Bow Skills

Author : Philip Berry

My music teacher, Miss Herenka, gesticulated through the blue-tinged, sound-proofed glass. I watched her thin hands glide. Her voice came down from speakers in the circular ceiling of my training cell.

“Jenna come on! It’s not enough to go through the motions. Close your eyes, use the full length of the bow.”

I sighed. I gripped the bow more firmly.

“No. Soft hands! Tease the charge from each string. Find the frequency that maims.”

She could sense that my motivation was off.

“This simulator, I accept, offers little satisfaction…but in battle… oh, the chords will resonate.”

So passionate, this old musician. And I had to accept, she had seen it all. And survived.

“Death will dance forward. Together, Jenna, we’ll watch a black tango weave through the ranks, leaving doubt on every fingertip she touches.”

Yes. The power I could wield. I had seen glimpses of it.

The first school concert, high summer, out in the field. My playing caused half the school to collapse in a swoon. Three children and two parents died. I was taken to the mountains where I joined the Conservatory at the age of eight and entered higher training.

The nature of my gift was explained to me – the ability to match the frequency of the music I made to a person’s emotions… and more, the power to manipulate those emotions. As the first year progressed the broad strokes of feeling were dissected and re-arranged, through tiny adjustments in technique: the speed with which I sawed the horse-hair bow, the pressure of my fingers on the cat-gut strings, the way my body swayed. Soon I was able to give instructions, or orders. Prisoners of war were made to stand within earshot, and I watched them tremble. My orders could not resisted, because they were packaged in strong emotion.
My music had been weaponised.

Danny.

My first friend.

Miss Herenka sensed my sadness. Yet, monster that she was, she seemed to have forgotten his name.

“Oh Jenna. Your friend, the boy. I know you are sad. But you should have seen him last week. He requested the Eastern front, he knew we were weakening there. Dropped into the field, he didn’t even look up. His parents watched from the orbiter with me. So proud.”

I knew the truth. He had understood the child soldier’s fate, so he chose the most dangerous theatre.

“The chords, they were beautiful, entered their collective consciousness… and led the sixth army off the Galen plateau. Victory! After two years of bloody attrition!”

It was true. He induced mass hysteria and ran a feared army off the high ground. I had seen the war report. But it had not mentioned Danny. And he had not come back.

“His name will live long. You have that talent Jenna, more. I am confident in you. It has been privilege. Now, come out of there and follow me. The General is here.”

The time had come.

My parents.

Would they sit in the orbiter looking down into the fire-lit smoke? Would they see me standing alone behind the enemy lines, playing, playing, playing… hoping to find the resonant frequency before a patrol picked me off with a single bolt.

“Come Jenna. Come.” She brushed my head affectionately. I knew Miss Herenka was genuinely fond of me. A bond existed. This would make it easier, I knew, to throw out a few toxic notes just for her during the final performance. Relayed to the orbiter, they would enter her mind and avenge each child doomed by her lethal tuition.

Elegy for the Human Race

Author : Riley S Meachem

I passed a filling station the other day. It was covered in some sort of vine, kudzu maybe, and the roads were cracked, so no cars could get through. (Hey, remember cars? They used to be everywhere!) I stepped cautiously over bleached bones, picked clean. Whatever they were, once, a small child or a dog, I couldn’t tell. The skull and the limbs were gone, mostly, carried off by rats, I’d wager. I checked inside the darkened store; Grey rainy light poured through the windows (Windows? They’re like holes you can touch. I’ll show you one, sometime.) It was mostly empty, racks overturned, and the food had been taken back twenty years ago when people still thought there was a shot. At what or why, I don’t know. There was a jug of Hawaiian punch, half empty, that I was too nervous to taste, (Trust me, you’re glad you’ve forgotten that stuff,) And a CD (It’s like a silver ring that plays music—yes, music is the sound that speaks to you without words) that I took, even though I’m not sure how I’d play it.

I miss that stuff the most. More than food, or sex, or civilization. Any of it.

After that, I set back up the dirt road, through the forest, towards camp. The higher up I got, the more of the road below I could see. Trees have burst through the concrete in some places (Yes, I already told you what concrete was, it’s like the ground, but harder and smoother.) Soon, there won’t be anything left there at all. Just trees. And an old man who remembers.

The Box Adjacent

Author : DL Shirey

I pound shots of espresso until my vision tinges brown as a sepia tint. The tip of my fat finger barely touches the skin of my thumb through the hole in the handle of the tiny cup, small and fragile like half an eggshell, yet it nests another stiff dose of caffeine. I need more. I won’t be ready to work until my teeth are coated with gritty film, that welcome friction between enamel and lips to help me force a smile.

The cup clatters a return to the pygmy saucer, and finally, muscle control yields to caffeine tremors. In wide-eyed meditation I wait until seismic activity in my brainpan achieves the same Richter rate as my shaky hands. Now I’m ready. I must not fall asleep on the job.

There used to be other people to help me, to tie my light-blue gown from behind. They made sure the soap container was filled and small, aseptic brushes available to scrub my fingernails. Now it’s a one-man job with a light-blue jumpsuit that zips up the front. I pull a sanitary hair cap from the dispenser and matching latex gloves from the box adjacent.

I press controls with my elbow and the door to the sterile room puffs inward. A cool, filtered atmosphere mixes momentarily with the warmth around me. The fine mist is not unlike what happens when two weather fronts meet, however, this result is not rain, but a liquid chlorine compound used for final decontamination. One last breath of good, old American air and I pull the mask up over my face.

Behind me the door closes and its seal engages with resolute pressure I feel in my ears. My small but comfortable chair awaits, the clock on the factory floor visible through the viewing window. Three. Two. One. The only tool available to me is pressed; an indicator turns green from red.

Hands drop to my lap. I see parts compound, components build and modules become machinery. Mostly I watch the clock: one hand sweeps, the other two creep for twelve hours.

Ironic, the only job our robot overlords allow is someone to press the on/off button.

It’s a Dad Thing

Author : Edwin Tam

“How will you do it with incomplete memory transfer from the subject?”
“We have cultural references on file: I’ll fill in the gaps.”
“But you’re supposed to infiltrate and integrate: there’ll be an offspring in the house. “
“Right, four feet tall with a brain that’s not fully developed…”
“We should hold off. What if we end up blowing the mission?”
“Stop with the questions already…it’s just a N-class planet, and we’re behind schedule. Let’s just do this.”

***

“Who are these for, dad?” he asks, beaming as I show him his gift. It’s a huge box of toys, all brand new.
“You got a good report card, son, and you deserve a reward.”
When I bring out the other five even larger boxes, he somehow looks frightened.

***

“What’s wrong with your tongue?” he mutters, staring at my mouth.
“That insect bite from last week caused it to swell up,” I explain.
“But it’s not swollen, it’s just really long,” he answers.
I swat him lightly on the top of his head with it.
“But it still works,” I say, grinning.

***

“When’s mom coming home?” he whispers.
“She’ll come home when she comes home. Aren’t you having fun with me?” I ask.
“But it’s been a week,” he complains.
Why does he always want his mother? This upsets me. I turn away to grab a quick bite of the cat without him noticing. But frankly, I no longer feel hungry, and it’s his fault. Do other fathers go through this too?

***

“Where are you?” he calls out, going from room to room.
He loves hide and seek, but doesn’t like not knowing where I am. So he tries to get me to answer. That is cheating. I need to show some tough love; otherwise he will grow up to be spoiled and entitled. I wait in the dark, claws extended. I only intend to scare him.

***

“Why do you want to hurt me?” he cries.
“I’m only trying to raise you right, son.”
He is trying to hold up a large gun with his small hands.
They really should hide these things better if there are children in the house.
“You’re not my dad. I found dad and mom in the basement.”
I shake my head. I told him not to go down there. He never listens.
“Put that down. Now!” I command sternly, in my best father voice.
I feel my second heart bursting before I hear the bang.
He just never listens.

The Long Game

Author : Travis Gregg

“Goddamit Steve, will you hold the ladder?” Darius yelled down. He’d been burdened with Steve for three weeks now and things were getting worse. Reluctantly, almost begrudgingly, Steve sauntered over and put his hands on the ladder. Darius sighed. The owner, a man Darius used to think of as a friend, had tasked Darius with training his son. The owner felt like it was important for his son to learn the basics of the business he’d ostensibly run one day but so far it had been like pulling teeth.

Darius looked around the brightly lit basement of the community center and sighed. The folding chairs were arranged in a circle, about twenty in total, most of them full. He chose a chair near the exit, not sure if he’d stay or not. He knew that at the meetings it was common for new people to tell their story but he wasn’t sure if he was up for it or not. When it came time to share it turned out he had some things to say.

“The job had been a simple one,” he started, “just rerunning some new thermal feed lines along the roof line of a three-story warehouse downtown. I’d been doing this for years but it only takes a small mistake.”

Several of the old timers nodded at this. Almost everyone here was a product of some sort of accident.

“On the way down I hit a ledge snapping my arm in three places. It’s funny, a hundred years ago an injury like that would have meant amputation. My father probably would have gotten rods and pins, but these days it’s back to amputation. Guess things come around full circle.”

He took my jacket off so he could show off his artificial limb.

“My new arm is all titanium and carbon fiber, fully integrated into my nervous system. It’s got neural feedback, grip strength ten times what I had before, and will still be functional after I’m long dead. I’m probably the first of several people who’ll use it now that I think about it.”

“I was unconscious when the paramedics got there,” he continued. “They gave me the once over and since my arm was so mangled they went ahead and started prepping the replacement. Pretty standard procedure for them, most things doctors do these days is remove and replace. What the paramedics missed was the artificial liver, hips, and spine I got when I was younger.”

A couple of the others nod at this, knowing where his story was headed. That’s why they were at the meeting after all.

Darius continued, mostly for himself than the others. “When you cross the line you have to give consent but they’d missed it with me. The new arm put me well over the 35% artificial which, when they realized, prompted the local rep to reclassify my citizenship status. They don’t call it second class citizenship but that’s what it is. We can’t vote, can’t hold office; they don’t want people who can live to be a thousand in office. I felt the same way when I was a normie. Things change though when you’re on the other side. I’ll probably go for a complete redo now, no point in not.”

His story finished he sat down and half listened as the meeting continued. He’d never really thought about getting a complete redo but the idea had just tumbled out while he was sharing. When he was a citizen the idea of the gear heads becoming the majority bothered him deeply but the unenhanced becoming the minority was almost a mathematical certainty. Some of the mods they were doing these days would extend life hundreds of years, maybe indefinitely.

Up until that point there had been a dichotomy within Darius. He’d only started changing his thinking to his new situation but in telling his story his view shifted. He was an enhanced, not a gear head, and they weren’t citizens, they were normies.

Looking around at his brothers and sisters he smiled. We’ll have our day when there isn’t anyone left but the enhanced, one way or another.