Icarus, Engineered

Author : Melannie Jay

I ran a thumb over the milky flesh of my inner forearm, marvelling at what Mark had done to me. What used to be a knotted mess of puckered flesh had been made smooth again, without even a silver sliver to indicate what had happened three months ago in Augusta after a night of heavy drinking and regret.

Mark smiled sheepishly and rubbed the back of his neck as I touched the other arm, then felt under my shirt for traces of the other familiar scars he had erased. Thousands of dollars leading up to remaking the perfect body and he had done the procedure for three hundred. I didn’t have the heart to tell him that the first thing I wanted to do was hack and slash to make it feel like mine again.

“I made a couple of enhancements. Free of charge, and I can take them out if you don’t like them. Do you want to see?”

I nodded and he led me to a full-length mirror where I could see what he meant, but it barely fit in sight. Two massive pairs of mechanical wings extended from my shoulderblades. The folded top was just above my head and the bottom of the feathers cut off at my knees. The silver gleamed even in the dark light of Mark’s basement surgery room.

“The scars on your shoulders… They kind of reminded me of wings, and I had these laying around. I was waiting for someone to put them on. Thought it would be a surprise. You can tell me if you hate them, I won’t be offended. Promise. Probably should have told you before.”

Mark trailed off, jammed his hands in his pockets, and the only sound was the gentle whirring of the wings he had put on me. They were lighter than I imagined, not so heavy that my shoulders slumped forward. If anything, my posture seemed better.

“They’re too heavy to actually fly with, but they make a statement. And you can move them if you want.”

I didn’t look at Mark, but I clenched my shoulders and watched as the wings unfurled, showing off his craftwork while almost taking off his head in the process. The face in the mirror broke first into a small smile, then a grin. Silver had always been my color.

Performance Enhancements

Author : James Hunter

Joe Miller stood silent in his dressing room. He was set to take the biggest stage of his life, yet he felt no nerves, no butterflies, he felt dead to the world.

Joe “Knuckles” Miller had wanted to be a pro fighter his entire life. He had done well on the regional circuit but once he received the call up to the big leagues, he had appeared to find his ceiling. After losing his first three fights Joe was faced with a do or die situation. Another loss, or even a close win, would end with his contract being terminated.

With an indignant end to his short career in sight, Joe began to get desperate. He was willing to do anything to start winning, even if it meant cheating.

One’s willingness to cheat however had little bearing on one’s ability to do so. The days of performance enhancing drugs had long since passed leaving little options other than to try and sneak in the occasional low blow or eye poke. It wasn’t until one night over a few drinks with his uncle that Joe found his easy out.

“I know it’s hard out there Joe, some of those guys are killers.” Uncle Tim said behind a sip of whiskey.

“I’m a killer! You should see me in the gym. I’m like a master painter or something but under the bright lights I can never put it together.”

Tim nodded and took another drink. “It’s all about having an edge over your opponent. They used to do it with drugs but now all the best fighters have cybernetics.”

“Huh?” Joe stared blankly with his mouth hanging open slightly.

“Implants, state of the art stuff. My company designs them. One in each eye and hand, then you’ll land every punch you throw.”

“But if I got caught…” Joe trailed off.

“Nothing they could do to you. This is that new, there aren’t even rules about it yet.” he said with a smile and a clumsy wink.

This was exactly what Joe had been hoping for. Within six months he had undergone three surgeries to complete the procedure. Now only two years since receiving the upgrades he was fighting for the title.

A cameraman entered the dressing room and immediately swooped down in front of Joe for a low angle.

“Throw some combos for me.” he said.

Joe shadowboxed for the camera and bounced around on his soft, spongy practice mat. He was moments away from his walkout and still he felt nothing but despair. He knew he could never truly realize his dream. Even if he left that night with his arm raised and a belt around his waist, he would never be a champion.

Mother

Author : Matthieu C. R. Cartron

Funny that they called her a mother, for she had neither sons nor daughters. Ancient but lively, she was as old as all of those who had been created alongside her. Every day she would look around, slowly, to watch her neighbors, hoping that it would be different, that they might awaken from death. But every day she was given a sorrowful reminder.

She was alone.

She ate the warm light, and had no choice but to do so. She waited. And waited. Eventually, she experimented, and found a way to create it–something to bring her a passive sort of company. She had found a way to create them, microbes, and once they came into existence, they became essential to her.

They borrowed some of her energy, but she didn’t mind. They returned the favor with their innocent presence, an ignorant sort of mutualism. She knew of them but they never knew of her.

For some reason she had survived. The red being to her right and the yellow being to her left had also survived, but only for a desperate moment. Putting up a vicious fight, the red being came the closest, but like the others, he too fell into a deep sleep. If anything, the Mother thought, he would be the one to awaken once more.

She wondered if there were others out there in the darkness, others who had survived the blast long ago. Maybe they too could entertain themselves with the microbes. Were their creations the same as hers?

But in the latest few seconds of her existence, something went horribly wrong.

A new microbe had evolved onto her blue and green skin, and they were unlike anything she had ever seen before. They were neither the smallest nor tallest, the fastest or slowest. But they were the smartest. In the first few moments the Mother could sense promise.

But after that brief moment, they attacked her. They dug into her crinkled skin and let the black and blue blood spill. They multiplied, using her flesh to produce more offspring and propel their devilish mutation. Why were they not like the others?

She writhed in pain, jolting and disrupting the mutated microbes. They seemed to take no notice though, and perhaps this was because they simply did not care. They were galvanized by self-interest–but if only they were when it mattered. Had that been true, it might just have saved them.

No, she thought. Perhaps they weren’t all that smart. The holes they had dug would become their own graves, she thought. What stupid little things they were. She searched her memory for a solution but came up empty. Her mind fought for ideas but yielded nothing.

Mother Earth sat there, on her axis, wondering what she could do in the next few moments before she too, was dead. And this time, no one would be around to hope that one day she might wake up.

Native American Zen Mondo

Author : Mark Adel

I felt the urge to write speculative fiction. But I couldn’t. So I swallowed a nil pill. Still I couldn’t. So I swallowed another nil pill.

Then I couldn’t remember my name.

But when my fingertips touched the keyboard I realized I was sitting in the part of heaven that had been settled centuries ago by Native American Zen monks.

“Amazing,” I said to a small weathered man sitting beside me at another keyboard. He was typing with the index finger of his left hand, while in his right hand he held a short stick wrapped in a strip of leather and adorned with feathers and turquoise beads.

Because he didn’t acknowledge me, I decided to fill the silence: “Is this going to be speculative fiction? Is this going to be an epic everything-but-the-kitchen-sink story, a sprawling conceit, a junk drawer that holds the meaning of life and whatever in the universe has no home and belongs nowhere but here?”

“No,” the old man snapped, whacking my knuckles with the stick. “It’s going to be painful unless you stop babbling like an idiot while I’m holding the talking stick.”

“May I hold the talking stick?” I asked, rubbing the back of my hand. “I have a question.”

The old man whacked my knuckles again and said, “Quiet. You asked a question and you were not holding the talking stick. And what makes you think this is speculative fiction. There’s not a speck of speculation in it. There’s not a speck of fiction in it. Everything here is true.”

I pointed from my mouth to the stick to my mouth again, trying to pantomime that I wanted to hold the stick so I could talk. The old man whacked my knuckles again.

“Hey!” I cried. “Why did you do that? I didn’t say anything.”

“Not with words,” he replied. “But you spoke with your hands and there’s no difference. You’re lucky this is not a gangster mondo. Then you’d really get whacked.”

“But—” I started to say.

He whacked my knuckles again and said, “Knucklehead! You are Knucklehead! The name you can’t remember is Knucklehead!”

Life Helper

Author : Vanessa Kittle

Max stood looking out of his window into the night. He lived on the 50th floor of the Palmer building in New York. The rule was the higher the better, and while he was nowhere near the top, he was still far up enough to get above most of the smog. He could just make out the jeweled lights at the top of the wall that circled the city and protected it from the ocean. It was a lovely view that was worth the cost. Over half of Max’s pay went to the rent for his apartment. Max kept the servers running for Palmer holdings. Of course he had never actually met Harald Palmer, but he was good at his job. It was easy so he enjoyed the work.

His controller buzzed. It was Cara Wite, the Cara Wite, inviting him to a party that very evening. Sure, it was a mass message, but this meant that he was on her contact list! He would go of course. What would he wear? It had to be something special. Max screamed to the room, “Emily, I need you!”

A holographic representation of his life helper appeared in front of him. She looked calm and cool as always in her gray skirt suit. Max had an odd sense of pride in the professionalism of his helper’s settings. There was some very subtle sexuality there. He didn’t deny that, but it was buried beneath a layer of cool intellect. So many people he knew had theirs set like a teenage boy would, with a bouncy short skirt that barely covered anything and just a push-up bra for a top. “How can I help you, Max?” she asked.

I’ve been invited to Cara Wite’s party. It’s in two hours. What should I wear?”

Emily took off her glasses and put one of the ends in her mouth as she considered the problem. “Your new yellow suit and blue tie are the best selection. You will look very handsome, Max.” She smiled reassuringly to punctuate her suggestion.

As Max began to think about actually going to the party, a wave of dizziness hit him. He steadied himself by holding the back of a chair. “Emily, what will I have to do at the party?”

“There will be hors d’oeuvres and drinks. There will be music, accompanied by some light and voluntary dancing.”

Max nodded. That sounded all right. Then a terrible thought came to him. “What will I say at the party… if someone talks to me?”

“I’ll be right there with you if you need me, Max.”

“I know that but I can’t wait for your suggestion every time… or can I? Won’t that look odd?”

“Most of the people at the party are very similar to you, Max. I have analyzed their profiles from your invitation. I suspect they have similar concerns.”

“So you think I should go to the party?”

Emily considered his question for some time, before responding, “You shouldn’t go to the party if it upsets you, Max. Your blood pressure is elevated. Sit down and relax.” Max sat on his sofa. Emily spoke to him again in her most soothing tone, “No one will know you weren’t there. Send a message thanking Cara. The result will be better than if you went.”

Max suddenly brightened and stood up. He was able to take a deep breath. He smiled at Emily. “You are a genius, my dear,” he said. Then he asked her, “What shall we have for dinner now that we have the night to ourselves?”