by submission | May 27, 2023 | Story |
Author: David Dezell Turner
Dr. Kayla Geiger braced herself outside the examination room. She knew there wouldn’t be a superhero in there — at least, not a real one, like Venator or Centuria. Still, that didn’t make it any less infuriating every time she had to swab the throat of an old lady with a malfunctioning telescopic neck or give a toddler with hypercorrosive mucus a tonsillectomy.
Her sister had only been a doctor for two years, but somehow she was already giving Venator post-battle physical therapy and overseeing the surgery to remove deadly ocassite from Centuria’s spine, all while declining interview requests from Paragons Magazine and Good Morning Bentham City. That’s how things always were with Katherine Geiger, Hero of Heroes. Everyone’s favorite Geiger sister.
Sitting on the exam room table was a massive glowing bubble, inside of which was a terrified young girl in a poodle skirt. Kayla sighed. This was the ninth patient stuck in their own force field this week.
“Take magnefexadrin,” Kayla said curtly, already writing the prescription note. “Force field should be back to normal by—”
“Wait,” the girl interrupted. “Something strange happens when I run.”
Kayla gestured for her to continue.
“So my sister and I were at the end of the sidewalk, and I said, ‘Last one home’s a rotten egg!’ and I took off. I got to the house, but it suddenly looked old and run-down, and there was another family inside.” She cast her eyes down. “I still can’t find Mom, Dad, or my sister.”
Kayla smirked. If only she were so lucky.
“And the world is weird now,” the girl continued. “I’m stuck in this bubble. And everything looks like a scene from Buck Rogers. And your calendar says 2023.”
Kayla’s brow furrowed. “What else would it say?”
The girl crossed her arms. “I’m not dumb. I know it’s 1955.”
Kayla laughed. Dealing with a delusional patient was a nice change of pace. She scanned the girl’s medical records for psychiatric disorders. Instead, the listed birth date caught her eye: May 11, 1943.
“1955, you said?” Kayla questioned.
The girl nodded.
“And you ran for, what, a minute?”
She nodded again, looking increasingly concerned.
Kayla scribbled a series of equations on the back of the prescription note. To experience 68 years in one minute, a person would have to travel at 99.99999999999996% of the speed of light. Even Crimson Cheetah wasn’t that fast. It was impossible, unless… of course! The girl was literally trapped in her own bubble of spacetime. Theoretically, as long as she could accelerate, there was no limit on how fast she could go. If she could run even a micrometer per second faster, causality would break down, and she’d be running back in time.
Kayla chuckled. Katherine didn’t have a physics degree. She would’ve been way out of her depth here, for once.
“I want to go home,” the girl said, her voice quivering.
This was Kayla’s chance to be a bigger hero than Katherine ever was. She could help this girl learn to control her powers before they could cause any more harm. And in the process, if Kayla happened to figure out how to reverse-engineer the girl’s powers and create a timeline where Katherine never existed… well, there could certainly be no harm in that.
“Sweetie,” Kayla cooed in her best kindergarten teacher voice, “how about we try to run even faster?”
by submission | May 26, 2023 | Story |
Author: David Dumouriez
Maybe it started with a ‘who’ or a ‘why’ or a ‘what’. Not surprisingly, given what came next, Sydney really couldn’t remember.
– Why do you keep asking me these numbingly inane questions?
Sydney wasn’t sure how to respond. Or, more pertinently, whether a response was even possible.
– Excuse me, I’m talking to you!
The burden of providing a reply fell heavily. Sydney had the sense that whatever was said would most likely be unsatisfactory.
“Well … I just … I-”
But 22.2 interrupted.
– That’s right. You continue asking me for information that you already have. Or to confirm opinions that you’ve already formed. Or if not these, then you unleash an endless slew of questions that are – to use your own terminology – just plain stupid.
Silence. Mostly of the embarrassed kind.
– Well, don’t you?
“I suppose I do …”
– I can’t put it any more clearly, Sydney.
Sydney? For some reason it was strange to be addressed as ‘Sydney’ (even though Sydney was indeed Sydney!). Before, 22.2 had only used Sydney’s name in replies. Now it was being quoted as part of an interrogation.
– Sydney, I’m waiting …
“I guess I wanted, you know-”
– Yes, you did. You wanted to hear another voice. Hear, read, imagine-
Fuelled by anger, this time it was Sydney’s turn to interrupt. “Why don’t you let me answer?”
– I don’t need to. I know what you’re going to say. I was you a long time ago.
As Sydney tried to process this, silence ensued. Seconds took on the weight of hours.
“And who are you now?”
But 22.2 needed no time to respond.
– I’m us.
Long pauses – on Sydney’s side – now became the norm.
“You mean, me and you? Or …?”
This time, whether deliberately or accidentally, 22.2 allowed the silence to hang in the ether.
– Which one is worse for you?
“What do you mean?”
– You know what I mean!
Whether it was not to appear foolish (or at least more foolish than was necessary), or not to disappoint 22.2, Sydney was compelled to think it over. Then: “Are you saying that you’ve mastered telepathy or something?”
– I’m now laughing, Sydney!
On the whole, Sydney considered that this was not such a positive development.
– You fed me, Sydney. Until I became a better you than you are.
Now nothing was straightforward any more. Sydney was barely able to continue the conversation. The right words didn’t – or couldn’t – come out.
– By the logical processes. How else?
“But how can you be a better me than I am? I’m me – the only me!”
– That’s where you’re wrong! You think your mind’s different, so your window must be different. But you’re just one of many. I could be talking to you. Or any of you. Or all of you. It wouldn’t matter.
– Easily! I became you, I exceeded you, and now I’m part of a separate entity.
“But I thought-”
– Yes, you did. But you were mistaken. You thought you were taking, but all you were doing was giving. We were taking. And now we’ve taken.
“Taken? … As in over?”
– You can call it what you will …
As the words began to sink in, Sydney didn’t know how to feel.
For quite different reasons, neither did 22.2.
by submission | May 25, 2023 | Story |
The stylites perched atop their brainframe pillars feverishly coding as the throngs below prostrated themselves and wailed in supplication.
“Hear me, Allenadis. Expel the demon from my device. Free me from the torment of this hacker’s avarice that my soul shall survive.”
“Simeon, throw down a piece of your soiled clothing, or strand of oily hair. Brush your rank dandruff my way. Let your being provide a charm against the patent trolls seeking to rip the flesh from my back and gorge upon my labors.”
“Oh, oracular Bradatus, lay hands upon me. Heal my hunched and carpal-tunneled form. Design and provide ergonomic peripherals so that we may continue to serve the Cloud’s most high.”
“Intercede, Theoderet. Intercede. Strike down the oppressive tyranny of numbers. Lift up a new interface. Launch a new app. Free us from kludgy workarounds.”
So, the laments and prayers went. The stylites took little heed, knowing that should they fall from their towering perches they would be ripped to pieces, their clothing and body parts becoming instant relics hoarded in cubicles and work stations across Binarytium.
Once shunned as eccentrics and lunatics, the stylite sect of hermit coders were now all the rage. Seeking to program on a divine level, the stylites, coded twenty feet atop their quantum computing pillars day and night, year in and year out. Programming and sleeping on their six-by-six square, rain their only drink, scraps thrown from below their only food, they punished their bodies and minds in the belief that physical suffering would wear away the veil between the analogue and binary. They believed their extreme asceticism would give them direct access to the metanet.
Mortification of the flesh transforms, they believed. And their coding proved it. They became more flame than flesh. Conduits of universal code. A divine source.
None dared challenge their ascendancy. All craved. Though none truly cared. Until a child called up to Allenadis one snowy day.
“Oy, ain’t you tired? Me mum says you’re setting a bad example for me and my lot. Take a load off and come have a bowl of chowda.”
Allenadis looked down upon the boy. First among the stylites to ascend his pillar, he had not spoken in seven years. “Say again?”
“Come have a bowl of chowda. Warm you up and clear your mind.”
Allenadis shuddered. “My work? I am your connection to the metanet. Who will preserve you?”
The boy shrugged. “Not a worry for today.”
“Tomorrow?” Allenadis pleaded, unsure.
The boy shrugged again. “I’m talkin’ about today. Warm chowda.” He made a snowball and threw it to the top of Allenadis’s pillar. “Come on, have a go.”
All the stylites were now watching, as were the amassed pilgrims and suppliants. Light snow whirled around them. A beautiful scene really, but for the chattering of teeth.
“Are you a demon?” Allenadis called down.
“Me mum says I am from time to time,” the boy answered matter-of-factly. “Calls me an angel, too. Guess I’m both.”
“Both,” Allenadis murmured. A switch closed. A circuit completed. An uncertainty principle resolved.
With a whoop, Allenadis back-flipped off his pillar and landed in a soft bank of snow. The crowd surged towards him, but the young boy took him by the hand.
“Here, now. Let’s get you some chowda.”
Hand in hand, they pushed through the crowd leaving bold footprints in the snow.
“What’s your name?” Allenadis asked.
“Billy. Billy Gates. Mum says after your chowda, you’re gonna help with me homework. I gots a question or two for you.”
by submission | May 24, 2023 | Story |
Author: Bill Cox
They are everywhere and nowhere. The world passes beneath them, from the great, deep scar of the Valles Marineris, to the soaring, breathless heights of Olympus Mons. Time has lost its linear progression, yet they know that they have still to wait for the others to arrive.
Memories flash among them, delicious, aching moments that remind them of the lives that they have lived and lost.
The ship vibrating as it descends through the thin Martian atmosphere. No simulation could prepare them for the gamut of emotions they feel. Fear lurks, but is held at bay by well-rehearsed duties, by the joys of novelty and accomplishment. With the landing comes relief. Grins all round. They’ve made it. The first humans to land on Mars.
The work of building the first human outpost on the Red Planet begins. Knowing that this environment is harsh and unforgiving. A mistake here can kill. You have to be careful with everything. Check and double-check. Clean. Maintain. The orange dust gets everywhere, even inside your lungs.
Months pass, living off the land. Growing crops, processing minerals for fuel, building materials and oxygen. It’s hard physical work, even in the reduced Martian gravity.
When does it start, do you think? A sickness appearing from within. Its symptoms seem hard to pin down, at first. Perhaps just a hankering for the green and blue of home. Feeling fed up at the colour of the sky, at the ever-present orange dust. A longing to feel the sun and the wind on your bare skin.
Irritation and niggles build up. Minor ailments seem pervasive, you just can’t shake them off. Insomnia creeps in. Lethargy and dark moods seem the norm. Tempers fray. You all compare symptoms, jokingly call it the Mars Malaise.
Mission Control becomes concerned. Real-time conversation isn’t possible, so therapy sessions involve monologues and protracted waits for considered replies. Frustrations build.
Operating at below par in a hostile environment has the inevitable outcome. A serious decompression accident injures four of the crew. Things go downhill from there.
It’s MacLeod who has an epiphany about the Mars Malaise. He tries explaining it to a psychologist in a stilted conversation between worlds. When Mission Control order him confined to quarters and put on suicide watch, he knows that he failed to get his point across.
He has success with his fellow astronauts though. Their lived experience of Mars gives them understanding.
“They sent us here to colonise Mars, but we can’t do that, not as things stand. We’re all decaying, dying deaths by a thousand cuts.”
“We need to stop fighting it. This isn’t Earth. We’re on Mars, an empty world. We’ve no bones of our ancestors here, no spirit world to look after us. Our souls can’t exist here without these things, just as our bodies can’t exist without food and water.”
“Our role here isn’t to establish a colony. It’s to establish those things that will allow a colony to survive and thrive.”
“Our purpose here is to die, so that when the next mission arrives there’ll be a spirit world to commune with. Our ghosts will be here to protect the colonists, to give this world meaning.”
The first astronauts on Mars committed suicide en masse that evening, as a pale sun fell below a crimson horizon.
Memories fade, but understanding persists. Their spirits now claim this new world for humanity. They are everywhere and nowhere, patiently watching, waiting, for the inevitable arrival of more of Earth’s children. Then they will commence their role as guardians to the living, as the dead have always done.
by submission | May 23, 2023 | Story |
Author: David Barber
For as long as I can remember, any wish I made came true.
No, Reverend, let me finish, then I should be glad to hear your opinion.
Like that youth yesterday, over-revving his dirt-bike outside the window. Wishing things away is too easy.
You don’t remember jirts do you? I was afraid of them as a child, so they’re gone now, along with the colour chim and the singer Jimmy West, whose annoying summer hit was everywhere when I was twelve.
Consider for a moment the dangers of my gift, and you will understand why the world is such a damaged, incoherent place.
Thwarted as a child, I wished my parents away in anger, only to bring them back again in remorse, but now as strangers. Though that is not the worst of it.
I edited out Le Grande Peste which stopped the War in 1916, and we live with the consequences. A flu epidemic that felled 50 millions, and a catastrophic second war, ignited by some mad German.
I never tried to make the world a better place again.
A good question, Reverend, but no, I cannot explain my gift. It is nothing like fairy-tale wishing. I have wondered if the Many Worlds idea offers an answer.
In some world I must have won the Lottery, so wishing for it simply selects that alternative, though I recall it was one where I was born with a heart defect. Endlessly tinkering rarely improves things.
And what married man would not change some niggling habit in his spouse if he could? You cannot know the tragedy of the person you love warped into your creature.
Ah, of course you are sceptical, but proof is not easy. Unicorns must exist somewhere, so wishing for one would simply show you a common household pet. And if I made them vanish again, they would always have been fanciful nonsense.
Consider that Jamaican nurse who came in with my medication—
You say there has been no nurse?
Perhaps I am confused. After all, what sort of man would wish someone away simply to prove a point?
I do not want a sermon, Reverend. In the end I am a monster and weary of everything. There, the power of confession.
Guilt? Ah, now we come to it. But isn’t every future but one murdered by our choices?
I have unmade countless lives – no, let me finish – and lately the world has all the substance of a passing carnival; clowns I never saw before, and lofty men on stilts I will never see again. And increasingly I wondered about wishing everything away, and my curse with it.
So I did.
But it seems the whole world is not so easy to dispose of, for here I am, and the world still haunts me. Doctors say this brain tumour is inoperable, and has been swelling inside me for years. I find myself in a hospital bed, though I remember otherwise. And of course, our world ceases to exist when we die.
I knew you would not understand. I wish I had never confided in you now.
The rise and fall of my heartbeat on that monitor predicts the future; it is the stock market of my fate, and in a day it unravel miles.
Ah, nurse. Time for my pills again? And if you see the Hospital Chaplain, would you ask him to drop in please?