The Believer

Author: Warren Benedetto

The last man on Earth leaned on his shovel, then wiped the sweat from his face.

He was almost finished.

He had been digging for hours. He started around noon, when the sun was high overhead, when his shadow was nothing more than a puddle of darkness under his feet. Now his shadow had transformed into an alien figure with elongated limbs and an elliptical head, as if his soul had drained out through his shoes and smeared like ink across the desiccated landscape.

With a sigh, he tossed the shovel aside and picked up a whitewashed slat torn from a picket fence. He drove the sharp end into the ground in front of the newly-filled mound of earth, then used the flat side of the shovel to pound the board into the dirt. Then he stepped back to read what he had written on it.

Rest in Peace
SARAH CRAWFORD
1980 – 2042
Believer

“Believer,” he thought, mouthing the word at the bottom of the grave marker. If there was one word that best described Sarah, that was it. She believed that everything happened for a reason, that there had to be some grand plan to explain all the death and suffering that had befallen them. Humankind had been wiped out at an extraordinary rate by something nobody could explain, and yet her belief never wavered.

It wasn’t a belief in God, per se. It was just a belief in positive outcomes, a belief that — on a long enough timeline — everything would turn out for the best.

Unfortunately, her timeline ran out.

The man had found her in bed, eyes open, lips blue, hands cold. He knew she was gone. Still, he laid down next to her, wrapped his arm around her waist, nestled his head against her neck, and held her. He fell asleep like that, dreaming of the first time they met.

It wasn’t your typical romantic meet-cute. They weren’t high school sweethearts. He had been looting an abandoned grocery warehouse, gorging himself on canned peaches, his chin and chest sticky with sweet, sugary syrup. Sarah snuck up behind him and held a knife to his jugular, ready to cut his throat. He grabbed her wrist and flipped her over his shoulder, intending to strangle her. But there was something about the way she looked up at him, the utter fearlessness in her eyes, that made him stop.

Up until then, he wasn’t even sure why he had kept going, why he had bothered staying alive. But once he met Sarah, he knew the reason. He understood. He believed.

The memory faded as he drifted awake. He carried her body outside, grabbed a shovel from the barn, and began to dig.

Now, as he watched the sun setting between the trees, he realized what he had to do next.

He picked up the shovel.

It was getting late. It would be dark soon. He had to hurry.

He had one more grave to dig.

A Calculated Murder Defense

Author: Don Nigroni

I replied, “So it’s an open and shut case. Your client was seen by three witnesses entering the room through the only door. The window was latched from the inside. They heard a thud or two and upon entering the room seconds later saw the victim lying on the floor with his head cracked open. A marble bust of Apollo was lying on the floor beside the deceased and your client’s shirt and pants were spattered with blood. The police determined said blood was from the victim and your client’s fingerprints were found on the bust.”
“That about sums it up,” my law partner said.
“Yet you pled not guilty today even though you know an insanity defense is rarely successful.”
“He’s perfectly sane and he had a good motive. My client was not only recently passed over for a partnership because the victim blackballed him, which he took mighty hard, but the victim was sleeping with my client’s pretty wife, which devastated him. He had married an attractive student twelve years younger than him who had very expensive tastes. He left academia for Wall Street to make a fortune for her sake.”
“So try for a plea bargain.”
“Nobody wants to bargain. The prosecutor figures she can’t lose and my client is convinced he’s innocent.
He was a brilliant mathematical physicist working as a professor at a small Midwestern college. Only eight people in the entire world understood his mathematical equations. They indicated that there are around 350,000 linked alternate universes containing as many alternatives to us.
He’s convinced his equations proved conclusively that shared ubiquitous background static (SUBS) must exist. It’s not detectable by today’s instruments but, without SUBS, his equations would blow up. When the SUBS in the linked auxiliary universes builds up to a critical level then each mind in every related world is simultaneously and instantly ejected. They all jump into another world in the direction of the SUBS spin.
So, according to his calculations, after about 15 minutes in any universe, our consciousness leaps into another universe and then another until after around ten years we complete the circuit and are back to where we started, albeit very briefly.
But, when we enter a new alternate us, we don’t have access to any memories stored in our previous alternate us. That new brain already contains experiences, values, and beliefs that we tend to accept as our own. And that shapes our personality and motives so that we normally behave like the previous occupants of that body. But there’s a lone wild card, whim. So, he claims, whoever clobbered the victim is now in another world.
I figure he’ll get life without the possibility of parole and, considering his age and health, that would translate into about thirty years.
But, according to him, that will mean the real murderer would only be incarcerated for less than an hour. And, although he disapproves of the real murderer’s actions and insists he himself could never kill anyone, he did sympathize with the murderer and didn’t blame him. My client wasn’t upset that the culprit basically got away with murder and framed a series of innocent people in the process.”
“So what’s your defense?”
“I just told you. His case will be argued in court using his mathematical evidence but, conceivably, not by this me.”

New Beirut

Author: Richard Albeen

I was in New Beirut. Another planet. Another aftermath of another war.

I was walking down a bombed-out boulevard that had once been majestic. It would never be so again.

Craters half-filled with rancid water festered on each side of the street. Blasted buildings graced the avenues as far as the horizon, dimly obscured by lingering smokes of destruction. It would take a very long time to repair and rebuild the city. It wouldn’t be easy, either. Nor would it ever quite recapture its lost glory. At least not in the eyes of those who elected to remain there. Whatever was erected in the future, no matter how well-intentioned, it would only trigger memories. Memories that evoked destruction and death alongside those that faintly recalled a distant, antique beauty.

I stopped and leaned against the side of a building, lit a cigarette. I watched the darkness. It was peaceful, and quiet. A stark contrast to a few hours ago, when buildings erupted in devastation and people descended into despair.

I heard a sound not far away and put my hand on the flechette pistol in my pocket. Waited in the dimness.

A young boy of indeterminate age came into view. He had no legs, and was propelling himself along the ravaged street on a home-made cart with small wheels.

I briefly wondered how he had lost his legs. Then I stopped wondering because I knew how, all too well. I had lost count of all the dismemberments and disfigurements I had seen. I had almost lost count of all the wars I had been in. Mercenaries go where the wars are, and war never takes into consideration the ages or statures of its victims.

He stopped in front of me, there in those shadows of disaster, regarded me calmly in his rags of clothing.

“What do you think?” he finally asked.

2

I looked at him and considered. “About what?” I answered.

He made a gesture. “About all of this.”

“I try not to think,” I said. “It hurts.”

The boy nodded. “I used to try not to think. But it’s hard, living … here.” Again he gestured at

the surroundings.

I nodded.

He said, “You can go, you know. Your job here is done. You don’t have to live here.”

I nodded again, and said, “You’re right. I can. And I’ll probably end up somewhere else light-years away, someplace just like this, in time.”

He smiled, soft and sad, and looked at me with eyes of tired truth.

“You may,” he agreed. “And I’ll always be in this place. Always.”

“I’m sorry for that,” I said. “I wish it were otherwise.”

“We all do,” he answered. “We always will.”

He turned away and hand-pedaled himself into the night.

I walked back to the barracks under stinking skies.

He was right, that kid, all those years ago. I still wonder whatever became of him. Part of me thinks that I shouldn’t, as it happened so long ago.

Another part of me can’t stop.

Carried Away Forever

Author: Brooks C. Mendell

“Conspiracies require a lot of goddam work,” I thought, walking down the aisle of shipping containers. Each metal box, rather than stuffed with widgets or t-shirts, housed a humming transporter tuned to a predetermined time and place.

A rusty container to my left labeled “Dealey Plaza 1963” triggered a memory of slapping Lee Harvey Oswald hard across the temple. The nervous son of a bitch couldn’t take his eyes off my tits, but he still provided the distraction we needed. When Kennedy came around the corner, exposed in his convertible, the Support Team finished the job.

The blue box there, that’s “Ford’s Theatre 1865.” I taught John Wilkes Booth how to shoot Lincoln on the move. He could have escaped, but he lost the moment looking for me.

I recalled that morning’s briefing. “Patience but no hesitation,” said my handler. “No Support Team. You’re on your own.”

I took rapid breaths to steady my rhythm. The steel of the Maxim 9 clipped to my belt comforted me like the cyanide pill implanted in my mouth.

A brass plate on the black matte container ahead read, “Federal Hall 1789.” I grasped the latch and swung open the metal door. Holding my breath, I stepped into the portal.

# # #

I stood at the foot of a canopy bed and watched James Madison thrash in a vision. He woke and coughed violently into the sleeve of his gown. Seeing me, he sat up quickly. “Who are you?” he asked, reaching for the spectacles on a bedside table. “An angel of death?”

“I prefer guardian angel, Mr. Madison,” I said. “Tell me your dreams.”

Madison looked toward the window. “A man dressed in dark green walks through a school,” he said. “Doors slam shut as he approaches. Chairs and tables scratch across floors. Children whisper.”

“And then?” I asked.

“Then the sound of a thousand muskets firing. I hear screams,” said Madison, turning towards me. “The man is zealous and unyielding. He bloodies the school with a fearsome weapon. A fire stick from Zeus!”

I slowed my breathing. The retelling of dreams releases energy and self-control. I waited for the second thought. If Madison had doubts or fears, he would share them now.

Madison coughed again. “Tomorrow I address the House at Federal Hall regarding the Bill of Rights,” he said. “You are aware?”

I nodded.

“I use the power of words and clauses to pacify the opposition. The amendments, I must review again,” said James Madison.

I leaned forward. “I understand.”

Madison gestured. “What interests will control our militias and representatives?” he asked. “We worked to create a balanced system with checks, and yet I live in doubt.”

“Trust in God. He chose you as his messenger,” I said, and with conviction. “And me as your guide.”

Madison paused. He looked at me and tilted his head. “What do you suggest?”

“Secure your legacy. What you wrote protects a divine order. If we get carried away, we forever leave the future defenseless.”

“And if I change the text?” asked Madison.

I plucked the 9-millimeter semiautomatic from my belt, pointed the barrel with its integrated silencer at the oil lamp on Madison’s desk, and pulled the trigger. The lamp exploded out the window in a burst of glass and metal.

“Then, unfortunately, you will miss your speech at Federal Hall.”

Fraud

Author: Suzanne Borchers

Cedric BotIV noted the blanket of artificial feathers had slipped off the old man’s shoulders. He lifted them back onto his master. Master preferred to dream of flight and the soft feel of his blanket mellowed his dreams. Cedric BotIV whispered, “Fly, soar, and touch the sky. Dream of cottony clouds. Fly, soar, and touch the sky. Float in warmth and pillows.” He pulled the blanket up a bit closer to the master’s bristly chin.

Cedric BotIV had faithfully served Master for seventy plus years—some at play, pretending to be an airship; some at work, constricted by metallic walls in flight; and now, as nursemaid. He hummed a few notes of the aviation hymn as he watched the rickety chest barely rise and fall.

A dilemma faced Cedric BotIV.

The master had commanded that Cedric BotIV etch his own name on the flight vehicle console stationed outside their dwelling. To do so would obliterate the master’s mistake from their last flight to Xerez just weeks ago. Of course, this would serve the master. The master was a proud man who had flown countless successful missions. He was a legend.

Oh, that horrible flight– those agonized destroyed beings, those smoking ruins of obliterated civilization. Cedric BotIV had felt their pain, had wanted to eject from the flight deck into the abyss below. The master had pushed the wrong key–striped red instead of striped pink. The master had wept until he landed home. He had taken to his bed in total silence despite all the communications from Base One and ambassadors from Planetary System. Cedric BotIV had protected him.

Cedric BotIV moved to his cot but hesitated in plugging his power cord. Cedric BotIV possessed an IC (Integrity Chip). The IC chip prevented him from lying to any human, from being anything but Cedric BotIV. If Cedric BotIV etched his name on the Ship’s log it would be a lie. The IC chip would burn his circuits. The old man’s command would destroy him.

And, yet, the master demanded Cedric BotIV lie. The master told Cedric BotIV that he would then retire, his renown and legacy unstained.

Cedric BotIV checked once again that the master was covered and sleeping before he plugged in his power cord. He was faithful.

Forceful tugs at the cord pulled Cedric BotIV awake.

“Well, Cedric IV,” Master said, “You will do it.” Brown watery eyes peered into Cedric BotIV’s sight probes. “You will…won’t you…old friend?” These last two words were whispered.

Cedric BotIV felt the IC warning pain surge through his circuits. He wished there was a way to circumvent the IC chip’s purpose. How could he choose oblivion? He actually enjoyed being Cedric BotIV. But, on the other hand, Cedric BotIV had always served the master with selfless affection. Cedric BotIV had always obeyed. And the master could keep his spotless reputation. Was it really such a hard choice?

“Of course, sir.”

“Today.” Master’s voice commanded.

“Yes sir, today.”

“Now.”

“Yes sir, now.”

Cedric BotIV’s metallic steps echoed throughout the room toward the door. He turned to the old man. “Sir, it has been my honor to serve you.” Cedric BotIV’s steps passed through the front doorway.

Once in the ship, Cedric BotIV gave himself a moment before he etched his name in the log. Pain shot through him. From the ship’s monitor, he heard the old man’s voice, “Base One, reporting for du—“ then silence.