I Dream in Kaleidoscopes

Author: S.R Malone

None were allowed to upset the status quo.

This was the point of the neuro-signalling headsets, to stem the tide of those whose thoughts proved too much for society. Were these dangerous folk? No, not always. In fact, they’re your regular Joes: partners, employees, friends, neighbours.

Tristan Jasinski is one such man. He is the loyal, and for a long time, obedient husband of Mara Jasinski. He is no revolutionary. At least, not yet.

The headset buzzed against his forehead every time it registered too much stimulation. Anger, curiosity— the subject conditioned to change their thought process. The higher powers are near untouchable, and our emotions are policed.

When Mara Jasinski landed a last-minute interview for the position Tristan had been coveting, he was supportive. When she was awarded the position, he was disheartened. Upset, he aired his disappointment, his woe at not breaking free of his role in administration. The next day, Mrs Jasinski had her husband fitted for a headset. Now he doesn’t complain.

One rainy morning in March, I run into Tristan at an auto shop downtown. He had brought his wife’s new car in for an alternate paintjob, and was waiting patiently in the draughty foyer. Our meeting was no accident, much as I would have him think it was.

“My name is Liv,” I extend a hand. Liv wasn’t my real name, not even close.
“Tristan,” he smiles. I tell him my car is having two tyres replaced, and he believes me.

Over the next hour, I warm up to telling him about myself. It was well-rehearsed, but with the mechanics in the back, there was no one to doubt my credibility. Tristan certainly didn’t; his headset wouldn’t allow him to question me. I explain who I work for, my employer being the infamous Desiderata.

Desiderata, dubbed ‘humankind’s pessimistress’, is public enemy number one. She stays hidden behind vidnet screens and a masquerade mask, often as a white rabbit in a silk dress and combat boots. We work for her, cleaning the oppressive rot from society. We upset those in power, and those who have a false sense of it. Like Mara Jasinski.

Tristan tells me how he does not dream anymore, that his mind plays a reel of colours at night, like a kaleidoscope. There and then, I pull the switch. The headset slips from around his head, replaced with a powerless lookalike. It would emit an alarm, but I learned from Des how to suppress this. All I ask of Tristan is an invite to his wife’s soiree this Friday, where her colleagues would be in attendance.

Mara Jasinski works at the local television network, under station manager Ezra Madigan. I’d wager they were having an affair behind her subdued husband’s back. They both ridicule Tristan while he stands before them at the party, drinks tray in hand. I told him previously to grin and bear it, for now. His migraines have cleared, a side effect of my removing the device, and he is fully awake.

I sweet-talk Mara, saying I like her revolting post-future art. I have Tristan ask her into the study, where she viciously berates him for wasting her time. I emerge and slip the headset on her; her malachite eyes go wide as she freezes, understanding the gravity of her situation. Her thoughts of fury are met with burning rebukes from the device.

She submits.

Tristan smiles, his first genuine smile in a long time. Desiderata would love to get her talons into the network, and Mrs Jasinski is just the woman for the job.

Made of Glass

Author: Torion Oey

The Future is Now.

Dwight Crosby frowned, narrowing his eyes at the bold text that had appeared on his eyeglasses. Despite his conscious distaste for the clichéd ad, the text enlarged and filled his vision, an automatic process resulting from a preference he unwittingly agreed to in the EULA when big tech rolled out the TechSpecs. He stopped walking down the sidewalk and internally scolded himself while the ad played across his lenses. Convenience was one thing, though there were plenty of drawbacks to having his preferences neurally uploaded to the public Cloud.

The owner of the company who was the innovator that created the TechSpecs appeared and began to silently talk, subtitles appearing at the bottom. Dwight didn’t use earpieces that’d remove the need to read, as he already felt detached enough from the real world. Tiredly, he began to read the corpocratic innovator’s spiel.

Hello, everyone. I am pleased to announce a new project that ensures our survival—and—our prospect to thrive. Thanks to TechSpecs, much of our research has already been collected in the public Cloud. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you—

Dwight tore his glasses off, disgusted. Having his walk to work interrupted was one thing, but learning of yet another way big tech was using his daily life as a means to some end filled him with a silent anger. EULAs, he thought spitefully, then noticed all the way down the sidewalk people were similarly stationary. Their TechSpecs’ darkened lenses signifying they, too, were observing something digital.

He turned in place, all too aware of the lone scuffing noise his shoes made on the concrete. He came to face his dimmed reflection in a plexiglass window, one of hundreds that lined the buildings on each street. Putting a hand over the front of his suit, his reflection doing the same, he breathed in deeply. There’s no reason to get worked up, he thought.

Finally, something moved. He turned. A man wearing a deep blue business suit much like his own was slowly taking off his TechSpecs. The man threw them on the ground and stomped on them repeatedly.

A horrible crash of breaking glass resounded, as if all the upstairs windows along the multileveled plexiglass buildings had shattered.

Terrified, Dwight looked up while crouching and covering his face, though none of the windows were broken. Confused, he looked back down at the man. He lay crumpled and unmoving on the sidewalk. Dwight ran to him. Lenses of others nearby became transparent, reacting to the wearers’ conscious fear at the sound. Dwight knelt and shifted the man onto his back. His eyes were open and staring at nothing.

Frantically, Dwight shoved his TechSpecs back on and urged the network to display medical information while it simultaneously called for emergency medical services. Following the directions on his lenses, he checked for breathing. Then, a pulse. Nothing. He followed the directions for CPR, starting with chest compressions. It was no use. The man was dead.

Standing, he took a step back. A horrible thought occurred to him, and he quickly urged his own TechSpecs to go back to the ad that was playing. The lenses dimmed and the corpocratic innovator reappeared in a blurred unmoving image behind huge text displaying the name of the project that allegedly would ensure the survival of humanity.

LifeLink—a virtual you, virtually you.

Alien Babble

Author: Joshua Daniels

10
Was how many years Jim and Sally were together before the Global Aeronautical Service called ‘all intrepid adventurers willing to travel to the great unknown!’

9
Was how many astronauts were finally whittled down for the ‘Voyage of a Lifetime!’ as the papers were calling it.
Jim, the only one from England, was asked how he was feeling by the papers, ‘I’m over the moon!’ he said.
Sally rolled her eyes.

8
Was how many months it took travelling at light speed to reach the strange nebulous lightning cloud that had first appeared on the G.A.S. radar over a year ago. The last video message Jim had from the fam was of Sally saying how much she missed him, the big doofus, and of little Elena doing her alien babble as they called it. They lost contact after that.

7
Was how many alien aircraft entered Earth’s atmosphere. Large, sprawling, tentacled ships – partially built of some unknown space rock and partially of viscous spongy membrane.

6
Was the number of strange alien noises sounded by the invaders. Expert code analysts feverishly worked to understand the message as Earth was being reduced to dust.

5
Was how many sleeping pills Sally gave Flora as she sang her nursery rhymes. They could barely be heard over all the screaming outside.

4
Was how many years had passed before The Odyssey finally returned to Earth. They were greeted by a welcome party of debris and human bones.

3
Was how many years it took Jim to get back home. He walked pretty much the whole way, foraged on whatever vegetation hadn’t been obliterated by cosmic laser rays.

2
Was how many human skeletons were lying huddled together on Elena’s bed. Jim fell to his knees and felt himself shatter to a million pieces.

1
Was how many notes Sally had left him just on the off chance he was still alive, and the even unlikelier chance he made it back home.

She told him how she loved him and missed him and how even a whole universe could never keep them apart. Elena had smeared pen ink at the bottom. How much she had grown since he left. From her alien babble to her alien scribble.

Strange symbols that Sally had probably thought nothing of. But Jim knew. He who had travelled through unfathomable dimensions and learnt the tongue of superior beings.

He read the symbols out loud producing the same sounds that had so terrified humankind on their day of reckoning.
A message sent through time and space to the lips of a child.

A warning she had tried to tell him all those years ago, and one he had failed to heed:

Those who shall invade, shall be invaded yet.

Blast Off!

I am an explorer

Author: Richard Jordan

The truth is you can’t tell much about a world from orbit. You can scan as much as you like, you can send out probes and even scouts – and we do all these things – but unless you set foot on the surface yourself, you can never really understand a world. I am an explorer. I want to know what makes worlds tick, what makes them unique. That is what drives me through space, searching for new frontiers and strange planets. There is always something different and wonderful about a world – an organism, a quirk of the weather, maybe a geological formation. Some planets heave with life, some are desiccated husks, but they all have their own…style. Their own beauty. Take Earth, for example.

Billions upon billions of organisms, crammed onto a tiny blue-brown speck orbiting an unremarkable star. Unique cultures, a vivid history, bizarre creatures. My kind of world, bustling and confusing and so very alive. And the mineral wealth? Don’t even get me started. Huge concentrations of everything a civilisation needs. This is a wonderful planet. From orbit you can look into the eye of a hurricane as it sweeps silently across a vast ocean. You can track the migratory patterns of millions of animals, or focus on a single human struggling through a city crowd. Of course, none of the organisms below have any idea of how to use the planet properly. The dominant life-form (bipedal, close-minded, prone to violence,) spends much of its time engaged in bickering, politics and war, or in pointless ephemera – wasting the planet’s resources and their own time. Their defences are painfully inadequate. They are so concerned with killing one another that they have not considered any other threats. Their satellite system looks mostly in rather than out – a fitting metaphor for this myopia. I have been here for years, cruising amongst the orbital detritus and observing without their knowledge. I know them well, and I have even visited the surface. This isn’t strictly in line with protocol, of course, but I couldn’t help myself. The planet is so rich that I had to experience it for myself. I am an explorer, but I am just the first. The others are, shall we say, differently motivated. I have catalogued and collected. I have preserved what I can.

To my regret, my time is up.

My work is so often bittersweet. I come to love the places I discover – their creatures and their quirks – but this planet is too ripe a fruit to sit unmolested for long. I must depart ahead of their arrival. I cannot bear to watch.

I am an explorer, but my brothers and sisters are hungry. The Hive must feed.

The Broken Fishbowl

Author: Alzo David-West

The day had been long and busy. I was on the Marsport Metro on my way home. The pilotless shuttle shook and rattled and made its usual stops.

The time was late, and not many people were on board. At one of the stops, a woman of thirty-eight or thirty-nine entered. She dressed like a twentieth-century factory worker. She wore a blue headscarf, a very plain grey dress, and dusky vinylon shoes. She was carrying a fishbowl.

The woman sat by the shuttle door. We were across from each other. The doors closed, and the shuttle started.

I saw the fishbowl was cracked. There was nothing inside. I wondered where she was taking it. The shuttle made a few stops. The few other passengers disembarked each time. After a while, the woman and I were the only ones left.

She sat still the whole time, looking at the fishbowl, and she started to cry. I thought she was afraid to be alone with me.

“Sister, it’s okay,” I said gently. “I’m a father, with a wife and a three-year-old daughter.”

The woman did not respond. The shuttle made another stop, but she took no opportunity to get off. She was still crying. The shuttle resumed its course and was shaking.

“Sister, are you okay?” I asked. She stopped crying. The tears dried and stained her cheeks.

“You must be assured,” she muttered downwardly. “You must be assured with your daughter and your wife.”

I felt I should speak honestly. “I’ve had my share of hard times and worries,” I said. “They’ve affected me over the years, and my health is not very good, but I love my wife and my daughter.”

She was quiet. A faint twist passed on the left side of her face. Maybe I said too much, I considered. She began to caress the fishbowl.

“What’s your work?” she asked indistinctly.

“I’m a mineral trader operating from Albor Tholus,” I answered. “I buy and sell to various habitable satellites.”

“I’m a sewing factory worker from Terra Sirenum,” she volunteered briefly.

She was not afraid of me, I could tell, but she still seemed troubled. The fishbowl sat on her lap. The shuttle was swaying. I asked as before, “Sister, are you okay?”

“There were two goldfish inside,” she said slowly, “but I dropped it, and now, the goldfish are gone.”

Was that all it was? I thought to myself. Why should she be so sad? Could she not buy another fishbowl and get two other fish? So I said in some uplift, “Oh, sister, don’t worry. It’s such a little thing.” I reached into my shirt pocket, and I offered her a renewable credit voucher, assuming she was in need.

The woman looked at the smart card in my hand, and for the first time on the ride, she turned her gaze at me. Her face was worn with anguish, and her eyes were like an empty sea. She looked down, into the bowl. I felt a turn in my stomach.

“I’m sorry,” I said.

She did not say anything, and I did not know if I should speak again. The shuttle shook and rattled and made its usual stops. The lights flickered. We came to a stop near Alba Patera, and the shuttle doors opened. The woman got up from her seat, holding the fishbowl.