Author: Matt Poll
“Don’t point at the bird, Larry honey,” Jared hissed, half-slapping his daughter’s finger out of the horizontal. She flashed him a comical tilt-headed glare of hurt, which he responded to with a comical arched-eyebrow glare of fatherly disapproval.
“Yeah yeah, Dr. McCann’s magic, sacred rules of birding, I know. Got it. No pointing.”
“Larry, he knew his stuff, okay? I’m serious, he’d look up at flock, wayyy high up, just dots, and say—“ Jared stood up taller, and put on a gruff English accent “—there are twenty-eight, no, twenty-nine Larks up there, moving south-southwest, and—“
Lara delivered the punch-line to her father’s well-worn parable with a mimed rim-shot.
“And one of them has a headache. Ba-dum-tiss. I know.”
Rob, cleared his throat, mildly annoyed.
“Meanwhile, your Mockingbird has cleared off while you two crack little jokes, hmm?” he whispered, his slightly-too-big eyes opened wider than normal. He shouldered his spotting scope, and with a nod of the head, led his birding companions back down the trail that skirted the quiet reservoir. The early noon sun was starting to burn off the mist that had settled on the muddy track, weeds on both sides clawing at ankles, hope you wore your tick socks.
Jared followed, no longer whispering. “Yep, let’s get back, the birds are havin’ their siestas, we can still—“
Lara abruptly held out both arms, signaling both hush and halt. Her head swiveled around to a low tree where a mid-sized bird was hopping between branches, silhouetted against the fresh blue skyline.
“Saw the flyby shadow on the reeds,” she said, with a pleased smirk that made the two men exchange smiles – they were impressed. The trio hunched behind a tuft of reeds.
“Blue Jay?” Rob proposed.
“That’s what I—what the hell?” Jared flinched back from his eyepieces as if burned by what he saw through them.
In response to the sounds of a large animal crashing through the underbrush nearby, a striking bird, larger than a Blue Jay, burst from the tree with a trill, glided awkwardly towards the birders and flopped to a landing. Sooty grey with wings and long legs pied a silvery blue, Lara took the bird in with her binoculars. She watched the bird’s stout orange bill clatter open and closed, and her mind almost shut down when she saw the bird’s set of fine teeth.
Jared stood up straight and rolled his eyes. “Wow, okay. Rob, I thought you—“
“Sorry, I’m sorry you guys. I thought I’d cleared out this sector of the sim. You can program out most of it.”
The large animal finally pushed its way through the low trees nearby, revealing itself. The three watched as the moss-colored beast, clearly a Triceratops, lumbered onto the path and inspected them cautiously. Sitting astride the dinosaur was a long-haired and bearded man. He was olive-skinned in the style of the Mediterranean and wore a simple brown robe. He smiled and gave them a serene nod.
“But not all of it, eh? Smile and wave at Jesus Christ on a dinosaur everyone, wave at Jesus.” Jared did just that, then turned on his heel and headed for the closest exit of the sim, which was marked with a discreet blue light. The other two followed him down the stairs and out into the lobby of the “After the Ark Simulation Experience”, the main attraction at the Museum of Creation, where Rob worked as a programmer. Lara folded her arms over her chest and watched the two men argue.
“Look, Jared, it’s the only birding we can do anymore, right? It’s hard enough finding BS maintenance excuses to get the exhibit running before hours as it is, y’know? Like I said, I can’t get rid of all of it. I know it kind of breaks the illusion, to have an Archaeopteryx flying through.”
Rob rubbed his head anxiously.
“Sorry. Anyhow, was good to see you again after all this time, Jared.”
A wall-mounted screen flickered to life in the corner, and red words scrolled across.
“This is a fallout warning for all Northern Bannon Colonies…heavy radiation levels expected for the next 48 hours, all patriots must wear their rad-counters at all times and must report to their county checkpoint before curfew to have them logged…”
Jared sighed, put his hand on his daughter’s shoulder, and walked towards the back exit.
“Man, poor buggers,” Lara mumbled.
“Yeah, guess we won’t be getting any more spring overshoots from Europe,” offered her father, looking at his shoes.
“Or Texas. Or Florida. Or Cali—“
“Shhhh, Lara, that’s enough. You’re can’t say those names anymore, we talked about this,” Rob hissed, looking around.
“Yeah, I wouldn’t wanna get us all in deep doo-doo with the Red-hats, eh?” Lara put her hands on her hips and did her most offensive southern accent: “Wouldn’t wanna git us all shipped down to Atlanta for re-ejumication or nuthin’,”
All three froze as a metal door banged open in the next room.
“Shhhhh, Larry—“ Jared held up an urgent finger.
Four men wearing what looked like baseball catchers’ get-ups, complete with red caps, clattered into the room and leveled their weapons.
“Don’t move! Show me your ID disks, now,” screamed the Red-hat in charge. Rob stepped back and gestured towards the other two with his chin, then turned away.
The Red-hats surged forward and grabbed Jared and Lara roughly.
“Sir, are you Jared Logan? This is him. He’s a leader in the alt-science resistance, it’s him, get them in the truck.”
“Thirty-five years you’ve known me, Rob! This is why you brought us here? To sell us out to these anti-science thugs? Thirty-five years! I’m gonna kill you!” Jared bucked and thrashed as the Red-hats dragged him out.
Lara went calmly to the pick-up truck and looked up before being bundled into the back. No birds flew in the sickly orange skies and hadn’t for some years.
Author: Rick Tobin
Aaron’s dark green Volvo continued in the interstate fast lane, at the legal speed limit, when suddenly a bright red SUV swerved around him, honking, almost striking the front of his car. He smiled as the aggressive driver sped ahead, then veered suddenly into a retaining wall and down into a ditch. Aaron passed the wreckage, remembering a nasty finger wave the other driver shared as his SUV passed within inches of Aaron’s front fender.
“Please sit.” Emil Brasso was terse in his directions to Aaron as he entered the sparse interrogation room featuring a single metal table with a worn green top, overlooked by a large mirror obviously allowing others to watch unseen. They seated across from each other in sterile, steel chairs with thin, hard seats. Brasso kept his right hand below the lip of the table as he fumbled with his left, opening a brown manila folder in front of his captive.
“I’m confused. I registered yesterday at your Agency’s request. No idea why. So am I under arrest?” Aaron flung back his mop of long, blonde hair while staring steely-eyed into his interrogator.
“You are surely familiar with the concerns of your government since the Pence administration. Following last year’s saucer landings, people started expressing unusual skills…some dangerous. You’ve heard of the Marvel Syndrome?”
“Sure, but that’s comic book stuff. Is this some kind of witch-hunt? Besides, your accent tells me you aren’t even one of us. Who are you, anyway?” Aaron leaned forward, red-faced with anger.
“You may call me Mr. Brasso. I am from the Netherlands with the Hague, specifically as an investigator for the World Bank. Did you or did you not brag that you could move decimals at will? That is quite serious, if true. Such actions could risk financial instability for every nation’s economy.”
“What?” Aaron’s mouth opened in astonishment.
“Did you not tell your mother that you could, in fact, change decimals at will, from a distance?” Brasso brought his bandaged right hand onto the tabletop, emphasizing his point as he pushed the folder towards Aaron. Aaron noticed the bruises around Brasso’s eyes.
“My stepmother? She’s an idiot. That is not what I told her. Obviously, she turned me in for some pittance of a reward. She switched things around in her empty head when I told her my superhero name should be Digitalis. I can make digits disappear…not decimals.”
“You mean numbers, like in a series?” An added note of concern rose from Brasso.
Aaron smiled, slowly, as he looked down at the table, “Not exactly.”
Author: Adam Fout
“All of it.”
The creature’s look is quizzical.
My helmet inhibits no sounds; I feel that my words are quite clear.
My hands shake. My gloved fist smashes the surface of his table.
“I need all of it. Not some. Not a bit. Not most. All. Is this a problem?”
I had looked for so long. Its existence here was impossible.
And yet, here it was.
My heart throttles my throat.
Fear is a vice.
The creature MUST give it to me.
Underneath my cape, my gloved fingers caress a dagger of diamonds.
My breath comes in tiny streams.
My pupils envelop my eyes.
The creature shakes his head, mutters “No, no, no, n-n-no problem, no problem.”
My fingers relax. He twitches and scurries, wrapping, questions in his eyes. He hands me the package, paws nervously brushing whiskers.
“W-w-what will you d-d-do with it?”
I do not bother to answer. I give him payment beyond what he might make in five years time.
And I run.
I run out the crumbling door from the crumbling shop to the crumbling streets of this crumbling city. The bones of this dying country drip gas, remnants of ancient poisons injected into black stone. The twists and turns coil up and up, through darkness and disease, the streets tilting crazily to lead out of this wretched planet.
I burst upon the surface, and the gas lingers under a sky of ash and blood, and my helmet burns crimson as it tries desperately to filter the thick clouds of chlorine before they reached my lungs.
And I catch my breath.
And I look into the package.
And I weep.
For here, in this decaying place, in this infested fenestration into the bowels of a wretched, bloody world, this venomous hole bored into ebony rocks bleeding miasma from unhealing wounds, in the dark light of a fading star, here, in this most unlikely place, from this most unlikely creature, here was something that my people had sought for ten thousand years.
And the light from the package sweeps across my face, and my priceless cape flies from my suit, blasted by the violence of the light, and my helmet and breather and gloves and suit and boots and tools disappear into the ether, and a stream of particles dives deep into the sleeping parts of my mind, infuses my cells, twists my essence, penetrates an essential part of me.
Wrenches that part.
Until it cracks.
And the light breaks me.
And my body is destroyed.
And my ship cries out at my death.
And I rise.
And I whisper nothings into her mind.
“Do not be afraid, my love.
“I am with you.
And my ship smiles.
And I ascend on wings of light, and my body is energy and brilliance, and I ride particle beams across the black seas of emptiness, and my ship races around, over, and through me, her joy blasting through the universe on laser and radio, and I scream, and a message flies forth from my crystalline lungs, heralding my coming, and it rides to my brothers and sisters through the relays, and it contains three words.
And my joy repeats the words.
“We are saved.”
“We are saved.”
“We are saved.”
Author : J.D. Rice
The worn grandfather clock stood idly in the corner, looking out of place against the stale, concrete wall. Its slow and steady ticking echoed quietly around the room, breaking up the silence between the room’s two occupants. Sitting behind a white-washed desk, Mark Wells, a young loan officer, shifted his weight uncomfortably as the woman seated in front of him stared at him with desperate eyes. She shed no tears, holding her resolve that he may, miraculously, find a way to give her what she wanted.
“Mrs. Simpson,” Mark said. “There really isn’t anything else I can do. You financial situation precludes any additional loans from us. My hands are tied.”
“My son needs this treatment,” Mrs. Simpson replied. “He’s been so happy for so long. I can’t bear to see his entire world change just because I’m a few thousand dollars short.”
“I understand your predicament, but~”
“Look here!” Mrs. Simpson pulled a worn photograph from her purse. In it, a young boy smiled at the camera, chocolate frosting covering his face. To all appearances, the boy could have been no older than four.
“This is my son a few years ago, on his 15th birthday. Look how happy he is. You would really take that all away from him, just because his father ran out on us? I’ve already skipped half a dozen treatments for myself. I won’t let that happen to my son.”
Mark tried his best to look sympathetic, taking the picture from Mrs. Simpson and looking it over to buy himself some time. If what this woman said was true, her son was now just a few years younger than Mark himself. Most people didn’t start taking IV-88 until they were adults. But some parents just couldn’t let go of their young ones. And given that the children were happy and considering the relative safety of taking the so-called “immortality drug” – the government could do nothing to stop them.
“My husband had the career. That’s him in the background. When he first left, James was so distraught. He cried for his father every night. But after a few years, it’s like he hardly remembers him.”
“And your husband has no interest in supporting your medical expenses?”
“He won’t even take my calls.”
Mark nodded and looked back down at the photo. The kid was cute, all right. But to spend almost 20 years in the body of a four-year-old? Mark couldn’t imagine it if he tried.
Just then the grandfather clock gave three loud bongs, indicating the passing of the hour. Mark looked up at the clock’s worn, wooden frame, and his thoughts drifted to his own grandfather, who had passed the clock onto Mark when he died, just a few years before IV-88 hit the shelves. What would Mark and his family had done to keep his grandfather around just a few more years? How much money would they have spent on treatments? Would his grandfather have even wanted to live forever?
“Is there really nothing you can do?” Mrs. Simpson finally said, looking down at the floor.
“No, you’ve reached your financial limit. I’m sorry.”
“Very well,” Mrs. Simpson said, quietly taking the picture back from Mark and stuffing it in her purse. As she walked out of the room, Mark heard her finally start sobbing. Her voice echoed down the concrete halls, growing fainter every moment, until all went quiet.
Author : Michael Holt
“This gives a whole new meaning to the term peep show don’t you think?” said, Trayden.
“Mr. Rice while we enjoy your humor you really must get your rest, we have some more tests for you tomorrow.” said the intercom above the doorway.
“I really need to get out of here is what I need to do.” Trayden said.
Trayden picked up his chair and hurled it at the window. The window transmuted like a bubble blown through a wand, the chair acting as wind. The window retreated to its original shape leaving the chair in splinters on the floor.
“There is no reason to try to escape Mr. Rice; you may leave at any time.” said, the intercom.
“This isn’t what I signed up for!” yelled, Trayden.
“Mr. Rice, on your eighteenth birthday you signed an intergalactic draft, voluntarily stating that in your galaxy’s time of need you would gladly step up to defend it. If you choose to go back on your word we will provide you with transport to the planet of Gitash, strip you of your rations and planetary identification to live out your days in exile.”
“I know what I signed up for you fu-.”
“Mr. Rice there is no need for profanity, please lay down, the men in white will be in shortly to settle you down. Try to get some rest.”
Defeated by his failed escape Trayden laid on his bed, waiting for the men in white, planning another escape and wondering if the war he was forced to fight in was a war worth fighting for.