Author: Richard Leise

A knock on the door. In the way of doctors, the door opens before Justin or Jenifer can answer. The wail of a woman moaning sweeps down the hallway and into their room. The sound swells to a scream, but her words are indistinguishable, each syllable crushed by a choking sob. The doctor smiles, unconcerned. A moment later, a nurse enters. She carries a manila folder clipped closed with a pen. She shuts the door behind her.

Instead of a woman, the screaming brings the doctor’s features into sharper focus. In some near or distant future, this man will be considered a hero or a villain, his actions, his participation in The Program, judged heinous or brilliant. History often enjoys the glory of perspective, a sort of ordering imposed upon chaos. Justin is too close to this particular point in history to predict which.

“Please,” the doctor says. He doesn’t take his eyes from Justin as the nurse sets the manila envelope upon the foot of the bed.

What does “Please” mean?

Smiling, the woman asks Jenifer how she’s doing. She doesn’t stop talking as she approaches Jenifer, and, speaking now to the child, lifts the boy. She leaves the room.

The woman down the hall is still screaming, but she has tired herself, considerably. She sounds more human. The nurse pulls the door closed. The suite is silent. Jenifer pushes herself backward until she is sitting. She smiles. Her eyes are fixed and bright.

The doctor steps to the foot of the bed. He retrieves the folder. He thumbs a corner of his mouth. Light flashes as the television pops to life. The doctor turns. The TV cuts off and into darkness. Shaking his head, he again faces Jenifer and reads through a sheet of paper. Nodding, he says, “What’s your name again?”

“And that’s with two ‘n’s’”?

“Maiden name?”

The doctor nods. He taps a piece of paper, “And you were born Eight One?”

He shrugs. “Last four of your soc?”

“What’s going on,” Justin says. He steps towards the doctor.

The doctor holds the folder like a bible. His glasses rest upon the end of his nose. He traces his finger as if following a particular passage, and, satisfied, closes the folder and pockets the pen. He speaks as if into a microphone.

“It goes without saying that things happen.”

Justin makes to speak, but Jenifer raises a hand. “Make him say it. All of it. Whatever they have done? Whatever supposedly happened? We’ll get more if we’re silent.”

The doctor pushes his glasses atop the bridge of his nose and cocks his head. He looks at Justin. He shrugs. He turns his body and addresses Jenifer.

“Those involved apologize, Mrs. Dressler. I certainly can’t do anything more. He bites his bottom lip. “We’ll bring you your boy shortly.”

The doctor crosses the room and places a hand upon the door. He nods. “As promised, Mrs. Dressler, your child will be delivered shortly.”

He leaves. The woman is no longer screaming. They hear her crying before the door seals shut.

Justin. Jenifer. They know what happened. What’s impossible to construct? Meaning. Life—as in what it takes to live—has never been easier. Living—as in what it means to exist—has never been more complicated. Before, your mother could die, and you were given a ghost. Now, a woman has a child, and she is given what?

More than ever before language, just as it illuminates, exposes our weaknesses, and highlights our inability to grasp what might once have been considered intuitively.
Jenifer sighs.

If At First You Don’t Succeed

Author: Katlina Sommerberg

Five seconds on the clock. Rachel hurled her coffee cup at the reactor’s control panel, but she missed by five inches. The porcelain shattered against the worn carpet, white shards skittering across the floor. Before the coffee spray hit the ceiling, the cup fused together and smacked back into Rachel’s outstretched hand.

Closed timelike curves featured in Rachel’s favorite movie:‌ Groundhog Day. She wished she’d read Gott’s book on the physics behind the concept; perhaps she would’ve already broken the endless five-minute loop.

Instead, time threw her back into her seat, steaming coffee in hand and 8:42 am displayed on her computer monitor.

Her papers scattered to the floor when she stood up, knocking her chair over and running out the door. The first loops, she hadn’t found the reactor room; the twisting hallways doubled back on themselves. Even with a map at every intersection, it took her ten loops before she learned the way. Then it took fifty more loops before she consistently arrived at Dr. Soot’s office.

“Time-meddling superhero coming through!” Rachel yelled out, expertly weaving through five Ph.D. students loitering in the hallway, interrupting their conversation on gravitational waves for the hundredth time.

Skidding to a halt before Dr. Soot’s pale wooden door, her fist slammed against it. It took three loops before she learned the magic words to entice him to open it, and she hollered the first word, “Professor –”

Another woman slammed into her, cutting her off and flinging her coffee cup into the hallway. Tumbling to the ground, a traveler’s mug of orange juice splattered open by her head. The foul combination of coffee and citrus hit her like a freight train, and her eyes widened when she recognized the other student. She hadn’t known Ember took a summer research position, until now.

“Who stands in front of a blind corner like that!” Ember said, picking up her half-empty bottle. The black student usually ended up paired with Rachel during their shared classes, but Rachel hadn’t worked up the nerve to ask her on a date.

“Who says nonsense like that when we have less than two minutes?” Rachel grumbled.

Dr. Soot’s door opened, and the short professor frowned at her students. Behind her, an open laptop looped through cat videos in front of a shimmering ball. The reactor, deemed a failure by a previous Ph.D. student, had been turned into a reading lamp. Various glowing buttons, looking as real as the functional ones, decorated the surface to turn it into the most expensive piece of furniture in the Maus building.

“What are you two –” Dr. Soot started to demand, before time reversed itself.


Author: Morrow Brady

The desire ached deep inside. She was in his head again. The first thought of every day, just true perfection. The beautiful dream of her standing in the red dress, echoing through the halls of his mind.

The further he birthed from sleep’s wonderful womb, the nearer he drew to journey’s end. The dreamachine at his bedside, heeding his awareness, disengaged with a click and the memory of her sweet face faded to rejoin the night. Barely a warm feeling lingered by the time he crossed the threshold.

At high sun, a faint image of her beautiful face. A luscious leak of nocturnal thoughts. It was a minor but pleasant side effect of the machine. It momentarily bewitched a faint smile and then she was gone again. His fairy tale was trying to escape his subconscious and needed his help.

He began withdrawing from his family and friends. He ceased the mundane routines and shed lifelong hobbies. At his centre now was his true passion. That moment of fantasy, when she would appear and give meaning to one more breath.

The sun fell below the oaks and silence came in waves. Sleep was coming and he needed to prepare. Power down the home. Take up the armchair with a warming drink and follow the hallway that illuminated his path back to her. He pulled the caressing duvet over his shoulders and tingled as he tempered the cold night. Soon time would exist no more. Click.

Morning sunlight spilt across his bed and he fought consciousness for one dear moment longer. Her eyes lingered until his contented smile broke through. This was the best feeling he would have all day. Click.

He glimpsed her across the park. Her perfect face framed in the window of the lakeside cafe. Dappled light through weeping willows played across her red dress. Elegant fingers cupped a steaming broth. From the water’s edge, he watched her smile at noon’s sun and turn to look his way. Her wondrous eyes touched on his, then passed on by.

He recalled a playground from his youth where he had lacked the nerve to speak to her. The night of the gala when she smiled, only to vanish before his courage arrived. He walked through the tinkling cafe door and approached her. He introduced himself and knew immediately he was a stranger to her. She smiled and politely declined the invitation. He left serenely, knowing they would be together tonight.

She took a deep sip of the warm broth, turned her face to the sun and almost smiled at the thought of his proposition. That night, she pulled her duvet close and tingled into dreams at the click.

The birds on the trees woke her gently and his smile lingered. The handsome face she had dreamt for years finally had a form. Click. She sat mesmerised, grasping at a memory of dreams as they faded to mist.

Time’s river flowed at day and froze at night. Together their dreams intertwined and together their realities crumbled. They passed their nighttime lovers on daytime’s street, each knowing they were one click away from perfection.

The Red Ones

Author: Moriah Geer-Hardwick

“Don’t try to talk to them.” The consultant clicks another cylinder into place. It makes a satisfied hiss as it seats properly into its compartment. “They don’t react well to the noise. Imagine one of them emptying an entire scent gland in your face. That’s how they feel if you start spewing sound at them.” She inserts the last cylinder, powers up the regulator, and then hands the belt to the specialist sitting across from her. Dutifully, he straps it around his waist
“The belt has seven cylinders,” she explains. “Five are passive pheromones, good for about three hundred and sixty minutes of steady dispersal. Should make us fairly uninteresting, provided our encounters stay casual. Fifteen minutes before the last one runs dry, the regulator pack will start to vibrate in short intervals to let you know you need to refill.”
“You think we’ll be down there that long?”
“The drop is less than a kilometer from the financial sector. Ideally, I’d like to be back in orbit before the first two passives are spent.” She begins working on her own belt. “If the regulator detects any hostility in the chemical spectrum it will automatically vent one of the other cylinders, which are panic pheromone concentrates. They should clear everything around us, for at least thirty meters.” She slings her belt onto her hips and snaps the buckle closed. “Right before it goes off, you’ll get one, long buzz. You feel that, things are about to get heavy.”
The specialist nods, slowly. He eases his weapon around in its tactical harness, checks the action, and initiates the charge pack.
“One more thing,” says the consultant. “We need to stay as far away from the red ones as possible.”
The specialist looks up at her.
“If you spot one, run. If it spots us, hit that button on the regulator, and then run.”
He lifts his weapon to inspect the angular device connected to his belt. In a shallow recess on one side is an unmarked red square.
“That fires both panics instantly. I should warn you, it’ll soak through your clothes, and it smells like cat urine. Old cat urine. And it doesn’t wash off.”
“So, last resort.”
“It’s better than what the reds will do to you, but only by a slight margin.”
“What are they? Soldiers?”
The consultant shakes her head. “They’re more like a militaristic religious sect. Not literally, of course, but the term is arguably analogous. They’re xenophobic, ritualistic, and extremely violent. They’re red because a lot of their ceremonies involve ingesting inorganic materials, mostly metals. Causes an excessive amount of iron to be absorbed into their chitin. It makes their carapaces almost impenetrable. Unless you’re firing depleted uranium rounds, you probably won’t even dent one.”
The coms chirp once to notify them that the skiff is landing. The specialist heaves himself up and moves to stand by the door. He grips his weapon firmly, pulling the stock in tight against his shoulder. One hand drops to the regulator, his thumb just above the red button. The skiff shudders, and lands hard. With a wistful sigh of escaping air, the door splits, the bottom half lowering into a ramp.
In unison, their regulators erupt into a frenzied chatter.
“Uh…” says the specialist.
Through the widening gap, they glimpse a flash of writhing exoskeleton, serrated, angry and red. Instinctively, the specialist clenches down on the regulator and right away the sharp odor of cat urine claws into his eyes and sinuses.
With a sigh, the consultant reaches over and presses the control panel to close the door.

The Discarded

Author: Mark Renney

I won’t claim that this will be a complete and definitive history of the Mind Wipes because that would be impossible. But I am almost seventy years of age and I have been drained only once. In order to achieve this, to survive with my memories intact, my mind unaltered by that particular cocktail of drugs, I have of course been forced to live off the grid, leading the life of an itinerant. I am a man of no fixed abode and with no gainful employment, at least not that the Authority would recognise.
I am not alone, I haven’t ever been alone. There have always been those who choose to drop out, as it were. Turning their backs on the Authority and existing below the radar, residing in grubby squats and temporary encampments. Working when they are able for a little cash in hand, but mostly scavenging. This is the price they must pay, that we must pay, in order to re-claim our memories or at least have the chance to manufacture some new ones.
There are many who didn’t choose to be here, these are the ones who haven’t abandoned the Authority but have been abandoned by it. They have been discarded for myriad reasons but mostly it is because they are too fragile. Even if they are drained of their past it won’t alter or influence how they behave in the future and to constantly keep wiping their memories would be a pointless task.

Growing up I didn’t pay much attention to the Memory Wipes. The brain drains were a part of the adult world and not something I needed to concern myself with.
The Authority men were a constant in our neighbourhood, patrolling the pavements and disappearing into the houses, re-emerging in their dark suits and with their little black suitcases. I was also aware that, occasionally, the men came to our house. I realise now of course that they visited twice a year. Once in order to administer the drug to mother and again when it was my father’s turn.
I remember vividly bursting into our tiny sitting room early one morning. Dad was sitting in his armchair and mum was standing beside him. As I entered she started talking.
‘Here he is,’ she said. ‘Here’s our boy. Come in and give your dad a hug. He’s feeling a bit worse for wear, come here son, come over here and give him a hug.’
Mum didn’t ever talk like this and we weren’t the kind of family that hugged. Reaching out, she grabbed my hand and tried to pull me into the room but I resisted and started to back away and I looked down at my dad’s face and I could see clearly that he didn’t know where he was and he didn’t know who I was.
It was at that moment I understood. I realised then that the Authority man had only just left, that it must have been merely minutes since he had pushed through our front door and out onto the street beyond, the empty hypodermic in his suitcase that had contained the drug now circulating through my dad’s veins, stealing from him all that he knew and limiting all that he would ever know.
I stared down at him slumped in his chair, a man who would have to re-learn everything and quickly. He would have to re-learn how to be a husband and a father, how to rise in the mornings and make his way. He would have to re-learn not how to be but how to be useful.