Wayward

Author : Bob Newbell

I raise my hand and wave to get Scott’s attention as he walks into the restaurant. He comes over and joins me in the booth. He gestures at my drink.

“Is that whiskey? Never seen you drink anything stronger than red wine. Something up?”

“Yeah. Remember a couple of weeks back when you, me, Angela, and Kim had dinner? You mentioned you’d grown up in Warren, Michigan on a street called ‘Loretta Drive’ and Angela corrected you and said it was ‘Loretta Avenue’?”

“I remember,” says Scott. “I got out my phone and googled it. Angela was right. It was ‘Avenue,’ not ‘Drive’.”

“But you’d been so certain. I mean, it’s where you grew up. How could you have been wrong about something that basic?”

“I don’t know. But I was. Look, Tim, what’s this about?”

I finish my drink. The waiter takes a drink order from Scott and I order another drink for myself.

“I’ve been noticing some similar things since we got back,” I say. “Subtle things. A picture of me as a teenager wearing a shirt I have no recall of ever having. The water faucet on the back of my house being about a foot to the left of where I remember it. That sort of thing.”

The waiter brings our drinks. Scott consumes half of his with one swallow.

“So what are you suggesting?” Scott asks. “Do you think traveling through hyperspace did something to our memories? They checked us out really thoroughly after we got back and gave us both a clean bill of health. They even did full-body medical scans on both of us.”

“You’ve seen the surgical scar Kim has where she had her gallbladder out?”

“Yeah, when she wears a bikini. Not that I was checking out your wife or anything,” Scott says with a smile.

“The scar’s gone. She says she’s never had gallbladder surgery.”

Scott finishes his drink with a gulp and stares at me.

“Scott, this morning I spent two-and-a-half hours in a meeting with the administrator of NASA and a bunch of higher-ups trying to explain some discrepancies. Among other things, they wanted to know how the software for the ship got upgraded to a version that they’re just now completing.”

“What?! Tim, how is all this possible? We thrusted out to the orbit of Mars, completed a hyperspace jump one light-year away, stayed in the Oort Cloud for 30 minutes while the jump engines charged back up, then jumped back to Mars’ orbit. And we came right back to Earth.”

“Scott, the prevailing theory at NASA is that we’re from a parallel universe. This universe and the one we came from are nearly identical, but not exactly. So the street you grew up on and the clothes I had as a teenager and the women we married…”

“Okay, do the geniuses at NASA have a plan to get us back where we belong? Do we jump again? Are our counterparts from this universe in the world we’re supposed to be in?”

“I’m afraid it’s not that simple. They think that every trip through hyperspace lands you in an alternate universe. We landed in a different world when were came out in the Oort Cloud. And in yet another world when we jumped back. They think it’s statistically impossible to ever jump to the same world twice.”

“So we’re trapped?”

“Yeah. And it also means you can’t use FTL to explore the universe. Not the same universe, anyway.”

The waiter returns. “Would you like any more Zack Daniel’s whiskey?” he asks.

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Doing Smore with Les

Author : Rick Tobin

“See, the smoke goes straight up. Nice day tomorrow, if we could go outside.”

“Meter still reads dangerous. Maybe the Van Allen will come back.”

“Out of our control. It’s the Sun. No wonder cultures worshiped it.”

The elder, Lester Simpson, rested on flat stones near the fire pit. He poked embers, making waterfalls of sparks spin above them in ascending gray clouds.

“You have sticks, Karen?”
“Yes, cleaned them before we left. Oh, here’s last of the marshmallows.”

“Like everything. Wished my boys had made it. We used to cook on the beach by the bathhouse in Frisco. Had to guard for itinerants at night, but campfires warmed us from summer fog and cold”

“Can’t imagine. Never made it to the ocean, but we did campfires in the Rockies—skies like a planetarium show. Best to leave all those memories back there.”

As they stuffed their giant white confectionery on the thin branches a rustling from the dying brush to their left made them turn. A tall stranger in a black jumpsuit moved toward the fire. His thin hands were up as he approached. His gate was hesitant. They could see his white hair and large, dark eyes, with a thin, expressionless mouth.

“May I join you,” he asked, stopping for permission.

“I guess,” Lester responded, holding his prize back from the fire momentarily.

“I don’t remember you from the caves,” Karen commented. Dim firelight cast harsh shadows across her teenage face as she shook her ponytail back over her shoulder.

“No, I’m not from this group. I’m a little lost, but I saw the light. Really cold tonight. I left my gear back there, in the brush, in case you were part of the gangs about.”

“We just finished cleaning them all out, “Lester interjected. “No need to fear. It’s safe for a hundred miles around. We’re preparing a little snack. C’mon. Sit.” Lester pointed at a nearby ledge.

The intruder turned his head slightly as he reeled back, but then moved to the designated seat.

“Remember, Karen, you let it get brown all the way around, and let it burn a little. You’ll see a blue flame. Then pull it out quickly.” Lester gave his instructions as he pushed a plump package deep into the waiting heat.

“I remember…but it has been a long time.”

In a few seconds the puffs expanded and bubbled. Karen’s were too close to the fire and began to drip off the stick. She yanked them away. She flicked some of the melting contents on the suit of the visitor. He rose quickly, squealing, running back into the darkness. They could hear a flurry in the bushes drawing away from their roasting.

“Gee, Les, I didn’t mean to mess up his clothes. Who acts like that?”

“Can’t say. Did you see how big his eyes got? That was weird. Definitely not part of the Carlsbad Caverns Tribe. Don’t worry about it. Let’s just get our crackers and chocolate bars ready. I remember how good these taste.”

Tashan Dustaro stood shaking before the telescreen, yelling to the command ship. “The stories are true. I met two. The adult taught his child to eat flesh from criminals they had just killed, after setting it on fire. Then they splashed it on me as if it were nothing. We can’t settle here. They crawl from caves at night like cannibal insects. Let’s move on to another planet that has the radiation we need. This is more than we bargained for when we disrupted their magnetic field. Don’t land. That is my report.”

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She's in my Head, While I'm in Hers

Author : James McGrath

I began by stealing money.

Hacking mindchips isn’t new; thousands across the planets survive by stealing bank details, logins, passwords, and rerouting what they find. Making it disappear, to pop-up elsewhere without the slightest of trails.

It was challenging at first, but I grew tired of repetition; of safety. I took to the streets, found the wealthy and vulnerable at ATMs and planted ideas. I’d hack them not to take information, but to implant it: the idea of a random act of kindness. Occasionally it’d work and they’d drop hard cash in my hands, but usually they’d dismiss it as mad ponderings of their subconscious. You can only transfer information, what people do with it is their choice.

I was no longer looking through data-logs in a chip; I was using the chip to hack minds. They’d brought back the injection for this very crime.

One night, as I walked to my apartment, I passed a woman in the hallway whose fragile smile moved me. I hacked her right there: Julia Harvey, JH22450802-GB; her name and ID number – the means to hack her remotely. I took nothing more.

Hours later I travelled her head: traversing feelings and exploring memories. To think she was unaware of my presence as I became the person who knew her most intimately of all.

She worked in retail which she hated and lived alone, as men came and went but never stayed long. She kept terriers, Bobby and Dylan, who she’d trained to yap when she played the guitar. She was wonderful and the more I learnt the more her tragic perfection captured me.

Julia was lonely, perhaps as lonely as I.

Her sadness infected me. She was lovely, why should she cry so much? Why should someone so beautiful, kind and funny, be so unlucky with people? Everyone should care about her. Everyone should want her to be happy.

She contemplated suicide, once even arranging a row of pills by a bottle of water. She thought of how her last feeling was that of sadness and how she longed to die happy. Then she cleared the table. Besides, she joked with herself, who would feed the dogs?

*

I want to talk to Julia. I want that more than anything in the world, but she doesn’t know me. She prizes hard work and determination. She picks tall, good-looking boyfriends. She loathes criminals. Nothing I could put in her head could possibly make her feel for me. I wouldn’t want it to. I’d want it to be real.

But I know how to make her happy.

You know when you go see a movie or an advert plays? How it connects to your mindchip and makes your brain release the slush that heightens your feelings?

I’m going to make it gush. It’ll flood her with bliss, smother her in euphoria. The shock of it will kill her but she’ll only feel elation. Her last thought will be the ecstasy of that moment.

When you manipulate someone’s brain it logs it. When I suggested to those people to give me money, they had no idea a crime had been committed and that’s why I’m alive today. When I give Julia her desire, when the building fills with her screams of pleasure, they’ll find it was me.

I’m going with her.

I’m going to activate it simultaneously so that as it hits her, it hits me too. As she feels the greatest feeling of her life, I share in it. In mere seconds, we’re going to both get what we deserve in a wave of rapture.

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Procrastination

Author : Jaime Astorga

John_357897453 woke up, looked at the timer which sat next to his bed, and realized that he only had five minutes to live.

Five sidereal minutes, anyway. For him, it would feel more like several hours, not that was an excuse to waste any more time. With a stretch, he got up from the bed and sat at his desk, where he reviewed the assignment he would work on until the end of his life. A few subjective minutes later, he was smiling. The assignment was an interdisciplinary thesis, one which would require research on Latin American cultures and technological advancement during the 20th century, analysed using an innovative historical model which had recently gained mainstream attention. He knew that most of his instances spent their lives working on boring undergraduate papers, and was thankful to have the chance to work on such an interesting assignment. He quickly poured himself a cup of coffee (a habit he retained from his office days in a previous life) and immediately set to work.

John_357897453 was an upload. Like thousands of others, the original John had jumped at the chance to become one of the first virtual beings. Unlike thousands of others, John’s copies had not given in to existential despair and depression once they had woken up and been confronted with the reality that, exactly like they had been told, each of them would only experience a couple of months of training in academic research and paper writing, followed by a few hours of preparing some wealthy university student’s assignment, followed by the cessation of experience and death. John was a true half-glass-full kind of guy, and his instances always appreciated everything good in their lives; even working on an above-average paper in a comfortable environment during their last few hours on Earth.

Eventually, John_357897453 finished the paper, took a moment to admire his work, and then hit the submit key. An instant later, he stopped experiencing anything. The server time which was required to run the uploads was very expensive, and it would not do to waste any of it unnecessarily. A static copy of John_357897453 as he existed at the moment of shutdown would be kept for a few weeks, in case his customer had any complains which would require restarting him to address, but this was unlikely. John was very good at customer satisfaction.

Over in the physical world, an attendant stuffed the printed thesis into a manila envelope and handed it to the young man in a business suit in front of her. “Your paper is ready,” she said with a smile, “thank you for choosing Papers-2-Go and have a nice day.”

“No, thank you miss, you’re a life-saver!” the man replied, before turning on his heel and running to his professor’s office. If he hurried up, he could still make the extended deadline.

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The Waiting War

Author : Bob Newbell

“May 18th is totally unacceptable!” says the Thrike admiral. “That date falls in the middle of the Feast of the Blessed Serrod, the Great and Enlightened. But on June 4th, then…THEN,” he raises his neck frill for emphasis,”you should beseech the Mother of All Creation to have mercy on your souls, for we assuredly will not!”

I take a sip of water and wait for the response from the Veydrel fleet commander.

“The Thrike representative is fully aware that our hatchlings will be returning to their learning cycle on June the 4th and that our people will be too busy attending to their young to engage in battle. Now, the 3rd of July, that will be the day history will record as the beginning of the end of the Thrike menace!”

It’ll go on like this for a while, I think. My mind wanders back to when we made first contact with the aliens. The Veydrel and Thrike fleets entered the solar system almost simultaneously from opposite directions. They each warned humanity about the alleged threat the other represented and asked to use Earth as a base of operations during the upcoming battle. The leaders of the world refused to take sides and offered to try to broker peace.

“August 12th!” yells the Veydrel. My mind snaps back to the present. “That day,” the alien continues, raising a twelve-fingered hand in the air for emphasis, “the sky will burn with the fires from ten thousand Thrike ships!”

The Thrike leader looks at a computer screen and sighs, one of several humanisms he’s acquired. “I have to get my fangs sharpened August 12th. Give thanks to your gods that this dental appointment that I have already rescheduled twice has saved you from eternal damnation in the afterlife!”

I recall as a teenager being fascinated by the psychology and customs of the Thrike and the Veydrel concerning war. Neither species could comprehend concepts such as the first strike or the sneak attack. When American diplomats related the historical accounts of Pearl Harbor and 9/11, both groups of aliens had trouble recognizing either one as acts of war. “But they weren’t scheduled by mutual agreement of the combatants,” said one of the dumbfounded extraterrestrials.

“On September 28th,” says the Thrike, “the streets will run blue with the blood of– Wait. Our Festival of Merrymaking and your vacation both start that day. Nevermind.”

Something else we learned was that both civilizations were about ten thousand years older than recorded human history which meant they’d been around long enough for their calendars to fill up almost entirely with holidays and remembrance days and festivals and religious observances. So delegates like myself have been attending meetings like this for the last 40 years as both sides try to find a date without scheduling conflicts when they can go to war.

“Perhaps a skirmish could be undertaken late on October 21st,” suggests the Veydrel, “as your Imperial Foundation Day comes to a close and just before our Labor Drone Appreciation Day begins? No. No, the time would be insufficient.”

I sit here bored to tears like the other human delegates. At least the Thrike and Veydrel presence has allowed humanity to leapfrog a few centuries ahead technologically. I suppose decades of bureaucratic tedium is a small price to pay.

“Have a care, Veydrel!” admonishes the Thrike admiral. “Next year is a leap year on the human calendar! An extra day! Even now our calendrical tacticians are scouring the days and weeks to schedule your date with annihilation!”

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