A Wandering Mind

Author: Richard Wren

“Aaaagh!” It was always a shock to return, to feel the meat encase him again, to stare out through balls of jelly. Felix Bonaparte, time traveler, twitched his body to relieve his aching joints and waited for his heart to stop racing.
With eyes now closed, and in a fetal position, he concentrated on calming his rapid breath. Okay, that was better.
The worst was over. He was home. Rolling onto his back, he pushed with his legs to slide sweatily across the soft flooring. Now, propped into the corner of the dim little room, he felt his muscles gradually relax.
Felix loved to travel but wished it was more like H. G. Wells and those other stories. If only he had a slick, shiny machine with flashing lights and data screens. In reality, time travel was more of an art than a science. A matter of focusing on the moment – any moment, and then simply being there. Easy once you had the knack, but not everyone allowed themselves to be released into the currents of time. Most people preferred a limiting, single reality.
Felix Bonaparte – not his real name, had been traveling for most of his life, firstly by shocking accident then, after resisting Ritalin and other childhood drugs, deliberately. Teachers said he had a wandering mind.
As a youth, he had followed various boyhood whims. He had gawped at dinosaurs tramping through primeval swamps, watched dramatic, blood-stained battles and had admired the building of the great pyramids under the ancient Egyptian sun. Now, more mature and satiated with the spectacles of history, he was a connoisseur. He specialized in French history of the eighteenth century, a time of great change.
His last trip had been to his favorite place – the sumptuous palace of Versailles. It wasn’t just the elegance and social intrigue that he enjoyed. Even the hard lives of the servants and courtiers held a fascination for Felix.
Would M. Hardouin be able to create the spun sugar sculpture he boasted for the Duke’s visit? How much longer would The Marquis de Lafayette continue his dalliance with his chambermaid? It was all a real-life soap opera, both subtle and dramatic.
Of course, only his focus moved there – roaming the mirrored corridors like a ghost. His body always stayed here in the cushioned little room.
He had visited the palace a dozen times without the problem of seeing himself from a previous jaunt. His earlier foci were no more visible to him than they were to the locals. By the same spectral token, he could observe but have no effect on what happened around him.
A little smile trimmed his mouth. Why hadn’t those story writers thought of that? Goodbye time paradoxes.
The little smirk widened to a grimace. Damn! He could feel what was coming next. It happened like this sometimes – uncontrollable spasms and reflex actions as his body adapted to being full again. It shook, laughing uproariously at those narrow-minded old tellers of tales.
Thankfully the padded walls and securely tied straps of his jacket prevented him from serious damage from his frantic contortions. He paused to grab air before another exhausting bout of laughter, accompanied by bodily thrashing, rolled him around the echoless room. Opposite him, set in the cushioned door, a little flap slid open for someone to peer in, then immediately shut again.
He was safe in his little box with its gentle lighting and comfortably tight clothing. Beyond, in nearby cells, he could hear the anguished shouts and wails of other returning travelers.

The Death of God

Author: Michael Hopkins

It knew itself as awareness. No center. No end. Awareness. It did not know its name. It had no I. A perturbation arose – from where? The agitation expanded – a significant change. It grew. It caused disruption – a point of focus with hope for discovery – all new concepts for it. It asked why. It hoped it would speak its name.

Scientist arguably decided that the universe was billions of years old. From the pinprick of the big bang it was expanding in all directions at the speed of light. Intelligence, as measured through the development of languages (approximated at seven thousand) were starting to disappear. But as the dialects of man dwindled, with increased attention to the universal tongue of mathematics, the languages of animals were discovered and categorized: the song of whales, the chirps of birds, the movements of bees, the barking patterns of dogs. Beyond these, the languages of what were once thought to be unintelligent objects made themselves evident.
Aspen trees with their interconnected root systems, and ability to sway in the wind, which freed microscopic cells to be carried through the air to others of its type, were found to send messages of drought and fire over hundreds of miles.

Mycelium roots were determined to be the largest living organisms, connecting and communicating over thousands of miles.

The movement of the wind and seas, thought to be results of physical phenomena, such as changes in atmospheric pressures and the gravitational pull of the moon, were discovered to be complex dialects, with messages that gave rise to the climate transitions on the earth. The oceans, the large lakes, the small trickling streams carried their messages across the earth: water evaporated, molecules transmitted their utterances through the sky, the wind moved these codes, depositing information, to receptors, with rain.

The name of a god was thought to hold a final power; to know a god was to speak its name. Christ. Allah. Shiva. Vishnu. Elohim. Elah. Shangdi. Maykapal. Bhargava. Surendra. To know this name was man’s purpose for existence; its discovery, spoken aloud, as a prayer, would bring the purpose of man’s existence to an end.

Hebrew intellects searched the ancient texts for the all-encompassing name of god. The many representations all had their purpose. The Tetragrammaton YHWH: Yahweh: Jehovah, a piece, yet incomplete. The art of Kabbalah merged with the complexities of equation to divine the name. But it was the final discovery that gave the greatest hope.

Geologists agreed that the most inanimate of objects were alive – and had language. Stones spoke. The earth’s landmasses, once a single unit, had split into continents: separate parts that yearned to be whole. The 500,000 detectable earthquakes every year began to shape into an alphabet. Many, perceived by only the most sensitive scientific instruments, were seen as a constant chatter: words, sentences, and paragraphs. The largest destructive quakes were theorized to be shouts of pain, calling to their distant pieces. The religion of Gaia: a sentient earth, characterized these as soulful cries of longing across the chasms – lost love.

The earth went silent. As decades progressed with no quakes, the geo-linguists (a science to some, a religion to others), developed more precise instruments and found the mountains themselves spoke. The utterance of a single syllable took years. A word – centuries. The meshing of science and religion turned from the subatomic world for answers, to the macro, the large, the most visible of physical entities. It gave man hope that in the study of these ancient beings, the purpose of creation had focus, and struggled to speak the name of god.

Society, with its diverse economies, competing philosophies, anxious religions, and growing technologies, served to further divide man, rather than make them whole. Peace was always torn at its fundamental fabric by war. Love was subdued by hate.
When the sun grew in size by twenty percent (a surprise event that would reshape the theories of astrophysicists – if there were any to see it), all organic life on the earth was destroyed – in an instant.

The rocks continued to talk, for thousands of years, in the quiet of a dissolved humanity, and moved toward the first utterance of god’s name. When the sun expanded again, the earth was gone, vaporized – its quarks, fermions, and leptons, pulled apart, separated forever, blown in all directions to chaos, to nothingness.

It sensed the loss. It asked why. It wondered if it had a name. It became as it was before. It knew itself as awareness. No center. No end.

Neighborhood Watch

Author: Jeff Hill

A woman is crouching in the bushes, patiently waiting next to the house of her estranged husband. He has to know, she thinks to herself. The neighbors see her, but they pay no mind. They know she’s harmless, and they know she’ll never actually confront him. But she’s not sure which is worse: the fact that she does not deserve their pity or the fact that they will regret their dismissal. “He has to know,” she whispers to no one in particular.

She walks over to the front door and surprises the few neighborhood watchers out walking their dogs, playing basketball in their driveways, and grilling burgers while drinking beers in their garages. She knocks, then rings the doorbell for good measure. Then she surprises everyone watching yet again, removing each article of her clothing, one by one, waiting for him to open up the door.

She has black ink all over her body, in what appears to be the words of an ancient, long-forgotten, seemingly dangerous language. The beers drip, the burgers burn, the basketballs roll down the driveways, the dogs nervously urinate, and a couple of the neighbors do, too. The door opens.

Her voice is simultaneously quiet and booming, her words seem to enter the whole neighborhood’s heads directly. A jilted lover, a sad separation, a reckless deal, and a town that would soon make national news. The woman will not be ignored. The woman will not be pitied. And as the clouds begin to blacken above her, she says she will not be forgotten.

The Secret Behind Her Smile

Author: Irene Montaner

By the time the aliens reached Paris, the streets were empty. Parisians and tourists alike had sought shelter inside the many churches in the city or underground in the metro tunnels. They prayed and hid or hid and prayed but regardless of their choice their end came fast. Ruthless and painful.

I didn’t run.

I stayed where I was, inside the Louvre. There’s something romantic about spending my last living moments surrounded by beauty, accompanied by some of the finest art ever produced by human hands.

Petrified, I listen to the first echoes of destruction. Through the windows I see Paris collapse. Houses, churches, monuments, all burning. The city is ablaze under a dense cloud of smoke. Heavy green bodies lean from the Eiffel tower until it bends and breaks. A handful of green colossi glide along the river, wrecking all the bridges over the Seine. And some are mocking their own reflections on the crystal pyramid. Glass shatters. The aliens are coming and I still haven’t seen her.

Time to run.

I run downstairs and race along endless corridors lined with hundreds of exquisite paintings and antiques. I find her in the same room where she has been for the last decades. There she is, behind bulletproof glass. She with the mysterious smile. She with the coy eyes. She with the plain looks and the rich robes. I look at her like millions before me.

Their foot-stomping startle me. I turn around and find myself cornered by six of them. Six tall, muscular, green monsters, their heads too small for their sturdy bodies. The look at me and laugh. They take another look and grunt. Their grumbling goes on for a while until one of them lifts its left arm and the rest shut up. It lifts its other arm, points its weapon at me and pulls the trigger.

My body plummets but I’m not bleeding. I feel myself burning, a fire consuming me from the inside. From my dying place, I see their leader walk past me, smash the protective glass and rip the canvas off its frame. I look at her one last time and see into her like no one before me, unraveling the mystery behind her tight lips and smiling eyes. She, too, had met these visitors five hundred years ago. And unlike any of us, she lived to tell it, only that she didn’t. Until this very moment.

The enormous fist squeezes the painting and Mona Lisa’s smile vanishes forever as the paint cracks and falls off the canvas. I close my eyes and vanish too, leaving nothing but ashes scattered on the floor.

Her secret is safe with me.

Root Cause

Author: Rick Tobin

Pressing slick walls within Perri’s briefing center opened gigantic multi-verse mapping systems across a great briefing hall aboard Haven’s interstellar spacecraft. The Order’s enclosure pulsated with its anthem, rising to crescendos oscillating beneath gathered crews’ blue slippers. White-robed acolytes raised covered heads to view Perri’s guidance for their next voyage.

“We will traverse Channel Aluhayo near Braxis Egua. It is tricky, but our passenger has little time. It is the essence of our charge to bring each seeker to final rest. We must submit ourselves to any challenge to support their trust in Haven.”

“May Haven await us all,” a confirmation returned in one voice from the Order, resting in their robes upon red floor cushions.

“With our pilot’s blessing, may we bring this being to ultimate contentment and joy. Mahuya Ho.”

“Mahuya Ho,” echoed the audience, just before standing and leaving for assigned posts. One remained to address Perri privately.

“You are Jardin Co, are you not?” Perri asked, surprised at an unscheduled conversation.

“Yes, Father, I have that honor of my House.” Jardin Co bowed in respect before speaking.

“Proceed.” Perri waved one of his many arms indicating consent.

“May Haven find us all, dear Father…but I have concerns about repercussions for returning Crax to Haven when its planet’s government warned us away. If Crax is a terrorist, do we risk initiating a conflict on this world? Does that create an imbalance in our core belief in Haven?”

“Your youth speaks loudly, Jardin Co. Let me explain.” Perri displayed no facial indications of anger or retribution. His golden robes continued to glisten under lights above the dais where he stood elevated over Jardin Co.

“I did not mean to offend,” Jardin Co replied, flustered.

“It’s a fair question for one new to our Order. Let my experience provide evidence that we are honorable in our cause. Every being has an inherent right to pass to their judgment while in the Haven of their home world– to touch their native soil, drink liquids of their home and dine on foods that return memories of youth long forgotten. Their passing, through our provision, prepares them for the greater journey beyond. It is our deepest calling to bring them to Haven.”

“But threats of war…the balance of our creed?” Jardin Co stared down as he dared question.

“Surprising… such considerations from youth. But, you have asked, and we maintain that all your questions be addressed. Crax is near death, posing no threat to this colony. War has been their way for millennia. Its presence will not change their ill-tempered breed. Our only focus is for a creature’s soul to journey peacefully beyond. We offer a bridge, no matter a species history, to their origination before ending life’s moments. Nothing is more frightening than taking one’s first step from the physical world while exploring voids of space, away from one’s like species and familiar surroundings. The Order has existed beyond time to serve all requests to seek Haven when nearing transition, especially for those at untold distances from their roots. Haven means something to them all, no matter their faults or glory, so we submit to this quest, regardless of threats from those who misunderstand this primal derivation of existence.”

“Have I acted poorly in my concern, Father?”

“No, Jardin Co. All who serve Haven are free to know by asking…and blessed to serve in trust. Our only continuance price is a client offering one offspring to our order. Your previous father’s house honored us with you. You will now serve honorably with the issue of Crax.”