Tourney of Dominance

Author : Dylan Otto Krider

Qualifications for the office of Head Chieftain were demonstrated by the battle of wills: Each was given a vehicle of equal weight so they could drive headlong toward each other; the one who didn’t swerve was chieftain. A head-on smash prompted a run-off between the next two top candidates (even if one of the first candidates survived, they were unlikely to be in any condition to execute the duties of office).

Chieftain Boer, however, had all the benefits of incumbency, having won enough games of chicken to convince any possible rivals of his resolve. But it was not by his courage, but his wits that Boer had persevered. What Boer did was ingenious: he held out an anti-theft club so that everyone saw it, and fastened it to his steering wheel, locked it, then tossed the key outside the window.

Boer had presented his challenger with a choice: he could let Boer win, or they could both die. Until then, either side always had a choice. One might love life just a little more and turn at the last minute, but no amount of bravery or love of power could change the fact that Boer could never back down, even if he knees did start to buckle. He would be Chieftain, or both die.

At first, Bower, the former Chieftain, did not accept the situation, and refused to take the incumbent’s right of non-compete and abdicated his office. He wanted to call his bluff, but as the two vehicles hurled towards each other, even courage could not stare down a locked steering wheel, and at the last moment, he turned, kissing the corner of Boer’s front bumper, and rolling across the desert floor.

No one had challenged Boer since.

Boer had proposed one last opportunity to compete for office before he did away with the competition completely and granted himself lifetime control. If no one challenged him this year, no one could ever challenge him again.

Wits had given Boer his office, and it would take wits to remove him.

Fenster lacked the natural athleticism needed for politics, so no one ever suspected Fenster of having ambition. He was the clan cook. Nobody thought of him as more than that. Most of all Boer. But Fenster knew Boer, once young and ambitious himself, had grown fat and comfortable. The only thing that engaged him now was only on to power.

At the Tourney of Dominance, Fenster stepped forward. “I challenge Boer for Chieftain,” he said.
The crowd laughed.

“You challenge me?” Boer said. “Very well.”

They brought out both cars. Boer put the club on the steering wheel, locked it, and held up the keys to the audience for show, then tossed them aside.

Fenster pulled out his own club he had been hiding in his coat so Boer couldn’t find some way to back out. The audience gasp. Boer’s confidence drained from his face. This would be a competition to the death. Fenster locked it deliberately and showed the keys to the audience. And then, with one swift motion, tossed them aside.
Fenster strapped himself inside his car confidently, Boar less so.

The horn sounded and both vehicles hurtled at one another. Fenster had his arms crossed. He only needed his foot on the gas.

Boer’s eyes were golf-balls, Fenster could see them just before Boer’s car turned away at the last moment. Boer, not one to leave things to chance, had another set of keys. Boer didn’t survive this long by leaving things to chance.

But an aspirant would.

End

Curtains

Author : David Henson

Bridget goes to the DBG keyscreen in the kitchen, taps in a detailed proposal for Frank and her to host Clarise Jenkins and Tremont West for dinner, then hits SEND.

“Please specify reason for engagement” appears on screen.

Bridget rolls her eyes and keys in “Getting to know a new couple.”

“Proposed menu includes wine. Please specify.”

Bridget shakes her head. “Chardonnay.”

“Please specify dessert.”

Bridget taps “Vanilla ice cream!” backspaces over the “!” and hits SEND.

“Proposal approved pending acceptance of Merlot and cheesecake.”

Bridget swears under her breath. “Accepted.”

“The DBG hopes you have a pleasant evening.”

***

“House Helper,” Frank calls out, “wine service.” A small, tracked robot whirs into the dining room carrying a tray with four glasses of Merlot. Tremont takes a glass, pushes his nose into it and inhales. Seeing Frank is about to laugh, Bridget casually squeezes his earlobe. Frank cries out.

“You OK?” Clarise says.

“Yes, just a little cramp in my … ear. You folks have one of these House Helpers?”

“Actually,” Tremont says, “the DBG approved us for the new release. Legs instead of rollers. Very maneuverable.”

As they wait for House Helper to bring salads, Frank twirls his fork. Bridget squeezes his knee under the table. “Were you delayed at the checkpoints?” she says. “I hate those things.”

“The Greeting Stations? I don’t mind them.” Clarise sips her wine. “We’ve nothing to hide.”

“We can’t take our safety for granted anymore.” Tremont adds.

“We’re hoping to visit the lake next weekend,” Bridget says. “Honey, is our trip approved?”

“Not yet.”

“Patience,” Clarise says. “I’m sure the DBG’s Recreation Optimization Division is giving your proposal a fair review.”

“I don’t understand why –” Bridget says, then feels Frank squeeze her knee “House Helper’s taking so long.”

“Everything’s better now with the DBG,” Tremont says.

Frank squeezes Bridget’s knee again. “More wine? House Helper, more wine,” she says.

***

Bridget brushes her teeth. Frank inspects his thinning hair. Clattering sounds come from the kitchen as House Helper puts away the dishes. At midnight the DBG keyscreen in their bedroom beeps. Bridget puts in her code and leans in.

“Bridget Simmons confirmed in place,” a computerized voice says.

Frank also gets confirmed, then returns to the bathroom.

“Curfew in force. Stay in place next six hours by order of the DBG,” the voice says.

“House Helper, turn down,” Bridget calls out, then goes to the window. The night flares as bright beams rake the streets. A drone, red camera eye blinking, swoops to her window and swings side to side to peer into the bedroom. Bridget slides left and right blocking its view. The drone darts faster till Bridget finally screams and closes the curtains. A siren blares.

Frank runs out of the bathroom. “Bridget!” he says, dropping a tube of Magic Hair. He runs to the window and flings open the curtains.

“I couldn’t take it any longer.”

“It was our private rebellion when we withheld them during The Donation. We agreed we’d never close them.”

“I’m sorry.”

House Helper rolls into the bedroom and starts pulling down the covers.

A voice outside booms: “Violation of Regulation RD/22 — Prohibition of Window Coverings. The Department of Benevolent Guidance will now take appropriate action. Who’s responsible?” Frank raises his hand before Bridget can stop him.

The drone emits a series of tones. House Helper rotates toward Frank and radiates a bright red light. He disappears. Bridget screams. “The DBG hopes you have a pleasant evening,” the voice outside says, and the drone zips away. House Helper turns back to the bed and starts fluffing the pillows.

The Press-Conference of Dr Moreau

Author : David Barber

“Yes,” answered Moreau. “A landmark legal verdict.”

Absently he trailed a fingertip between the vorpal racer’s eye-nacelles and down the streamlined wedge of her face. They had opened windows but the crowded room still sweltered beneath the lights. His touch might have been intended to calm her.

Networkers and mediafolk proffered their mikes and lenses, hoping for headlines, willing Moreau to outrage them.

“All winners make sacrifices,” he replied offhand to another question. In her case, gonads, gut and breasts. Also a much-reduced lifespan, but he did not say this. “The New Olympics insist competitors are human. Which is to say, at least the 98% we share with the DNA of apes.”

The vorpal shifted – they do not sit – easing her limbs into new postures of discomfort.

“An arbitrary limit, but otherwise where would be the skill, the art? Just geneered cheetahmorphs cruising at two hundred miles an hour.”

His questioner hesitated, not sure if she had a sound bite or not, and if she did, what it meant.

Moreau shrugged. “I understand you can still find the Old Olympics on some midnight channel. Feel free to watch them wallow in the pool or lumber down the track.”

His gaze returned to the teenage networker at the front, the one who challenged him earlier about his vorpals having no choice.

“I love to hear the media preach. A skin as pale as yours – there are viral fixes now, by the way – courts melanoma. Did your parents choose? My vorpals have discovered what they are. They live to run, since I bred them so – unlike the ancestors who fashioned you so carelessly.”

The vorpal trembled beneath his hand. They found it torture to be still.

“One final question.”

“No,” he snapped, before the reporter was finished. “Manimals were my grandfather’s work, his knife as crude as athletes training years to shave a second from their times. All that pain was pointless, based on an out-dated paradigm. You demand the fastest and the best, a race that vorpals won. Soon humankind will metastase into something new.”

More than one networker typed that, though none believed it.

“Why don’t you let the creature speak for itself?”

A lens or two turned at the shout from the back, but most lingered on Moreau, awaiting his reaction.

“She is not a creature. The Supreme Court ruled today that Atalanta here is human and has the same rights as you.”

“Because animals can’t speak!” More heads turned. The man shrugged off his jacket to reveal a t-shirt spelling out a warning from God.

“I protected Atalanta from the media because of her youth, but perhaps it is time she answered questions herself.”

There was a rustle of anticipation.

“She communicates via a keyboard, since vocal chords restrict the flow of air at speed.”

“So, Atlanta…”

“Her name is Atalanta. Read your Greek mythology.”

Chairs tumbled and there was a gasp of alarm as the protestor pushed his way to the front.

The vorpal sees it all, the spittle flying from the man’s mouth as he bawls his slogan, the gun he tugs from his pocket, and her hearts thunder.

She vaults over people posed like statues, through an open window, into blinding sunlight and much too late there is the rumble of a shot, and lethargic screams.

She accelerates smoothly across the grass, strides lengthening, until her feet barely seem to touch the ground. Father has promised her the freedom of a run. Her limbs pump faster and faster and ecstasy swells in her beyond any comprehension of the Slow.

The Empty And The Dark

Author : Phil Rejmer

Humanity and its lost tribe met, finally, in between the stars. We faced each other, the representatives of each clan, standing in the metal halls of each others’ vessels.

It had been so long since humanity had abandoned Earth. Almost as long since the Schisms split our family in two. At the time, we had been glad to continue without them. But, after our wrath had bled into the darkness, we began looking for our brethren, once again.

We drained gas giants of their nectar, and bathed in the life of alien suns. We shattered frozen asteroids and farmed their dirty ice. But the last of humanity did not stop searching for our lost kin.

After years, the halls and galleries of our vessels lost their light, and so our gene-alchemists adjusted our bodies to survive the Dark. The Emptiness leaked into us and gnawed our thoughts, so our psycho-surgeons adjusted our minds to survive that as well.

And then, as if by chance, we stumbled upon our wayward siblings, following a herd of asteroids in the Emptiness between the stars.

We hailed each other. We boarded each others’ vessels. There was silence.

What else could there have been? They were so strange, so different from us. They had changed so much. We wanted to welcome them, but did not know how. There were no rituals to follow, no instinct to grant us wisdom.

Finally, they said, “We have been looking for you.”

What shock! To learn that they had been on the same quest as we!

Overjoyed, we told them that we too were looking for them. We said that they could rejoin us now, that they were no longer lost.

After some silence they said, “It is you who were lost. We have come to bring you back to us.”

What disrespect! What lunacy! For them to suggest that we had strayed! To be ungrateful of our outstretched hands! We could not ignore such a slight upon our pride. We went to war. What else could there have been? How could we not strike them when they were so blind?

Blood was thrown across the Emptiness. Riven vessels were sent careening into suns and dead planets. We hunted each other along the same paths we once had searched. We warred with guile honed by the Emptiness and with strength honed by the Dark.

In the end, after all the death, there was peace. But even so, after all that had passed, they never let us forget who had spoken first.

Identity Theft

Author : Jules Jensen

She needed a couple more voice samples. And then this would be the perfect catch, exactly what the buyer wanted.
She sidled up closer to him, and nodded to his wife as she browsed the wares for sale at the next booth in the bazaar.
“So, does your wife have an eating disorder?”
“No, she does not! What’s wrong with you?” He whispered back, just like she wanted, and he even did her the favour of offering up several inflections of horror and annoyance.
“You‘re just too cute.”
He blushed. Oh, that was gold. She sincerely hoped that she got that on her hidden camera. She winked at him and cheerfully bounced away. Just as she ducked into an alley, her phone rang and she answered.
“Christen, I need another identity before you come back.” The voice of her buyer barked over the phone.
“Another one? I just got the best hot-young-nerdy-male identity you could ever ask for.”
“Then get me the perfect one to go alongside it. Maybe an older woman, the cougar type.”
“Just what do you need these identities for?” Despite her hesitation, she was standing at the edge of the alley and already looking for the right kind of lady for the job.
“Foreign advertising, for those poor countries wracked by skin disease.”
“I’ll be done in an hour.” And with that, Christen dove back into the fray, stepping into the middle of the bazaar.
Not even an hour later, she had the perfect identity.
Back at her apartment, she uploaded the identities to her buyer’s server, and he gave her a code. She typed into her bank account, and watched the funds pour in. She decided tonight was worthy of being pizza night.
The next morning, she turned on the TV and snatched up a piece of cold pizza. She flopped onto the couch and watched the muted news while she ate.
The bite she just took fell out of her mouth. The reporter was talking on mute, but she could see that the man from yesterday was paused in a film where he was crawling all over a naked lady. Who happened to be the other identity she stole yesterday.
Christen scrambled for the remote to un-mute the reporter.
“-accusations are totally false, according to the man in the video. As the heir to a very successful hover-delivery company, this kind of behaviour is clearly inappropriate-”
Christen rapidly dialled her buyer‘s number.
“What? It’s too damn early.”
“The news!” She sputtered, nearly choking on a piece of pepperoni that was stuck to her tongue. “How’d this happen?”
“Oh come on, did you really buy that crap that those identities you steal are used for advertisements? I sell them to some skin-flick company-”
She hung up on him. She was horrified as she thought about all the people she scanned, what their identities were used for. She was never going to steal another identity again.
A knock at her door made her jolt. She reluctantly went to the door.
The moment she opened it, a man snapped a magnetic cuff onto her wrist. His black police uniform was unmistakable.
“Christen Dorden, you are under arrest for drug trafficking.”
“What? I have never-” She started to protest, but then she thought about her buyer. Who’d just told her the truth about what he does with stolen identities, when he had no reason to trust her.
And how many times has she walked into his computer shop, surrounded by all that recording equipment?
“That son of a-”
“Ma’am, I’d advise you to remain silent.”