Author: Rick Tobin
“Ouch! That hurts!”
Clint Aurelius pulled back his tattoo needle from his thirty-something assistant wincing under his application. Clint took some deep breaths while resting his hands from arthritic agony.
“No intent to harm…just tidying your history a bit at day’s end. Some script needed sharpening.”
“I appreciate it. I want readers to tell my story because someday old recorders like you will be gone.” The assistant adjusted his shoulders, cracking his neck vertebrae to increase relaxation.
“One last touch to finish. I’ll read you shortly. You did a terrific job today coordinating all the people’s tattoos and customer traffic. I couldn’t manage without you.” Aurelius scanned his workmanship, adding a single line of fine ink to letters fading near edges of his flesh canvas.
“How did this happen, Clint Aurelius? You know your name and your history without writing. You have a great name, but I cannot remember mine.” His assistant stepped down from the workbench to stretch and ready for his identity reading.
“I was one of the lucky ones when it struck,” Clint explained. “It was an emerging virus carried by every biting bug on the planet. It was everywhere in weeks with no way to stop it. Docs called it a biological traumatic brain injury.”
“What made you different, Aurelius? I mean, you know your interesting name.”
Aurelius paused, slightly amused. “It means, literally, a golden hill. Like others who had retired with early signs of Alzheimer’s, I feared to become a drain on society. I had retired as a graphic artist. My hobby was calligraphy. Strangely, that virus turned off my affliction while it destroyed other’s memories of their past, including their names. People could not record new memories. What skills they had morphed into general labor capacities.”
“So only a few of us could remember who we were?”
“There were enough with Alzheimer’s who recovered, creating stability for a while,” Aurelius continued. “But, in months transportation and electricity disappeared. Survival became difficult. Of course, there were no more great wars or regional squabbles, but instead a dizzying descent into widespread madness. That’s why compounds like ours became bastions for preservation against marauders and insanity. Now writers, like me, and those who can still read, keep daily memories fresh for the afflicted by repeating life stories from their backs. Most survivors live in a continual now, with little context of their past or any long-term future. Only their daily storytelling gives them a history for their moment.”
“Is our future that dark?” the assistant asked.
“There are other ramifications. People can’t form relationships. Each day readers meet to introduce couples by telling their skin stories together, but after a day, there is no memory capable of constructing bonding. There is no family building…no ability to understand birth or raise offspring. I have met and mourned with many writers that we will not see our grandchildren…that this may end our species. We who sustain provide love and care by serving to read the same stories repeatedly, while experiencing diminishing optimism that a few, still undiscovered, will survive this plague and reproduce. For now…there is only a fading hope.”
“That is chilling, Aurelius. Can you read me now, and the prayer written for all our clients today?”
“Yes. Let me tell your story.” Aurelius began his oration from his assistant’s tattoo: “Bless me, for I have forgotten. I was once an air traffic controller. My name is Hank Aurelius.”
Author: Abigail Hughes
I know you made it clear we were not supposed to talk during our “break”, but I have something I need to get off of my chest and now that it is impossible for you to automatically know what I’m feeling, I have been reduced to contacting you through one of your appendages’ social media accounts.
This morning I woke up to silence.
There was no dull, internal buzzing of a million discontinuous voices competing for dominance. There were just my thoughts. Alone. Bouncing off the walls of a pathetic, singular brain. I hope you understand how traumatic this was. I had something on my mind and was completely incapable of silently sharing that something with you. Then it all came thundering down, the reality of it all, that no longer would I have access to your thoughts. Your memories. Your desires.
I kept waiting for you to return. I spent hours concentrating on that feeling of togetherness I had grown accustomed to. When I realized you were not coming back, that it was completely over – I cried.
You did not see me at my best yesterday when I went into the cafe Yolanda works at. I was drunk, you probably smelled it on me when you sent the manager over. I know you infected him, I could tell by his watering eyes and concealed desperation.
I envied him.
He was trying to scream, fighting over the control of his vocal cords when you told me, in his wavering voice “It’s over. Go home or I’m calling the police”.
I noticed that you were occupying Mike’s brain now. I cannot phane happiness. It was a mistake introducing you two. The escapade is brutal in an entirely different way because this is not the first relationship I lost to the guy and I am positive it won’t be the last. I get it. He works an office job, brings home six figures and drives a Maserati. But let me ask you this, how many of you can fit into his car?
My bus can lug seven of you around, easy. Ten, even, if two of you lay vertically and one doesn’t mind the trunk.
I gave everything I had to benefit your mission. My cat, my brother, my landlord, my neighbors – you have assimilated everyone I know! Which, you can imagine, makes it obscenely difficult to get over you. And even though we are currently apart I swear if I find someone worthy of your consideration then I will send them your way without skipping a beat. I can’t help it, I love you I care about your goals.
I find myself living in the past, trying to pinpoint exactly where I went wrong. The one event I keep circling back to is the concert. I am sorry, Hive, I am so sorry. I had no idea that my love of Ska music was strong enough to encumber your ability of replication and assimilation. I know how much you have always wanted to mesh with a bass player. If I knew that an entire crowd of concert-goers angrily screaming lyrics and crumping in perfect unison would alert the band of our presence then I would have suppressed the urge to do so.
It is possible that I am overthinking things, but it is all I can do at this point. I am utterly alone with nothing but my thoughts.
I remember when I first met you, in the eyes of a beggar. You looked so out of place. Disoriented. Manic. Inhabiting an old body that you clearly did not know how to navigate. I was having a smoke outside of the restaurant, lamenting going in and closing. Then you came up to me, grabbed me by the shoulders, leaned in for a vinegary kiss and heaved countless writhing lifeforms into my mouth.
I was one with an organism larger than life itself.
I knew that I would never be the same.
And today, I am certain of the same fact.
Baby, I love you. I miss you. I will never forget you – especially because I see you on every street corner, grocery store and fast food chain in town. Plus, I am fairly confident that you have inhabited a news anchor on channel twelve. Which, I mean, congratulations – but I cannot help but wonder what she has that I do not.
I cannot stand the thought of living in this world without a collective consciousness splitting rent inside my head. I am willing to change.
I want you to know that I sincerely wish you the best of luck. I am certain that you will make the best overlord of the human race, and I cannot wait to see what the new world of like-minded individuals terraforming this planet to fit the needs of your survival will look like.
Please, just give me another chance.
Author: Richard M. O’Donnell, Sr.
Norman reached across the Golden Bowl of Mystery and tugged Saffron’s blindfold down over the corner of her eye. “No fair peeking, you can only touch the objects inside the bowl to guess what they are.”
Saffron pouted her lips.
“Sulking won’t work this time. I’m immune to your charms.”
“Oh, all right,” said Saffron. “No cheating.” She reached into the bowl until she felt something round and surrounded by icy rings. She lifted it up. “This is a planet.”
Saffron ran her fingers along the edge of the rings. “Too easy, this is Saturn.”
She held the planet out to Norman. Every time she thought of Norman’s fiery orange nebula with its jet-blue corona, her heart quivered. “Quick,” she said, “put it back before the humans miss it.”
Norman plucked Saturn from her hand. However, instead of returning it, he slipped it into his pocket. “Try again.”
Saffron reached into the bowl and pulled out a cluster of six astro-bodies mutually tidal-locked together with her other hand. She caressed each on in turn. “Let’s see… Two dwarf planets and four moons… Mmmmm.” She smiled, triumphantly. “Pluto and Charon, and their moons Styx, Nix, Kerberos, and Hydra.”
“Right again! I didn’t think you’d get that one.”
“Most earthlings still don’t.”
Norman put the double-dwarf planet into his pocket.
“I’m sensing a theme here.” She dipped her hands into the bowel again. “Ice, Titan. These pebbles are the asteroid belt. This big one must be Jupiter.” Then she felt water and she squealed with delight. She tore off her blindfold with one hand and lifted the Earth from the bowl with the other. The planet sparkled like a blue gem with white swirls. “Norman, you’re too sweet.”
“I remembered earth was your point of origin.”
“I was just a tiny particle when I left.” Saffron leaned over and looked inside the golden bowl. “The whole solar system is here!”
“I bought it just for you.”
“You mean I can keep it?”
“But how could you afford a planet with sentients on it?”
“They’re on the brink of extinction, so they’ve been put in the bargain bin.”
Saffron cupped the Earth in her hands. “You poor thing. I’ll hang you in a remote part of my nebula, far away from black holes and exploding stars. Maybe you’ll heal.” She kissed the thermosphere. “Even if you don’t, I’ll always treasure you.”
Norman pulled the Sun out of his pocket and dropped to one knee. He held up the bubbling yellow-orange orb to Saffron. “I selected this because it matches your nebula perfectly. Saffron, will you merge with me?”
Saffron sunset corona beamed like a lighthouse in space. “Yes, of course I’ll merge with you.” She held out her hand and Norman slipped the sun onto her ring finger.
They embraced and the Milky Way seemed to spin just for them.
“I love you so much,” Saffron whispered. “I would have merged with you even if you hadn’t given me the world.”
Author: Russell Bert Waters
The restraints dig into my wrists as I awaken.
“Have you ever truly smelled this city?” a man asks from behind.
“Where am I?” I ask.
I try to look around without moving.
There is an aquarium full of cockroaches on a shelf nearby.
“With its architecture, modern transportation, this city wants to be special, artistic even” my captor continues, “but I submit that it is rotten. You can smell it.”
“Why do you have me? Where am I?” I continue, ignoring his chosen subject.
Everyone has a story, especially crazy people.
I need him to focus on me and my needs; my need to get out of here, for instance.
“You’re down below, in the true heart of this city, where the future is.”
I hear sounds of medical tools being clanked around on a metal tray.
“What are you doing?” I ask, trying to steady my tone of voice to mask my growing terror.
“Preparing you for the future” he replies.
“You get it, you don’t know that you get it, but you do. You understand poison, garbage, filth. You understand the toxic underbelly of this city, this world. You may not understand it as fully as I do yet, but you understand it. Where you and I differ is this: you see it as a bad thing, and I see it as the wave of the future.”
He pauses, and I hear another clank, “there are twelve of us now who intimately understand, you will make it a baker’s dozen.”
“Are those roaches?” I ask, feebly.
“Yes! And these are German Cockroaches. They’re the only ones, so far, I’ve been able to truly work with. They are why we can now move to the human phase of our project.”
I’m not going to be able to hide the terror much longer, and clearly, I will not be able to reason with him. I scan my surroundings, pull against my bindings, trying to find some weakness in this situation that I can exploit.
He moves into my field of vision.
I recognize him.
I was in line at the store after a jog.
He was in front of me. Next to him sat several cases of soda.
“Those things will kill you,” I said.
He regarded me, and I could see his left eye twitching on its own, independent of his right eye.
He smiled “These cans represent the wave of the future. The sugary, poisonous wave of the future.”
I kind of laughed, but I didn’t get it.
Now I get it. I had become a target with that exchange.
“German cockroaches” he continues, bringing me to the present day, “respond well to our manipulations, truly binding to the nervous systems of humans. For now, I have to introduce them to their hosts in a surgical manner. Eventually, they will seek hosts independently, while people sleep perhaps. Their programming will become part of humanity’s overall DNA. Mankind will evolve into human versions of the ultimate survivor: the cockroach.”
Suddenly, he darts out of sight and a needle jabs my neck.
I feel the pressure of something being forced into me, but I’m unsure if it is going into a vein, under my skin, or even into my spine.
The cockroaches abruptly turn toward me, crowding against the glass.
“When you wake, you will have a headache” his voice feels increasingly far away.
“You will need sugar. I recommend soda. It’s fast and effective.”
His eye twitched again, as though something just behind it was moving.
While blacking out, I hear “welcome to the future, number thirteen.”
Author: Thomas Desrochers
This mess I’m in, it’s kinda my fault. You see, I was hanging down at Louie’s, yackin’ with the other breadheads in the back room, and Mack comes in with this smirk like he’s scored big. I asked him what the deal was and he took me aside and told me, “Hey, Vinnie, buddy, I cracked it, see? I figured out how to grab all of somebody’s information, history, secrets, details, whatever you like, I got it figured out. Total access!”
I asked him, “Mack, you jerkin’ me around?”
Mack just laughed, wrapped an arm across my shoulders. “Vinnie, buddy,” he said, “I’ve got it figured out, I’ve got the hardware, but you know as well as me that I can’t go puttin’ boards in my own head. Let’s make a deal, Vinnie. I test it on you, you get first access. Total information!”
Well. Sounded like a good deal, right? That’s the dream right there. Knowledge is power, like the boys in the chip shops on King Street are always saying, and Mack was offering me all of it.
“Alright,” I told him. “But you gotta take care of me, you hear?”
Mack clapped me on the back. “Vinnie boy, this is gonna be the coolest thing, you know that? This works, we’ll make billions.”
I mean, it really sounded good.
Too good to be true, even.
Well, I’ll give Mack credit. The thing worked flawlessly, and he’s a regular carpenter when it comes to integrating breadboards in the ‘ol cortex.
Well, one problem: I had no control over it. If I saw a person, Mack’s wonderboard would put their entire life in my head whether I wanted it or not. That stopped being funny when I woke up and saw Mack – and screamed. “Well, Vinnie,” he grinned, “Minor technical issues pave the way forward.”
I started to object, but he threw me out on the street. If Mack’s whole life was a little much, think about what it was like being on a crowded street still fuzzy from the anesthetics. Complete overload just about sums it up, instantly bombarded by… well, all of it. I mean, jeeze-louise – the things these people got up to!
I passed out, then came to in an alley. This cop was standing over me with this look on her face like I’d done something real smart.
“A little early for booze,” she said sweetly.
I shook my head trying to focus. “You know,” I said. “I don’t think it’s normal to spend that much on deodorant.”
She wasn’t too hot on me knowing her deepest secrets, but lucky for me her partner stepped into the scene. “He’s not wrong, Beatrice. You spend a ridiculous amount of money on deodorant. But… How did you know that?”
“And you,” I slurred. “Twelve cats in one apartment?”
Beatrice cackled, then tapped her beat-stick where Mack had been cutting. “He’s a breadhead boy, Claire. One of those hooligans always putting homegrown tech in each other.”
Claire narrowed her eyes, chewed her lip. “What sort of screwy thing did you put in there?”
I shrugged. “I can’t know everything, I guess.”
Lucky for me Claire and Beatrice knew a good thing when they saw it. They got me home, got me cleaned up. Every now and then they bring me to see a perp and we fix ‘em better than any black site. Their bosses love it, and the three of us don’t mind cleaning out these thugs’ stashes.
And Mack… Well, he’ll be getting a visit from some soon-to-be detectives. After all, competition is bad for business.