Affordable Care

Author : David Henson

“So, the Missus qualifies for a full body refresh, but you don’t,” Georgie says solemnly, looking first at Beverly then Michael. “Too much HoverGolf, not enough volunteer work?”

“Something like that,” Michael says. “I should’ve changed my ways when they first started talking about the parts shortage. And with this body about to expire, I’m –”

“Not to worry. We’re here to help,” Georgie says. “In fact, you’re in luck. Let me tell you about our limited time special…”


“I’ll give you a few minutes alone to think about it,” Georgie says after finishing. “But we’ve only a few places left. In fact, I’ve got some other folks in the next room. No pressure.” Georgie gets up, tucks his gold chain back inside his collar, and leaves.

“What do you think?” Michael says. In the corner of the small room, life-size holograms of men and women laugh and dance on a beach, soft marimba music playing in the background.

“I still don’t see how their prices could be so low,” Beverly says.

“That bothers me, too. But you know we can’t afford any of the others.”

“I know. I know.” Beverly reaches across the table and squeezes her husband’s hand. “This is all happening so fast. I still say if you’re going to be streamed to simulation, I’m going with you.”

“We’ve been over this.” Michael says. “You have to stay here and start your refreshed life. Beverly pulls her hand away, but Michael takes it back. “Beverly, you’ve earned it. I’m sure my consciousness will be OK in, what do they call it?” Michael picks up a brochure from the table. *QuantumLand, Simulation of the Stars.* I don’t get it. Are they saying they have famous people there or stars like in space?”

Beverly shakes her head. “And how would I know you’re OK? Their package doesn’t even provide for communication with loved ones back here in physical reality.”

“Honey, with me in there, you out here, it’d be pointless to keep …” Michael’s voice trails off.

“I just wish we could afford a more reputable simulator,” Beverly says, looking at the frolicking holograms.

Michael floats his chair next to Beverly, and they sit together quietly. After a few minutes, Georgie comes back into the room. He dances briefly with a holo woman in the corner then makes his way to Michael and Beverly. He sits and folds his hands, his large pinky ring clacking against the table. “Well folks, what’s it going to be? Turns out I’ve two places left. For now.”

“Are you sure your simulation is up to standard with the others?” Beverly says. “Michael’s not going to get in there and be a dog or something is he?”

Georgie laughs. “Wouldn’t be so bad would it? A dog’s life? Just kidding. I guarantee our tech is right up there with that of the big boys.”

“But how can you charge so much less?” Beverly says.

“I told you,” Georgie says. “Volume. Basic econ.”

“We’ve made our decision, Georgie,” Michael says. “I’ll be in first thing tomorrow. Just me,” He puts his finger to Beverly’s lips.

“Fine,” Georgie says. “Half now. The rest in the morning.” Georgie presses a button on the side of the table, and a numeric light pad appears in the air.

As Michael enters his payment, Georgie turns toward Beverly. “A dog? You think we’d do something like that?” he says, then mouths “Call me” with a wink and makes a phone with his hand.

On the Observation Deck

Author : Peter Merani

I like to watch it all go dark. To see if the world knows from up here how the evening folds in half. I used to think each individual sunset was its own glorious diamond. I would run to the top of the hill with Chawa as the sun flared up and flickered vibrant magentas and dark blues glowing as if they were alive. In a vacuum you think a lot about gapping absences.

To me, it is color.

But from up here, standing in a starship I know that the mystical spectacles are mere axis rotation of the planet. That my once great view from a top a tall hill is nowhere near as perfect as my view from the window of The Gladium.

“You’ve got a view of the play from the backside of the curtain,” said the captain. “How do you feel about that?”

Floating in space is different than I expected. I spend my nights wide-awake, tossing and counting and noting every single variation from how I thought it would be. Do views ever get old, is the question I ask myself before I sleep.

Standing before the captain, I’m inclined to say yes, but then I watch that view, the most incredible, most minimizing spin of our little blue ball, and I can feel all the people who see it down on the hill. The grounders. The sky whispers. The captain is an older man who has terribly bright green eyes and they glow like traffic lights on a road in the night.

Green is between blue and yellow on the color spectrum, but I notice that there has never been a green sunset and probably there never will be. I’ve learned to live with that. From down on the hill, once night has claimed its domain, it’s easy to forget that on the other side of the world the sun is flooding the sky.

Pink Pastures

Author : Desmond White

It was maybe the smell – the stench of it – which wafted from its corridor invisibly, or on a bad morning very visible, a blushing mist. The cloying reek, like a bouquet of rich, rotting flowers, congealed on windshields and the grease on fingertips and even between teeth. (Because of this, most citizens of Ohm wore facemasks which supposedly screened 99.98% of fume exposure.) It definitely had every opportunity to enter the nostril, so maybe it was small particles in the air – some combination of pheromones, the vine-fragrance of Nepenthes rafflesiana, ectoplasma, and sin.

It might have been the temptation itself – some intangible thing started by the early string of suicides and fetishized by the 24/hour news cycle. Maybe it was something psychic and spiritual – the citizens of Ohm unknowingly bombarded with madness and Biblical lusts. Maybe it was all ‘in the mind,’ a psychological conjuring trick, as disorienting and spellbinding as an optical illusion.

The fact was – metaphysical or not – the people of the city of Ohm lived on the edge of a great circling canyon of flesh which dipped down nearly cylindrical, like an organic ribbed condom, or the meaty circles of Dante’s Inferno, or an inverted and elongated areola.

They were a people who had to think carefully, quickly, and quietly. The days, each waking moment really (and some of the sleeping ones), were spent focusing away from, or in distraction of, that temptation they all felt to surrender the Self, trudge to the city’s throat (that great muscled garbage disposal) and onward, to disappear forever – never to be unearthed. The Pink preyed on the weak, the meek, the persuadable, the biodegradable, and what was left of the sociopaths, psychopaths, all the paths, leading to its mouth.

The Pink had appeared mysteriously but there were three leading theories on its origins. Theory One was that a mosquito had bled some cosmic horror and, now carrying some unimaginable eldritch virus, had bit a math theater at Saint Ohmias High – the Pink growing from a scar on her thigh. Theory Two was that some furtive project to drill into the Underworld had succeeded. From the fissure had sprouted this – a pathogen on the devil’s cuticle, or maybe the eternal digestive tract of a diabolic wurm, or a thousand theologians’ had been proven right – Satan’s bellybutton is an innie. Tax dollars at work.

There was certainly a taint of religion in those two theories. Theory Three was a Secular Reason, and so was constantly mocked by other theorists (although mocked only in writing, as laughter was a symptom of a future spelunker). In this Theory, the city of Ohm had been subject to a biological attack from a neighboring nation-state. These theorists refused to “let the terrorists win” and went about their errands with heads down as if facing a strong gust. They had sayings like: “If you stare into the abyss, the abyss stares back at you as you climb into its gullet.” Another: “Keep your head down. But don’t keep heading down.” This entrenched Will, so confident in practicality, kept them alive the longest.

All theorists agreed there were some positive effects from the intrusion. The homeless problem was eradicated. Employment rose – there was also a shortage of employees. Real estate was abundant, and cheaper. Hand-washing was strictly enforced any time a citizen ventured the streets, preventing the spread of influenza. And there was no denying that the affected who walked the pink mile had the most euphoric expressions on their faces, one last bliss before the fall.

The Government had once waged a war against it; once fought for its constituents. The Big G had tried poison, only to discover the creature’s response to be intolerable. Tremors. Crushed buildings. 392 dead. Government officials then commissioned a hundred helicopters to pull the slug out from its hole, only to find the Pink well-rooted by underground crevices. Teams had been sent through the sewers to cut its tenders and roots, only for them to discover it’d entered the Public Water Supply as well. The Thing had been touching their minds more deeply than they’d anticipated. A succession of chemical tests meant to exterminate, if only contract, the beast did little to nullify its effects, and only made its breath more toxic. The project ended when one day, the laborers, contractors, and all the officials, lawyers, and scientists, plus the mayor, met together at the edge and walked down into the slime. The tractors and crates remain as monuments, as cautionary tales.

He maketh me to lie down in pink pastures.

The Thing remains. The Thing remains.

Running Back

Author : Beck Dacus

I found the button too late.

My mother was killed 36 years before I found it, when I was twelve. Some psychopath piece of shit cornered her at the pharmacy and stabbed her in the stomach, taking away the medication she was getting for my sister’s two-lung pneumonia. Angelina died of that two weeks later. My dad couldn’t handle any of it, and almost gave up on life at that point. Despite the incident, he had no aversion to the corner drugstore, putting himself into an effective coma with over-the-counter anything. Among other things, he failed to help me get into the college, resulting in my rejection. I worked my ass off at car washes and fast food restaurants for my first twenty years out of high school. Ten years before I found it, I got an okay job at an airport ticket counter, but I still couldn’t afford anything better than a crappy shack on the beach that I inherited from my deadbeat dad.

I barely managed to buy a metal detector with my measly salary, but I figured I could use a hobby. I was out on the beach on a Sunday afternoon, holding my headphones to my ears for that distinct beeping noise, when the detector went off. I put the gear down, took out my trowel, and went to town. I pulled up this little button on a big machine that looked like a freakish walkie-talkie, having no idea what sort of contraption it could be. With innocent curiosity, I gave it a click.

The beachgoers started walking backwards. A plane going above me went into full reverse, flying tail-first. Waves jumped off the shore, quietly receding back into the ocean. I jumped in fear, not quite understanding what was happening, and frantically pressed the button again. Once I saw that everything was back to normal, I started to put the pieces together. This button reverses the arrow of time. From everyone else’s perspective, I had just disappeared, rematerializing in the past, wondering what the hell just happened. Luckily, no one had actually seen me, so I was able to make my way home with my newfound contraption.

Once there, I contemplated what to do with this amazing piece of technology. I didn’t care where or who it came from, or what it took to make it. Or why I found it buried in the sand. The only thing that mattered was what I could use it for, and the answer was immediately apparent. I went to the store and bought enough food for the first month, some lights, and a hydroponics bed with some vegetable seeds. I found a way to get into the basement with the stuck door, and entered for the first time. I pressed the button and started setting up as fast as I could. My plan was to steal meat from myself for the next few years (so that’s where it was all going!), and wait until 36 years passed. Then everything would go right. Things would be good again.

Six years later, I’m starting to realize that I won’t live long in a basement with a few vegetables and an ounce of beef stew a week. Even if I had a few more luxuries, I don’t think I’m going to live to 84. But I need to try. I’d rather die going back in time than live in a shithole, wondering what might have been.

Now it’s what might be.

Doctor Robert Mugabe’s Clinic for the Soul

Author : Thomas Desrochers

It was the most alien scene Naobi had ever witnessed, a deep fissure in the cultural settling tank of Paris that the light never touched.

It had been an enormous theater once, but the seats had been replaced with a jungle of private booths on the ground and in the air, connected by a maze of walkways. Every booth was wrapped in a stained-glass shell depicting events from recent history in graphic detail: the harvest of Aleppo, the sea of bones following the final hajj, the immolation of Toronto.

“Ket,” Naobi whispered. “Are you sure this is the right place?”

Ket’s brilliant violet eyes flashed back at Naobi from behind her burqa. “You said your uncle was Doctor Robert Mugabe, yes? Well this is where you’ll find him.”

The stage itself was backed by an enormous mural of a dozen naked women prostrate before a beatific looking Mugabe, made all the more bizarre by the women’s feathers, fur, claws, and bestial faces. A quartet of spotlights, the only lights in the theater, illuminated the mural and made the foremost domes glitter and cast multi-colored shadows.

A woman appeared before them. Naobi could barely focus on the woman in the dark – she was naked, but the contours of her body seemed wrong.

“Uying, selling, or artaking?” The woman looked Naobi up and down, and Naobi briefly wondered if this was what it was like to be a animal brought to market.

The momentary anxiety evaporated, replaced by shock, when Naobi realized the woman had no skin, no subcutaneous fat, her face locked in a perpetual lipless grimace.

“The girl is here to see the doctor,” Ket said, drawing the woman’s gaze away from Naobi.

Naobi held out her father’s brass service medal. “Give him this,” she pleaded. “He’ll understand.”

The woman took the medal and disappeared.

It was deafeningly silent in the clinic, the only sound that of a hundred white noise machines. The darkness and static was suffocating: Naobi felt she and Ket were the only ones in the clinic.

Movement on one of the aerial walkways caught Naobi’s eye: a figure moving purposely from booth to booth carrying a tray of glittering wine glasses. As the figure made its way toward the middle of the theater the lights illuminating the mural of Mugabe cast it – her – in faint silhouette. The figure must be, or once have been, a woman. Her hips were broad and her hair was done up in a tightly cropped ponytail. Her legs, Naobi thought, were all wrong. Instead of two distinct sections there were three, and the second joint bent opposite the first. And there, spilling from the base of her spine…

“Ket,” Naobi said, “is that woman a horse?”

Ket’s glanced back at Naobi again, her gaze frightening in its intensity. “Do you think that mural is a work of fiction? Do you not understand what Mugabe does here?”

“No,” Naobi said. “I don’t understand anything! My father never talked about my uncle. I only know he’s a doctor.”

A light flash flashed in one of the upper booths and for a brief moment the woman was cast in sharp relief: the body was a woman’s, but the legs, the head, the chestnut coloring –

“Naobi.” There was a hard edge to Ket’s voice. “You need to go home. You don’t belong in this world.”

“I can’t go home.” Naobi’s voice was tight. “Nobody can go to my home now. That’s why I was sent away. That’s why I’m here.”

The skinless woman materialized again.

“The doctor will see you now.”