The Flight

Author: Kevin P Michaels

George Tompkins hated almost everything. He hated buildings for being too tall, he hated cars for being too loud, he hated animals for being wild, and most of all he hated people for being . . . people.

George yearned for a time when things were less complicated and the world was a bit smaller. Most of all he yearned for peace and quiet, a silencing to the pointless yammering of all people.

The one thing George Tompkins did like was flying. The speed, the view, the freedom, but most of all he loved the solitude. Up in the sky away from everyone and everything George Tompkins found peace.

The flight was wonderful at first, white clouds above, stretching green fields leading into dense forests below. George’s troubles were finally beginning to fade when air traffic control radioed, instructing him to drop a few thousand feet to safely avoid an oncoming plane.

Lowering his altitude George found himself level with the city, the sight of which brought back his anxieties. Oh how he wished to be in a different time when man was not so complicated and annoying, a time when people respected one another and called each other neighbor, a time when technology served a purpose rather than as a distraction.

So lost in his own thoughts George is caught off guard as his plane enters a dark cloud. Thunder rumbles as hard rain pelts his windshield. A bolt of lightning strikes the plane. George fears it will explode. Instead an electric blue glow wraps around the plane. The glow fades away as George’s plane exits the dark cloud back to clearer skies.

Exhausted from all the excitement George turns toward home. Flying back he notices something strange, the city is regressing through time. Buildings and the surrounding landscapes grow younger with every passing moment. Time is reversing, everything within view is changing, the new replacing the old.

George, giddy with excitement at the sight of his dreams coming true, fails to notice the subtle changes happening around him. The gauges in the cockpit are first, regressing through time changing as the years past. Next his steering yolk regresses, constantly changing to earlier versions, as does everything else in the plane.

George’s clothes change as well. Now his clothing consists of an aviator hat and goggles, a leather coat, and a white scarf around his neck.

George ponders what life will be like in a different time until the steering yolk in his hand fades away. He watches with surprise as pieces of the plane disappear: gauges, buttons, seats, and so forth fade from existence until the entire plane vanishes completely, leaving poor George Tompkins free falling toward the Earth.

Luckily George always wears a parachute. He grabs the ripcord, yanking with all his might.

. . . Nothing happens.

George watches the ripcord in his hand fade away, realizing he has traveled back to a time before parachutes were created.

Plummeting toward the ground George thinks, “Perhaps if I fall long enough I’ll travel back to a time before the Earth existed and not hit the ground.”

He had no such luck.

Quiet Now Without the Bees

Author: Vivienne Burgess

I remember Agni on your lap, myself on the faded mat in the mess hall, practicing knots. Agni couldn’t keep his head on his shoulders, but I was listening. You started with the small things, shutting your eyes to speak, said it was important to pass on the details. In the middle of the year, you’d go camping in the forest with your friends. Trees blooming purple-white and you’d lie under them early in the early morning, listening to the bees. Before we lost the seasons there were distinct feelings outside, the cold was very sharp and the light was easy to be in. Sometimes, vehicles went by overhead, narrowly missing each other, to the tune of some elaborate clock that was just as far away. These were huge, huge machines as small as fingernails, leaving white trails of smoke that from below, you said, could have been speed boats on the ocean. Depending on the time of day these trails would be orange or pink or bright, bright yellow. And in the evening, the sun might catch the metal underside of the carriage and force a glint into your eye. This was when you could look at the sky without goggles. When there was more land to the country than there is now. Not enough people noticed at first. Then one day there was significantly less distance between the coasts, you found you had more neighbours in less space, and the problems that seemed far away were all around you and impossible to avoid. After the heat came the cold. Rinsed the sky of colour. Some people despaired; found cliffs, bought rope, didn’t bother with a note. Others took it on the chin. Agni was in a deep sleep so you carried him to the children’s tent, lay him down among his brothers and sisters. Penguins do this, come together to keep warm. Penguins also steal each other’s children. You talked about things like they still exist. On purpose, I don’t know. In this place it doesn’t matter whose blood is whose. Agni is all of our sons, like I am all of your daughters. You had darker hair when Agni came along. He was so warm everyone came to put a hand on him. Telling this one always made you smile, eyes still closed. There was a bad, bad cough going round and most of those people are gone now. You tucked me in beside Agni and I showed you my knot. You said it was perfect, best knot you’d ever seen, looking down at me like I was someone you didn’t know. Next morning I had my first bleed. A beginning and the end. We carried you far from camp, the earth anywhere too hard to dig. We made a circle, holding hands. A song was sung. Agni and I stayed the latest. He wanted to be near you and I noticed a shadow on his chin, the first of dark hairs. That day is very small now. I’m scared I’ll lose it inside all the others. I am learning to skin rats with the older girls and make a spit for roasting. When I have the energy I walk out to the mound of bodies and touch your grey face, preserved in ice. I try to hear the bees. My stomach is very big with Agni’s child, feels like another warm one to me, and I am in pain getting to sleep. To relax I think of penguins, a big warm ball in the cold; think, in certain lights, colour might be coming back to the sky. But how would I know. You took all of that with you. At night I dream of dust.

The Price of Sin

Author: Anthony Rove

I am sorry, Samuel. You are thirteen and a man. Today, we go to The Grid.

Oh, nephew. Shed your tears in here with me. You are a man now. And, as a man, it is okay to be frightened. It is okay to cry. I cry sometimes too. Sometimes, I am so scared that I press my palms against my ears until I can’t hear anything except my own blood pumping away.

But we men must always cry in secret. Don’t ever let anyone else see you cry. As of today, it is up to you to protect your mother and your sister and everyone else. The women have enough to worry about, eh? They worry about the food, and the shelter, and the tribunal, and the disgusting heretics. That is a lot to worry about. They don’t need to worry about the ‘tons as well. We protect them from the ‘tons. And we do our best to protect them from the fear, too. So finish crying before we leave. Fear is an infection. Don’t contaminate them.

I know you’ve heard stories about the ‘tons. I know because, when I was a boy, other boys would drive me crazy with these tales. My friends would insist that some ‘tons are over fifty feet tall—as big as a pre-incident building! They would tell me that some ‘tons are so small that they could crawl into a man’s ear without him even realizing it. There is truth to these stories, nephew. But do not dwell on them. Instead, reflect on your catechism.

In the beginning, God made the world and God made man. And man lived in harmony with the world. As long as God played the role of the creator, and mankind played the role of the created, it was good. But Samuel, you know that mankind is too arrogant for such an arrangement to last. Mankind insisted on becoming the creator. And mankind created its monstrosities—the ‘tons.

The first ‘ton’s which mankind made were small, no bigger than a man’s fist. They were metal, but not particularly hearty. However, mankind had foolishly endowed them with the four essential qualities of life: movement, discernment, aggression, and reproduction.

The ‘tons were meant to be weapons—attack dogs. Once released, they could topple entire nations in a matter of weeks. By design, they were supposed to move only in certain places; to find only certain kinds of people; to kill only a certain number; to build new ‘tons only a finite number of times.

But the ‘tons slipped the leash. It took only one error. A single ‘ton refused to stop reproducing when it was supposed to. It kept assembling more ‘tons in its own image. Its children began building more in turn. Once they could repopulate unchecked, the ‘tons evolved just like any other living thing. Now they have no artificial limits. They kill indiscriminately and without limit. Today, there are no more nations to topple.

Just when the end seemed inevitable, God once again became flesh. In the Second Coming, Christ did not die to atone for our sins. No, we must atone for our own sins by living in this broken world. Instead, Christ built The Grid: that divine work of technology which keeps the ‘tons away.

In exchange, Christ commanded humanity to stop tinkering with its petty machines. Your brother, Levi, broke this covenant. Attempting to harness electricity in any fashion is unforgivable.

Today, you expel your brother from The Grid and watch the ‘tons devour his body. Today, you see the price of sin.

Avalon Avatar

Author: Kate Runnels

Ara studied the Avatar for a moment, liking what she saw. It wasn’t enough like her to raise suspicions if anyone she knew played the game, but she would be comfortable playing in this body she had tweaked from the stock body given by the game developers.

Especially when she hooked into the game in the fully immersive world with the new sensory impressions. Not death, obviously, but so many other aspects from taste to the feel of wind and water and other sensations.

A clone you control in a world vastly different from the megacities of Earth. An escape from the pollution, continual terror attacks, food shortages, water shortages, and rampant crime on the street in every megacity.

Ara and countless other gamers had been waiting for years for this MMO RPG; the launch of Avalon. This resonated with her coming from London and seeing Stonehenge through protective glass. And many other English historical sights. She could touch grass, feel stone, pet a horse. And then she caught a glimpse of her real body in the reflection of an opaqued window. This wasn’t her true body, this weak flabby body, but that of her Avatar.

At first, after the release date, it was easy to leave the world of Avalon, but she did leave it, to go to her crap job. But for many, it became an addition. Even Ara succumbed, losing weight. Not even leaving the game to eat or shower or change. The world of the megacity was so grey and blah. Ara soon lost her job.

But she couldn’t stop. Like any addict, she needed that great and greater bit to feel anything- needing more to experience that rush from her first high.

Erik, a first responder, shook his head at his partner. “Another one, huh?”

“Do you play Avalon,” asked Michelle.

“No. What about her?”

“The brain gives a response similar to dreaming. She just won’t wake up.”

Erik scowled. “So what?”

“The game has become her reality now. This-” Michelle pointed to the rundown cramped apartment – “is her nightmare. We’ll process her like the rest and see if we can revive her. It’s a shame she has to hide in a game.”

Erik smiled. “She your type?”

Michelle shrugged without answering.

The Palace Gardens of Mhunghelvardh

Author: Sam Matey

Nnenna Inkar Uzoma, first human consul to the Empire of Mhunghelvardh, walked out of her spaceplane onto the dais and into a fantastical wonderland. The palace gardens of Mhunghelvardh spread out below her, kilometers of alien vegetation in every color. A few meters from her face, purple tentacle-vines were gently waving in the breeze, flicking out every few seconds to snatch one of the circling swarm of songbird-sized, fluorescent pink five-winged insect-like creatures. On the other side of the slabs of jet that formed a path through the garden, about twenty pulsating yellow organisms squatted low to the ground. They looked a little like brain coral, with their wrinkly network of fluid-filled crisscrossing crevices, and a little like toads, as they were covered in pustulous-looking warts filled with gray pus under a transparent lining. They appeared roughly circular from the top, with a diameter of about a meter. Four tiny, flexible tentacle-feet emerged from under their bodies, plunging deep into the reddish earth. Nnenna inhaled deeply: she detected a faintly floral and saccharine scent from the purple creature and an acrid, tar-like tang that she could almost taste from the bed of yellow ones.
“This is…incredible.” she managed, pausing to collect her thoughts while she heard her translator locket repeat her words in the guttural Shqir Pakh language. She looked at her Shqir Pakh guide, a senior Palace Guard named An!k’yrek. “May I touch them?”
“Hrel’uhkt/aa!k nhrukht.”
“Yes,” her translator locket said in perfect Globish. “But be careful. The purple one would eat your hand and the yellow ones would leave spermslime on your fingers.  Try this one.” An!k’yrek indicated a cantaloupe-sized gray bulb poised at the top of a long, thin red stalk.

Nnenna reached out and stroked the bulb, feeling its soft, velvety contours. To her shock, the bulb instantly turned itself inside out, revealing a shining turquoise interior, with a central dodecagonal structure that seemed to be woven from hundreds of tiny golden threads.
“What is it?” she murmured in awe. Her datalens could find no match for it in the Shqir’pakh’ik’la’druhn’no biome files, but humans still knew very little about the life-forms of this world. She’d only just set foot in Mhunghelvardh, and she was already on the verge of a new discovery!
“Hreg’oh!k.” “Listen.”
As Nnenna watched in wonder, the threads began to twitch and curl around each other, moving faster and faster until a humming began to emanate from the structure, an ethereal sound that was vaguely reminiscent of the tuning of a harp, the cry of a bird of prey, and the hiss of water on hot metal. It was utterly strange and harshly discordant, yet somehow the clashing sounds seemed to complement each other. It was the strangest and yet most beautiful sound Nnenna had ever heard. As she listened, a tear ran down her cheek.
“What is it?” she asked hoarsely.
“It is a Basin of Song,” An!k’yrek answered softly. “The rarest and most melodious of the Music-Globes family. Its singing season only comes twice in its 300-year lifespan. You are very fortunate to have been here to experience its melodies.”
Nnenna watched the Basin of Song curl back in on itself again and go silent.