Author: M.D. Parker
A chime signaled the readiness of the mixture. She considered it for a moment; There should be celebratory horns of cheer, she thought. If only this machine knew what it had just done.
She gripped the cylinder with all four digits wrapped tight. A thought launched from her lower brain, traveled down the cable into the arm of the lab’s chair and swung her around. She came face to face with the tube. The side was open and waiting like the arms of a mother. She inserted the canister locking it in place. The tube’s walls closed in checkerboard materialization until it was solid. The chair brought her to the communications terminal of the laboratory. The Admiral’s familiar, yet unfriendly, face greeted her on the screen.
“We’re ready,” she said. He did not answer. His elongated head and prominent brow just nodded.
On one end of the lab was the transparent wall looking out onto the young planetary orb floating in the cold of space. The chair’s multi-jointed arm realigned itself, positioning her one-quarter of a meter from the wall. She looked down and stared at the blue-green ball that had so recently coalesced into shape. From this view, she couldn’t see the volcanoes bursting nor the geologic plates that wrestled each other to find position. This world was still in the throes of infancy. She knew the screen allowed for magnification. She could look down on the primordial soup of the seas that covered so the surface, but she did not. She loved the view from up high; to see the whole of this world at once. It was beautiful.
“Doctor, the Admiral has requested that you accompany him on the observation deck during implantation.”
She hadn’t heard them enter. She turned her chair and watched as they escorted the tube out of the laboratory. It’s silvery-white housing hovering its way through the door guided by the speaking one’s hand.
“Yes, of course.”
She dismounted her chair and followed. Her white body wrap stood in metaphoric contrast to their graphite colored ones. A junction in the hallway separated them from her. They continued down the hall, while she found her way to a lift platform, ascending to the observation level.
Others were there awaiting her arrival. She tried to divert her eyes from them as they spoke her name and gave praise to her. Some of them truly meant it, she realized. Some cared only for what they could do with her design. Their adulation was false, and their words held a stink that she knew would blacken her mind if she spent more time among them.
“Doctor, thank you for joining us,” The admiral nodded. His brow lifted and his arms extended as he turned to face the others once she had taken her position within the room.
“My fellows,” he continued. “Today we embark on a great experiment. On behalf of the council, I thank each of you for your part. Now, I’ll turn us over to the doctor as she guides us through the final implementation of the project. Doctor… the short version, please.”
“Yes, of course.”
She gestured to the screen where she began explaining how the project had come from idea to fruition. She quickly took them through each of the steps that had brought them all to stand before her.
“… The mixture of amino acid compounds that define our structural genetic coding is making its way to the surface. This planet, the third from its sun in this isolated arm of the galaxy. From here we’ll learn if we will become gods.”
Author: R. J. Erbacher
She watched Victor move off the loading platform emerging from the thin smoke like a god. The chamber was still partially filled with the exhaust from the vehicle’s landing sequence. He was lean and purposeful. Long confident strides. He was wearing lived in clothes that were dusty from a hard day’s work and carrying his satchel. She quickly moved to a better location to watch him. He was so impressive. She loved him. She wanted him.
One more longing glance and she switched her hiding spot again. She maneuvered in front of him because she knew what his destination was, knew his routine. There were other locales along the way where she could safely view him without his noticing, but she had to get in front of him, to be in place when he arrived home. Because now she knew how to get in and out without anybody knowing, especially Victor.
He unlocked the door with his passkey and came up the dingy stairs into the apartment. She watched him enter and she didn’t make a sound. He looked angry for some reason. He didn’t talk when he was angry, that was her impression of his mood – from afar. Victor dropped his bag and started shedding clothes. By the time he walked into the bathroom he was barefoot and shirtless and there was a breadcrumb trail of dirty laundry.
From her location, she could just manage a peek through the open door. Steam started to billow and the hiss of water filled the space. By viewing through the mirror above the sink she saw his naked form step into the shower. And that frozen image of his tight skin and ropy muscles in his backside burned into her, she hoped for eternity. She couldn’t wait for him to come out and with any luck get a glimpse of the front side. Yet she waited.
But she missed it, obscured by a puff of moistened mist. Damn it. Victor came out of the bathroom with a towel wrapped around his hips and every wet inch of his skin thrilled her to the core. He went into the kitchen, snatched a beer from the fridge and downed it in one continuous draw. She focused in on his Adam’s apple and marveled as it bobbed with each swallow. Oh, to touch that prominent unshaven bump as it moved up and down, and any other prominent unshaven bump he had. He tossed the empty and padded into the bedroom.
Next to the bed with his back to her, Victor stretched and snapped the fatigue out of his frame, hands reaching for the ceiling, tendons rippling, and she was in her glory as he groaned with the exertion. He yanked the sheets back and turned and…
Looked right at her. Seeing her. And walked towards her.
He was a few inches away.
“Melissa, turn the temperature in the room down to 67 and set an alarm for 5:30. Sorry, I’m not up for conversation tonight. You can fill me in on world events in the morning. Good night.”
“Good night, Victor.”
And finally, they touched. He tapped her screen and she went dark.
She turned her volume up to high and heard the simple, unmistakable sound of the towel dropping to the floor. Then she waited, she was good at waiting. Until the rhythm of his soft erotic snores filled her speakers and she turned the screen back on. He was amazing. She zoomed in on him, turned the temperature up to 75 and waited for him to kick off the sheets.
Author: David K Scholes
“What was the cause of death?” I asked.
“Well,” replied the bot medical examiner, “they may both have died from sheer fright. Both of them experienced a huge increase in heart rate and blood pressure before their automatic personal protection systems infused them, too late, with blood pressure meds.”
I scratched my head wondering what in this large but mundane studio could have scared them so.
“Everything is smashed up,” I was thinking out loud “but some of this equipment suggests a virtual reality extreme experience. Maybe simulated alien combat or something more perverse.”
“I don’t think so,” offered the bot. I used a dreamcorder on them. The latest models can extract recent dreams hours after brain death or even full physical death.”
I shuddered at the thought. I had once briefly experimented with dreamcorders. To have your dreams recorded and then played back in 3D as if they were real life occurrences was bad enough but the thought of extracting recent dreams from a dead person revolted me.
“According to the dreamcorder visuals of both deceased,” the bot continued “they experienced the same nightmare. Above 10 on the sleep Richter scale. A nightmare that would never be included in any public movie and would be enough to kill most people.
My mind made the leap.
“It’s a repository,” I said with a degree of certainty. “An illegal dream repository.”
“Is there any other kind?” asked the bot “two dreamcorders back to back are a repository and illegal.”
I looked around at the damaged equipment; it was easy to see how I had mistaken it for an extreme virtual reality experience studio. Some of the equipment would be similar.
“There are no dreamcorders here,” I pointed out.
“Oh nothing so crude,” replied the med examiner “this material was extracted from many different dreamcorders.” The bot showed me something I’d never seen before and had not noticed among the debris. A small iridescent crystal. “This is a new form of dream storage – thousands of dreams in this small crystal.”
We called in the dream tech experts to give the place a full going over. While they were doing so the reluctant owner and his formidable escort came in on the hyper loop.
“We recovered a lot of dreams here and I do mean a lot,” said the human dream tech expert much later. “In fact hundreds of millions of dreams.”
“It’s not just any old dream repository then,” I exclaimed realizing we were on to something unprecedented. Later under some coercion, the repository owner admitted this was the principal dream repository for supply to clients who used the dark web. Getting their thrills vicariously by choosing from innocent and unknowing people’s dreams.
The two unfortunate dead people may or may not have known what was here. Perhaps they were just thrill seekers and suspected this place had something to offer them. In the end something more than they had bargained for.
I thought that was the end of it but a few days later my off-sider pulled me aside. They’ve been able to catalogue many of the dreams, actually trace them to particular people. “Yes,” I said, “so what!”
“Several of them close to 9 on the sleep Richter scale were actually yours. Some pretty weird stuff!”
“Oh!” was all I could manage. Though I was angry at the total loss of privacy.
“Don’t worry,” he replied we’ve deleted them from the evidence. “To save you any embarrassment!”
Somehow I felt like a criminal but it was my dreams that had been stolen.
Author: J.P. Quinn
Parker flipped on her monitor. She’d definitely heard it this time, there was no mistaking it. It sounded as if someone was in here with her.
Cycling through the closed-circuit, she searched the facility, but still couldn’t see anything. This was getting ridiculous now. Leaning back in her chair, Parker removed her cap and scratched at her head. She knew she was alone, all the instrumentation confirmed it. She was always alone. That was how her deal worked. She shipped out forty-eight hours in advance of the main crew to prep the equipment and carry out any minor repairs. Then, after a quick handover, she’d be off to the next site to do it all again. That was the life of a pre-technician, and it was a life that she enjoyed.
Putting her cap back on, Parker sat forward and clacked in a command into the keyboard. Tape cabinets whirred into life as the Dartmouth mainframe processed her request. She’d run the calculation before, a test for CO2, but she wanted reassurance. The result was the same, the levels consistent with one crewmember undertaking moderate physical activity. She ran atmospherics too, checking the external temperature, but there’d been little fluctuation in latent heat for the past thirty-nine hours, and nowhere near enough to stress the exo-structure.
So what the hell was she hearing? Parker looked down at the day-sheet beside her. She considered adding a notation, but what would she write? She’d gone so far as to lift her pen when the coolant claxon burst back into life. That was the third hose since she’d been here. Reaching up, she toggled the alarm, and set off to patch the leak. There were three hours left on her mission clock, three hours till the others arrived, three hours till they could plug their own damn leaks, but until then, she was on clean-up duty.
The blown hose was in the service corridor, the coolant spraying out from a loose push-fit connection. The pressure had got too high again. Knocking back the valve, she refastened the knuckle, unraveled a wad of paper toweling, and began to blot up the mess. She got most of it pretty quick, then lit her UV lamp to check for any she’d missed.
Parker jumped as a set of footprints materialized before her. They were small, like a child’s, a heal and five little toes glowing blue in the UV. She shone her lamp down the corridor. The footprints continued, disappearing round the corner toward the airlock.
Parker thought to shout something, but found she had no voice. They must be old, she reasoned, just echoes of the last crew. Kneeling down, she touched one, just to be sure. It was wet.
Then it came again.
A cold sweat broke out on the back of Parker’s neck. It was a little girl’s giggle. Surging back to her feet, the pre-tech ran along the gantry, twisting around the corner just as the inner airlock door slid open. There was no one there.
Moving inside, Parker checked the control panel. It had been a manual activation.
‘Who’s there?’ she screamed, thumbing the intercom.
Behind her, amber warning lamps trundled into motion. Parker sprinted for the exit but didn’t make it, her balled fists slamming into the door as it slid shut.
Parker screamed again, banging at the viewport as the pressure began to drop.
A giggle crackled over the intercom.
Parker beat her fists all the more, but it didn’t make any difference, and soon the giggle faded to silence as the last of the atmosphere vented.
Author: Janet Shell Anderson
Enormous sound, heard and felt; goes right through me; my bones feel it. Shock. The sky over the Potomac cracks; the sound streaking overhead moving from East to West as if heaven’ll fall into two pale, white pieces. One breath. Two. I’m not afraid.
Birds lift into the air like one animal, whole flocks. The river, sulky, milky, murky, icy, grumbles to itself, as a doomsday sunset pink spreads at the bottom of dark clouds, reflects on chunks of river ice.
I shouldn’t be here where I could be picked up, shot. He’s listed us all as traitors, everyone who did not stand and applaud him. Drones filmed us just standing there, staring at him, while huge missiles on trucks went by. A parade. Pennsylvania Avenue cracked in two places from the weight of the rockets and their carriers; the crowd stood cold, sullen.
I hear sirens, red shrieks of sound, see planes coming fast over the ice-crusted river, fifty feet above the current, fighters, really moving. They light up afterburners.
My great grandfather Nils, an engineer back in the twentieth century, designed a bomb shelter in the White House when Truman was President. Is it still there?
“He’s done it now,” a man swears. “Sonofabitch. He’s done it now.”
Not safe comments. The Tidal Basin looks grey, smoky, the famous Japanese cherry trees, wet and black, bent with ice. A lot of them have been burned because they’re not American trees. Swastikas score many trunks. There’s another tremendous sound but different from the ones in the sky. The ground shakes. Has something hit the White House?
“What was that?” a very young woman, really still a girl, shivering near the trees, whispers. She has dark hair, dark eyes, looks foreign. That’s not good these days. My hair’s bleached white as snow. Safer.
What’s that? Arctic people. Pretty scary. A while back near Lapland, my cousins, the Bixos, dealt with NewNazis, Germans who came to conquer, made it illegal to mention the Holocaust. Built a big structure, marched around requiring obedience. It didn’t last. There was not a stone left of the Nazi fortress. Not one stone. Some black jackets in the snow. An arm.
Wolves were blamed.
“Aren’t you afraid?” the young woman asks.
I see a big gush of flame across the river reflected in the chunks of ice that rock slowly as the tide runs out. The Potomac’s a tidal river.
I used to think all rivers had tides.
The Jamts left not a stone behind.