Author : Janie Brunson
“Welcome to the Talent Exchange Office. You must have a talent you would like to trade?”
“What is it? Your talent?”
“I … I can write poetry. In two languages. Puedo escribir en inglés y español. Sorry, English and Spanish.”
“A poet! There’s a very high demand for a talent like that. Both musicians and politicians can always use that kind of gift with words. Right through here, please. Now Mr. …”
“Eddie, then. Lean back and try to relax. It only takes a moment, and it’s painless. Physically, that is.”
“Señora! What do you mean?”
“You’re trembling, Eddie. It will be more difficult if you’re nervous. Deep breaths. Now, why are you trading in this talent?”
“My fiancée. I want us to have the wedding she sees in her dreams, with a white-frosted cake and beautiful live music and everyone in our family there, even the ones de México who can’t pay to travel.”
“That sounds wonderful. I’m sure you’ll get enough money from this to make it happen.”
“The thing is, she doesn’t know I’m here. She said I didn’t have to do this but … do you think she’ll notice a difference?”
“I’m afraid so, Eddie. Your ability to communicate will be … not what it was. Don’t look so terrified. You’ll be fine. You just won’t be able to carry on with descriptions of things people see in their dreams like you just did.”
“But I …”
“Tell me, what do you do for a living?”
“I work in the fields. I pick strawberries.”
“I thought so. Those rough hands of yours. Does your poetry help at all with your work? It seems to me that it might even get in the way, be distracting.”
“No, but it’s …”
“I’m about to start the procedure now, so please don’t talk until it’s done. Close your eyes. You’ll just feel a touch on your temple … Anyway, your talent will be put to good use by someone else. It will be used to lead people, to inspire them with art, to spread messages. It was always such a shame that so many of those with power and resources lacked that final component: talent. With yours, someone will do great things. Now, open your eyes, Eddie. It’s done. Didn’t hurt at all, did it?”
“How do you feel?”
“I feel … it’s different. I can’t say.”
“That’s normal. It will be a bit difficult to express yourself for a while. But you’ll get used to it.”
“Did … did you take all of it?”
“Yes. I’m afraid that’s the only way it works. I’m sorry. Take a moment. Here, dry your eyes. This emotional response is normal, too. Nothing to be ashamed of.”
“You’re welcome. I’m skilled at comforting people. That talent wasn’t mine originally. Now let’s see about your compensation.”
“If I can’t use words, how will I tell her that …”
“Don’t get frustrated; just say it as best you can, even if it doesn’t feel like enough. That’s what the rest of us do.”
“That I love her. How will I tell her that I love her?”
“Oh, I’m sure you’ll manage. You’ll be able to bring this money home to her. It will be a lot. You are—were—very talented indeed.”
Author : David C. Nutt
Major Janus took one last look at the soldier’s file. Rank & Name: PFC Johnny Benton Ralston. DOB: 12 SEP 2134. HOR: Southington, CT. Psi Aptitude: Off the charts. The accompanying progress reports told a familiar story. Phase I & II of training showed top marks and strong progressions- clairvoyance, telepathy, psycho-cognizance. In fact, PFC Ralston was only the second candidate in the US Army’s PsiCorps 100 year history that exhibited indications of apportation- the ability to materialize, disappear, or teleport an object. They had so much hope for him. Then, the mid Phase III decline. Inability to control mastered areas, lack of concentration, regression to level I skill sets, and finally, failure in all areas. Janus shook her head. It was a sad but familiar tale. Only 6% made it to Phase IV and of those, very few had weapons grade skills as opposed to just reconnaissance and remote viewing.
There was a halfhearted knock on the door.
A baby faced young man stepped into her office. “PFC Ralston reporting as ordered.”
“At ease.” Janus motioned for him to sit. “Johnny do you know why you are here?”
There was a heavy sigh. “Yes Ma’am. I’m failing. I’m here for you to tell me I’m out of the program.”
Now it was Janus’ turn to sigh. “You are correct PFC. It’s my job to tell you the bad news.”
PFC Ralston swallowed and nodded. Major Janus could tell he was holding back tears. “I figured as much. I know it means not only am I out of the program, but out of the Army as well.”
Major Janus nodded. “You’re correct again Johnny. We’ve found that once a soldier is bounced from PsiCorps, they really can’t be returned to the greater Army. If your skill set hasn’t degraded entirely, then you could, willing or unwilling, unduly influence your peers and superiors. We can’t have a rogue psychic influencing command decisions and troop morale could we?”
PFC Ralston shook his head. “No Ma’am.”
There was an awkward silence. Major Janus stood up and PFC Ralston scrambled to his feet. “Well, PFC Ralston even though you are out of the Army you’ll find that the PsiCorps severance bonus is quite generous and you automatically get education benefits so college is tuition free.” Major Janus leaned over her desk and shook his hand. “Good luck son.”
“Thank you Ma’am.” Johnny came to the position of attention, snapped off a smart salute and left Major Janus’ office.
Back at his room Johnny waited for his ride to the train station. Johnny looked into the duffle and noticed there still was some room left. He looked at his watch. There was just enough time for one more go around. Johnny took a deep cleansing breath and exhaled. He cleared his mind as his instructors taught him to do. With great effort he dialed down all of his senses and focused on his target. Johnny felt his face get hot then sweat. He felt the familiar “elevator down” feeling deep in his gut that made him feel queasy, but in a familiar and good way. Johnny nodded. Success. With great effort he closed the full duffle and went to meet the cab.
“Jeezum Crow son!” The cabbie complained, “What do you got in that duffle, gold bricks?”
Johnny Smiled. “No bricks. Just three million dollars in hundred dollar bills, sir.”
The cabbie laughed and they both got in. Johnny made a mental note to give the cabbie a good tip. After all, with his PsiCorps benefits, he could afford it.
Author : Anthony Rove
King Alexander—that was the name he had chosen for himself, anyway—leaned back on his throne. It wasn’t very comfortable. After a lifetime of resting his considerable girth on plush synthetic fabrics, the primitive wood-on-iron chair hurt his backside. He disliked the austerity imposed on him by indigenous tech. But then again, he wasn’t here to be comfortable. He was here to win. And victory was so damn close he could almost taste it.
The Royal High Priest stood at attention directly across from the throne. It (Alexander was never quite sure whether the beasts he had dubbed the “Macedonians” had any proper gender) was a short, squat, two-legged thing. At a quick glance, the creature looked like a shrunken, pale, misshapen human. It had a face, two black eyes, and a gaping central opening that might charitably be called a mouth—although it wasn’t used for speech.
The High Priest’s chalk-white skin began vibrating. A tiny device lodged in King Alexander’s ear canal detected the delicate series of pulses, and whispered its translation,
“Glorious God-King Alexander, I have excellent news from the front. The campaign was successful. Paris has been taken, and Napoleon captured.” Alexander leapt from his throne and raised his meaty fist into the air. Alexander had never been a dancer, but after clinching the semi-final, he felt like dancing. He shuffled his feet rhythmically while the High Priest looked on patiently. After a few moments, Alexander managed to compose himself.
“They didn’t try to hurt him did they?” he asked. The High Priest shifted its weight back and forth. Over the last year and a half, Alexander had learned that this seemingly nervous movement actually indicated bemusement.
“Of course not, my Lord. Even the most brutish foot soldier knows better than to try to harm a God.”
“Right. Yes. Of course. Just making sure.”
The man who called himself King Napoleon arrived in King Alexander’s throne room a short while later, escorted by two Macedonian guards. He arrived unfettered and surrounded by a dim, blue light.
“Leave us.” boomed Alexander in the most god-like voice he could muster. The guards obeyed, leaving the two men alone in the throne room. King Napoleon let out a prolonged sigh and extended his hand. King Alexander shook it vigorously.
“Good game, Alexander.”
“It really was. If you had asked me six months ago, I would have said you were going to crush me for sure.” Napoleon winced at the compliment.
“Yea, well stuff happens. I have to admit, poisoning our wells was a good move. Scared the crap outta ‘em. Made ‘em think I couldn’t manage our resources. They pigeonholed me as a war-god.” King Alexander understood entirely. Even if the locals were a bunch of savages, it was extremely difficult to keep up the veneer of omnipotence.
“Although,” Napoleon continued, “I’m not quite sure how you managed to get your guys around my sentries at all.” Alexander grinned.
“I’ll tell you after I’ve won the championship on Trappist-1e.” At this, Napoleon managed a weak smile.
“Well, enjoy the perpetual winter. After this hell-hole of a planet, I’m sure you’ll be glad to get out of the heat.
“Out of the fire and into the ice box,” Alexander agreed. “The other good news is that the locals on Trappist-1f are supposed be a little bit more tech savvy than these guys. Hopefully they’ve figured out how to make a comfortable throne.”
“Well, best of luck. I’ll be watching on the casts. But now, I’ve gotta catch my ride back to Earth.”
Author : Andrea Friedenson
“Such an expressive planet,” Lana said. I watched the reflected light from her monitor flow reds, greens, and blues across her perfect face as she admired the image of Earth that floated before us. The data visualization made the planet seem to shimmer as surface temperature, population movements, and emotional tides all shifted.
“I just wish we didn’t have to lose sleep to watch it,” I said. I was hoping this would lead to a her napping on my shoulder. It had happened before. But this time, she was too distracted.
“Why do you think they leave so much of their communication unencrypted?”
I sighed. The humans’ openness was a favorite topic of hers. All of the other known Hominoidean species were like ours, with layers of privacy, formalized paths towards intimacy. Our sociologists had long ago agreed that this etiquette was the basis of our current prosperity. Ritual contained and sublimated our natural violent tendencies into universally-understood gestures and language, which prevented war and preserved genetic diversity. The prevailing academic consensus dictated that without etiquette, we would devolve into bloodthirsty troglodytes in less than three generations.
But somehow, the humans had developed a society with the barest whisper of shared ritual. Each individual dumped out every thought upon whatever other individuals were proximate, sprayed his or her feelings across the electronic communication systems they had somehow come together to engineer like a berlip marks a jaj. To the rational person, it was disgusting. But to Lana, it was a miracle.
It was why we had deployed this space station, disguised as a dusty rock in orbit around Earth. The humans had of course noticed us, even come out to greet us in their clumsy way, but interaction was outside the scope of our mission. We watched them bounce around on our station’s shell and were able to collect granular data with a non-lethal dosage of radiation. Lana had cried and said it was the most rewarding experience of her life. I retreated a few layers of intimacy to give her the privacy to process her emotions. It had taken me weeks to re-establish our connection.
Now we sat together in the dark. The only observers on the late shift. But she hadn’t looked at me once. Her eyes were wide and stayed on the monitor as she said: “Don’t you wish sometimes that we could be like them? That we could just say what’s on our minds and in our hearts?”
I said: “No.”
Author : Jules Jensen
The gray fur was dry and dull. The small hollow horns on his head were curly and crooked. She stroked a finger over the horns. He closed his eyes, like he enjoyed the touch. The claws on his four paws were long. They needed to be trimmed at least once a week, according to her mother. But she couldn’t stand the thought of cutting his precious weapons that saved his life so many times in the arena.
He was contentedly curled in her lap, now closing his blue eyes and rubbing a paw over his flat, monkey-like face. She let him sleep, while she focused her attention elsewhere, looking out of her window. Her dad’s car just pulled up, and he was opening the back hatch. He was unloading the new battler.
She thought that they were done with the neighbourhood brawls when Mighty retired. She wondered what would happen now. It was illegal to have two battlers in one household.
As if sensing her thoughts, or maybe he smelled the newcomer, the creature on her lap jolted upright.
“Don’t worry, Mighty, I wont let them get rid of you.” She said, giving the creature a hug. He was tense and quivering.
“Stay here.” She got up and left the room.
Down the stairs, she stopped by the front door just as her dad came in. He gingerly held a cage that contained something roughly the same size as Mighty. The creature inside was an ugly thing, leathery black skin and six legs, white eyes and huge ears.
“What’s going to happen to Mighty?” She asked, but her dad ignored her.
“This is Shrill. I bet we can totally take out the Johansen’s bird now.” He explained to his wife, who smiled and clapped her hands together happily.
“Mighty could take out that bird.” She muttered in annoyance, too quiet for her father to hear, but her mother looked at her.
“Mighty is too old.” Her mother replied, and her father put the cage down on the floor and went to the kitchen, clutching a wad of paperwork.
“What’s going to happen to him now?” She asked, and her mother quickly looked away. She followed her husband into the kitchen, but spoke over her shoulder.
“You know the rules, honey.”
“But he’s a pet now. He hasn’t fought in ten years.” She followed her parents, feeling the teenage fury start to build up in her heart.
“Which is why we need a new fighter. The extra money will be quite handy.”
Her father was already reading over the papers. Her mother smiled, all happy and gooey at the thought of having a battler again, and being a part of the community after years of absence. Then she frowned and looked down at the floor.
Mighty came trotting in, claws clacking on the floor as he leisurely went to his food and water dishes by the fridge. He left behind paw-prints of black-brown gunk.
“What’s that he’s tracking in? Did he go in the garden again?” Her father asked, finally looking away from Shrill’s papers. She ignored him and curiously followed prints back out to the entryway, where her father had left Shrill’s cage.
The cage was open, and Shrill was dead, throat torn open and oozing blood. Her mother gasped and put a hand to her mouth while her father just stared, dumbfounded.
“I guess we really can’t have two fighters in the same household.” She tried not to smile as she said it, and then she calmly went into the kitchen to clean the blood from Mighty‘s experienced claws.