Superpower

Author: Jeff Hill

Upon waking this morning, I was surprised to feel no different. Angry with the world (and the lack of funds in my bank account), I begrudgingly took my shower and yelled obscenities as my roommate walked past me, laughing at my piss poor mood.
“Didn’t work,” I told him as I walked back into my room.
“Oh, no. That’s horrible, dude,” he said, suddenly wiping the smile off his face.
I got dressed and went out to the kitchen to make a lunch for myself and start cooking breakfast when I realized that he had already done both of those things for me. He sat at the bar and looked up at me, concerned.
“Waste of money. Completely and totally.” I told him.
He thrust his fists onto the table. “I hate them!” he yelled, a little louder than I would have usually expected for this early in the morning.
“I swear,” I start to tell him, “If I could get away with it, I’d march down to that building and burn the place to the ground.”
“Hold on a sec… I’m on it,” he said, jumping up immediately and running past me to the back of the apartment, grabbing his car keys and putting one finger in the air, signaling for me to wait just one minute.
“Weirdo,” I mumbled, starting to feel a sense of justice in the world.
He returned about five minutes later with a giant gas can, empty, and a look of pride on his face.
He turned on the TV.
“Local pharmaceutical company ablaze downtown,” the reporter said. He tossed the empty gas can on the ground.
“Dear God!” I exclaimed. “What is wrong with you! You are insane!”
“Well, yeah. Now I am,” he said, loading his shotgun from behind the kitchen cabinets and aiming directly for me.
His first shot missed, his second grazed my leg and I realized while he reloaded that the pharmacist was right. The scientists weren’t incorrect.
“My powers. They work. I can’t believe this is happening.”
He reloaded and raised the shotgun to my head.
“I believe you.”

Colder Ways

Author: Majoki

“The old rage in colder ways, for they alone decide how to spend the young.” – Pierce Brown Dark Age

The toy soldier guarded the corner of the commander’s makeshift field desk. The faded tin sentry with chipped red jacket, high peaked cap and bent bayonet stood upon the order.

Especially in the age of cyberwar, such an order was on paper. Hand written. Delivered by flesh and blood. A reminder of what was real and what was to be spilled.

The commander concentrated on the little toy. Its eyes fixed and sure. A plaything of the past, a steadfast harbinger of battles to come. War made fast in the hands of children. It changed little. An order given. Received. A decision needed. A sacrifice demanded.

His tactical screens displayed the grids under current assault. A counterassault had been ordered: a hype and wipe. Jacking systems beyond their breaking points, then a massive takedown of security redundancies and fail-safes.

Homes, hospitals, schools, critical infrastructure and industrial sites would implode, explode. Many would suffer.

Though not the commander. Not his soldiers.

What were soldiers anymore?

In cyberwar there was only the enemy. The other side. Imaginary lines within which the ordinary comforts of modern life—all manner of integrated systems, machinery, devices, appliances, transport—were turned against any and all. Faces pressed into pillows or pushed out windows. Silent and fraught.

That was the commander’s charge: take it down, take them down.

Them.

He imagined them. No different than himself. So much like the teenage daughter he’d lost to them. A casualty of an attack intended to jack fleets of spy-and-die drones. High on a mountain pass in winter, her autonomobile’s systems were collaterally blitzed. Her vehicle accelerated wildly and plunged into a deep ravine. Lost in snow and ice, she froze. He did not know how slowly.

He picked up the toy soldier from his desk, from atop the order. He held it lightly in his bare hand. Felt the chill of metal. A shiver of recognition.

The commander gave his command. There might have been other ways, but he did not know them. There might have been some who did not need to pay, but he did not owe them.

He put the toy soldier back in place. Upon the desk. Atop the order. In the middle of war unlike any other. Still child’s play.

Travelin’ Man

Author: Lee Hammerschmidt

April 29, 1976, 11:53 PM
“Don’t answer!” I said as I felt the muted phone throbbing in my cargo shorts pocket. “Do NOT answer!”
I answered.
“So, Chalk,” Aurora Nirvana, my boss said. “Would you care to explain to me just what in the name of the Cosmos you’re doing in Graceland? In the Jungle Room no less?”
“M-m-m-me?” I stammered “I, uh, well…”
“Don’t try to squirm out of it. We pinged your phone. You’re supposed to be in Portland monitoring the Swine Flu situation, But surprise, you’re in Memphis. This better not be another one of your souvenir gathering side trips. Like the baseball card incident.”
About six months ago I had detoured from an assignment in Seattle to my family home in Oregon. I knew my folks were out of town at a wedding and the younger version of myself was in California. No chance of awkward or disastrous face to face confrontations. My mom had stored my old baseball cards and comic books in a bin out in their garage. Two years later, when I had moved to out, she gave them all away!
“But they were my cards!” I said. “Mickey Mantle! Roger Maris! Sandy Koufax! And a shitload more! And the comic books. Do you know how much all that stuff is worth now in 2067?”
“It doesn’t matter whose they were, Chalk,” Aurora said sternly. “As an Agent of the Department of Inertial Cosmic Kinesis you are strictly forbidden from profiteering off antiquities picked up in your travels. I don’t need to remind you that you’re still on probation for that offense.”
“No, Ma’am.”
“So, what are you doing in Graceland?”
“I just wanted to see the place before it got all touristy, that’s all. You know I’m a big fan of the King.”
Aurora sighed heavily, not believing me for a second. “You didn’t cross paths with anyone there did you?”
“Nope. Elvis is in Tahoe, and The Boys are out front kicking Springsteen off the property. Perfect timing.”
“Well you get your ass out of there, pronto! You dig?”
“I dig.”
“Good. Remember you will be fully scanned on your return and if you bring back so much as a roll of toilet paper, you will be sent right back for three years. You know what that means?”
Oh, boy did I ever. The heart of the Disco era! I don’t think I could live through that shit again, even with the extended longevity that came with being a D.I.C.K. agent. I’d go mad in a week!
“Comprende, Chief,” I said. “See you in a jiff. I’ll…”
The phone cut off before I could finish. Wow, testy today aren’t we. I reached into my messenger bag and pulled out an old, yellowed copy of Rolling Stone magazine. The date – September 22, 1977. Just over a month after Elvis died. Roughly 16 months from today. It was the memorial tribute issue to the King The cover was a portrait of Elvis, with the dates,1935-1977.
I put the magazine on the piano where I knew he would see it. Sure, he’d probably just think it was a joke. But maybe he might open it up and read the in-depth article on his demise and start making some lifestyle changes. Cut out the fried foods. Exercise. Lay off the pills. Ditch the jumpsuits. Maybe he would live longer and get back to making great music again.
Probably not, but I had to give it a try. Aurora said not to take anything. But she didn’t say anything about leaving something behind.

Parthenogenesis

Author: Chana Kohl

“When Dr. Helena Athanasiou took the lectern, I could feel the hair on my arms prickle, as if the electrostatic potential inside the auditorium increased several Coulombs. It wasn’t just because she was a brilliant geneticist, a sharp intellectual, and a breathtakingly handsome woman. She exuded the most dignified sangfroid as if a Greek bas-relief had sprung to life.”

“Dr. Baram,” Tamar Levy, an Interpol intelligence agent with the Jerusalem Central Bureau, massaged the pressure point between her eyebrows as if staving off a migraine. “Just try to recall the facts, please.”

“I’m sorry. Forgive an old man for romanticizing the past. It was more than fifteen years ago.”

“It’s OK,” her tone softened, “Please, continue.”

“I remembered Helena from our graduate school days in the 90s. I always fancied her back then, but, for her own reasons, it never went anywhere.

“As I recall, her presentation that day was on genomic imprinting. Her lab had silenced the genes prohibiting the development of a parthenogenote—that’s a viable embryo developed completely from the mother, with no genetic contribution from the father. It was a remarkable breakthrough.

“I approached her after the talk to congratulate her on decades of hard work. She seemed genuinely happy to see me, or maybe that’s just my own wishful thinking refracted through the lens of time. I had hoped to get a chance to catch up before the end of the conference, so I asked if I could buy her a drink later.” He took a sip of tepid tea, “Whoever said chivalry was dead, never dated Aryeh Baram.”

Detective Levy continued to record notes on her tablet, keeping her thoughts to herself.

“That evening, we toasted her success overlooking the coast of Caesarea. I do remember asking what she hoped would be gained from her research. It seemed beneficial only to women.”

“And what did she say?”

“It was very odd, actually. She spoke in generic terms, mentioning that parthenogenesis was a biological fail-safe developed by nature for times when the male population was absent or unfit.”

Levy’s eyebrow lifted, “Do you know what she meant by that?”

“I’ve no clue. I assumed it was all theoretical. But it’s not a secret that many women of her generation had it rough going through the gauntlets of academia. Can you blame her if her life’s work took a feminist slant?”

Detective Levy slammed the tablet down, “The U.N. Sanctions Committee issued a notice pursuant to her violations of resolution 59-280.”

“The ban on human cloning?” Baram thought he was helping a missing person case, not a criminal investigation.

“Among other human rights violations. Reports track her to the US, under an alias, Dr. Helena Pallas. She’s part of a secretive group of dangerous women who indiscriminately blame men for society’s woes. They’ve been on our terrorist watchlist for some time. So, I will ask again. Is there anything else of importance you can remember?”

“There was one thing. The next morning, I came downstairs and noticed a young woman in the lobby. At first, I thought my eyes were playing tricks on me. She looked just like Helena.”

“Perhaps her sister or a niece?”

“No. She looked exactly like ‘my’ Helena, back when we were younger. Except…”

“Go on.”

“Except she was somewhere in her second trimester.”

When the interview was over, Dr. Baram, shaken, hailed a taxicab. He couldn’t help wonder what would have happened, all those years ago, if he had told Helena how he felt about her. If he had mystified her less and defended her more.

The world will never know.

Two Steps Forward

Author: Matthew Goldstein

The ancient skull peeked out of the ground like a shy creature waking from an interrupted slumber.
“Hey, Davoh, check this out!” Shielding her eyes from the glaring sun, her body tense with anticipation, Jarab brushed off a few more particles of parched earth to see it better.
“What is it?” Davoh patted the dirt off her hands as she walked over and crouched beside Jarab. “Is that…? No, can’t be.” Davoh’s hand drifted reverentially towards it, then jerked back as if shocked. “It looks intelligent,” she said, the awe clear in her voice.
“My guess is at least comparable to our own.”
“I’m afraid to get ahead of myself, but if that’s true, then – I mean, just think about it. We’ve always stared at the stars, wondering if there was ever any intelligent life out there, and yet the evidence was right below our feet the entire time.” Davoh shook her head. “How old do you think it is?”
“Only one way to find out.”
They worked the rest of the day to excavate the entire skeleton, tempering their anticipation with practiced professional care. As soon as the sun dipped below the horizon, the air began to cool, a sweet relief from the desert heat.
At last, they carted it to the on-site lab and continued working through the next day, until there could be little doubt. They had found an intelligent species on an evolutionary branch that was thought to have died out over a hundred million years ago.
Jarab and Davoh laid it out on a table and stared at it as if they had unearthed a god. Jarab’s eyes were watery, her knees weak. “It’s so beautiful,” she whispered.
It was almost twice as tall as they were and had only four limbs. From its shape, it appeared to walk on two legs, which was as fascinating as the twenty digits between its hands and feet.
Jarab stared down at her four fingers and flexed them slowly, wondering how different it would feel to have an extra.
“When were these dated again?”
“Huh?” Jarab dropped her hand. “Oh. One hundred-thirty million years ago, give or take fifteen million.”
“That’s the same time as the Great Extinction.”
“Makes sense. Most species died then. This one may have even been new at the time.”
Davoh didn’t respond. She opened the window and sat beside it, staring out at the dust clouds swirling in the dying light. Jarab began an analysis of the bones to determine the cause of death.
The landscape had been swallowed by darkness before Davoh stirred. A thick cloud cover had come in, making the darkness nearly absolute, their little tent a lone beacon of light in an endless, empty void. Davoh turned away from the window to face the specimen. “Do you think this species had anything to do with the Great Extinction?”
“Why would you think that?”
Davoh turned back to the window, and a minute passed before she responded in a distant voice, “I don’t know. Just a feeling.” She paused, then, “Did you know this whole area was a forest a hundred years ago?”
A chill breeze blew in through the open window. At the same moment, a beam of moonlight broke through the clouds, illuminating the side of the skull and seeming to vaporize the godlike aura that had surrounded it. It must have been a trick of the light, but Jarab could have sworn the skull was giving her a malicious grin.