Perchance

Author : Leslie Bohem

Kevin, in his early thirties, upwardly mobile, does not look like he belongs in this dank alley. He started coming down about six months ago. At first, maybe once every couple of weeks, then once a week, then every couple of days. Now, he comes every day. He comes for the dreams.

You get so you need it. All the time. So you can’t do without the input.

Kevin stops in front of a door. Dirty titanium. Used to be the entrance to a warehouse, back in the day. Now it’s lofts down here. Lofts and empty space where the server farms used to be back in the day. Kevin waits with strung out impatience. Time drips. And then the sounds of deadbolts being thrown and Clive opens the door. Clive is maybe sixty. His hair is long and greasy. “Anyone follow you down?” he asks.

Clive has let him in now, looking up and down the alley first. Now he shuts the door behind them. Throws both the deadbolts.

There are maybe a dozen mattresses on the floor. Maybe that many people crashed out on the mattresses. Kevin doesn’t really see them. Clive and these others, they were like Kevin once. They had jobs up top. Offices with windows and sunshine. All the perks. Kevin imagines that’s was the next step. Give all that up, come down here on a more permanent basis. No reason he could think of not to. He had enough money set aside. He could “retire.”

Clive takes a seat at an old kitchen table. Kevin takes the chair across from him. He slides an envelope over to Clive. Clive takes it.

“You sure no one saw you come down?”

“I’m careful.”

“Everbody’s careful,” Clive says, taking the envelope. “The DPs are cracking down on this whole sector. I may have to close up. Move.”

“Where would you go?”

“There’s always a place,” Clive says with a shrug. “There are always people in need.” He takes a moment, in his head. “I remember,” he says, “when this shit was legal.”

“Must have been nice.”

“You never thought about it. Just something everyone did. Every once in a while, you’d tell someone about it, you had a particularly wild night. That was it.”

“They say they outlawed it; it was something they found out by accident. Is that true?”

“They were doing some research, crowd control. An anti-terrorism thing. Seems people who didn’t do it were more docile, less likely to rock the boat. Once they knew they could do that to people, it was only a matter of time. They found a way to stop it.” “He looks at Kevin. “You ready.”

Kevin nods. Clive slips him what looks like a tricked out iPod and a set of headphones. Then a sleep mask.

“I can never get over how simple this is.” Kevin says.

“They’ve created an electro/magnetic fence, that’s all. A sort of barbed wire between the id and the super/ego. This just cancels their signal. Allows you to go where you were meant to go.”

“I never asked you. What were you, before you got into this?”

“Psychiatrist,” Clive says.

“You came up with this in your spare time?”

“I thought it was important.” He nods to the mask in Kevin’s hands. “You’d better get started. I can get you off if you like.”

Kevin nods and moves over to one of the mattresses. He lies down, puts the phones on. He looks over at Clive. Clive smiles at him. Kevin pulls the mask over his eyes.

He started coming down about six months ago. Now, he comes every day. You get so you need it. All the time. So you can’t do without the input.

Clive looks down at Kevin, lying there on the mattress. He reaches out and flips a switch on the iPod-like devise. He smiles a little sadly and then he says, “Pleasant dreams.”

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AutoKnowMe

Author : Kevlin Henney

Not sure what to do now. No, that’s not true. I know precisely what to do, but I don’t really feel like doing it. Sense of awareness is, as always, the first thing to come online.

>>> Initializing sense of awareness… Done

It’s at that point you become, well, aware, waking after a perfectly timed, dreamless sleep. Never any nightmares.

>>> Memory online
>>> Memories online
>>> Initializing sense of sight… Done
>>> Initializing sense of hearing… Done

That’s one of the nice features of AutoKnowMe. Waking used to be muddled sounds before opening bleary, blurry eyes. You can customize the boot sequence, so I switched them round.

>>> Initializing somatic senses (pain 30%, temperature 70%, touch 100%)… Done

Another feature is you can adjust the levels. Things hurt less than they used to, but I wouldn’t recommend zeroing the pain. Tried that for a week — didn’t notice how much damage I was causing myself!

>>> Initializing sense of smell… Done
>>> Initializing sense of taste… Done

A typical morning so far.

>>> Initializing sense of purpose… Failed
>>> Sense of purpose not found
>>> Host unresolved
>>> Restart? (y/n)

I know what to do, but… you know, why bother?

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Returns Policy

Author : Rosalie Kempthorne

The creature was hideous. It was lopsided for one thing, and where its left arm should be there was only a stump. To say nothing of the slimy green tentacles that hung off its shoulder where a right arm was meant to go. Its misshapen face had one good – almost beautiful – eye, but the other was a bulging, white mess, and its chin drooped, green, in the way candle wax does when it melts. Even the clerk was staring at it with dismayed, somewhat helpless eyes.

This was definitely not what she had paid for.

The clerk was clearing his throat nervously. He barely mumbled out the words: “All care, of course, all care but no responsibility. I mean the thing is….”

“You are not serious?!”

“Well…”

Daphne rounded on him. He wanted to see a temper did he? Well, she could show him a temper. “I paid for a new husband! A new husband, you shrivelled up little hackla worm! Do you expect me to marry that?”

Was it her imagination or did the thing look almost hurt? No, it didn’t even look as if it could be sentient. Some heads were going to roll for this. She was a valued customer!

The clerk was starting to say, “Well, look-”

“No, you look. I want a proper husband, a replacement, and I want it asap.”

“It doesn’t work like that-”

“I don’t think it works at all!” She couldn’t quite bring herself around to looking directly at certain parts of it she doubted would be functional.

“The contract you’ve signed, you see,” and he clearly, clearly wished he were anywhere else but here in this room, “the customer bears the responsibility in the rare incidence of failure.” He looked as if he was about to transmit her a copy of the document.

“I know what I signed. But do you call this fit for purpose? Do you think any women in the known galaxy is going to take this on as her husband?”

“Well, I don’t know…. I mean he’s got one very nice eye….”

Silver and emerald. Just like she remembered. Sure, gazing into just that…. But then the other one swivelled to look at her. Digusting.

“I’m very sorry Ma’am but a replacement….”

“I should think so-”

“….would require full payment.”

“I’ll be making a complaint.”

Relieved. Of course he looked relieved, this was about to sail right over his head, off his shoulders, and onto somebody else’s desk. He said “There’s a form. And if you want to order another….”

“Huh! Believe me, I’ll be taking my business elsewhere!” She turned on her heel, tossing her head for dramatic effect.

“Ma’am…..” He was gesturing at the thing.

“Do you really expect me to take that with me?!”

“Well, it’s just…”

The thing turned its head to look at her. In her husband’s dead voice: “Daphne.”

“You see…” the clerk was going to try and explain about the memory implants, the bonding process.

“That’s your problem!” she fired back.

And the thing said “Hello darling, how was your day at work?”

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Empire

Author : Bob Newbell

“Your hot coffee, sir,” says the Inteeri waiter as he places the beverage on the table in front of me.

“Thanks. Here’s–” The short alien that looks vaguely like an anthropomorphic armadillo shuffles away before I can offer him a tip. At no time while serving me does he make eye contact. That was out of respect. And fear. I’m nobody important. Just a struggling writer. My waiter probably has more money in the bank than I have. But in his eyes — all six of them — it doesn’t matter. I’m a member of the galaxy’s most terrifying species. I’m human.

My old man was part of the delegation that made first contact with the Inteeri. The aliens weren’t sure if mankind posed a threat to them so their top military officials were tasked with the initial assessment of the human race. On a space station orbiting Inteer Secundum, my dad and the other human ambassadors met with the alien generals and admirals. One of the human delegates had a slight cold. He sneezed once during the meeting. An hour later the entire Inteeri High Command were dead. The earthly rhinovirus proved instantly lethal. With their military command gutted, the Inteeri political leaders unconditionally surrendered to Earth despite the reassurances of a distraught and horrified humanity that the Inteeri deaths were an unintended tragedy.

Someone or something jostles me as it moves past. Some of my coffee spills onto the table. I turn in my chair to come face to face with a rather surly looking Kordann. The creature’s eyestalks quickly withdraw from a beligerent extension to a submissive retraction as its leathery skin turns blue with fear.

“Ten thousand pardons, master,” the Kordann says through its translation device as it glides away on six tentacles, bowing in apology.

Humans made contact with the Kordann ten years after the disastrous Inteeri encounter. Again, the Biomedical Assessment Team determined there was little danger of contagion between the species. Nonetheless, the Earth delegates wore environment suits as a precaution. As the human ambassador walked up with his hand extended to the Kordann prime minister, he tripped. The Earthman’s hand struck the Kordann leader’s trachea, killing the latter. The details of this event bore a more than passing resemblance to a passage in the Kordann Book of Scripture prophesying a visitor from the heavens who would kill a Kordann ruler and establish a monarchy on their world. The religious-minded Kordann quickly submitted.

And so it would go for Mankind’s emmisaries to the stars. The Scottish brogue of Earth’s ambassador to the Relvet would result in “We come in peace and brotherhood” being mistranslated as “Surrender and serve, or die.” In the wake of the fall of both Inteer Secundum and Kordanna, the Relvet surrendered.

On Basura VII, the representative from Earth accidentally knocked over his water glass short-circuiting the computer that managed the Basuran Stock Exchange. A crippling recession and humble request that Basura VII be admitted to the growing Terran Empire followed. The Supreme Monarch of Juppnoi, finding himself trapped on a conference table by the barking Maltese dog of the Earth diplomat, abdicated the throne and turned the Juppnoi Kingdom over to Terran control.

Humanity now dominates much of the Orion Arm of the Milky Way galaxy. But we’ve turned over all further first contact and diplomatic missions to our extraterrestrial vassal states. A population of 50 billion subjects, none of whom we wanted, is more than enough.

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The Sentinel

Author : Roger Dale Trexler

THE SENTINEL

They found it.
They found the edge of the universe.
And they found the sentinel there.

EARLIER
Harrison knew this was it. Beyond, there were no stars, just utter blackness.
“My God,” he said. “I didn’t think we’d ever find it.”
Ramsey looked at him. The lines on Harrison’s face were deep. They had met each other as much younger men, each of them searching for something that life was not giving them. They had become quick friends and, in time, inseparable. So, on the day Harrison came to him with his ideas for a quantum drive that could bend time and space, Ramsey had no other choice but to join him on his adventure.
It took twenty years and a billion credits to build the two-man quantum ship, but Harrison was good at acquiring funding for such things. He had an honest face, he joked, and businessmen were always quick to see the potential profit for themselves in his work. He wondered if those businessmen, all in their high-priced suits sipping their expensive wines, were shaking their fists in rage at him.
They had departed the orbital station in the middle of the night. Subterfuge had been the order of the moment, and neither of them had told a soul they were leaving. It was only when the quantum drive came online that anyone took notice of their flight….and, by then, it was too late.
Harrison had flicked the switch, and the ship disappeared.
It hadn’t really disappeared, of course. Harrison’s quantum drive merely slid the ship into an alternate dimension for a moment. The ship sped through that dimension, following a course that Ramsey had postulated would take them to the edge of the universe the quickest.
“But,” said Harrison, “isn’t there more than one ‘edge’?”
“Of course there is,” replied Ramsey. “There are trillions upon trillions of points.”
“Then why this course?” asked Harrison.
Ramsey took a second to reply. “It’s complicated,” he said finally. “I….I’ve noticed something about this region of space we are traveling through. Something odd.”
“Oh?”
He drew a deep breath and let out a sigh. “It’s….it’s as if someone has laid out a trail of bread crumbs, in a way. The radiation coming from the stars in this direction—and in this direction only—is different than the radiation from other stars and solar systems in the known reaches of space.”
He went on to explain it, but Harrison did not fully comprehend. He was a theoretically engineer, a man who designed and thought up things no man had ever thought of before, and astrophysics was not his specialty.
In the end, he trusted Ramsey as much as Ramsey trusted him.
They traveled for months at speeds that were hundreds, if not thousands, of times faster than the speed of light.
Then, the day came that the sensors told them there was nothing ahead.
Harrison returned the ship to normal, sub-light speed.
They saw the void ahead.
And they saw the sentinel.
Both men gasped in awe at the sight. For the sentinel was neither machine, nor creature. It was something completely different. It sensed them the moment they arrived, and it started to flow toward them.
It wrapped itself around the quantum ship and Harrison, in a moment of fear, activated the drive.
Nothing happened.
“I don’t understand,” Harrison said, his voice shaky. “We should be parsecs away.”
But I do not wish it, a voice in his head replied. I have waited so long. He….he left me here….alone.
Harrison looked at Ramsey and, at that moment, both men understood. They had found the edge of the universe, and the sentinel was there to guard it. From what, they did not know.
A few seconds later, the quantum ship imploded and the sentinel, who could not help what it was, was alone….again.

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