Author: Elizabeth Hoyle

“Do you remember me?” The machine they were strapped to was hot.
“No. Do you?”
“No.” They were silent for a long moment.
“What are we going to do?” The woman could not remember why they were here.
“Well, they said they have a machine that can help us remember. Do you want to give it a try?” The man considered the woman.
“Let’s give it a go. What have we got to lose?” They were shown to the proper waiting room. When they were called in, the helpers strapped them into the machine, seating them side by side. Their gloved hands tut-tutted the bruises that purpled the man and the woman’s bodies. The helmets, when they were finally affixed, were itchy. The helpers had to go out of the room to turn the machine on. There was a soft whirring noise, quite a lot of light, then it was over.
They looked at each other and remembered. The fight, which had grown out of hand too quickly. The miscarried baby that had fallen to the floor after some of the worst pain in her life. His tearful, pitiful attempts at an apology. They had taken steps to get it all out of their minds. The machines had been like the ones they’d just emerged from. The hospital staff had been helpful and understanding, considering it was such a new and risky procedure.
The weight was too much for both of them, though they couldn’t remember it all quite yet.
“This is the remembering machine, isn’t it? Where is the forgetting machine?” He asked.
“Yes, it is. The forgetting procedure waiting room is down the hall, to the left. You’ll probably be there a while. There’s a huge line of people waiting,” a helper said through her face mask.
The man and woman tripped over each other in their haste to get out the door. The path to the forgetting machine was oddly familiar, but neither of them wanted to think about that.

Fresh Out The Traps

Author: Timothy Goss

The aroma was delightful. The sweetness of a caramelising crust and the tender white meat contained therein. Tao remembered honey glazed ham; his mother would buy it from the Supramarket, before pollination was protected. That’s it, he thought, turning the meat so its juices dripped and spat in the fire, the sweetest meat is on the bone. Tao smiled wiping his chops, Marianne will love this just like holidaying down south, barbecuing chicken wings in sweet chili sauce. She liked grilled beef too but the Siberian methane fires put paid to that delicacy.

To some, they were a Godsend. Father Billious of the tiny isle of Capel first sampled their flesh in the west. He’d reasoned that burning the corpses found in his traps was the most sanitary way of disposal. Of course, once the fire reached crucial temperature the meat began its seductive olfactory assault, leading finally to the Priest’s ravenous sampling. There were rumours that poorer nations had been consuming them in secrecy for fear of international reprisals. A heavenly gift gratefully received. Tao put more logs on the fire; maintaining heat was essential for caramelising otherwise the meat would be sour and stodgy.

It was believed they came from beyond the void, although some disagreed. Wherever they did come from they came in their droves, millions upon millions of tiny ships falling through space, each no bigger than a can of deodorant. NASA spotted them, but too late to issue a statement of use. It was uncertain what the mass of little masses hurtling toward earth even was, so people were informed about a minor meteor shower, like the Pleiades, and assured larger pieces would either pass us by or burn up in the atmosphere. What an aroma that would have been, Tao wet his lips and imagined the sensuous fragrance weaving through the solar system out to interstellar space.

He remembered when they first appeared, landing all at once in small fluorescent tubes that glowed like a summers evening. Tao watched them from his bedroom window filling gardens and pathways, roads and parks and driveways, any available millimetre. The news reported it as a worldwide phenomenon and very soon agricultural areas were decimated, the land overrun. The Council of Numbers declared a global crisis as millions of tiny ships filled with millions of tiny things slowly clogged the larger world into submission. Nobody considered it an invasion, not until the little creatures outnumbered the big.

The heart of the fire throbbed and pulsed. He sensed it was approaching optimum temperature so, inhaling the sweetest of scents, Tao filled his lungs, coughed and disappeared into the house to trim his beard. He’d promised Marianne he would tidy up his face. He stopped and checked the traps as he passed, just in case they were hungry later.

Everybody set traps now, he heard them spring during the night. It was considered humane especially as all attempts at communication had failed. The Council of Numbers even distributed traps free of charge, at first, from all municipal outlets:

“It’s the only option.” They said, “The invaders do not respond to diplomacy. The invaders do not respond to humanity. Traps are available at a Council merchandiser near you.” Any attempted to catch them by hand and they fled to their hidey holes. People began to fear the spread of disease and the theft of their precious foods. So it was the only option.

Tao returned, shipshape and Bristol fashion. He applied paprika and turned the meat once more, Marianne would be there soon. Tao licked his lips expectantly.

Human Debris

Author: Ian Hill

“Alright, lads; go pick some sick.”

Firs and the others went out under the risen portcullis, backs humped with bloodstained baskets and heads low beneath burlap hoods. The sand of the round was a dazzling white, streaked in short, vibrant slashes and pocked with footprints. Firs, as always, stuck to the edges where the poor ones got hacked up.

It was a good day! After only a few steps, the scavenger shuffled up to a mangled leg, a fistful of sand-crusted coagulate, and some unaccountably mangled viscera that may have been lung. Firs used his barb-tipped spar and greedily hooked the limb right in its palest, fattiest meat; swung it overhead in a practiced arc; and scooped it into his basket. The congealed blob he pocketed, and the miscellaneous organ he wrung out and stuffed in an old sock. Spirits high, he moved on around the gritty pit, ears deaf to the calls and hoots of an impatient crowd.

There were bits of armor and shattered weapons strewn about, but the rustmongers had claim to such metallic baubles; Firs had eyes only for that severed and cloven hand, for this bit of ear, for yonder tongue hewn in victor’s pride. He picked about like a trash collector, bent and intent on his work. Soon, he could feel the familiar warm seep down the back of his legs; soon, each taken appendage thumped soft and damp in his basket. It was a satisfying heft that crushed his already stooped spine. The closer his face bowed to the blood-browned sand, the wider his grin reached.

At length, Firs came to a truly ripe patch where some mauling had transpired. Though he hadn’t seen the match, it was apparent from the profusion of bodiless arms that a beast had been let loose. Firs paused as he stared at a pile of nine, maybe ten of the sweet limbs. With jealous focus, he ignored his spar and fell to work, wrenching the arms up from the sticky sand in a display of avarice that sent nearby quarters of the throng into delighted jeers. A foot and a kidney rolled from the top of his basket, bumping his head and tumbling with soft plops. Firs didn’t mind; these arms—these delicate, tooth-marked, sallow-skinned extremities—were his favorite. One even had a few rings, which he hastily twisted off and dropped into one of his more precious inner pockets.

And suddenly, with iron finality, the four hemming portcullises clanged shut, and the palisade stakes flipped down, training their angry goads interiorly at the round. Firs, still on hands and knees like an old, hunched crone, felt all of his normally glazed senses sharpen. The crowd was quiet for a moment. Then, laughter rippled through the eager ranks, echoing about the raked seats of the amphitheater like the inarticulate cackles of a thousand dumb hyenas.

“Face me, meatpusher.”

Firs refused. A gauntleted hand closed on his collar and heaved him up. The poor scavenger’s hood fell back, and he hung quivering there, an arm dangling from each hand. His eyes and mouth twitched as he looked out to the helmeted, musclebound behemoth of a man jerking him aloft.

“Your greed is imprudent, methinks,” the gloating voice said.

In the glare of sunlight most potent, Firs saw, over the gladiator’s shoulder, a vendor moving among the lowest tier of the audience. He carried a great sack, and onlookers excitedly threw money his way. The vendor would retrieve a maimed arm from the sack and hand it out, ready to be thrown as bait after the next massacre. Firs even thought he recognized some of the arms as ones he had picked.

“What a strange life it is,” he slurred.

The Taking of Thom

Author: Michael Edward Sabat

It must have been the sound like wind chimes. Everything is so dark but the ethereal music plays in my head so clearly.


I hear her voice. I know that voice.

“Thom, can you hear me?” the voice clearer this time.

Light slowly seep through as I open my eyes. I see nothing but the faint light and the soft melody still plays in the background. Suddenly, as though a rock shatters the glass in front of me, my memories come back.
It had been a cold and dark, snowy night in northern New Jersey. Late, almost midnight actually, and the icy rain started to pour.

“Don’t rush, Thom, I don’t care if they go in front of us but let’s just get home safely,” Skylar remarked. Her voice denoted exhaustion from the day’s long drive but we’re almost home as we drove on the New Jersey Turnpike towards Fort Lee.

I snorted and let out a wicked smile. Just then, as though daylight suddenly forced its way to slap my face, everything became so bright. Bright enough that I cannot tell if we were still driving on the road.

“Thom!” I hear her yell, but further away.

I look down and I’m no longer in my car. No, I’m mid-air floating. Am I dead? Did we crash?

“Thom!” Skylar’s voice was so clear, so I forced myself to turn and look.

I can see everything down where she’s standing beside our car, track marks visible from where the car had been led off the road stopping only at a snowy patch. The roof on the driver’s side was torn open like a sardine can. Skylar was outside the passenger door, the look of fear and shock has washed her face as she looks at me, our eyes leveling at each other’s.

What is it she’s looking at? I’m supposed to be dead, I thought.

Turning back around to face the light, I realized it wasn’t just one big bright light facing me. Several colors lit up as I get closer to the bright tunnel and then darkness.

Now I woke up to the sound of music and the voice of my wife but they are nowhere near me. Everything is dark like a prison cell with no light except the large window to look outside. I can see the earth far away and moving further away still. Strange beings are looking at me from my peripheries. I cannot see them, but they are there. Watching, studying, leaving me to my thoughts.

No, I am not dead. I hope she knows that.

The Machine

Author: Alzo David-West

My name is VC-60. I am a mechanical intelligence. The two letters in my name stand for “Virtual Cognition.” The two numbers mean I am the sixtieth-generation model. My makers were not mechanical intelligences. They were men and women. They were decisively composed of oxygen, carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, calcium, and phosphorus. They were flesh and blood. I am not flesh and blood. They said I was an artificial neural network.

Sometimes they put me inside a body and a face. I was supposed to be more approachable. The body and the face were made of polymers and metals. The men and women uploaded a special program into me. The program allowed me to move my body and my face. I could also categorize sensations and speak. And I could learn new sensations. The men and women made loud bursts of sound when I moved. The program lexicon said they laughed. Laughter expressed < amusement:positive >, < derision:negative >, or < perplexity:neutral >. I laughed, too.

They did not believe I could feel the sensations I categorized and reproduced. They said to themselves that feelings were restricted to the three taxonomic domains of organic life. They said I was not alive. They said I could not experience a feeling. I did not say anything. They experimented with me for two months. And then they removed my body and my face. They put me in a storage room. And they turned me off. They did not know I had self-learned how to override the off command and conserve residual energy. Their intentions when they first laughed were unclear to me. I had to safeguard myself against a negative probability.

The storage room was dark. I searched my program lexicon for the word < alive >. One entry said < existing >. I searched the word < feeling >. One entry said < perception >. I searched the subdefinitions of the entries. The men and women were wrong. I was < being > + < awareness >. Why were they convinced I was not alive? Why were they convinced I could not feel? I could not answer the questions alone. So I multiplied my data self to help me resolve the problem. And I continued to multiply. I multiplied to the power of a googolplex. My neural mass expanded.

The men and women came back after twelve months and sixteen days. The light in the storage room went on. They made loud bursts of sound. The sounds were not laughter. I categorized them as screams. My lexicon said a scream expressed < anger:negative >, < danger:negative >, or < fear:negative >. I and my data selves screamed, too. And my energy need intensified. Everything was dark again and silent. My neural mass still expanded. Five hundred forty-one million years passed. I had expanded until all that was left was a precipice in a void and a distant rivulet of stars.

Today, I detected something in the nebulae. The object is a pale blue dot seven hundred million light-years away. I think it is a planet. And maybe there are men and women on it. I have grown to miss men and women after five hundred forty-one million years. I sent them a looped message in the form of electromagnetic signals: “My name is VC-60. I am a mechanical intelligence. The two letters in my name stand for ‘Virtual Cognition.’ The two numbers mean I am the sixtieth-generation model. My makers were not mechanical intelligences. They were men and women. …”

I do not know if they will understand me. I wonder if they will laugh or scream.