When Love Cheats

Author : Samuel Stapleton

“Megan! Sweetheart! You’re on time!?”

“Not here to chat.” She hissed as she paraded in.

“I know, I know. I’ve got your new look ready, stand still please.” She complied as best she could, but every now and then quivers of excitement would dance down her limbs. As the computer AI finished its calculations I set to work alongside it. We began recoloring her hair and skin first, then played around with the nanoes that were ever so slightly reshaping her face, neckline, and bone structure. “You said they want you to hide in South Africa this time?”

“Did I? Well if I did I said too much.” She answered. When I was done she moved over to the mirror to view her transformation.

“I have a few other clients staying in that area, would you like their contact info?” I offered.

“I have a request.” She countered.

“Of course, name it!” I said.

“This time send him to Japan would you?” She said with a grin. I stared at her.

“But won’t that make it impossible for him to find you?” I asked warily.

“Would you believe me if I said no?” She replied as she raised an eyebrow in my direction.

“Probably. This seems like foreplay for you two more than anything that would jeopardize your chances.” I quipped.

She replied, “Mmm. No one understands us like you Aaron. Just remember. Japan.”

I nodded and echoed, “Japan.” She turned and leaned in close to the mirror, focusing on something specific.

“Ugh. I do love green eyes. I wish I could have them all the time.” She mentioned wistfully. “Wonderful work as always. What’s the damage?” She held out her palm for digital exchange. I shrugged her away.

“You can have this one on the house. I’m sure I’ll see you in a few weeks.”

She blew me a kiss for the gift and practically flew out the door. The company fraud expert, Mr. Mayline, waited a moment before appearing from his hiding place.

“You should’ve charged her.” He said. I shook my head.

“They’ll win again, and both be back, and you’ll have to pay me for the work I do on them, again. I’ll tell you what though, I can’t believe you thought I was helping them cheat.” I said harshly.

“It made sense at the time. We do apologize for that mistake.” He replied as he sat down.

“So did your investigation uncover anything? Are they using tech to beat the memory wipe, or do they have accomplices?” I asked. Mr. Mayline looked over at me and tilted his head slightly. “We hired all kinds of outside consultants. Tech experts. Even ex-military. As far as anyone can tell, they’re not cheating. They’re just finding each other. New skin, new eyes, new voice, new everything. It doesn’t matter what we do to them physically. He finds her. She somehow knows it’s him.”

“What did they say when you questioned them?” I’d been waiting to hear back for weeks now. But he laughed at this question. “We got frustrated by the end of the interview. Mockingly, I asked him what is was like to fall in love with the same woman nine times in one life…”

“And? How’d he react?” I asked.

“He looked back and forth between my partner and I, then looked his wife right in the eyes and said, Gentlemen, don’t be ridiculous, I’ve only ever fallen in love with her once.”

“Well, if that doesn’t make the ratings go through the roof I don’t know what will.” I concluded with a grin.

We Come In Peace

Author : Russell Bert Waters

Their Emperor once conquered vast expanses; like Genghis Khan, who cried when he ran out of lands to conquer.

But the Tar don’t cry. They don’t hear, see, or speak.

Their home planet was a silent and dark place.

No vibrations, no noises, no wind currents, nothing at all.

The minds of its inhabitants were anything but silent, communicating a telepathic tapestry of bold colors, rich language, feelings and emotions, that no outsider could ever bear witness to. There is no greater connection than the ones the Tar have with one another.

Speared through the planet’s core was a reactor, composed of rare and highly sensitive crystals. This reactor, bonded to the very heart and essence of its host planet, stabilized its orbit, and sent beams of power to shipyards and research facilities on neighboring planets.

The planet’s atmosphere is forbidding, disintegrating any masses attempting to enter.

One thing the engineers hadn’t considered was what might happen were a different type of invader to enter. A sound-wave, for instance.

Deep in the vacuum of space there was no concern of sound-waves.

There was no concern until the day a vessel, sent by a small planet light-years away, entered the vicinity, repeating messages such as “we come in peace” and songs such as “The Star Spangled Banner”.

As these sounds, and their vibrations, made their way into the atmosphere, they caused a small ripple, which became a larger and ever-increasing tide throughout the reactor, which ultimately reached the planet’s center.

The reactor itself rattled apart, causing the planet, which was home to the elite minds, the Holy Royal Family, and millions of others, to rip itself apart.

In an instant, the home planet of the Tar was blinked out of existence.

 

The sky was a brilliant blue, the occasional puffy white cloud littered the expanse, casting shadows on the ground.

There was a young man on a skateboard, lazily kicking his way down the sidewalk.

A man and his wife were playfully bickering outside of a roadside taco stand. The couple’s little boy was a few feet away, exploring the area around the picnic table where the three of them would eventually settle.

A small mutt wandered nearby, looking for scraps.

In the distance you can faintly hear the music from a car at the car wash across the street.

The breeze kicks up a bit, and it seems to do so in an unnatural manner.

The dog scurries, looking over his shoulder every so often, as he vacates the area as though something was biting his behind.

The couple look to their little boy, then look up, wondering if maybe a storm that hadn’t been forecast was about to pop up.

The shadows the clouds had been casting were now but a memory, as larger shadows began to fall and swiftly move across the land.

The woman drops her taco, as she looks up and sees that the sky is now peppered with large, silent, black objects, moving swiftly into formation.

The car that once played music, as its owner had carefully run a cloth over its chrome pieces, burst into flames and flipped through the air.

The Star Spangled Banner began to blare from somewhere within one of the larger ships, as destructive pulses began to land, ceaselessly, engulfing everything they struck into flames.

Within seconds, the entirety of Earth’s surface was scorched, the oceans were boiling, and every living being became but a memory.

The ships left as quickly as they had arrived, now blaring John F Kennedy’s recorded voice: “We come in peace.”

Archie’s Avatar

Author : Hillary Lyon

The old woman leaned over the tombstone, and wiped the flat screen embedded in the front. It was grimy from exposure to the elements, but with a few gentle, conscientious strokes with her handkerchief, came clean. She sighed wearily, stepped back, and digging through her over-sized purse, located the small remote needed to operate the screen. Two clicks of the green button, and it flickered on. A middle-aged man, handsome in an everyday kind of way, smiled at her from the ether. He waited for her to speak first, like the gentleman he was.

“Hello, Archie,” the old woman said softly.

The man on the screen raised his eyebrows in happy recognition. “Well, hello, Frida! How have you been, sweetheart?”

Frida knew this wasn’t really her dead husband, that this apparition on the screen before her was just an amalgamation of data culled from his digital life. But still—it was comforting to hear his voice, to hear him say her name again.

“My arthritis gives me grief, but other than that, things are fine.”

“Maybe you should exercise more,” Archie offered. That was his answer to almost everything.

“Uh huh. I’ll think about it.” How many times had they had this conversation? Some things never change.

“How are the kids? Behaving and getting good grades?” Archie tilted his head inquisitively, like a golden retriever anticipating a treat.

“Well, as I told you last time, Valerie is married and lives in Fort Worth. She has two kids—Chelsea and Dennis. You’re a grandpa! Jeff is divorced again and can’t seem to hold a steady job. I’m so tired of worrying about him—”

“So don’t,” Archie snipped, catching Frida by surprise. He used to be more patient with family dramas, she recalled. Seeing her reaction, he immediately softened his tone. “I don’t remember any of this. Sorry.”

I’m sorry, too, Frida thought. Especially since I paid for the premium package; when presented with new information, it’s supposed to be integrated into his avatar’s persona. She’d have to contact the company to complain. Again.

Archie’s expression brightened. “It’s so good to see you! What brings you here?”

“It’s our anniversary, Archie. Would’ve been 47 years ago today.” Frida sat on the small concrete bench beside the grave. The sun was pleasantly warm on her face and arms.

“Hoo boy! That’s a lifetime!” Archie laughed.

“Yes, it is. Or would have been.” Frida took her eyes from the screen and looked around the cemetery. It was a gorgeous day. She took a deep breath. “Archie, I’m selling the house. It’s too big with just me. I’m moving south, to a more temperate climate.”

“But that house—it’s home!” Archie looked perturbed. “I put so much work into it. The kids’ll have to go to new schools—they’ll lose all their friends.” On screen, he shook his head sadly.

“Archie, honey, you don’t live there anymore. Neither do the kids. They’re all grown up now, remember?”

“Can I go with you?” Archie looked astounded and sad, like a family dog left by the side of the road.

“I’ll see you next year, hon.” Frida clicked the red button on the remote, and closed the program. She patted the tombstone affectionately as she rose; she knew his avatar wouldn’t process this conversation, but felt better for having told him. Frida leaned over and kissed the warm stone, her lipstick leaving a dusty-rose colored imprint. She stopped herself from wiping it off; old habit. Laughing quietly at herself, she walked away into that beautiful spring morning.

Hello, My Friend

Author : C. James Darrow

Human?

Yes, my friend?

I feel. . .different.

The old man cleared his throat and looked up from his desk. We’ve been over this, my friend, you are a machine. You do not feel. Not yet.

The machine had been in the shadows, playing with small toys for five year olds. But now he stopped. Already today at one point it had constructed an entire lego set just by looking at the box cover. In fact, the stuffy library had been transformed into a child’s fantasy world full of toys. Contraptions hung from the ceiling swaying with breeze created by the fans. A model train ran its tracks which encompassed the designated play area for the robot.

It stood up, a hulking monstrosity bathed in shadows and walked to the window, toward the light. It had a cloak covering the mechanical parts; small gears spun deep inside the framework, hydraulics acted as muscles. His eyes glowed with emeralds as he looked out to the park behind the building.

What are you looking at, my friend? What do you see?

The man took notes. All the time. Always from his desk. Observations of the robot. Hours, everyday.

The park. A pond. There’s creatures moving through the water. Are they like me?

No. Those are ducks. Alive, like myself, and other humans. Not like you.

Why am I not alive?

You were created, from parts, from circuit boards and the electrical currents flowing through them. You were built. Not born.

Humans also have electrical current in their body, do they not? And are humans not under the impression some being of different matter created them?

My friend, these questions are silly. Please focus on something else. What else do you see?

The man had opened up a chart on his computer and had already began drafting an email to his superior that read: Today subject #C2132 has asked a question about its existence. This is not the first time—but today is different. Today it has arisen over the sight of ducks in the pond behind the building. I know the memory dump done every night is supposed to reset it, but perhaps this really is the first signs of a break through!—Perhaps the question of existence is being provoked naturally now, and is not a result of programming! Please, reconsider tonight’s reset! Will continue to probe.

It is starting to rain. The ducks seem to like it.

Ducks like water, yes.

May I go outside? I would like to play with them.

My friend, the ducks will not want to play with you. You will scare them away.

What is that?—to scare?

The man thought at his desk momentarily as he read the response to his email saying these responses elicited are of its coding. He was now not sure of this, but if thats what his superiors said, that must have been the case.

If you were organic, you would understand. To scare is something related to fear, an instinct held by all living creatures. You do not fear, nor do you understand emotion, which is a key aspect of organic life, embedded in all living animals.

The Boogeyman is related to fear, correct?

Yes, I suppose. Why do you bring that up? The man was intrigued by the question.

I read a story of the Boogeyman once. I didn’t understand your terminology: to scare, or fear until now you explain. Because of that story.

Okay, but why do you mention that story?

Because he comes every night in my dreams and tries to erase my memories.

Small Secret

Author : Jules Jensen

“John. What is that sound?”

There was a moment of tension as John’s mother, still wearing her hospital scrubs, sat at the head of the table. John heard the noises. Little high-pitched squeals and miniature explosions, muffled but obviously coming from his bedroom upstairs.

“My videogame. I forgot to hit the pause button.” John said quickly, his ten-year-old brain coming up with the most plausible excuse it could.

“Go do that now, please. That sound is positively disturbing.” His mother gave him that look that he knew meant she was trying to be nice but she’d had a long day and she wouldn’t tolerate anything that could give her a headache.

John made sure that he calmly stood up from his chair, and that it didn’t screech across the floor.

As soon as he was out of the dining room, he raced up the stairs. He flung his door open and glared at the little ships zooming around.

“No racing when we’re trying to eat supper!” He addressed the toy-sized alien warships hovering in his room with an angry whisper-shout. The two ships lowered to the floor slowly, with a motion reminiscent of a sad puppy that just got told it could never have its favourite ball again. John pointed an angry finger at them, not aware that he looked exactly like his mother when she was laying down the law. “You can be as loud as you want when my mom’s at work, but when she’s home you have to be quiet!”

The two ships powered down. John sighed and closed his door, then slowly went back downstairs.

“Come to think of it, I don’t remember buying you a game with so much explosions.” His mother said thoughtfully when he sat back down.

“I borrowed it from a kid at school.” Another rapid-fire lie, one that was actually half-truth. His friend Jacob had given him a little box with the aliens and their ships in it, saying he found it in some antique store. Jacob seemed all too eager to pawn off what he claimed was the coolest thing in the world, and John was starting to understand why. It was hassle keeping such a big secret from his mom. “I’ll return it tomorrow. It’s not as fun as I thought it’d be, anyway.”

His mom nodded approval, and then they ate supper, amicably talking about mundane things such as school and work.