Author: Rick Tobin
Deuteronomy 28:41 Thou shalt beget sons and daughters, but thou shalt not enjoy them; for they shall go into captivity.
Just a toe. That’s all. Just her pointed phalanx appears. No more, at first. She plays me like a fly cast trout. She can’t be real, but I’m pulled in, helpless and gasping.
San Francisco rents: ninety square feet for a grand a month for one bed and a bath. Neighbor’s sneezes scatter roaches we deny on Balboa Street, but we all have them. They like fog. My lease didn’t warn me about my microscopic closet facing north. Her light came under the uneven door frame that first night, eroding my rest. I’ve slept with eyes open all my life. No one knows why. When light flares underneath, there’s no relief…as if she would allow it.
First, I was sure Nevada had fried my brains from Burning Man festivities. I took three tabs one night. Stars ate my soul. I wandered out from camp, alone. Next day deputies found me walking naked outside the park with killer sunburns, mumbling, half-mad and dehydrated. Dad got me out of the Winnemucca Mental Health Center’s holding tank for crazies or I’d still be there. Sometimes flashbacks eat my lunch. Not now. I’d take those instead of every closet cursing me since Balboa. She’s real and she has me.
My mistake, calling Sherm—trusted, faithful and gay friend. Not like my other gay contacts. We were close since grade school, even though I’m straight. Sherm was iconic. Nobody liked him, not in San Fran. A total monk—even though he would tap at me occasionally to verify which bench I was still warming. Didn’t matter. We shared all our fears, hopes, doubts and dreams. Doesn’t happen often enough in a life, but he was my go to. I had to tell him about her and what happened every night after I moved into that dump. He laughed until I convinced him to stay over, just once. He took it the wrong way and jumped at it, thinking ‘the closet’ was my code word for coming out, but then he got caught in her net. He was just as mesmerized by her shining skin and glowing face. Shockingly, she took us both, without our permission, until we were whimpering husks curled up in my tiny Murphy bed.
Sherm left before I woke. He refused calls and wouldn’t answer email or doorbells. I wasn’t sure what he thought I’d done; maybe drugged him for an escort. Anyway, for the first time in fifteen years, I lost my confidant.
Then, two weeks later, I get a call at work. He’s shaky like I’ve never heard. I empathize because I’m also enervated. Still, he apologizes and then asks forgiveness. I ask why. All he says is that two of them are in his closet. He can’t take it anymore. So that’s it. My cry for help contaminated him. A week later, cops found his corpse in the Bay. I tried to make police inquiries, but they still treat homosexuals like yesterday’s trash. To them, another dead one is a blessing.
Sherm’s price was my fault. I’ve moved six times—left the Coast to hide in Iowa. No dice. Three of them now exit closets nightly demanding servicing. I’m a mere shell of a man. Whatever happened in that desert sealed my fate. Somewhere in the cosmos, I may be worshiped as a pater gentis, but here I’m a lost soul who will soon pass in my sleep from unknown causes.
Author: Mark Joseph Kevlock
I needed a big brother, so I disguised myself and went back in time to become him. I’d lived all this before, as my kid self, so it was pretty easy. I just had to remember the details along the way.
First was a mustache like the Village People. Then long hair like Jesus. I’d have to remember to buy 8-track tapes and wear sandals. I’d need a Camaro and some iron-on patches for my jeans.
I didn’t need to be there right from the day I was born — the kid me, I mean. He wouldn’t remember that far back anyway. I could drop in when he was four years old, say 1972, and no harm done. He’d just assume I’d been his big brother all his life.
What you have to understand is that we build the past we want to remember, so it changes all the time. I had to be the big brother my kid-self expected, or nothing would work out right in my life.
I showed up and started throwing together what I needed. The most important thing was the comic book collection. I had to picture my big brother self as a kid, traveling thrice weekly to the city newsstands within walking distance, purchasing for twelve cents all the newest Marvel Comics that week. 1961. Where Stan Lee’s universe all began.
Okay then. I had a comic book collection spanning a decade of the Silver Age. I quit college and took a construction job for the money. I played golf and softball. I bowled and shot darts. I watched all the Star Trek reruns. Little brother, here I come.
Holy cow! I almost forgot my high school sweetheart, Nora Elvert. Let’s give her a matching Camaro and an engagement ring for after graduation.
Earliest childhood memory: sitting on the trunk of the Camaro where it was parked blocking the narrow dirt alley across the street. Elton John on the radio. Cut-off shorts and twin popsicles. Twilight, with the kitchen light shining out through the screen door.
Just like that, I’m in. I’m the big brother my kid-self expects me to be. The first couple of years run smooth. Lots of miniature golf. Then off to Long Island to see NHL games. The Islanders are gearing up for an epic Stanley Cup run to begin the next decade. But this is only the bicentennial summer when “Afternoon Delight” plays every five minutes on the radio. I wear cool sunglasses with a see-through fluorescent visor.
The kid worships me. I buy him every Mego super-hero doll that comes out. We play Stratego all the time. He never wins.
It’s getting close now to enough — enough to imprint upon him, for a lifetime, how great big brothers are. 1977 should just about do it.
“Let’s go to the movies,” I say. Then a downpour hits. Then we run out of gas. I hike down the road to fill a gas can then hike back. I look like a cool hero to my little brother. We arrive late at the movie and stick around till the next show to see the beginning we missed.
The name of the movie is Star Wars.
Now I’m set. It’s all in place. I played out the crucial years. Later I become an executive, and who needs that?
All my dreams are set to go. My innocence shall remain lifelong intact. Nothing can ever truly hurt or discourage me.
So let’s go save the world!
Major Tom Valence knew it was a one-way trip yet he felt at peace, euphoric even. Soon he would be with them again – Liv and Susie. He sent a quick prayer of thanks to the Tetrad. The agony of the absence of his wife and daughter had left him hollow – Susie had been only eight. An emptiness he had filled with a nearly fanatical purpose – to open a passage through the Net.
As they left Estia’s atmosphere behind, he set a course for the Gemini moons and let the autodrive take over. He had a good hour before he would have to begin entering the manual adjustments to the course set. The Institute had calculated the weakest point in the Net. The Roda had not fully taken into account the disturbance caused by two moons in such close orbits. They should have made sure the Net passed beyond both moons and not between them.
It had been more than three centuries since Estia had been trapped inside the Net, as the Suvernal Forcefields were more commonly called. The Roda had placed it there to stop the Estians spreading like roaches they said. But nothing had been heard of the Roda for almost a century, so the Estians had dared to look for a way out. Desperation had fuelled and funded the research needed. A desperation born of the Unrests caused by overpopulation and scarce resources. Estia was mostly water with only one continental mass. It had been meant to be the home of a colony of three million, not twelve million. Liv and Susie had been among the victims of the Unrests – a Meronite suicide bomber who killed forty civilians.
Major Tom planned to be the ultimate suicide bomber, but instead of innocent lives, he planned to blast a hole through the Net. Then the Estians would be free to populate a new world, maybe several worlds. The sonic wave catalyst needed to be detonated at the Net’s weakest spot, that slight wear in the fabric caused at the point where the moons’ orbits were at their closest in their dance across the heavens. The Net wreaked havoc on the navigation system of any ship when you got too close to it though, so constant manual adjustments would have to be made to reach the weak spot.
A light flashed again on the console. There was a problem with the sensors in the ship’s tiny galley. Not that it really mattered at this point, but it would kill the time nicely to repair it. As he moved towards the galley, the door slid open and Lieutenant Atticus Rokes limped out. Two prosthetic legs in small confines was a recipe for stiffness.
– Atticus, what the fuck are you doing here?
– Well, I’m pleased to see you too!
– Atticus have you gone crazy?
– Maybe. I just couldn’t stand the thought of you alone up here at the end.
– But there’s no sense two of us dying for a gamble!
– What makes your life less worthy of living than mine?
– You know I haven’t been the same since I lost my girls. I’ve been leading a shadow life at best.
– My life hasn’t been the same either since I woke up with three prosthetic limbs, and a synthetic stomach and liver. I don’t hate my life, but I’ve never been able to shake the feeling of living on borrowed time. Anyway, I brought us the most expensive fire brandy I could find. The orometer tells me we still have fifty-six minutes in which to savour it.
– You beautiful, stubborn piece of shit.
Tom moved forward and hugged Atticus fiercely.
– I guess I can risk a small glass of that fire brandy…. You remember that time…
PLAQUE IN ESTIA’S CENTRAL DISTRICT:
In memory of Major Tom Valence who gave his life for our freedom. The planet of Valentia was named after him to honour his sacrifice.
Also in memory of Lieutenant Atticus Rokes who refused to let a friend die alone. “But the Thousandth Man will stand by your side, To the gallows-foot – and after!” – Unknown Terran poet.
Author: John McLaughlin
Semi-Finals Status Update: Seven-in-Absentia vs The Last Dragon. One hour remaining!
The text crawls across Danny’s white suburban bedroom ceiling–bright and blood red–and descends behind the armoire on the far wall. He ignores it and continues his stretches. Reflected in the digital mirror, the room feels crowded around him: too many devices, too many vulnerable points. Did I forget anything? That unpleasant thought has some sticking power; yes, perhaps I did. The house is silent–his parents having left already for work–and he can almost feel the malevolent vibrations beneath the surface.
He bends once again to touch his toes, and his pterodactyl drone–the one his uncle got him for Christmas–takes flight, barely skimming his scalp before crashing through the window. Its pointy beak is laid to rest, impaled on broken glass and with its foamy flesh fluttering in the morning air. It’s always something, Danny thinks. He checks his watch: 58 minutes left on the clock. Not too bad.
He springs downstairs and munches a pile of seaweed puffs at the kitchen table. He sets the empty bowl in the sink–even during the clamor of a Tournament he minds his manners–and turns away just before the smart fridge slaps its door against the countertop. Thwack! “Shit, Mom’s gonna kill me.” Cracks leap across the granite as he sprints out the screen door to catch the bus.
“Good luck at school, Danny!” the neighbor shouts from his perfectly green lawn.
“Thanks, Mr. Olin!”
The neighbor’s drone-mower veers off course, pursuing Danny along a path of freshly trimmed grass. “Son of a bi–” Olin stammers. The man chases hopelessly after the renegade mower, the hose clenched in his bony fist dragging a trench through the petunias. Danny huffs it off the curb–saw blades clapping the wheels of his bike–and veers into the street.
His opponents have grown more advanced in the final bracket, there’s no doubt about it. He quickly calculates the route with the fewest networked devices, one that will take him on a shorter path across Main to the schoolhouse. He weaves his way among a remotely orchestrated ballet–manhole covers springing into the air on jets of compressed steam. Only one of them comes close to a hit; an impressive bit of programming, to be sure, but not much of a challenge–at least not for Danny. The crossing guard at the corner can only stare slack jawed.
He reaches Public School 43 and heads for the computer lab, where there’s a boy typing furiously at one of the shared consoles. Danny claps him hard on the back. “You’re it!”
“Aw, shit.” Fincher removes his massive headphones, visibly deflating in the seat. “I was sure I had you back on the lawn.”
“Yeah, that was a nice touch, Finch,” Danny says, and grips his shoulder with a grim finality, “but the Dragon is slain.”
The boy slumps away defeated and Danny takes his place at the throne. He logs into the Tournament network, scrolls to the bottom of his avatar’s toolbox and finds what he’s searching for: ‘Seven_ways_to_die_3.1’ lit up in red.
Semi-Finals Round 3: Seven-in-Absentia vs The Last Dragon
Are you ready? Y/N
Danny takes a moment to leer menacingly over his shoulder, savoring one last frightened wince from Fincher. “Ready…set…” He speaks slowly, tauntingly–and then double clicks.
Author: J Frank Wright
Clank. Clank. Clank.
The little silver pyramid hovered to the kitchen sink. Two metal arms emerged and started doing the dishes.
Clank. Clank. Clank.
Dan thought that something must have broken when it crashed in the backyard. He didn’t think something this advanced shouldn’t be making that sound. That was over three weeks ago.
“They are coming. I am here to help,” it had said in its robot voice. It continued in what sounded like Spanish, then French, German, and some Asian language he wasn’t sure of. Maybe Russian. It finished with a couple he didn’t recognize at all. He guessed it was repeating the same message but couldn’t be sure. He didn’t speak any other languages. He only knew what the first few sounded like from movies.
It followed him into the house, making a little whirring noise as it hovered. He checked it for a phone number, email address, or anything that would indicate what to do with it, or who to contact if found, but there was nothing. Other than a weird port on one of the sides that was pulsing with a red light, it was completely smooth, shiny, and silver. There were no doors. He still hadn’t figured out how the arms came out. He tried connecting his phone and his laptop to the port, but he didn’t recognize the connection type.
He heard it speak the first time while he was inspecting it, and tried to get it to repeat itself, but it wouldn’t. He tried to get it to answer questions, but it wouldn’t. All it would do was hover and flash that damn light.
He sat down, opened a beer, and contemplated what he was going to do with it. He was just finishing his first when he heard it again.
“They are coming. I am here to help.”
“Who?” he asked. “Who’s coming? I don’t know what that means.” Finally, frustrated he said, “If you really want to help, why don’t you vacuum the floor, because I don’t know what to do with you.” Then the little silver pyramid lowered itself to the carpet. The whirring became louder, and it began vacuuming the floor.
Dan began testing more commands and commanding more complex tasks. He had to teach it to do the dishes, but once he did, it remembered every time. It would even blow them dry.
No one ever came for it, and he never heard anything about it on television or the internet. He knew somebody would eventually come looking for it, but until then, the little silver pyramid would do the cleaning, cook dinner, go clank clank clank, and every 48 minutes would repeat its message.
This is how it went for almost a month. On the 23rd day, the whirring stop. The little silver pyramid was sitting on the ground, no longer hovering. The red light had also gone out.
“Clean the dishes,” he told it, but it continued to sit motionless on the floor. Then he heard a faint ticking noise from inside the pyramid. It only lasted a few seconds, and then the whirring noise fired up again. The light around the port came back on, now a steady green glow. The little silver pyramid spoke again, this time with a new message.
“They are here. Deploy the weapon.”
Sirens began wailing in the distance.