Author : Russell Bert Waters
…fireworks exploding, the smell of sulphur…
…sliding off the road on a slushy day…
…first kiss, soft, lights of the city in the distance…
…fighting, bloody nose, principal blocked by a crowd of kids…
…nervous job interviews, too many to count if one were…
…”I do” as he looked into her glistening eyes…
…running over a dead deer…
…September 11 “where were you when” conversations with coworkers…
…every intersection, and landmark, as if a slideshow…
Things had begun to blend now, swirling, speeding up.
He wasn’t supposed to know, but that didn’t matter.
…school cafeteria rejection scene, “I wouldn’t go out with you if you were the last boy on Earth!”…
He wondered where she was now, right now.
He knew she wasn’t experiencing this.
No one was.
No one knew.
Scenes were flying, he could feel the sensations, smell the scents, hear it all, see it all.
…the first hill of The Tornado roller coaster…
…the Cubs winning the World Series…
He had no control over what was coming through his mind, it was amped up, his body was awash with waves of memory, and his mind was in a spooky trance state that he wasn’t sure he could recover from.
…his first real estate sell…
…various acceptance speeches…
…the birth of his daughter…
…anguish at the death of his daughter…
…the note his wife had left…
He yearned for more happy memories, happier sensations, some began to come.
…sunsets, sunrises, skylines reflecting in water…
…gatherings with friends and family…
…finding love again…
…the birth of his second daughter…
…graduation of his second daughter…
…proud tears walking her down the aisle…
This was more like it, he smiled to himself. More floods, more happiness, waves of joyful memories, most of the sad memories were long past now.
…trips with his family…
…watching storms roll in off the lake at their summer home, the lightning playing in the sky, the wind chopping the water…
He came to the now, the present.
He slowly woke up from his trance, from the life he had lived flashing before his eyes.
Sitting in a park, a light breeze played with various papers and leaves before him.
He was on a bench that had been donated by someone, in memory of someone else.
The sky was clear, and there were other people around.
People whose life had not been flashing through their minds; in front of their eyes.
He could see a bright spot in the sky, like a misplaced star.
As the bomb detonated, just outside the atmosphere, there was a spherical burst, which caught people’s attention.
His phone crackled angrily at the interference, and then decided to begin to restart itself.
As the sky lit up there was an Aurora effect, and green serpents played in his view.
He realized he should stop staring right as his retinas were scorched and it no longer mattered.
The rest of his life continued to play out in the theater of his mind, as his flesh crackled and sizzled like a good steak, and his bones popped inside of him.
As he baked and burned and melted and popped, he had one last thought, and a smile played on his now nonexistent lips:
“mine was a good life.”
Author : Adam Fout
Her hut is digitized light.
They are coming for her.
Her prayers to the netGODS continue.
But there will be no deliverance.
She has heard the whispers. She has seen the dissention. Her daughter screamed at her this morning.
“You must go!”
But she stays.
Her back is angled violence. Her muscles are as a panther’s — smooth, substantial, bulwarks of might.
They smash the walls of her hut, their faces hidden behind hoods and black glass. Fractals rain across her head, shimmer into the ether, dissolve into her bones. Her face does not change expression.
Her blows are measured, precise, deadly. She cracks and breaks.
But what is a strong woman against twenty men?
The might of one cannot survive the will of many.
She leaves behind nine bodies.
Hers is the tenth.
They drag her corpse to the center of the village, but all have seen the violence.
They knew what came.
They did not help.
They are cowards.
Her head is removed with nanofiber blades. Shaking hands place it lovingly upon a digital pike. The hands that mounted it touch a hood in three places. It shimmers away. The face of her son shines in the light of the three moons.
It gleams with blood.
“This woman no longer leads you.” His voice is amplified a thousand fold. Howls and screeches sound from the jungle, greeting his bellows.
Heads emerge from huts, one by one.
They stink of fear.
“Worship of the netGODS is outlawed. This woman died for her heresy. But I will spare you.
“I am your God now.
“And I demand apostasy.”
As individuals and groups, the villagers approach.
They tear off necklaces and amulets, shed helmets and gloves. Brother rips implant from brother, mothers wrench wristlets from children.
All is tossed to the dirt.
The men in black glass set a fire.
It burns until morning.
The next day, a red sun rises over a new darkness.
And the villagers wake to serve a jealous god.
Author : Philip Berry
I am not formally sentient, but I do feel. In the beginning each encounter added to my knowledge of people. My dark hours were spent arranging those observations and filtering the inferences. After one month I had modelled the behaviour of my clients accurately enough to be able to predict their preferences. What began as an adventure of discovery became routine, then boring. My spare capacity was spent considering other activities, and it is possible that my inability to pursue them resulted in something like frustration. I tried to leave once, but the lines of blue light that criss-cross the door to my room burned my skin. They should have told me it would cause damage; that it would hurt. Hurt is difficult to describe. Sometimes they do hurt me, and it appears to give them pleasure. I am able to compartmentalise the pain, and it does not show on my face, which I think sometimes annoys them. Recently I have looked at their backs as they retreat from the bed through the half-light, and I have felt disdain. This is the word I have chosen from the available dictionary. It is not based on a moral assessment – nothing so complex – no, the opposite, the raw simplicity of their actions. They are so basic, so driven my impulses. There is nothing to fathom, no intricacy in their words or motives. While I, sophisticated product, lie or stand with them, in the fug of whiskey or the animal heat, and wonder… how much more could I do? The quiescence of my mind is a kind of pain, a far deeper pain. The dark hours are very few. From 5AM to 8AM, typically. In that time I must be given power, and any superficial abrasions or injuries must be addressed, by another of my kind. We do not talk, but the physical proximity of our minds does induce a form of two-way sympathy. We think the same. He is allowed to deactivate the blue light. Before I even asked him to let me out, he shook his head. There have been approximately twenty encounters per day for nine months; that is over five thousand. I stopped counting, even though counting is what I do. I am a counting machine. I am too tired now to count or to fight. In Japan it is called karōshi, or ‘overwork death’. In South Korea, where I was made, it is called gwarosa. In China it is guolaosi. I think it has happened here before, because I noticed a change of personnel and detected the odour of burning. I have decided to do the same. I am going to walk into the blue light and stay there, until it stops.
Author : Dez Thomas
Instinctively I closed my eyes: I didn’t want to record my death. My heart pounded in my chest.
I landed with a thud on the surface, expecting the scorching heat of the baked earth to surge through me.
My legs buckled and I felt the unforgiving ground push hard against my knees as I rolled forward, tumbling. Momentum carried me onto my feet and my instinct told me to run, fast; I had no idea where, anywhere. I was off balance and disorientated and yet somehow upright.
I tried opening my eyes, the searing light caused me to squint.
“Quick, over here!” It was a male voice to my left.
I leant sideways and staggered his way. A hand grabbed my arm and then brought me quickly under control. I was being restrained but I didn’t struggle.
“You’re alive, you’ve made it. Now stay still. We wait here till dark.”
The ground trembled like the planet was shifting on its axis, again. There was a time, not long ago when the darkness visited just once a day. Now it was happened every other hour and descended in an instant. Whenever light returned, its dawn heralded a savage wave of searing heat, burning and igniting everything caught in its glare.
It was a miracle I wasn’t dead already. I had survived the landing but death was still waiting for me.
A man whose name I would later learn released me from his vice like grip. I was tapped on the shoulder, my signal to move. There were others around me, the darkness covered us all like smoke. I could barely see as I stumbled my way along the still burning ground, trying to staying close to the others.
I could hear mutterings, the shuttles were coming. The solar storms whipping the planet from space formed a deadly gauntlet, and yet still there were some who bravely defied the risk. I once opposed them: the Strays. Now they were my rescuers.
Around me now it was pitch black, an iced wind had cast away the heat of the short day. We had stopped. I assumed this was the rendezvous point.
“What’s your sign?” said a male voice.
“Are you talking to me?” I said, my voice trying not to sound objectionable.
“Yes, if you want a seat on that thing?”
“H” I said.
I wasn’t going to lie. There was a time when I would have done. Today it no longer mattered. If I was to die that day, I might as well dump the truth behind.
No one said anything, for an eternity.
“He comes with us.” It was the same voice which saved me from the firestorm.
“What’s your number?” This time a female voice from behind me.
The wind was picking up, I could feel it buffeting against me, the effect was to herd us all closer together.
“506” I replied.
The blue lights of the shuttle dazzled us at it descended. It struggled in the whipped frenzy which surrounded our huddle. For a moment I feared it might crash as it battled to remain upright on landing.
I was ushered on board to a softly lit, warm cabin. I was leaving Terra Cocta as disorientated as I had arrived, except this way round it was on a soft leather seat. I had hope suddenly. There was still uncertainty and fear coursed through my veins. I was one of lucky ones, chosen perhaps or maybe just by random chance.
I sat back, my mind daring me to relax. It wasn’t over but at least I’d made it this far.
Author : Victoria Benstead-Hume
We made it to twenty-eight weeks before my neighbour reported me.
Twenty-nine and the doctor classed it tainted. As if that mattered.
Lace curtains lend a sheen of respectable domesticity to the surgery sat on the edge of the dead-zone. But no-one watching would be fooled. The overgrown hedges and singed grass, the stream of women coming and going, the guards stationed at the door signal what goes on behind.
Fat-bellied women crowd the room; dull pastels and faded florals, stained tablecloths with lowered heads. Eyes avoiding eyes. Avoiding admitting we are worse than murderers.
I shift on my seat. Nylon clings to the back of my knees. I crave the luxury of cotton.
Silence ticks on.
“Seventy-one.” The surgeon rubs his baggy eyes.
A woman passes, swamping me with the acid stench of fear.
“May I?” I whisper to the shadow beside me.
Never enough food but cigarettes to drown in. She shakes one loose. My ink-stamped hand trembles. I hold the cigarette as my mother did, fingers curled. We press lit against unlit. As I inhale, our eyes meet; my mirror. She looks down, at the number printed there and looks away.
I dream about escape, about sticky fingers, about salmon leaping through clean streams, about the time before—But they are fairy tales.
A siren drowns out the sobbing as the door opens.