Author: Kathleen Bryson

We succumbed to space tourism at last and went last week to see the prickly end of the sun, you know it’s always got those jutting little rays like in a good graphic design, and we petted the end of one sunbeam. It was furry like a sun kitten, oops I mean a sun dog, you know what I mean, something small and cuddly, or maybe you don’t; we petted and stroked that little star till it purred. You, being a former professional face-painter, mentioned that based on this experience you might have in the past constructed something marvellous for a paying child: a beautiful dandelion masterpiece from ear to ear.

Then you grabbed it with both hands, the perspective was working in your favour, you grabbed it with both hands and you started to knead our sun like bread. It was the opposite of yeast; our sun grew smaller and smaller; you held a glowing piece of amber between your thumb and forefinger eventually, and then you swallowed it down. Ouch, you said. It’s hot! Hot-hot, not spicy hot, you clarified, but as if you needed to tell me that.

It is permeating your stomach walls, I told you as a secret, it’s not going to make it to your digestive system. It’s in your uterus now.

The sun was further gone than that by then; it was in your bloodstream; your blood was yellow. You were a yellow-bellied coward. You were a hot-golden-blooded regular gal. Our sun, our Sol, became even more insignificant than that; it was only in your mind; it was in molecules; it was working from an entirely new periodic table of elements, atoms, smaller than the clinic, smaller than the ultrasound, smaller than the insufficient nurse’s acronym for something spontaneous, SAB, outer space.

I think we need some space, you said, after you swallowed our sun.

The Face

Author: Harry J. Bentham

A deep vista of stars rested in the boundless black, subordinate to the rays of a single white sun above the time-scarred wastes of the surface. There stood cliffs, cruel and capricious, and the winds piped in an endless song through deep canyons. For eons that planet had rested, as some monument to the remotest past.

Now, with purpose, a disturbance arose within the vast cosmic void above that hitherto undisturbed realm. A trail of cloudy matter had formed distantly in the dark heavens, spearheaded by a glittering bullet of silver and gold.

The gales, hallowing the supreme isolation of the world, were pierced by a shrill and insolent new sound. Only minutes later, the source of the violation hurriedly descended. Halo-like rings of light traced the arrival a graceful apparatus, resembling a metallic disc crowned by an array of dark spikes and antennae. For a moment it hovered over the stone, even as a sphynx-like body of rock stared on.

No sooner had the disc fully settled on its landing gear than a bipedal form stumbled from a glowing bay, now opening at its wing. A curious mask covered the face of the visitor, with grotesque goggles and black garb occluding any sign of flesh on that uninvited species.

The figure stopped with confident bearing, looking to the solemn face of the sphynx-shaped guardian of rock with suspicion. As if for reassurance, he then tilted his head to regard the glint of the mothership gliding so far above. A second figure stepped forward, a little more nervous than the first, almost recoiling under the stare of the beastly form and face in the stone gazing down on them.

Neither figure said a word, so imposing were the howls and bellows of the developing storm sweeping those unvisited rocks. The leading figure produced some radiant rectangular device, with an evidently benign optical purpose. He held the pane resolutely against the desolate vista of grey and white. The man turned steadily, regarding with greatest interest the visages that seemed to protrude from all the strange rockfaces, capturing every contour of the skyline through that window he held.

Dismissively, the leading figure gestured for the other to return to the warm glow of the bay at the wing of the disc. The nervous man beat his own ear with a gloved hand, as if he had missed some inaudible instruction from his superior. He looked again with caution upon the weird visage of stone. But the rays of light from the white sun migrated and grew in intensity, and under that new brilliance the features of the sphynx appeared to recede and give way to only the twists and caprices of bare geology.

The peculiar craft, still lit with its open bay and its halo of spinning light, waited for the figure to return. Some minutes passed, but the explorer still stood. Then, with great caution, the man stepped back up the ramp at the disc’s wing. The bay drew shut.

With new yellow lights blinking upon it, the rapport of the trespassing vehicle with its gleaming mothership returned. It ascended vertically with ever-increasing haste, its own shrill artificial whine overpowering the whisper of the winds.

All things fell silent for a moment, before the eons-long song of the planet’s wind restored its sovereignty over the sterile cliff faces and ravines. Soon, with the setting of the sun, grim shadows grew once more. The vague but somber impression of the face upon the head of the cosmic sphynx had returned.

Yang Paints the Clouds

Author: Peter Fossey

Ria is eating one of those flaky pastries with almond paste in, so my coffee tastes like I’ve snuck in a shot of Amaretto, and that makes her laugh. Or one of us, anyway.

It was hard to get to know people, for a while. Meeting face-to-face became too risky, then illegal. Then everyone had holos, and we sort of went off the idea of being in the same place. We still talked, sure, but some things can’t be done at a distance. There was this one summer when delivery drivers suddenly had massive social capital, not to mention sex appeal; but then they got the drones legalised, and that was that.

It turns out that most of us need presence, and we need to be able to share experiences. Not just the visual, but everything. Meeting up feels like such a huge step. You’re so exposed, so vulnerable. There are creeps who get their kicks meeting randoms, but most of us don’t. There’s no stepping stone between the holos and reality, so a great many people have stopped trying.

I think that’s how it started. It was there to fill a simple need. I’m in my office, leaning out of a sash window to enjoy the autumn air. The coffee is bringing on my nicotine cravings. Or someone’s, anyway.

So we lived alone, packed in next to each other, paths never crossing if we could help it. My kitchen, my bed, my office, my jogging route; a razor-thin slice of space and time that I don’t share with anyone. There was no world any more; we segmented it into oblivion.

The Sharenet changed everything. A monofilament web that sinks painlessly into the skin on your fingers, tongue, cheeks; as much of your body as you can afford to cover, really. AR contact lenses and microscopic aural inserts. You could kit yourself out in minutes, make a connection in holo, and sync up your sensory data with a friend. Not just see them, but see what they see. Not just seeing, either; you would feel everything.

We’re making something together. I’m not sure what it is; I get bits of it all over the place, but I only fully understand my own piece of it. It’s something new. A kind of multimodal collage, created simultaneously by all of us, everywhere at once. An installation.

And then, the shift. It was innocent enough. A handful of modders wanted to see what would happen if you synced three or four streams at once, and it blew their minds. In a fit of blissed-out bohemian anarchism, they set their code loose in the central servers. They let everyone sync with everyone else, all at once.

I write about the satisfying thunk of Ria’s chisel biting into the wood, the slow-burning wonder of creating a thing by introducing space into it. Yang mixes thick acrylic paste and the plastic smell becomes a refrain in Luca’s melody, which Ita is jamming to; Amos is setting my words to their music, and Ria’s giving it shape. I can feel a rush of movement, muscles tensing for a pirouette or plie, but the sensation drops in and out, and I don’t know who’s dancing, so I must be getting it third hand.

You see, old habits die hard. We still don’t meet face-to-face all that often; but we aren’t alone now either, unless we choose to be. We’re making something new. Sparrows in the hedge outside my window flitter in time with Luca’s guitar, and Yang paints the clouds.

The Transition

Author: Mark Renney

The hardest part for me was the departure, turning from the body, walking away from my earthly remains. I lingered knowing it was dangerous to do so. I couldn’t stay there, in that room.
I stepped backward and gazed down at the body slumped on the sofa. I pressed the palm of my hand against my forehead but there was no bullet hole, and my hand came away clean, no blood. I turned and moved across the room and stood in front of the mirror above the fireplace. I looked the same. A little ragged, a little frayed at the edges but much about the same.
I wasn’t angry and I tried to make sense of how I did feel. I was shaken, a little taken aback by my indifference. I didn’t crave for answers and I had no desire for vengeance. I really didn’t care about the investigation and certainly didn’t want to be there when it began, when the authorities arrived. But it would be days, at least, or weeks before anyone noticed my absence and reported me missing. I knew instinctively the longer I lingered the more difficult the transition would be.

I took hold of the body by the shoulders shaking it. The head slumped forward. The back of the sofa was a bloody mess of hair and skin and tiny pieces of skull. I pushed my fingers into the hole in the cushion and the fabric split and tore until I could get my whole hand inside.

I removed my sweatshirt and wiped the blood from my hand. The bullet wasn’t what I had expected, it was a tiny misshapen thing. Pacing the room I set to work, polishing it, with the stained sweatshirt, on the front of my t-shirt and between my thumb and forefinger. But I couldn’t make it shine.

Eventually I did manage to step away from the body. I took to wandering the house, making a circuit, a quick sweep of the rooms. And each time around I found myself stalled in the spare room. It was filled with things from my life – mostly books and my old record collection. I found myself sifting through it, sorting through those mementos, markers from my past. Searching for a particular book; not because I wanted to read it but simply to reassure myself, to know it was still there.
I flicked through my old albums realising that if I wanted to listen to music, no matter how obscure, all I needed to do was tap a few keys on my phone. I started to panic, and began grappling my pockets but it wasn’t there. It was downstairs on the sofa, with the body. I wondered if I should go down and retrieve it, bring it up here and leave it. A final memento, the last marker, but, shaking my head, I stepped from the room and closed the door.

I kept at it, stalking the house, prowling through its rooms. In the kitchen I looked in the cupboards, in the fridge, in the cooker. I searched every nook and cranny. I scanned the walls, moving from corner to corner, but I couldn’t find it. There wasn’t anything I needed, that I wanted.

I would take the bullet and that at least would create a little mystery. But it would be a puzzle that was solved all too easily and too quickly. How could they not conclude that the shooter had retrieved the bullet and taken it so it couldn’t be traced back to the gun. But of course, they would be wrong

Self Checkout

Author: T. Thornton Gray

It’s called no man’s land. That space between the entry doors and the actual store. The sensor zone one must pass through to get in and out. I can see the drone docks overhead and the red blinking eyes of the Taser firing drones where they perch poised for action.
I’m a bit surprised not to see anyone shopping. A rare thing in a Z-Mart, even at a little after two A.M. I survey as much as I can see as I pluck a grimy basket from its rack and begin my shopping. I look for the eyes that always watch a person like me.
The only movement is from the suitcase-sized automated floor cleaner. I watch the Zamboni like machine with its strobing yellow light whirr and methodically work its way down the aisle.
The coolers hum in their florescent light as I peer into their glass-covered depths. Again, I stop to look around. Look for the evidence of another human soul. There is no one. I know from the days I used to work at Z-Mart that there was supposed to be an actual human employee on duty. Someone to monitor the systems. In a hundred thousand square foot facility there are never more than two people on any given shift. I also know that is not always the case.
I pull open the door and pull out a crisp dew-covered bottle of water. I peer into the clean clear liquid. I look for the sensors, as if I could see them. The microscopic sensors suspended in all liquids sold at Z-Mart. Added so that even if poured into another container it could be tracked at No Man’s Land and the drones dispatched if payment had not been made. I remember the protests over it. The violation of rights, the health concerns. But the FDA deemed it to be completely safe. The sensors would pass right through and be re-harvested at the water treatment plants.
My shopping complete I move to the check-out and run each purchase over the shimmering scanner. The process so much more secure since the outlawing of cash and cards. Now, everyone must have the commerce chip. Usually in the palm of one’s hand. Always in one’s body. I still laugh when I remember the news story. The one about the veteran of the Lithium wars. A multiple amputee who had it implanted in his ass cheek.
The total is displayed under the Please Pay sign.
I open my coat and withdraw the plastic bag. I pull back the bag careful not to get the blood on me. It’s mostly crusted now and the fingers of the severed hand are growing stiff. No matter, the chip still works. I collect my receipt and go.
I step into No Man’s Land and pause to look at the drones as their red lights wink at me. The doors slide open and lets me back into the night.
It’s probably time to find more funds.