of the ‘civilized’ community in which he lived.

Outside this walled world, miles of twisting and drifting asphalt were waiting.

The smell of hot metal and spent fuel evaporated in a torrent of burnt rubber, and then nothing but the rush of country air as he stretched out atop the gargantuan engine held aloft by two massive gyroscopes of alloy and polymer veneer.

This was what it meant to be alive.

The tach alarmed through each gear shift, redline overlaid in his visor as he pushed the hardware as far as his courage would allow. 200 kilometers came and went in a heartbeat as the world rushed towards him through the ghostly image of the speedometer, the machine purpose built for speed tightening and tuning on the fly. The countryside blurred, thousands of milestones on the periphery of his vision turned liquid in a single stream of molten landscape.

A sudden sharp rise in the road forced the suspension to load up, and as the bike flew over the crest of the hill, that potential released as bike and rider caught air and flew. The sudden rush of adrenaline and endorphins lasted only a fraction of a second before the image of a truck crashed through the ‘260’ emblazoned in his visor, through his brain and turned his world dark.

The light was faint at first, and there was the sound of some throaty beast heaving breaths nearby, keeping time with the rising and falling of his chest.

Antiseptic, and ammonia, the smells were unmistakable and cut through the haze. The light was bright now, and defined as he opened his eyes to the silhouette of a woman hovering over him.

“Nathan… Nathan, can you hear me?” The voice was pleasant, calming. A different voice spoke from somewhere nearby, one almost familiar. “Yes… what happened? Where am I?” Nathan realized the words were his own.

“You were in a terrible accident Nathan, you’re in the hospital now, you’ve been here for some time. It’s a good thing your RAAC tag was up to date.” He vaguely recalled the ‘Resuscitate At All Cost’ tag he’d been issued when he reached his eighteenth birthday and his donor commitment was up.

“They’ve done a wonderful job with you.” The cheerful voice moved around him now, straightening sheets.” I was able to get you prime plus a quarter on a twenty five year term, so you’ll be able to make reasonable payments. You were partially at fault, so the Insurance company only covered the basics. We’ll go over the documentation with you when you’ve started rehabilitation.” Nathan’s mind reeled, twenty five years of payments on what? He felt a sudden rush of anxiety.

“There will also need to be a change in your accommodations once you’re released. You’ll go through mandatory integration into a restricted community.” The woman stopped fussing for a moment and stepped back.

“Restricted?” Nathan puzzled aloud.

“Oh, yes, restricted. You lost both legs, one arm from the shoulder and one from the elbow. Your jaw and voicebox have both been replaced as have your kidneys, spleen and a significant portion of your digestive tract. Your left lung and two valves in your heart are new and your torso has been extensively reskinned. You were above the threshold for integration for a while there Nathan, until your second kidney failed, but I’m afraid that tipped the scale.”

“Scale?” Nathan’s voice shook as the scope of his injuries began to set in.

“The Scale Nathan, your Humanity Index. I’m afraid with the amount of synthetic material in you, you no longer meet the burden of humanity, and as such we can’t exactly integrate you with the mainstream communities. You’ll be found work, of course, and a residence. Don’t worry Nathan, we won’t abandon you, we do pride ourselves on being humane.”

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Persistence of Vision

Author : Steve Smith, Staff Writer

The human eye is made up of two different types of photoreceptive elements known as rods and cones. These elements convert the light from everything you look at into information that is passed electrochemically to the brain for interpretation.

An interesting characteristic of this mechanism of data capture and delivery is that each time the rods and cones fire, they must reset before firing again. This creates a constant repeating pattern of image data interspersed with microscopic moments of the absence of data. The human brain fills in these moments of blindness in order to maintain the illusion of a constant uninterrupted visual reality. This phenomenon is known as the persistence of vision.

We know that these microscopic voids in data extend to the other mechanisms of human sensory perception. Your brain maintains a ghost or echo of the sight or sound it captures to fill in the gaps while the input mechanism is offline, readying itself for more real data. The brain is highly adept at compensating for and thus hiding the staccato gapping of your senses.

The amount of time spent by the brain waiting for real data from your senses is considerable. We are going to capitalize on these moments of sensory inactivity. We are going to teach you things in the troughs of the sensory wave.

We will teach you languages. We will bestow upon you skills. You will learn how to build things, and to deconstruct things. You will know how to organize and execute plans you would not now dream possible.

We are going to prepare you.

You will learn of the people you will be entrusted to protect. You will come to know the operational mandate. You will accept it as truth.

We will show you how your leaders have lied.

When the time comes, you will be ready.

We will impart all of this knowledge unto you while no one is looking.

Not even you.

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Guess Who's Coming to Dinner

Author : Steve Smith, Staff Writer

The two of them sat facing each other in the living room, the father and the fidgeting male his daughter had brought home to meet him.  From the kitchen came snatches of conversation, the talk in excited giggles of things only a mother and daughter could talk about with such euphoric fervor.  The two men just surveyed each other warily, awkwardly looking for the right words with which to start a conversation.

‘You’ll have to forgive me, but I’m afraid I’m not quite sure what to say in situations like this.’ It was the father that broke the silence.

‘Sir?’ The younger male looked up quizzically. ‘Situations sir?’

‘You see, my daughter has brought home boys before, not many mind you, don’t get the wrong idea, but this is the first time…’ He trailed off, uncertain how to continue. He shifted his weight in his seat, crossing and uncrossing his legs as he adjusted his shirt cuffs before continuing. ‘Have you had children son?’

‘No sir, I’m a little young for that’, the boy answered, shaking his head, ‘and your daughter, well sir, she’s the first girl that I’ve ever really thought about having a family with.’

‘I see.’ The answer seemed to perplex the father, and he leaned forward, hunching his shoulders. ‘Well imagine yourself for a moment, in a few years, with a daughter…’ the father began, pausing to clear his throat before continuing, ‘…imagine that your daughter came home one day, after having been away for almost a year, and never having mentioned that she was engaged, she introduced you to… well…’ he stopped again, the task of putting his current thought into language was causing him obvious distress.

‘What if she brought home a creature like me?’ The boy, obviously keenly aware of the fathers discomfort, spared him the burden of the words.

‘Yes, I’m sorry – you must understand…’ The father, visibly relieved, tried to justify his unspoken but apparent position. ‘I don’t mean you any prejudice, it’s just your species, these couplings – this is all very new to me.’

‘Sir, were my daughter to bring a partner home to meet me, I would have to believe that she saw something special enough in him to want to share her feelings with her family, and I’d do my best to see what she saw too. I’d trust that she knew her feelings for him better than I could, and I’d try my best to be happy for them both.’

The father sat back, and smiled at the words spoken by this strange, alien creature before him.  The boy was right. He had to trust his daughter’s judgement, and this boy seemed to be a decent enough fellow. They’d have their challenges to be sure. Not everyone could understand these inter species unions that were only just becoming known to the public, and were far from common. It was the very least he could to be supportive.

The father raised himself from his chair to tower over the boy as the youth nervously clambered to his feet. The father spoke, and as he did so, he extended one strong chitinous hand to the young man, inviting him to shake it. ‘You seem to have won my daughters heart, and that’s no easy task, so I’ll welcome you then, as the first human to enter our home in peace.’ They smiled, each in his own way openly relieved.

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