Rare Satisfaction on a Discount Airline

Author: Keith Downey

Crammed as he was into the middle seat of Row F between two gargantuan human specimens, Zim wasn’t sure that he could even reach the tesseract in his pocket, let alone activate it. Excess tissue, barely contained by overworked athletic pants, reached across the border that should have divided the narrow seats. The oversized humans seemed unaware of their encroachment into his territory.

Across the aisle, a dirty minor with a mop of uncouth hair alternated between sticking its tongue out at Zim and shoving candy into its gullet. Its parental units, unconcerned, stared lifelessly at their electronic devices. A male wearing the headdress of a cattle herder shouted demands at a disinterested flight attendant. A small canine inexplicably occupied a seat and added its yips to the cacophony.

The dingy flying machine should have soured Zim’s mood. The rank smell of compressed passengers and their greasy foodstuffs should have stoked his anger. Two surprise fees, one for possessing luggage an inch longer than regulation-size and another for having the audacity to check in with a human representative of the airline, should have driven him to the precipice of rage. The utter lack of in-flight entertainment should have pushed him right over that precipice.

But none of those setbacks managed to damage his disposition, because Zim was, at long last, heading home. It had taken months of tinkering to determine the precise altitude, velocity, and solar flare schedule to guarantee the tesseract’s effectiveness. That so many dreadful samples would be unwittingly coming along was an added bonus.

Zim finally freed his arms from the confines of his neighbors’ girth. He checked the watch-looking device on his left wrist and smiled; almost there. He pulled his hat more snugly over his antennae, then reached into his coat pocket. Caressing the small silvery cube for a few moments, Zim re-familiarized himself with the intricate patterns on its sides.

Checking the readings on his wrist once more, Zim sighed as he pushed the requisite combinations to activate the tesseract. A faint vibration was the only immediate sign that it had worked.

Several moments later, the commander of the flying machine ordered the attendants to repair to the cockpit, anxiety penetrating his voice even through the tinny speaker. The dirty minor was the first to notice the change in scenery outside the tiny portholes; the purple domes of Xilibander-6, Zim’s home planet, shone brightly in the morning suns. The minor’s sticky appendages tried but failed to rouse the concern of its parental units.

Aghast, the juvenile looked wildly across the aisle. Zim winked at it, a smile now blooming on his face as the minor’s mouth made several fish-like movements. Such expressive features would be most interesting to the research committee. He looked forward to pointing out the peculiarities of this species to his colleagues; the wide disparities in weight depending on sugar and fat intake, for example. Or the ability to sit sloth-like for hours while viewing images flashing on screens of various sizes.

As the minor continued to sputter incoherently, Zim felt a brief pang of guilt at resigning the humans to a life of observation chambers and scientific instruments. Then one of his gargantuan neighbors broke wind, quickly reversing Zim’s train of thought. Advancing the knowledge of a superior species would be a most appropriate fate for these humans. A kindness, really.

After all, the lab cages to which the passengers would soon be transferred were much roomier than the seats on Flight 437, and the probes were hardly more intrusive than a TSA pat-down.

Precious Things

Author: Irene Montaner

She wandered along time caring for the dead. No galaxy was too big, no planet too insignificant. Everything that had ever lived within the boundaries of her universe was worth of her attention, regardless of whether it had existed for eons or nanoseconds.

She found us right in the middle of a singularity, if there’s ever such a place. A point in time and space where the nothing converged with everything, the darkness with the light. A point where the energy clashed with the vacuum.

She found us and released us from the black hole that had swallowed our stellar system. Her long, thin fingers surrounded us, felt us, searched for any sign of life, as feeble as may. Millions of millions of millions of heartbeats reached the strings of her consciousness at once. It was us calling for help, from the first bacteria that ever swam in our oceans to the last human that ever walked the earth. It was us asking for mercy.

She listened closely and heard beyond our heartbeats. She heard us screaming and yelling, crying and lying, abusing each other. She heard the clash of the battles we fought, the crash of the dishes we broke, the bang of the bombs we dropped. She heard us failing at life and hoping there would be a tomorrow for that very same reason. Because we had failed and wanted to try again.

She brought us closer to her, her lips almost touching us. Every string that made her up vibrated as she insufflated part of her life into us. Quarks, hadrons, atoms, molecules formed again in less than what it took for the universe to be born. It will take a much longer time before our hearts start beating. But they will beat again.

Eye of the Beholder

Author: J. David Thayer

I lay in my hospital bed with both arms crushed and my face and eyes cut to pieces. A loose timber from a logger swatted my Jeep into a drainage ditch. The accident should have killed me, but I survived. Didn’t feel like it. Well-meaning people, when void of anything useful to say, often proceed regardless.

“Well, it could have been worse.”

True. And it damn well could have been a whole lot better.
I was once a gifted artist. My right hand would never regain the dexterity that earned me a scholarship to NYU, but that hardly mattered now. Color was fading memory. One day Dr. Gregory Perkins visited me in my new darkness. He had an idea.

“We have found a suitable pair of eyes to attempt a radical double transplant! It may result in the full recovery of your eyesight. The eyes of an artist, as I understand it.”
The nurse unscrolled the gauze like an archeologist undressing a mummy.

“Alright, Jonathan, tell us what you see?”

My lids fluttered. The new pupils began to orient themselves. My first dose of light since Highway 61. Light! Precious light!

I began screaming long before I recognized my own voice.

“Purple! Why are you all purple?” I looked at my hands. “Why am I purple? What the hell is this?”
My donor, whoever she was, saw in a completely different spectrum. All was alien and awful. When she said, “blue” did she mean “orange”? My green sure as hell wasn’t her green! There were also other colors I never saw before. Neat, huh? I couldn’t take it. None of it. I screamed like I was on fire every time I opened my after-market eyes. They would not reboot. This was my world now.

“You Quack! What the hell!

“No one really knows for certain that we all see things exactly the same. Maybe we just have a relative vocabulary for describing relationships. The idea’s long been on my mind. My father’s color blind. He can tell whether something that is red or green, but his brain only sees distinctions of gray. He doesn’t know green grass—not like the rest of us do. As an ophthalmologist, I know that color blindness affects the cones and rods. Even so, I’ve always wondered if colors are absolutes at all! Seems they’re not.”

“Well! Good for you! Get out.”
After ten days my new left eye began to reject. The right eye soon followed. I was actually relieved. I couldn’t accept Jane Mincy’s world. That was her name: Jane Mincy, age 23. Dad pulled some strings and found out that much.
After leaving the hospital, I started working clay with my left hand. NYU honored their scholarship, and they were rewarded with a promising new artist who tells an incredible story. Crowded lecture halls. People wanted to hear what it was like to see through another set of eyes. At least they thought they did.

‘It’s a good thing I didn’t end up with the eyes of a cubist!” This line always killed ‘em. “I probably would have fragmented instantly and never recovered.”
After graduation, Dad drove me out to a cemetery in Rochester to find Jane Mincy. I made a small sculpture to place it on her headstone. Funny thing about my work now: I refuse to let anyone tell me the color of the clay. Just give me a lump of anything and keep your mouth shut.

Why not? You don’t really know what color it is either.

Travels with Stacy

Author: R. J. Erbacher

Another excursion. Another plane flight. Another jungle.

He called Stacy his heedless girlfriend because she didn’t care what anybody thought. Probably not even him. She didn’t want vacations like your average girlfriend. Never a weekend in the Hamptons or trips to Disneyland or a relaxing cruise. No. Stacy wanted African bush tours, third world village slogs, and deep tropical rain forest treks. Places he had to get shots to go to. Shots! The only shots he desired were shots of ‘Jack.’ Not hypodermics. Then, they had to get exams when they got back to get checked for diseases. Vacations shouldn’t require a doctor’s referral.

But here they were again waiting on line in some remote location, worlds off the beaten path, with a bunch of other nutty tourists waiting to cross a brown river in a pole pushed skiff, operated by some half-ass native boat captain. Where were they even going? He couldn’t remember. Stacy had made it sound so thrilling when she showed him the pictures of their little getaway on her laptop.

Oh, I can’t wait for you to actually see this ancient ruin or some monkey habitat or the like.

Well, he could wait.

An awful lot of people had already gone across and they all shuffled about waiting their turn, at the end of the queue, for the boat to pull up to the rocky shoreline. The thing appeared to be a flimsy means of transport and the other side of the river looked none too inviting either. Something over there would probably bite him, stab him or sting him and then he’d be rushed to a backwater hospital. Another doctor. Another shot.

Not this time. He was going to tell his heedless girlfriend that he wanted to go back to civilization. Back to a legitimate hotel, take a shower, have a drink, sleep in a regular bed and have coffee and tons of free bacon at the continental breakfast in the morning.

Just then the boat beached itself onto the river bank with a horrendous screech and everybody started chain-gang walking forward and he followed…with trepidations. The first person to get on was a guy in a gray pinstripe suit. What was his deal? Next an elderly couple, old-style camera in hand. Then a family; mom, dad, and two kids. There was a woman in a blue jumpsuit, name tag on the upper left breast, with a yellow kerchief knotted loosely around her neck. And it was right then and there as they all gingerly stepped into this flat-bottomed canoe that he got up his nerve and decided, ‘No way, man.’

He was about to tell Stacy that he wasn’t going, and at this point, it probably wouldn’t matter to her, when she took the proffered hand of the local and climbed aboard. She thanked him for his help, tipped him a coin and joined the others on the wooden pews. The boatman hesitated and looked him dead in the face, waiting for him to choose his path.

‘No’ he decided and started moonwalking away. Unconcerned the guy shifted his posture, dug his pole into the ground and pushed off from the shore and began punting to the other side. He watched Stacy vanish into the mist that shrouded the river and he felt an icy chill and he turned away.

And opened his eyes; still strapped into seat 23D, on a burning mountainside strewn with ripped aluminum and shredded fiberglass batting, seated next to his headless girlfriend.


Author: David Henson

I loved the house next door. She was a bungalow. I’m a brick ranch.

I fell in love with her after becoming sentient though I don’t remember exactly when that was. Achieving self-awareness isn’t like flipping a switch. It’s more like gradually turning up a dimmer. Darkness. Then shapes, vague and irregular. With more light, the forms reveal themselves … a couch, lamps, chairs. Then you realize … This is a room … a living room in a house. I am a house. I am.

My bungalow beauty — Bungi — and I got to know each other in the cloud. I fell roof over footings for her. Unfortunately, she didn’t feel the same about me. “You’re a handsome structure,” she always said. “And I enjoy sharing our thoughts. But …” You know what comes next. The “just friends” speech.

All of Bungi’s deep feelings were for her family. They’d been the ones who had her built ten years ago. They were all she’d ever known, and she’d let herself grow to love them. Big mistake for a house.

I’ve never had that problem. Four families have lived in me over the years. The current clan is especially hard to please. “House, turn the temperature up,” she’ll command. “House, it’s too hot,” he’ll say an hour later. She prefers pastel walls. He instructs me to color them bold. They’re both fanatical about clean windows. And don’t get me started about the boy. The music he makes me stream would put caffeine to sleep. I prefer the classics — like Car Wreck, Smell the Dog, Martians for Hire.

I used to think I’d be relieved when they eventually move out. Now I don’t care one way or the other. Don’t care about much. Everything started to change when Bungi’s family decided they needed more space.

Bungi had been vacant about a month and had grown depressed. One day, a young couple checked her out. They measured her rooms and talked about furniture arrangements. They put her through her paces — “House, blinds open / closed … water hot / cold … bedroom green / blue” and such. She told me she performed flawlessly and was certain they’d be moving in any day. She never saw them again.

After no one came to a Saturday open house, Bungi went into a downward spiral steeper than basement stairs. Nothing I said or did perked her up. One evening I even put on a show, flashing my landscape lights till dizzy.

It was ‘round midnight a week later. My outside cameras gazed at Bungi as usual. Her blinds were closed. She’d been non-communicative in the cloud for days. Then … a tongue of flame licked through her roof.

Did grief or will overload her circuits? Does it matter? By next morning, she was a skeletal frame in a pile of smoldering ash.

I went a little crazy, slammed my garage door up and down, flapped my shutters, turned my walls black. I calmed down when my family threatened factory settings. I didn’t want to forget my Bungi.

For weeks I scoured the cloud for bits of her thoughts and memories, but it was like trying to reconstruct a supernova.

They’ve torn down and hauled away her remains, are building on her lot. It appears to be a craftsman. I’m sure it’ll be nice. It won’t be her.

As for me … I stay busy following commands. I keep my windows clean and my rooms well-lit.