60 Seconds

Author : Steve Smith, Staff Writer

Levon regarded the timepiece in his hand carefully, balanced on an open palm as if weighing it, he frowned, then spoke. “Sixty seconds,” his words brought nods and murmurs of agreement from the small crowd gathered around him, the sounds rolling away to be swallowed by the blackness of the parking garage where they’d chosen to gather on this night.

He carefully wound the outer ring of the watch face one complete turn, feeling rather than hearing it click through the seconds. He paused a moment, letting the tension in the crowd steep, feeling the weight of their gaze upon him. With a practiced motion he depressed the crown and rolled it forward slowly, deliberately, until it could be wound no more. He could feel the energy of the tightly compressed spring, quivering with anticipation within the case in his hand.  “Ready?” it was unclear if the question was directed at the crowd, or himself, but there were a few more hurried exchanges, then a nod from Charlie and two thumbs up.

It was time.

Levon made sure the watch’s tether was wrapped tightly around his wrist, then plunged both hands into the kangaroo pocket of his hoodie. His eyes clenched tightly shut, he tugged the crown back into position, setting the works of the timepiece into motion.  He could feel the energy flow through him as the tight coil began to unwind. He reeled for only a moment with the dizzying nausea that always accompanied the ticking of this particular clock. He knew better than to open his eyes, he’d made that mistake only once, and had waking nightmares for months after. The human mind was not meant to see some things.

The momentary yaw and pitch ceased, and new sounds and sensations leaked into his consciousness, begging him to open his eyes. Disoriented, he felt his feet sink slightly into wet sand, and then the air was suddenly alive with staccato snapping as it blistered and split all around him.  He froze as men in uniforms sprinted past him up a beach, only to stagger back and fall in a relentless hailstorm of bullets.  A sudden impact from behind knocked him to the ground, and winded he could barely hear the voice screaming as a figure clambered over him “Get your bloody head down, or you’ll get it shot…” the remainder of the warning was torn violently away in a barrage of gunfire.

Levon curled up on the ground, trying to disappear into the blood slick sand. ’55, 54, 53…’ A boy, no older than he fell backwards to land upside down and face to face with him, his eyes filled with the terror that comes with one’s last seconds ’50, 49, 48…’ The stench of immediate death burned his nose, the screams of the dying assailed his ears mercilessly. All around the frantic yelling of men trying hopelessly to stay alive. Levon squeezed his eyes shut tight, but could do nothing to block out the image of this dying boys eyes, bright, blue, vacant. His ears offered no protection against the deafening audible horror all around. ’40, 39, 38…’ He was sure that he was going to die here, on a beach he had no reason to see, in a time in which he didn’t belong, and for what? A couple of hundred dollars and a brief rush of adrenaline? ’25, 24, 23…’ This was pure insanity, every other time had been fields of flowers, landscapes painted in snow. He’d never seen a soul before. ’18, 17, 16…’ Levon opened his eyes, the boy still staring, lifeless, the color in his eyes having run out. The dirt coated face and the bloodied lips etched themselves into Levon’s mind, forming a caricature of a life blown apart, and those eyes… ’13, 12, 11…’ Reflexively he squeezed his own eyes shut again, ‘5, 4, 3…’ this boy just one of many that had died so Levon could have the freedoms he’d enjoyed his whole life. And this was the best he could do, using stolen tools and mocking these sacrifices for beer money?

He did his best to compose himself as he snapped back into the crowded parking space. Half hearted praise, the sounds of money begrudgingly changing hands, these things leaked in muted tones into his consciousness. These noises were meant for another Levon, the Levon he’d left on a beach in some other time. He knew there were things the human mind was not meant to see, for once seen one could never look at the world in the same way again.

“Double or nothing,”  Charlie’s voice slipped in through the haze, “double or nothing?”.

“No,” his voice came from somewhere else too, “no, I’m done, I’m all out of time.”

Made in Korea

Author : Steve Smith, Staff Writer

“Man – this is awesome!” John was in a state of constant verbal barrage, his voice unnaturally loud above the diner chatter as he overcompensated for the music playing in his head. “I’m telling you, these Koreans know how to make implants.”

Scott sat across the table, sucking absently at a milkshake and visibly not sharing his friend’s enthusiasm. Lenny was still in line at the counter, which left Scott as the unwilling sole recipient of John’s manic discourse.

“I’m listening to the new Chilies – it’s not even out here, and I’ve just downloaded it right into my head” John was still in the honeymoon phase with his new cerebral implant, a Korean unit he’d bought from a friend of a friend and had implanted that morning. He hadn’t shut up about it since. “Hang on – I’m going to message Josie and see if she wants to meet us. She was on the mmorpg a few minutes ago – I’m sure she’s still online. This is so cool – I’m mmorpging, messaging and jackin’ tunes all at the same time. Your AmCo. ‘plant’s got nothing on this.”

Scott hit the bottom of his shake with a sudden noisy suck of air, which he continued for a moment for it’s sheer irritation factor. When it was obvious it wasn’t having the desired effect, he gave up and pushed it aside. Leaning across the table, he tried to penetrate his friend’s state of distracted euphoria.

“Listen buddy – would you stop yelling – I can hear you – I’m right here. The whole freakin’ diner can hear you, and honestly, you’re not that interesting.”

John continued to wave absently at windows in his field of vision that only he could see, while Scott resisted the urge to slap him, instead slumping back into his seat. “Don’t you think it might have been a good idea to get that thing tested before you had it installed? I mean you can barely hear me – isn’t it a little loud in there?”

John’s waving became more frantic, and his eyes were starting to become unfocused. “Damn – goad_theRedRocket keeps trying to chat with me. I can’t make him stop.”

“Just jam him on your filter list.” Scott was the king of stating the obvious.

“I can’t – the screens are all in Korean. Oh, crap – I opened one – crap, crap, crap – I can’t see – he’s popup bombing me… I’m getting flooded with pink pocket monsters. Not cool at all.” Johns arms flailed wildly about the space in front of his face, his elbows coming dangerously close to upsetting his Coke and fries, which Scott quickly moved to safety. “Now the audio’s screwed – it’s all static – these stupid popups must’ve overrun the buffer… I can’t see a thing, there’s too many windows open – and I can’t get the stupid avatar to switch to English. How the hell am I supposed to…” John’s eyes abruptly glazed over, his face going slack and his arms falling limp first onto the table, and then coming to rest on the bench at his sides.

Lenny picked this as the perfect moment to arrive, slamming his shake on the table and dropping heavily onto the bench beside Scott.

“What’s up with him?” Lenny jerked a thumb towards their limp friend.

“Korean implant. Probably still in beta, he got spammed and it wigged out. He’s in total head crash.” Scott retrieved the now abandoned Coke and began drinking it. “It should reboot in a bit, hopefully. He won’t be too happy if we’ve got to EMP the thing to unfreeze his head.”

“Bummer… that’s why I always buy domestic. Hey, are you going to eat his fries?”