A Good Arm

Author: Moriah Geer-Hardwick

It was a good arm. You’re cognitive its loss will have negative effects. Absently, you work the fingers on your remaining appendage, one after the other. You seem to control a decent amount of movement and function. You ignore the barrage of internal damage reports cascading through your peripherals. There’s no time to process them anyway. A reflex prompt pulses through your chassis, jerking you upright. The command display reads, “Get up.” Tabbed beneath is the notation, “Incoming fire.”

Bullets shred the concrete pillar beside you. Bits of it spatter your nano-tube plating as you scramble away. You move fast, trying to stay low, but a round catches you in the leg. More damage reports. They can wait. You can still move, and right now, that’s all that matters. A tactical subroutine automatically calculates the trajectory of bullets, concluding the shots are originating from an elevated vantage point. Red target markers pop into your optical display, indicating the position of your attacker, on a rooftop across the courtyard. It occurs to you one of the things you miss most about the arm you lost is the very large gun it was holding.

A logic trigger recalls one of the internal damage reports you ignored earlier. This time, you glance through it. Struck by a high-velocity projectile, it states. Catastrophic structural failure, from shoulder to elbow. Severed connectivity from the rest of your frame. The impact knocked you to the ground. Yes, all that was obvious the moment it happened. Wait. Shoulder to the elbow joint were destroyed. Which means, nudges the logic trigger, everything else, including the very large gun, likely remains intact.

A bullet cracks into your left side, spinning you around and slamming you to the ground. Warning tags explode across your primary display, informing you that your lower extremities are currently offline. Yes, you are aware. Flat on your back, you watch, helpless, as your feet, then your legs, are chewed apart by gunfire. You claw at the rubble beneath you, attempting to drag yourself to safety, but before you can make any progress, the shooting stops. Confused, you look up and see squat little building is now obscuring your attacker’s path of fire. Mostly obscuring, you think, looking down at the wreckage that was once your legs.

A tactical subroutine estimates the amount of time it will take the shooter to relocate. You have at most four seconds before it can cross over to the next building and reestablish a line of sight. Quickly, you cast a signal out for the gun. To your surprise, it pings back instantly. You trigger its mobility function and wait. A second later you see it skittering towards you, its spindly legs frantically stabbing at the ground, propelling it forward. You raise your remaining arm, directing it to to the precise point where your attacker will come into view. At full tilt, the gun stutters around to match the angle, then leaps. It glides in a perfect arc towards your hand. At the same time, you see a combat sniper machine land gracefully on the rooftop directly in front of you. Reflexively, your hand goes to clench around the grip of the gun. As it does, a hand/eye sync error blips into your peripherals. Your fingers close a fraction of a second too soon. The gun deflects off of your hand and tumbles away, its spindly legs flailing wildly. “I never had sync errors with my good arm,” is the last information to flash through your central processor before a bullet shatters it into a thousand pieces.

The Foreigner

Author: Olabisi Bello

I feel it in my heart before anywhere else. The painful shock that leaves my body reeling with pain, that makes my every nerve wish for relief, and that makes me wonder how I am still alive. It only lasts for a second but I never stop hurting.

“Take a break, Kathy. We will be back” an all too familiar voice says.

I slowly move my eyes to the side and see two blurry persons moving away. Shivers run through my spine as I focus on the back of the man who has the darkest aura I have ever sensed. My origins allow me to sense the auras of people and I have never sensed such a dingy and dark aura in my 100 years alive. I close my eyes and search for the auras of my parents, but it’s hopeless. I knew the minute, no, the second when I lost connection to them. I felt my dad’s aura burn with pain and then it was gone. After that, my mom’s aura was suddenly glowing with deep sadness and regret for making the mistake of going on a family vacation. I felt her communicate her love for me and her apology before I lost her connection.

When it dawned on me what had happened, I lost all control. I phased in between my two forms: one human and one beast. I broke the chains holding me down, and I made a run for it. They tried to stop to me, but I manipulated their hearts making them cower in fear of me. I ran for as long as I could, as far as my weary legs could take me. I ran and ran and ran. I could hear them trying to trail behind me fighting the hold of their hearts. I couldn’t use my power to the fullest as I was only just a child. I tried to send a signal to all my family members, but the space between this planet and mine was too large for my signal to pass through. I got to the edge of a cliff and the trip down didn’t look appealing. I didn’t want to jump, so I tried turning back. My mistake. They caught me, took me back and bolted my limbs into the platform while I screamed in my Ultrion deafening voice. They blocked their ears and left me alone to wiggle around in pain. I cried for days feeling helpless. Eventually, I became numb and they continued their experiments on me. I don’t understand much of what they were trying to do. They said something about building a robot-human alien, but that makes no sense to me. Nothing they do makes sense to me. I open my eyes and stare at the black ceiling above me. I don’t get to see the beautiful Earth sky that everyone back at Ultrion talked about. Our sky is always dark red and boring, so our eyes always sparkled when Ultrionians who had visited Earth showed us pictures of its clear blue skies. Mum wanted us to visit so much despite the risks, and Dad finally agreed. He shouldn’t have, but his love for her always blinds him. I miss them so much. The pain I feel doesn’t compare to the electric shocks they send through me. I hear them come back and start up their equipment. I stare fixedly at the black ceiling hoping to see my dark red sky again and wondering why Earth treats its foreigners in such a horrible manner.

“Get ready, Kathy.”

Then I feel it in my heart.

Burst Your Bubble

Author: David C. Nutt

“So, how many today?”
“Ummmmm, six. No. Seven.”
“Seven? Dude, that’s gotta be a record.”
“Nah. I did twelve in one day last quarter. It’s easy. Find their operational metaphor, login into their universe, use the behavior health override, eject them from the system. Easy-peasy.”
“How do you do it, man? I do any more than four and I am good for nothing for the next 24. All those egos, all that re-arrangement of reality… (sigh.) I gotta hang on tight each time I go in.”
“Your problem is you admire their creativity. You see the ornate world they’ve made for themselves, spend time in their harems, follow them for a while on their quest, kill some dinosaurs, whatever. You get sucked in.”
“How can you not? Just yesterday I was in a world so beautiful and peaceful I even wanted to believe it existed.”
“That’s your problem. You want to believe. Not our job. Our job is to bring reality crashing down on their universe. Make them give up the sword and sorcery and get back to the real world and help us make it a better place.”
“That is so square. Don’t you see what they are all trying to do? Is it their fault that they’re addicted to what could be rather than dealing with what is? Hell, some of our cases need to making decisions out here…oh. Wow.”
“You get it now don’t you? They have to be out here making it better. For every one of those VR dropouts, there’s six of us taking care of them. For every one we smack off-line three more go on.”
“So what do we do? How do we fight the fantasy?”
“Have one more powerful than theirs.”
“More powerful. Me? I want to burn it all down man. I want to run wild with sledgehammers in the server farms. I want to throw acid on the data storage. I want to piss Hep C into their bio-computers. Every time I drop into one of those MF’s universes that’s what is locked into my mind, man. I’m the wrecking ball, freakin’ death and destroyer of virtual worlds.”
“Chill out! You’re scarin’ me bro.”
“Hey, just livin’ the dream.”

The Stars Looked Forth

Author: Alzo David-West

Distant stars blinked over Buguma island in the lower southern delta of West Africa. Sea waves turned, crickets droned, and guinea fowl warbled. I was on a forest path, walking to my village, looking over my shoulder, for I could hear something lurking in the darkness. At first, I thought it was a stray dog, then a bush rat, but the stalking sounds were in the wrong order.

I stopped and turned around. A mosquito whispered in my ear. I strained my eyes. There was a bleak, low shape several meters away, slowly moving forward, and mutably, by some evil juju, it assumed the frame of a thick, squat, bald man. A fearful terror gripped me. I screamed and ran. I knew he was no normal man.

As I dashed, bewitched thoughts flashed in my mind of the juju man transforming into a giant insect, swooping down upon me with his gauzy wings, spindle legs, and needle bill, piercing my body, and sucking the blood dry from my veins. I ran faster and faster, screaming louder and louder for all my life was worth.

I came gasping and tumbling into my village, where amid the reddish-yellow glimmer of a kerosene lamp, comfortable loud men in singlets and wrappas were sitting on stools, laughing, chewing kola nuts, and drinking kai-kai and palm wine from tin cups and calabash gourds.

They saw me. I fell before them, shouting that a juju man on the forest path was chasing me for his beastly banquet. The happy men roused to their feet and became serious men. They murmured about witch doctors, magicians, and child snatchers, and they ran to their mud-and-thatch houses, where they grabbed more kerosene lamps, sharpened their matchets, and loaded their hunting muskets as their wives held and guarded small infants.

Hurriedly, I paced with the armed men to the path, and there in the shadows, we saw the form of the juju man prowling. I pointed, shivering. The village men demanded that the juju man stop. He did not yield. One of them fired his musket in the air, uttering a curse and a proverb. And the juju man retreated as swiftly as the horses of northern Kano land.

We pursued him under the moonless night. He ran into the bushes heedless of the venomous snakes, darted across the cassava and plantain farms, and passed the outlying river channel leading to the sea. He ran to the dark shore of the beach, and there was a splash.

Approaching the water, we heard a sound like the mighty engines of English merchant ships. And then, to our dismay, there was a fiery blaze rising like the broad-faced sun—and magnificent white rays that shone all around the earth and the waters before us—and a massive roar like a cannon blast—and a surging hot storm-wind—and afterward, all was dark again and still except for the disturbed water and the dead snappers and periwinkles that swept ashore.

We were awestruck. One of the men spoke: “Pikin, dis one na be pawaful juju, o.” That was eighty-five years ago. I was ten years old.

I now live on the seafront of Brittany with my retired son and his second wife. All the world has changed, and I have changed, yet some things remain the same in the tides of time, like the memories of childhood presentiments. So far away from Buguma island and in the late twilight of my life, I sometimes wonder when the stars blink in the night, “Was the juju man real, or was he something I dreamed, the fancy and the flight of childish fears?”


Author: Suzanne Borchers

I’m one of three applying for the position of Assistant to the Chairman. Why me? My parents placed my application to the Great One.

Mother’s favorite story is about my birth. Daddy laughed, hugged me close to his chest, and called me his little lamb.

I grew up in Cumulous City, high above the drudges mining minerals and gems for our Chairman’s government. Daddy made sacrifices so my wardrobe was the finest in the city. He told me stories about our Chairman–his strength, his wealth, his love for his people.

And here I am awaiting his arrival. My parents told me not to worry, that I would be chosen. I am quiet, unrivaled in beauty, and mature for my thirteen years. Yet I shiver, knowing that if I’m not chosen, I could die.

We applicants stand before the throne and await the Great One. The Chairman’s Board circles us. The Followers stand off to the side, my parents in front.

On my left is Jax. My face heats at his beauty–his black curly hair and graceful curve of aquiline nose. He wears his planet’s tunic of silver. On my right is Aal. His appendages are placed without direction or order. Before I can lower my gaze, he smiles at me. My stomach heaves and I turn away.

With the sound of a gong, the Chairman enters. His unlined, clean-shaven face beams goodness. His large hands clasp together in our universal sign of peace. He radiates youth although he is old.

The Chairman sits and motions Jax forward. Jax’s fluid steps are confident. His tunic shimmers. He kneels. Of course, Jax will be chosen. Shaking, I glance at my parents. They smile at me.

A bolt of energy surges from the Great One’s hand.

“No!” I gasp.

Jax collapses and is dragged away by the Chairman’s guards.

The Chairman announces, “I knew Jax to be prideful and I felt his need to be purged of it.”

His Followers chant, “Our hearts and minds are yours!”

The Great One smiles and motions Aal forward. Aal’s eyes moisten and his appendages churn until he’s before the Chairman. His body shakes. His red tunic drips sweat.

He’s afraid like me! Tears fill my eyes.


A bolt of energy surges into Aal’s body, twisting him around before he falls.

My eyes hold his until his eyes see nothing.

I breathe out a sob.

Aal is kicked from the room.

The Followers cheer.

The Chairman giggles. “I knew Aal’s embarrassment at ugliness and his need to be purged of it.”

I brush away a tear.

The Followers’ chants ring throughout the room until the Great One raises his impressive hand.

He crooks his finger at me. I turn toward my father, who motions me forward to the Great One.

I force my legs to move. My knees tremble as I stumble to the Chairman.

I bow my head and kneel, waiting for the arc of pain. It seems hours as I focus on his giant feet. His shoes glow black.

One hand caresses my scrubbed face before he lifts my chin, forcing me to face him.

His other hand cups one of my heavy breasts and squeezes it, hard. He whispers, “There is no need for an Assistant. I have just one need.” My breast throbs with pain. “You’ll learn.”

My father joins the Board Members’ circle. He doesn’t look back at me.

Moaning, I remember his words, “My little lamb.”