Author : Suzanne Borchers
“Armpits must stink, be hairy and itch,
While snot pours down the hooked- nosed witch.”
Threading his fingers through his hair, Robert squatted next to his prototype. The Poet224 bot definitely needed more work. Okay, his rhythm and rhyme senses were in play, but what could be done with word choice? Robert opened a panel behind the bot’s right ear to gain access to language boards. He pulled out a blinking tri-pin and replaced it with new one.
“Poet224, create a poem and recite it aloud.”
“There once was a mare named Snow White
Whose eyes were a color quite bright
She jumped over a tree
To follow a flea
And managed a circular flight.”
Robert beat his head with a fist. This bot was his last chance to sell his idea that poetry could be produced by anyone using a computer–that technology could do and be anything for anybody–and that music, art, and all the former creative expositions were rubbish. His PhD thesis in Computer Science was not wrong. He had spent 23 months on it, and time was money after all. He wanted the college’s Google Seat of Technology post!
Perhaps he should start small and build up a scaffolding poetic intelligence. “Poet224, create a poem of three words and recite it aloud.”
“You stupid piece of crap!” Robert paced around the bot. “You have intelligence, knowledge, plus a special emotion-chip stored in your artificial brain. You should be able to produce a simple, rational poem. I must have forgotten something.”
Poet224 swiveled its head to watch Robert circle.
Robert stopped pacing, and then he laughed. “That’s it! Time! I have lots of time! I’ll let Dad buy the academic post like he wanted to months ago, and then I can work on this thesis forever!” He reached down and placed Poet224 on the recycling bin’s conveyor belt. “Poet 224, create a poem and recite it aloud now, you hunk of shit.” Robert left, slamming the door behind him.
Poet 224 spun his head around to watch Robert leave, and then he swiveled it back to watch the approaching door of the recycling bin open.
“The irony of Time
lies in that moment
when its epiphany
Author : Callum Wallace
“A spray bottle?”
“That’s right,” she smiled merrily, pulling her gloves further up her arms. “To make it easier to apply.”
I stared, deadpan. “A spray.”
She nodded. “Have you tried pouring a bath of this stuff? It’s difficult to test the effects on larger animals. And the small ones just dissolve.”
My stomach danced unhappily at the thought. Kept my face straight. “How small? Like a frog?”
The smile faltered for a moment. “No, I said small. Bacteria, amoebas. Small.”
I looked down at the spray bottle, so innocent in the clinical light. All that was missing was a little label declaring it killed 99.9% of germs, with a hint of lemon.
“That’s alright then.”
I moved to take it, but she snatched it away.
“Probably best if I handle it, Sir, wouldn’t want any accidental discharge would we?”
I nodded. ”When will it be ready?”
“Depends on what you do with it.” I roll my hand to prompt her. “Well, for local area usage it would yield perhaps a ninety percent mortality rate.
“Buildings like schools, churches, office blocks and so on would have a lower rate at first, but as the chemical worms its way through the glass and brick, the rate would quickly increase.”
“A timescale, please.”
She drummed on the bottle. “Approximately twenty-four months, give or take. We’re still testing the effects on living tissue, as you—“
I cut her off, the eggs from the cheap flight breakfast still churning from her last vivid description. “That plastic,” I indicated the squeezable spray bottle she coddled, “is already immune to the chemical, correct?”
She glanced down, then nodded.
“And how easy to produce is that particular plastic?”
She blinked. “Exceedingly difficult, I’d imagine. It’s a complex string of polymers and—“
“A timescale, please.”
Her smile faded completely now. I felt a tug at the heartstrings, fighting with the queasy grumble in my gut, but didn’t show it. She mumbled under downcast eyes. “Four months, maybe less.”
I patted the slick plastic over her shoulder.
“That’s good. Continue your tests. Start even bigger. Cats, dogs, apes.” A greasy lurch threatens to betray me, but I stifle it. “Then begin human trials.” I swallow. “Children first.”
She looked up, eyes twinkling. “Already? That’s very good news! Human safety trials were projected for next year, at best.”
I smile again. “Well, I’m pushing things forward. I have faith. I’ll send you the amended timescale once the board agrees on the precise application of your chemical.”
She beamed at me. “Care for another demonstration? I’m sure bio has some mice—”
“No, no, that’s quite alright. One was enough, thank you.”
I take my leave hurriedly.
In the corridor my breakfast emerges into the obligatory rubber plant found in every large-scale organisation’s buildings, and I’m sweating. I wipe vomit from my suit and adjust the corporate name badge.
Modern business was getting so hard. Used to be corporations sold weapons to the highest bidder, cut costs on public services, and all the other wholesome activities big money attracts, the kind of evil everyone knew about and couldn’t have cared less regardless.
Now we’re melting kids, and I’ve got vomit on my suit.
And what’s with this airplane food?
Damned cheap eggs.
Author : Harris Tobias
The night Janet saw the UFO was the night she threw Frank out of her life. She had just finished dumping all his stuff—clothes, records, comic book collection—into several black plastic garbage bags and placed them on the lawn in a neat row. Let him come home to that, the miserable excuse for a man. She’d had a hell of a day— a visit to Planned Parenthood with her mom. Frank was too busy to or too squeamish to be present, the hypocrite. His idea of fatherhood didn’t extend any further than the end of his penis, the prick.
The plastic bags looked like aliens lined up on the lawn in front of the trailer. Their shiny black skins reflecting the moonlight. Just four bags. That was all it took to get him out of her life. Four bags and four plastic tubs of comic books. Franks precious comic book collection. The only thing he really cared about.
How could she have ever expected anything more from a big baby like Frank? Already the trailer seemed more open, more room to breathe, more space both physically and emotionally. Goodbye and good riddance, Janet breathed the first breaths of un-oppressed air in two years and she liked the way it felt.
Comic books. What a metaphor for her life. Her life read like a tawdry magazine filled with every cliche in the book. Frank cared more for his comics than anything else. He’d spend hours with them. “They’re going to take care of us in our old age,” he would say as though that justified the time he spent. How could someone be so anal about one thing and a complete slob about another? He’d leave the rooms a filthy mess but his precious collection was the example of organization, every book lovingly covered in plastic, labeled, cataloged and filed away for posterity. And where was the prick now? At some stupid comic convention.
He lived in a fantasy world, a comic book world of super heroes and impossible villains. Impossible things, that’s what Frank believed in. That’s why they could never get along because, deep down, she was a practical girl who liked practical things, real things, like a regular paycheck and regular meals. Silly, regular stuff like that. That’s why she was the one with the stupid job while Frank read the want ads and comic books.
When every last bit of Frank’s stuff was outside, it began to rain. Janet went in and fixed herself a seven and seven and sat down at the tiny table in the tiny kitchen. She looked out of the window. She could see Frank’s stuff outside in the moonlight lined up like an invading army of dumpy alien ninjas and laughed to herself. Frank would appreciate that image.
She was having her second drink when she saw it. At first she thought it was the moon, it was so bright and round and other worldly, but the shape was wrong and it was moving horizontally across the sky very slowly, behaving in a most un-moonlike way. The object hovered over the trailer park for a while then darted away as if spooked by something. A UFO, Janet thought to herself almost giddy with the novelty of it. Frank would be jealous that he wasn’t here to see it. I saw a UFO she thought just before the tears came.
Author : Rosalie Kempthorne
“Are you quite sure you want to do this?” He was asked that question again.
And once again he answered “Yes.”
“This is a one-way trip.”
“Yes, I understand.” I know what I’m signing up for.
But not without signing yet again. Another form, crawling with fine-type, a cramped little box at the bottom for him to try to fit his signature. Rogan signed. There was no need to think about it, he’d already signed these documents five – no, six – times since he’d first been approved for the expedition. He’d had all the time he needed to reconsider his choice. Why would I? What the hell do I have keeping me here?
Somebody must have been satisfied, because the doors slid open and a hallway lit up – glowing green footprints on the floor showed him where to go.
When he reached the completion chamber, he saw that about half the pods were already occupied, the other half open, inviting their next guest inside. To the right of him a woman had just completed her cycle. Rogan didn’t mean to be rude, didn’t mean to stare so openly, but this was the first time he’d seen the process in real life.
She was wet with translucent gel, and still groggy, her hair knotted and plastered against the sides of her newly sculpted head. Her skin had turned golden, not really skin now but very fine scales. Gills stood out clearly against her neck. Third and fourth eyes were only just beginning to open. Heavy shoulders, stretched limbs – they’d be weird getting used to. But necessary. This form was ideally suited for survival on the planet’s surface – cheaper and less restrictive than a life spent in environmental suits.
The whole process took only a couple of hours.
It made sense.
It was all just so… permanent.
A company technician in a green, knee-length coat was waiting beside the pod, holding out another form for Rogan to sign.
“Are you sure you want to go ahead with completion?”
“Yes, I’m still sure.” He wondered if he’d grow to find them attractive: transformed women like the one he’d just seen. How long before the face he’d see in the mirror would start to seem like his own again? How long would it seem like an intruder in his life?
I’m sure, he thought to himself, I’m sure.
“This is a one-way trip,” the technician reminded him.
“Yes. Yes.” He scrawled a signature over the screen and waited for the pod to open. Two glowing footprints showed him where to stand; the green, fetal image of a human figure showed him where to lie, how to curl into the bright, fiber-glass womb. Well, this time, he thought, I’ll remember being born.
He resisted the instinct to close his eyes as a thick gel seeped into the chamber. It was warm and fizzing against his skin, then cool, as his skin adjusted. Once submerged, there was only brightness, over-white lights shining and refracting through gel, pinpoints of light impersonating stars, a sense of void, just outside the reach of his vision. As wires came out and found their target in the last few minutes of entirely human flesh, as a cool silence oozed down around him, Rogan felt perfectly calm at last. Whatever came from this he would be new, rewritten, repaired – in a genuine sense, reborn. He’d open four eyes and he’d see another universe.
Author : Beck Dacus
“We noticed from orbit,” said the commander of the fleet form Quijote III, “that you have quite the renovation project going on here, and we have to commend you. Taking on a project of that scale is very admirable. And the foresight that involves! I think we could learn a thing or two from you.”
Earth’s emissary simply stared, slightly frightened at his own confusion. “I… well, I just… what?”
The alien commander stared back. “You know. The warming project. I think it’s very innovative.”
The chattering in the crowd behind them had stopped, the camera flashes becoming more infrequent. “I’m afraid I still don’t know what you’re talking about,” the representative said.
The commander gave what sounded like a series of low belches, the equivalent of a Quijotese chuckle. “Surely you’re aware of the carbon dioxide you’re emitting into the atmosphere, warming the climate and warding off the approaching Ice Age? You see, we don’t have the climate cycles allowing for such a catastrophic event on Quijote III, but I hope we would have come up with the same solution you did. Really remarkable move. You do know, don’t you?”
“Uh, yeah,” the now extremely nervous delegate said to the esteemed alien visitor. “I know.” He raised his communicator to his mouth, and asked his supervising officer, watching in the crowd somewhere, “What should I tell him?”
“Play along,” the officer said from the back of the crowd, sweating abundantly and tapping his foot in an anxious twitch. “Let him think we’re doing it on purpose. We can deal with the media later.”
After the emissary chuckled and subtly bragged about humanity’s little “engineering project,” the crowd roared angrily at the lie, shouting about the treachery of Earth’s government. The confused Quijotese official was led back to his space-to-surface shuttle and ushered back to his starship, sent away before it got too violent… and before he figured out what was going on.