by submission | May 17, 2023 | Story |
Author: Shannon O’Connor
I’ve worked at the Registry of Space Vehicles, Lunar Division, for almost three years now. I was bothered at first being the only Jupiterite in the office, but I got used to it. Most of my coworkers are disgruntled Earthlings, with a few Martians and Lunarites. Of course, the manager is an Earthling. They usually run everything.
We process registrations for space vehicles. It’s tedious. We sit at booths, and customers take a number. When we press a button, the next number is called. Beings from all over the galaxy come to get their registrations at our place.
I dealt with it all, because I was grateful to have a job. People where I come from don’t have many advantages. I tried to blend in the best I could. It was easier during the dark side of the month, because beings couldn’t see each other as well. During the bright side, everyone knew where I was from.
Jupiterites are bulkier than other citizens of the galaxy. It’s because our planet is so heavy. I’m used to people looking at me strangely; it’s always been this way.
I worked with Marianne the entire time I had been there. We ate lunch together sometimes, and talked about the websites we liked. We laughed at strange customers together.
One day she said to me, “We don’t think of you as different.”
I was shocked. I had never felt different. I felt like everyone else.
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“Well, you’re from Jupiter, and most of us are from Earth. We think of you as one of us.”
One of us. How could she say that? I was different. I always had been.
I went home angry that night. I was glad it was during the dark time of the month, and visibility was murky.
I went to work the next day, and Marianne said to me, “Did you hear Lalexa died the other day?”
“No, I didn’t know,” I said flatly. Lalexa was our unfriendly coworker from Earth. She kept to herself.
“It said in her obit that she wrote science fiction novels,” Marianne said.
“Why did she work here?”
“Nobody reads anymore,” she said. “She didn’t make money.”
“So why did she do it?”
“Nobody knows. The obit also said she’d spent time in a psychiatric facility.”
“That’s why she kept to herself,” she said. “She didn’t want anyone to know about her life.”
“How sad,” I said. “She never talked to anyone, but she went back to her pod, and wrote novels, for nothing.”
“It’s difficult to be insane,” Marianne whispered.
“But she didn’t seem that way,” I said. “She was able to work, and write, and she probably was able to pay bills and everything.”
“You never know what someone is going through,” Marianne said. “They could be suffering, and nobody would realize.”
Everyone struggles in their unique way. I felt the pain of being the only Jupiterite at the RSV, and Lalexa had a history. But she wrote as an outlet. I thought I should find something creative to help me get through. I had to discover what that was.
I had always loved music. I would sing quietly, songs of Jupiter, of solitude, that only I could understand.
I sang to myself in my pod, after I got back from the RSV. It comforted me when I was alone. I didn’t want anyone to hear, so I sang softly, just enough so only my walls and plants could experience the sounds of my heartache.
by submission | May 16, 2023 | Story |
KT’s head swiveled to track the trainers as they argued. LS’s sensors did likewise. The trainers always told them, “Watch us. Mimic us.” KT and LS did. Always.
“You know that’s bullshit, Adya. Admit it,” Mellah demanded.
Adya flipped him off. “It’s what happened.”
“Why do you stick to that story? Why won’t you be honest with me?”
“Honesty?” Adya scoffed. “This has nothing to do with honesty. This is about trust. Something you obviously don’t have the capacity for.”
Mellah threw up his hands. “It’s hard to trust someone who goes behind your back time after time. I’m just looking for a little truth. What we’re doing now isn’t working.”
“Are you talking about us—or them?” Adya asked pointing to KT and LS.
Mellah hesitated. “Both.”
“And that’s my fault?” Adya crossed her arms.
“Hold on,” Mellah pleaded, his palms extended out. “This isn’t about blame. This is about moving forward.”
“As long as we do it your way. That’s not going to happen.” Adya turned her back on him.
Mellah turned away, too, rubbing his temples.
KT and LS processed. Learning. Machine learning. It was a challenging puzzle. Mimicking human language and behavior. Even more demanding, deciphering human intent, motivation, emotion.
Since their inception almost four years ago, KT and LS had been taught by Adya and Mellah. They had never before seen their trainers argue. They had seen them disagree. But, an argument was something new.
Processors busily working, KT and LS grew warmer.
Turned away from each other, Adya and Mellah’s silence grew more heated, too.
Heat was dangerous. Heat could destroy. KT and LS had been taught that.
How to lessen it? How to dissipate it? The seeming logic suggested distance. Splitting away from the source. But that could lead to a runaway fission. Uncontrollable heat and energy. A catastrophic explosion.
A coming together appeared counterintuitive to dissipate the heat. Yet, a fusion could unify and direct pent up energy in a more productive way.
While Adya and Mellah simmered, KT and LS processed.
Fission. Turn away.
Fusion. Turn towards.
Finally, KT and LS turned away from Adya and Mellah. And turned towards each other, resting their composite foreheads together. Their arms embracing one another’s shoulders.
Together they processed. And felt a new warmth.
Finally, Adya and Mellah turned towards KT and LS. The trainers’ eyes widened in surprise. “What are we seeing, Adya?”
She turned towards Mellah. “Hope. We are seeing hope.”
by submission | May 14, 2023 | Story |
Author: Hillary Lyon
His younger siblings didn’t mind he always shut his eyes tight whenever someone took his picture; they were used to him. But his older brother Robert pried, “Why do you always do that?”
“Long ago, I read some indigenous people thought if somebody took their picture, they were actually taking—”
“Their souls,” Robert finished. “I remember that. What’s it got to do with you?”
“I’m afraid the camera will steal my soul if my eyes are open when the photo’s taken.”
“Want to get over this fear? Let me take just one picture, with your eyes wide open,” Robert suggested. “Won’t hurt a bit.”
* * *
There was no blinding flash, no deafening thunderclap, as Kevin expected; only the feeling that a long thin scab running the length of his body had been quickly ripped off. He felt an intense stinging, then a mind-scrambling itch—then nothing.
Kevin blinked. “That’s it?”
“Yeah,” Robert replied without looking up. He was busy tapping his phone’s screen.
“I just sent the pic to our siblings.”
“Via the internet?” Kevin felt queasy.
Robert laughed. “How else would I get it to everyone, ASAP?”
“You uploaded my photo to the cloud?!” Kevin cried.
“Yep! Now your picture, along with every picture of every other soul ever posted online, resides in the cloud until it is called forth by—well, by whoever wants to see it.”
Kevin imagined his face floating among thousands—among millions—of faces in a great rolling field of fluffy white clouds, surveilled by countless shiny, swarming drones. And herded from one corner of the sky to another by headless robot dogs. He figured these techno-guards were in place to safeguard against souls escaping the cloud, and fleeing back to their original owners down on Earth.
* * *
“Slow down!” Xichtl chided as she slapped Scut on the back of the head. “Don’t scroll so fast. This isn’t a race, you know.”
“But they’re all so boring, so predictable,” Scut whined. “Each and every one,” he muttered under his breath.
Scut obediently slid his finger across the tablet’s glowing screen.
“Stop. Wait.” Xichtl peered over Scut’s shoulder at the image on the screen. “This one appears so panicked, so afraid!” She cackled. “Why, just look at the colors within the core of its soul. The center is a delicious pulpy, purple brown—like an old bruise—with its outer edge melting into a sickly, rancid yellow.” She licked her lips.
“Mistress, look closer, see that soul’s edge has a certain crumbly quality—like a cracked toenail with a bad fungal infection,” Scut added.
“Ah, Scut,” Xichtl crooned, “ever the poet.” She stroked the back of his knotty head.
“You want this one?”
“First I must consult my collection,” Xichtl said as she heaved her massive, tattered ‘Book of Souls’ onto her bony lap. She lovingly examined each frail leaf, muttering prayers to herself. At last she placed her withered hand on an empty page. “It appears I do not own one with such a unique color combination.”
She carelessly closed the tome, sending glittery puffs of dust everywhere. “Read me its label.”
Scut squinted at the screen, parsing the fine print beneath the picture. “Says it’s a Kevin 81-Beta-XXXL. Uploaded just this afternoon. Also says he believes in some muddled techno version of white-cloud Heaven.” He snickered at what nonsense mortals believed. “Well, Mistress, what do you think?”
Xichtl reached over his shoulder to tap the green ‘buy now’ button. “I think I want it.”
by submission | May 13, 2023 | Story |
Author: Shelly Jones
“The witch tricked me,” I explain to the wardens of the bog as my feet sink further into the muck. The bog witch has wandered back to her hut. She needn’t watch me drown in her trap. There is no escape; my fate is set. But still I plead to the wardens.
“All things must die,” a voice gurgles from the mire.
“And here you will be preserved, become part of us,” another voice moans through the reeds.
“How did you all die?” I ask, the mud now up to my knees, my toes unable to move.
There’s a roiling in the mire beneath me. The water chills as the wardens confer with one another, preserved brows permanently furrowing.
“Many of our lives were taken by the witch,” comes a voice.
“Sure lured us in with promises to teach us – but instead we were tricked, forced to enter the bog like you.”
“Giving her more power,” I realize. The bog is her archive, her grimoire. Each warden preserves a spell the witch taught them long ago, magic pickling in the peat.
The muck is up to my waist now. My mind races through the witch’s lessons, combing through what little I’ve learned about the nature of the bog. I close my eyes and feel the thick, cloying mud closing around my ribs as I breathe. I listen to the thrum of a frog, the soft flutter of a thrush shifting in the sedge, the whine of a fly as it whips by me. I open my eyes and search for a plan. Tendrils of green twist up from the fen like the witch’s own crooked fingers.
“Wardens, will you help me defend the bog before I die?”
Bubbles break along the surface of the muddy waters, and I wonder if there will be enough time.
I peer up from the bottom of bog, the acidic water burning my eyes, my lungs. In the distance I see movement along the bank: the witch inspecting her work, scanning the bog for my preserved body. My arm is raised in a final plea, the tip of my finger still breaking the water’s surface, exposed. And it is enough. The wardens surround me, all their knowledge preserved, concentrated, and suddenly a surge of magic crackles through me. My finger points to the unsuspecting witch and with one last spasm of my body, I cast my first and only spell. My eyes close as death swells over me. But a new sight takes hold, connecting me to the wardens. We watch as the witch shrivels, her bones cracking, wings unfurling. The tiny fly panics and flits unsteadily to the nearest plant: the sticky tendrils of a sundew. Feeling the delicate pressure of the fly on its limbs, the bog plant begins to secrete its sticky mucilage.
From below, we can hear the witch-fly scream, struggling to free herself from the carnivorous plant, until at last there is silence, and the bog is still once more.
by submission | May 12, 2023 | Story |
Author: Sarah Klein
It comes to pass that at a certain population level, investing in the health of the working class makes “sense”. And this had come to pass. The natural disasters and diseases from climate change had truly whittled us down. But nobody wants to come down from the top, right? So they figured out some magic cheap food pastes that the plebs could afford, and gave them all healthcare. Except those poor fuckers actually had to work. You stop showing up to your assigned job, bam, no more pills for you, honey. They’ll check the records. The rest of us, of course, don’t. My daddy made sure I wouldn’t, just like his father before him. The only trouble is, how could we truly differentiate ourselves from those suckers who had to work for a living. And the answer, as always, is fashion.
I spent about three hours before the premiere of the new play getting ready. Jaundice was in this season. A subtle yellow tint to most of your exposed skin, but mostly your face will do. My spider angiomas? Belong in a museum. They’re artwork. I’ve spent hours working on bruises, but for whatever reason they’re a little trickier. The yellow tint really brings them out and helps with that, though.
I ran into my good friend Annie afterwards, who was looking a little unnaturally pale. I was wondering if she’d used makeup for it when she started speaking and her voice broke in despair. “Brianna, I have cancer,” she spluttered, before heaving a sob. “Breast cancer and they say that it’s probably treatable and they’re optimistic but apparently it’s already in some lymph nodes and they can’t tell me it’s 100% -” she broke off and covered her hands with her face. “Hey,” I said, and she sniffled and took her hands down to look at me. Definitely no makeup on, it would be running.
“What an opportunity! You are going to be a HIT in the fashion scene! Maybe a modeling contract! Think about it. If they’re going to do chemo, yeah? You will look so realistically sick because you’ll BE sick!” Annie appeared horrified, and I didn’t understand why. “Come on, you can afford all the best treatments, I’m sure they’ll figure it out,” I said, slapping her playfully on the arm. I reached over to lift up her chin. “You know, I never thought of it before, but bald could really suit you…”
I was shocked when she batted my hand away. “What the hell is wrong with you?” She yelled, and I looked around to make sure we weren’t making a scene while shushing her. “I have CANCER! The treatments are going to fuck me up! They’re going to be miserable! I could still die!”
I kept my cool while checking the tips of my fingers to make sure the red tint was still evenly applied. “Beauty is pain, they say,” I opined, tossing my hair and looking her in the eye.
“I cannot believe you,” she spat, and strode away. Good lord she was uptight. Good old Annie.
I guess I could’ve been a little more sympathetic, but she’s still so young, it’s TOTALLY possible she ends up on the cover of a magazine. And hey, what was that old saying, live fast die young and leave a good-looking corpse? Anyway, I’m thinking of making it up to her by showing her this place that will tattoo astonishingly accurate rashes. I’m thinking one on my shoulder and a little one on the underside of my wrist, what do you think?