Author: Mark Joseph Kevlock
The snow outside is at least four feet high. This will finally give us that chance to talk. Only, which one of us will begin?
“I never meant to hurt you,” Marcine says.
“You tried to kill me on three separate occasions.”
“I don’t always have free will,” Marcine says. “It comes and goes.”
She’s giving off some sort of pheromone that’s meant either to seduce or to poison me. I’m immune to none of her charms.
“I’m trying to save the world,” I say. “I have altruistic goals.”
“I hope you succeed,” Marcine says.
“So why do you keep trying to stop me?”
“I don’t fear the world,” Marcine says. “I don’t even believe it exists.”
I look out the window in defiance of her claims. The ski lift is still operating, but with no riders.
“You don’t believe in real people, do you?” I say.
“My reality is different,” Marcine says.
“How can I prove to you the value and worth of human life?”
Marcine stares pensively into the crackling fire, just like a woman would. “Maybe you could make me fall in love with you?” she says.
“I barely survive our encounters as it is,” I say.
I see too late that she’s got the idea stuck in her head. She begins to undress, right here in the lobby. Maybe I’m giving off pheromones of my own.
I don’t stop her until near the end. She’s all underwear and a smile. Outside it’s minus twelve.
“Love doesn’t save the world,” I say. “Kindness does.”
“I can be kind,” Marcine says. “I can kill mercifully if I really try.”
I begin to wonder how badly lovemaking would mess her up. I’m halfway entertaining it.
“I can kill the witnesses afterwards,” Marcine says, “if that bothers you.”
The firelight catches the seams along the side of her skull. Just an illusion, like any woman.
“The way I spread my message is generational,” I say. “Each decade they believe it a little more.”
“Evolution is so boring,” Marcine says. “If I want better people, I can just build them.”
“You can’t build humanity,” I say. “You have to grow it, inside out.”
“Why are you so sure that you exist?”
I don’t have a degree in philosophy. I just have a gift for sharing love. I show people their best.
“I perceive all the same things you do,” Marcine says, “and they mean nothing to me.”
“What about God?”
“He must have built me,” Marcine says. “I don’t see Him much anymore, and He never talks to me.”
She has a multi-dimensional awareness beyond human perception, so who knows?
“We’re both very old,” I say. “Older than these bodies. We don’t have to be at odds.”
“I can kill you with kindness,” Marcine says. “Wouldn’t that be ironic?”
Underneath her free will, she has programming. The programs tell her to eliminate prophets like me. Her mission is to retard the growth of spirit.
“Mankind is a failed experiment,” she says. “It keeps evolving beyond itself. It won’t just be what it is. I need to cancel that equation.”
“Because God told you to?”
“It’s inside of me somewhere,” Marcine says. “You can’t start over without a clean slate.”
“You really believe that your kind are the galaxy’s ultimate life form?”
“Form is an illusion,” Marcine says.
The underwear is last to go. Lodgers are staring. Marcine doesn’t even believe we’re real.
Afterwards, she’ll probably try to kill me again.
Author: Richard M. O’Donnell, Sr.
Tee-Crux entered the spaceport with her service animal in tow. Everyone stopped to stare at her ET-Ultra. Even the ticket agents and porters gawked. Tee-Crux was especially pleased with the oohs and ahhs from the verbal races and the flapping of skin or feathers from the non-verbal. All had heard of the Ultra’s soothing qualities and most had viewed the vids she produced for the Nature Channel. Yet few believed that the screams of an Ultra could cure subspace-sickness.
“They’ll see,” she thought.
Subspace-sickness was the bane of intergalactic travel. The nausea was so intense that only an AI could pilot a ship through inner-space. Each galactic year a handful of passengers died, while many others had their brainwaves scrambled. The introduction of service animals on flights helped to ease the suffering, but it was not a cure. Then Tee-Crux’s mate, Blee-Crux, returned to Crux as the sole survivor of a deep-space expedition to the delta-quadrant. His AI pilot had malfunctioned and Blee-Crux had done the impossible. He piloted through inner-space without going insane. His secret, he had discovered a small, smooth-skinned, bipedal animal that radiated calming energy waves. The major space-liners had sent expeditions to retrace Blee-Crux’s trip, unsuccessfully.
“Blee may have no interpersonal skills,” thought Tee-Crux, “but he is the best smuggler in the galaxy.” He proved that when he secreted fifty mating pairs of Ultras home. They had spent the last five cycles conditioning the new pups for inner-space travel. Tee-Crux squared her shoulders and lifted her tusks up high. “Today is the day we cash in!”
A mob of paparazzi pushed through the crowd shouting, “Make it scream! Make it scream!”
Tee-Crux waited until the terminal and adjoining concourses were packed. Then she raised her hand up high to reveal a remote control. She waited until the crowd hushed, then she pressed the button.
The ET-Ultra screamed with exquisite agony and fell writhing to the floor. Its sound washed away everyone’s anxieties. Even after the Ultra quieted, the feeling of well-being continued. The crowd burst into applause of loud clicking. Few in the annuals of the Coalition of Solar Systems had ever received such an ovation from so many different races at the same time. As the crowd made-way for Tee-Crux to pass, she felt as if she were riding inside an anti-gravity pleasure bubble.
She boarded a charted spaceship, one that had cost her and Blee-Crux their life savings. Inside, she found two hundred executives from competing space-lines already seated. All were seasoned space survivor. Tee-Crux pressed the button. The Ultra’s screams produced the desired effect.
“One billion credits for exclusive rights,” shouted the first bidder.
“Two billion!” said another.
“Please, a moment,” said Tee-Crux. She picked up the ET-Ultra. It buried its nose in her neck and whimpered wonderfully. Tee-Crux patted its back. “Fellow Coalitionists, we are about to experience the smoothest take off in the history of interstellar flight. There will be ample time to bid during our three-hour cruise.”
As a multi-limbed flight attendant helped Tee-Crux secure the Et-Ultra into its carrier, he noticed odd artwork on the pet’s license tag. “What’s that?” he asked.
“ET-Ultras like to scratch tiny designs on the walls,” said Tee-Crux, “especially that one. We’re using it as our logo.”
“Does it mean anything?”
“Ultras rate too low on the sentient-index for it to mean anything.”
“I collect animal art. May I take a pic?”
The attendant clicked a pic and posted it on Intergalactic String. In minutes, a trillion followers viewed the strange animal markings for the first time.
– Fuck You –
Author: Stephen C. Curro
It’s curious to look into the eyes of a dinosaur.
There’s life there, but not the cold reptilian shade you’d expect. You can see the theropod is assessing you with genuine curiosity.
Then it moves and its head bobs slightly like a bird, its foot drumming the ground with each step. The feathers of green and blue reflect the sunlight, making the body almost but not quite shimmer. It draws close and soon you’re almost nose-to-nose. The giganotosaur’s head is longer than your whole body, the teeth well past banana length. It sucks air into its massive lungs, and when it exhales you’re overwhelmed by the rot of the thousand carcasses it has fed upon.
You desperately want to run but you fight to keep still. Of course, it can see you, but the slightest twitch might trigger a predator response you can’t hope to defend against. Even so, you’re calculating the distance to the ship against the size and strength of a ten-ton theropod. No, better to keep still as a stone.
It’s unnerving when the beast growls as if thinking about you out loud. Your life doesn’t flash before your eyes; no, you see it reflected in the dinosaur’s eyes. You see all the things you’ve done, what you should have done differently. Words unsaid, risks avoided. You’re pale as clay, on the verge of hyperventilating. All of it comes down to this moment…
But then the giganotosaurus turns and lumbers off into the forest, probably in search of something larger to consume. You force yourself to gasp for air, processing how close you came to being an hors d’oeuvre. Apparently, a human just isn’t worth the trouble.
Just once, it’s a relief to be thought of as insignificant.
Author: Jamie Fouty
Everything dies in this house but me. I don’t know if I’m immortal or if this is punishment. Three births happened here, perhaps equilibrium was wanting.
The second death was the hardest; the third took two at once. After the fourth, I abandoned the balance theory.
Retreating from society was minimally effective. Then the fifth occurred: crows pulling apart a snake in midair as you see in a NatGeo special. I couldn’t protect the wildlife from these demises either.
I sought the wisdom of medicine, consulted witches and clergy, but death kept appearing on my land. A decapitated rabbit one day, a slumped over salesperson at my door the next – I stopped counting.
I was the only constant that remained, physically unscathed despite my best efforts. I refused resignation to this merciless existence. Unwelcome memories abound; the worn grey couch where we made love, the lamp that dimly lit late-night conversations, the dingy mosaic rug where children took their first steps, and their last. Pictures long since stowed in a tower of brown boxes lining the garage, hiding triggers. The sun-soaked deck once the site of neighborhood BBQ’s, then where our pets laid for eternal slumber. Offers to purchase came frequently, but I couldn’t risk that burden.
Leaving with only the sweet smell of gasoline and retribution filling my nostrils, I effortlessly flicked the match. The delicate ivy, attached to this home as I used to be, singeing with loud snaps. Cedar shingles erupted with a belch of black smoke enveloping the night sky. The fierce orange glow radiated warmth I hadn’t felt in years. My eyes glistened with a mixture of relief and sorrow, not mutually exclusive. Windows shattered and the grass withered as fire unapologetically devoured it. Three-story tall flames ravaged the very last of everything, and nothing.
Denying assistance from the fire department, they kept the blaze contained to my property line. When charred dust was all that remained and everyone had stopped gawking, I said goodbye and turned to leave, nearly tripping over a fresh carcass sprawled beneath my feet.
Author: Suzanne Borchers
CHARLIE had found itself leaning against a trash bin in a nearby alley—alone, jobless, and needing shelter. Its owner had abandoned the retail store to run away with his clerk to parts unknown. It had rained for a week and its once pristine joints now scraped together. CHARLIE needed oil! It needed help!
CHARLIE noticed a collection of humans loitering on the corner. It eyed each individual with its glassy orbs: One man about 50 years old, dark-skinned, powerful shoulders, taller than CHARLIE by almost three feet (CHARLIE stretched up to his full four foot height at this observation.); another man about 70 years old, pale, stooped, with his mouth drawn down; a pinched-lipped woman, wearing a business suit with hair neatly in place; one boy, pale, short, poking the younger boy standing next to him, making him hop up and down, squealing; and a small girl holding onto a wriggling giant puppy which threatened to spill out of her arms.
CHARLIE had been programmed for character-analysis years before its occupation as a bookkeeper at the socks & shoes store. It creaked closer to study the eyes of the humans. The young girl’s eyes softened each time she adjusted the position of the puppy in her arms; the younger boy’s eyes were large and moist; the older boy’s hard eyes shifted to and fro; the woman’s eyes narrowed toward the boys, the old man’s eyes were closed, and the younger man’s brown eyes gazed down the street. No one would help.
The puppy leaped from the girl, knocking her backward and down onto the concrete. Tears welled up in her eyes and she sobbed, “Daddy!”
The dark-skinned man scooped up the dog. “I told you he was too big for you to handle, Joanie. Put your hands down. I’ll hold him.” The dog kicked and wriggled in his arms.
The woman murmured to the old man and then grabbed the older boy’s hand. The younger boy snickered. The young girl held the woman’s skirt.
The public transit vehicle arrived and the six humans climbed inside. It transported them away. The corner was empty. CHARLIE was alone.
The giant puppy whined, lifted his leg on a straggly tree, and afterward sagged down onto his bottom. He whimpered. He drooped.
CHARLIE felt a pain in its motherboard. How could it leave the puppy there? It was a logically hopeless situation. CHARLIE had no credits, no shelter, no food or water for the puppy and little to no chance to get them. But it had to comfort the puppy and try to help. It limped to the puppy and patted the silky head. It leaned over, careful not to overbalance, and picked the puppy up into its arms.
The puppy relaxed and licked its hand.
“CHARLIE will take care of you.” It looked down at the puppy and up into the eyes of the dark-skinned man.
“Thanks, fella,” the man said. “I got him now.” He gathered the puppy into his solid arms.
CHARLIE floundered for appropriate words and then settled on, “CHARLIE could babysit him for shelter and some oil?”
“Nah.” The man turned and walked away.
CHARLIE stood alone.