A Limited Imagination

Author: Palmer Caine.

“Have you heard about Lauren?” the fat thing asked, “Apparently your old partner, as wonderful as she is, has upset everyone, dealing to all sides…apparently.” Grottman scratched his flabby, floppy head.

Felix smiled. He knew about Lauren’s troubles, “We both know she can take care of herself.” He said, taking a slug of warm beer.

Grottman’s lips spread across his huge face, a smile as disingenuous as his colon. “You know the UuooLoou have a bounty on her skull.” His lips thinned, “Last I heard she was at the Vega Gate.”

“Then you know more than me.” Felix grinned.

Pluto station was busy. Mineral transports from Vega and beyond were offloaded on the upper ring, their oddly shaped crews swelling the station’s entertainments. Some of them, having spent months at the edge of known space, look like spooked horses.

A young Human, androgynous in design, took Grottman’s empty jug.

“I’ll have another.” The fat thing said. The Human nodded and exited, the audible slap of his flip-flops slowly faded.

“I hear you’re transporting refugees,” Felix said leaning forward.

“So you DO hear SOME things then?” Grottman growled.

“I wouldn’t have thought the income would be worth it,” Felix stated sitting back.

“That just reveals your limited imagination.” Grottman smiled.

The androgynous waiter returned and deposited another jug of golden liquid on the table. Grottman waved him away and drank heartily.

“So what are the UuooLoou offering for young Lauren’s shapely skull?”

“Professional interest, or personal?” the fat thing asked.

Felix smiled before responding, “Just…an interest.” He said.

Grottman snorted blowing large green bubbles from the hole in his face. He popped them with a handkerchief and wiped his disgusting features.

“Your…Interest…could earn you more than you earned last year, and the year before that, and the year before that, and the year before that, and the year before that…” Grottman flicked his nine fingers, “More wealth than you can manage alone.” He chortled.

Felix played along, “So, what did you have in mind fatso?” he asked.

“Well, if you are truly serious, we could travel together to the Vega Gate. My business here is almost completed and I don’t claim to know your itinerary, but if you ARE serious we could be very wealthy for very little effort. The UuooLoou are notoriously prompt with payments.”

“And I suppose you’re booked into the gate?” Felix asked.

“Not yet, but once my business is complete passage won’t be an issue.” Grottman drummed his many digits. “What do you think Major?”

Felix raised his eyebrows, “So, I just call her when we get there – It’s going to be that easy?”

“It’s no secret how close you two were. I am sure you can contact her or she you if necessary?” Grottman’s grin engulfed his features. A moment later a loud bleeping, emanating from the fat things clothing, rang out.

Felix looked at his watch, “Well,” he said pushing his chair back, “That’s my alarm call.”

Grottman searched his pockets locating the bleeping device and read the message: SECURITY BREECH – FINANCIAL FILES UPLOADED. He looked up to see Felix disappearing into a large crowd of drunken oddly shaped crewmen, gathered beneath a Stimulant Lens.

The transport was lacking paying customers, just as they had wanted. Felix met Lauren on the forward deck as the ship approached the Sol Gate.

“He said I had a limited imagination.”

Lauren smiled, “Did you tell him you could imagine yourself with all his money.”

Felix chuckled and kissed her cheek, “No.” He said, “I couldn’t find the right moment.”

The Red Plateau

Author: Alzo David-West

Wind blew over the plateau. The sky was a desolate faded blue. A woman with tangled black hair rode a slow-moving horse, a travois with a bundled load drawn after it. She wore a hide shawl and carried a broken spear. Her feet were bare and dusty.

There was a smell in the air from the rocky hillocks behind her, the smell of the men, who had pursued her for many days, and their horses. The woman kicked the flanks of her horse, but it was too tired. She looked over her shoulder.

The men, five of them, appeared. They charged their bows, and the woman quickly threw herself to the ground. The bows twanged, and stone-tipped arrows struck deeply into the head, ribs, and thighs of the horse. The herbivore staggered, lost its balance, and collapsed on its side.

The woman got up, rushed to the travois and dragged the bundle and herself down behind the fallen animal. She was panting and crouching, holding up the broken spear for whatever protection it and the body of the horse could afford. Her heart was beating rapidly.

The men had charged their bows again when a thunder sound boomed. They looked up. Their horses were uneasy. One of the men pointed in the distance. Above the red land, the vast firmament darkened, and then there was the incandescent glow of a bearded star, followed by great streams of fire that fell from the upper sky.

The woman and the men stared, entranced. The fire swept rapidly across the plateau, moving in their direction, where they were completely exposed. The flames came instantly and surged around them, crashing and exploding loudly and destructively. The men shouted and screamed, falling, running, crawling, dying.

Rocks melted, and smoke rose. The woman tumbled, pulling the load. She heard a long piercing sound, and she saw pass immediately over her a giant flaring stone that flew into a hillside. She threw out her arms, and when she looked again, the hill and the stone had shattered into boulders.

She rushed between them, with the load, and huddled there, closing her eyes, covering her ears, clenching her teeth, from the deafening sounds and the burning air. Waiting, waiting, waiting. And the fires passed.

The woman was coughing. She struggled to stand. Her face, hands, and feet were badly burned. She gazed upon the smoldering land and, in pain, kneeled down to unfasten the reed chords and hide cloth covering the load she had striven to preserve.

“Spirit creature,” she said to the strange animal before her, “you needn’t have grown so angry with us. The men, they did not know. They did not know you were the god of the sun and the sky.”

And after the woman spoke, her heart stopped, and her head fell. And the spirit creature, with obsidian skin, six feet, and a single eye, raised its thin arm and placed a metal hand on the dead woman’s shoulder.

Hearth

Author: Morrow Brady

It had all become so complicated. The way we worked. The way we interacted. The expectations heaped upon us by our forebears. We needed to look back at where we had come from.

It was how it was though. This world with its regulated cultural norms that must be followed. Where individuals that strayed were pointed at and ridiculed back in line. Those that persevered became ostracised from the community. Abandoned by loving families for fear that they too would lose their precious place.

I had always felt I never belonged here. Something inanely communal had been lost along the way. We’d fooled ourselves to think we could exist without it. We donned technological systems that served only to distract us. They automated our everyday needs and fulfilled desires. We accepted them wholeheartedly as it was easier. They made existing manageable. They trickled rewards in bite-sized morsels to gratify us at each moment. Extreme highs and unbearable lows became a moderate swell and we lapped it up like creamy milk.

They extricated the troublesome emotions to cushion us against traumatic experience. But deep down, sensual connection became lost. These cold, easy-to-clean surfaces forgot the warmth of wood. It took a leap of faith to return to where it all began. I journeyed for years and landed on the blue planet. I docked on the shore of the emerald isle and sought the nameless town among the green hills.

Everything starts somewhere. The sea is fed by the river and the river its source. I was at the beginning where spring water took its first breath.

I walked at late dusk and felt cold for the first time. I rambled across uneven cobbles, my aching ankles straining like never before. I squinted against the raw sunlight. I was uncomfortable. I was at risk. I felt alive for the first time.

Free from assisted navigation, I followed the grain of the town streets to the first door I’ve ever had to open myself. I strained as the heavy oak pitched aside and plunged into a soup of heaving warmth, buzzing with hearty conversation. A barrage of smells engulfed me. Smoke from a somber fire burnt my naive lungs, perfumes aroused my nasal desires and ale drenched floors awoke an inner need.

Eyes cast themselves my way as the cold closed behind me. The crowd turned away but gathered me in, luring me forward. We brushed. We touched. And I faltered at a level of intimacy that undressed my understanding. I bustled towards the brightest lights, found a seat and took my place. She approached, her petite features nestled within a frilly neckline.

“What do you need?” She asked tenderly.

I hesitated with no frame of reference to reply from.

“I don’t really know,” I said stumped.

She poised, then prepared a tall black drink with a frothy white top. One deep sip filled cracks I never knew existed. Comatose taste buds sat up in their hospital gown and leapt from the bed. A warmth washed through and a smile filled my eyes. She watched me closely and mirrored my reaction with her pixie grin.

“You’re not from around here are you?” She enquired.

My glowing smile stood on a mountain. I had never been this happy.

“No,” I said, my head shaking slowly.

“But if its ok, I’d like to stay awhile”

Terms of Service

Author: John McLaughlin

Toru Sato was negotiating for a new body.
“And they’re rad-resistant too?”
The blonde sales rep smoothly reclined, a wide smile ratcheting onto her face as if delivered from an assembly line.
“Oh yes, as of last year the radiation resistant chassis comes standard. And just in time, considering the latest ozone reports.”
Toru gripped his wife’s knee in a failed bid to squash the excitement; it was just as they had read.
“And we’ll both be together, in the…” he trailed off; what exactly was it called? “I mean, during Service, correct?”
The woman’s smile was replaced by a carefully rendered thoughtfulness.
“Although we do make our best effort to pair couples in the simulations,” she began, “the placement is ultimately based on personal aptitudes.”
Toru rubbed his goatee. The thought of 10 cycles of Service–40 to 50 years subjective time–without Aiko by his side; it gave him serious pause.
His introspection was broken by a freshly uploaded gentleman hastening past their booth’s crystal window. On the client’s smooth neck, Toru could make out subdermal LEDs emblazoning Incorporated Intelligence in a delayed fire pattern. The company was proud of its work.
The rep crossed her legs.
“Mr. Sato, Service will vary for everyone. One client may be answering phone calls, another programming one of our advanced AIs, still another subjected to mild deprivation while we monitor his cognitive functions. And the simulations will be cycled, to avoid mental burnout.”
Aiko was disturbed by these possibilities, which felt worlds apart from the exciting brochures they had browsed together earlier. She still trusted her husband, as she had through all five years of their marriage. But Aiko now turned to him wearing a grave expression.
The rep continued without noticing, “And in exchange for your 10 cycles–a mere one-hour objective time–you will each walk out of this office uploaded into new hybrid bodies. Resistant to aging and disease, and personally customized. Sounds like a good deal to me.” She flipped open a thick catalogue to further sell them on the synthetic artistry of I-Squared.
Toru took his wife’s soft hands. He thought of their future together; a long and healthy one, with children when the time came. One family, united and unbreakable.
Aiko gripped him firmly in unspoken agreement.
“We will sign,” he said.
#
The man awoke in a canvas tent swallowed by miles of orange desert. There was a small girl nearby, maybe seven or eight years. Her brown curls shifted as she sidled up to him in the heavy wind.
“What’s your name?” he asked.
She reached out and tugged on his shirt, then spun and ran away. A party at least fifty strong was descending from a nearby dune in the flying dust. A woman stepped forward and wrapped her arms around the little one.
“Lead us from this place. To Salvation.”
Why was he here? There was a reason; it danced at the edges of his memory.
Toru brandished his walking stick.
There was time enough to find it.

Visions in Nanometers

Author: William Gray

“I’m scared,” Leanna said, staring into the kaleidoscope, eyes wide, turning the aperture.
“Scared of what? It’s just colors,” I responded.
She put the kaleidoscope down on the bedside table.
Her skin was pale, as if she had coated her entire body with a paste of milky ashes. No tan lines. She wore only a thong, bright neon pink. Its contrast with her pasty skin agitated my retinas.
“Let’s go to the top of Rockefeller Center,” she suggested.

In the elevator on the way up, Leanna wouldn’t look me in the eyes.
“I’m not from here,” she said, shivering. Maybe “resonated” would be more accurate. The borders of her silhouette became fuzzy, blurred.
At the top, a heavy mist drifted down, rain in slow motion. Leanna was standing at the edge of the roof, leaning against a glass barrier.
“Ever heard of wormholes?” she asked.
“Yeah, so? So what?”
“They’re stackable. You can string wormholes together, then stack them. Like ice cream cones. Form them into an intergalactic superhighway. That’s how I got here. Now it’s time for me to return.”
She peeled her mist-soaked t-shirt up off her torso, over her head. She pulled one arm out, inverting a sleeve, then the other. Tourists were approaching. I stepped in closer to shield her.
She held her head in her hands, sobbing.
“I failed my mission,” she said.
“Back home there are no colors. Only grayscale. We send probes into wormholes all the time. One reported wavelengths of light from 390 to 700 nanometers in this solar system. I came here because it’s the closest habitable planet with this light. I am supposed to go back and describe experiencing these colors. But I can’t. I’ve tried to think of a way to do it, to describe the different wavelengths, but it’s impossible.”
“Take back a souvenir in your spaceship,” I suggested.
She laughed through the sobbing.
“Only my body and the travel mechanism implanted in my bones can go through the wormhole stacks.”
She pulled off her soaked skinny jeans.
“You’re going to get us both in trouble if you don’t stop undressing.”
I grabbed her hands as she brought them back to undo her bra. My grip wasn’t tight. She pulled loose and completed the task.
“It’s all about optimizing the travel signal. Higher elevations, and lack of clothing, help it to focus.” She resonated again.
I brought her long hair forward. A thin layer of wet hair accentuated the curves of her bare chest. The clouds in the distance cleared, revealing a rainbow over the Hudson River.
“Look-it’s the perfect final memory!” I said, pointing over her shoulder.
She looked for a moment.
“That is NOT a perfect final memory! It’s the source of my frustration! When I describe this “rainbow” thing as an arc, consisting of six different wavelengths of light at 650, 590, 570, 510, 475, and 445 nanometers, will their eyes tear up like mine? How do I convey the emotion of this phenomenon with only a technical description? This is what I was sent to do!”
A security guard approached.
She took my hands, although I could barely perceive the touch of her skin.
She looked down at her waist.
“I’m going to miss you,” she said.
I couldn’t tell if she was talking about me or her vibrant underwear.
The security guard shoved me aside.
“What’s going on here?” he demanded.
Leanna was gone.
The guard and I stared at the neon pink thong on the ground.