Author: Ken Carlson
“Good morning! Welcome to McDonald’s”
It was just after 11. The young brunette, Britney, was still going strong. She’d been on counter duty since 6, the friendly gal with cat eye glasses.
There was the early rush, the gaggle of seniors, a few travelers, some straggling students, and now it was light foot traffic until noon.
She was in a good mood, keeping her station clean, greeting customers with a smile. She’d heard complaints from her co-workers about working there, but she didn’t mind. She was young, it was a job, maybe she’d stick with it and go into management.
Clarke had been traveling for so long. He couldn’t remember the last human he spoke to. Everything was robotic and pre-recorded nowadays. He was weary. A trip to Micky D’s was just what the doctor ordered; comfort food, no surprises, just a fast food stop like when he was a kid.
A recent widower, Clarke, on the back side of middle-age, sought comfort where he could. He was as blue-collar as they came, down to his tool belt and steel toe boots.
He leaned on the counter and looked above. They’d added items to the menu since his last visit. A little embarrassed, at his age, if he couldn’t figure out what to order at the Golden Arches, what hope was there?
Clarke smiled and rubbed his eyes. “I’m sorry, I just need a minute.”
“Absolutely,” Britney responded with a warm nod. “Take your time.”
“You don’t have the McRib, do you?” Clarke asked.
“No, sorry,” she replied, “that’s a limited time offer. We hope to bring it back soon.”
“Got it. OK, I’ll have a Big Mac.”
“Would you like fries with that?”
Britney typed the order into the register. “One Big Mac and fries; and to drink?
“Coffee, black,” Clarke said.
“Big Mac, fries, and black coffee. For here?” Britney asked.
“Yes, thank you.”
“Would you like to sign up for our McDonald’s Loyalty Card Program?”
“It entitles you to protection from attacks involving competing eating establishments, as well as a free coffee after four purchases from our breakfast menu.”
“I’ll pass. Is the McLobster coming back?”
“Not that I’ve heard. That was also a limited time offer.”
“Have you been injured recently, on the job, while traveling, or in the home?”
“Would you like to be? Our legal offices are standing by.”
“No, thank you.”
“Did you want cloning or non-cloning while you’re here?”
Clarke paused. It wasn’t too long ago that McDonald’s only sold food. “Non-cloning is fine.”
“Virtual adult activities?”
“What does that include?”
“Your choice of sex, violence, or a combo meal of both?”
“Were you interested in joining our church and learning to be one with the universe and embrace all that it has to offer?”
“Does that come with anything?”
“A sense of community, a robust appreciation of life, and a yogurt parfait.”
“All right. As part of our value meal, would you like us to supply you with a new wife, husband, or child?
“No, I just had one. Maybe next time.”
“All right, sir. Here is your total. Did you want actual food or just the injected memory of it?”
“I am watching my weight. I’ll take just the memory.”
“That’s fine, sir.” Britney leaned forward slightly over the counter. Clarke leaned in and took the shot in the side of his neck.
A very old song played in his head… “You deserve a break today…so get up and get away…to McDonald’s!”
Author: David Henson
Captain Stanton’s attorney calls him to the stand. I know the blurry figure is indeed the captain, but it’s my job to prove he’s a murdering imposter, a Triklorian.
Earth opened its arms to Triklorian refugees after we over-mined their planet and nearly destroyed their environment. We brought millions here. They proved to be fast-learners, which, along with their elongated heads, was threatening to many people. The Enough Is Enough movement was born and convinced the governing council to ban further Triklorians and deport those already here.
Captain Stanton is a victim of the anti-Triklorian sentiment. He’s also a victim of extreme transporter degradation. While negligible degradation occurs with every beam-up and beam-down, a transporter malfunction turned the captain into something resembling an out-of-focus photograph.
Trying to avoid a lawsuit, my employer, Highly Advanced Technological Enterprises, denies the malfunction. They assert that the being claiming to be Captain Stanton is a Triklorian. They say he killed the captain and tried to shape-shift to take his place and lead the good life on earth. It’s a lie, but plausible. The Triklorians are known to be trying to reverse-engineer earth’s shape-shifter technology. The company maintains that the defendant is a Triklorian blurred out from a failed shape-shift.
When the captain takes the stand, his lawyer asks him to state his name and rank.
“Michael Stanton, captain, Interplanetary Safety Force.” His degraded voice sounds as if he’s talking under water.
I object. “It’s unproven this is Captain Stanton.”
“Sustained,” the head of the tribunal says.
As the fingerprints, dental work, and DNA of the captain are degraded, the lawyer asks him to verify his identity by indicating his age, marital status, career highlights, and so on.
“Meaningless,” I say, beginning cross-examination. “Information just provided is available to any Triklorian.” I lean close to the defendant. “If you’re Captain Stanton, you’ll know personal details not available on Trikloria, won’t you?”
“Yes,” he glubs.
“You and your wife had a young son, correct?”
“… That’s … correct.” The words are slushy, his voice sounding more deeply submerged.
“Please describe in detail the accident that claimed the boy’s life. The tragedy the real Captain Stanton blames himself for.”
The captain’s shoulders rise and fall. He tries to speak but can only gurgle. As I suspected, his grief, guilt, and degraded state render him unable to talk about his son’s death.
“You can’t tell us about this horror from Captain Stanton’s life because you don’t know, do you?” I turn toward the tribunal. “Because he’s not the captain.” I whirl back toward the captain and sneer. “You’re a Triklorian imposter, aren’t you?” I go at the captain hard. By the time I finish, he’s an emotional puddle.
The tribunal finds Captain Stanton guilty of murder and being a Triklorian. They sentence him to life imprisonment on his home world. As he’s being led out, he breaks free and approaches his wife. She shrinks away at first then collapses into his fuzzy hug.
A representative from Highly Advanced Technological Enterprises comes over and tries to shake my hand.
“I hate this job,” I say. “You need to find someone else.”
“We’re happy with you.” She takes out a blinking disc and hovers a finger over the keypad. “You know I can reverse it.” As she speaks, the bailiff separates the Stantons. The wife sinks to her knees.
It’s more than I can bear. I approach the tribunal and ask to see them alone in chambers. I pray they’ll believe me even as I feel my head elongating.
Author: Andrew Dunn
Ehsan squinted through thick lenses, aged fingers working the tiniest pliers and scissors he had to complete his masterpiece. One by one he weaved threads, each no thicker than the grey on his head, to create rigging every bit as elaborate as that which adorned sailing ships of old. Ehsan felt it fitting to decorate his masterpiece that way – this ship was different than other models he’d constructed in his spare time.
“Spare time.” Ehsan huffed. That’s all there was anymore, after he’d retired from the mines.
In place of masts and sails he placed a balsa wood frame and sheathed it in white mylar to form a dirigible’s balloon. On either side there were wing-like structures with moveable flaps, manipulated using interconnected gears culled from old timepieces. A rudder was affixed aft of the balloon, controlled by thin lines that led down into the wheelhouse. The craft itself was loosely based on dhows Ehsan remembered from his childhood in Marjand.
Childhood seemed such a distant memory, as Ehsan christened his masterpiece Al-Sadiq, ‘The Friend’, and placed on her decks captain and crew whittled from birch and pine. Each sailor was painted in vibrant hues; they knew their roles – some would study charts and plot the course; others would tend lines, flaps, and rudder; a contingent would stand ready with long guns to load and fire from behind gunwales if the time came.
The only thing missing was the magic.
Ehsan rose up gingerly and steadied himself on his cane. Then, he moved slowly over tile until he reached the closet where an old shoebox waited. Ehsan removed the lid, cradled a cloth bundle from inside the box, and carried it back to his workbench.
The memento wrapped in cloth was at once an old friend, and at the same time a memory distant and far removed from the day he’d chipped it free from the moon’s interior a generation before. Back then, Ehsan and so many other young men gave up work on dhows to soar on rockets bound for the moon. They slaved deep in lunar mines digging out magic for a succession of multinational corporations to earn remittance money they sent back to loved ones in Marjand.
As hard as those years were, Ehsan couldn’t help but stare out his window at the full moon rising, feeling as though a part of him still belonged up there, so far away. It made giving the stone away even harder.
Ehsan steeled himself, “You have to old man. It’s time.”
Ehsan placed the stone inside his masterpiece’s hull. The magic in that rock began to feed off the full moon’s vitality, breathing life into the good ship and crew. Ehsan knew Al-Sadiq would rise up aloft any minute, begging to fly.
The old man shuffled on his cane, from workbench to his window, and flung it wide open. It would be up to his masterpiece to soar like rockets did so long ago, and carry his memento back home where it belonged.
Author: Subhravanu Das
Everyone mines for Conoptinium. I don’t mine.
My tongue is phosphorescent; it can fill any room with light. If I were to open my mouth inside a mine, my tongue would fill the mine with light. But this is one ship that can never be launched, since I only whip my tongue out when I’m alone. And if there’s one rule of mining that supersedes the rest, it’s that–you never mine alone.
The Friend mines for Conoptinium now. Whenever we meet, he talks about the old days of not mining; about days of loitering around sweat banks, about rose essence. He chides me for still not mining. The Friend has ballooned up, having embodied the transformation that is most valued down in the mines. They egg him on, while he shovels more and more pills in and more and more earth out. He’ll soon be rendered too large to fit down the mine shafts.
The Mother understands my need to not mine. She also believes I would mine better than anyone else. She has stopped mining for Conoptinium. One day, down in the mines, she took her kneecaps off and lay down to rest. She woke up to a dead torch and wasn’t able to find the kneecaps in the dark. Since then, the Mother’s legs have been too weak for her to go mining again.
The Genitor doesn’t speak to me anymore. Every day, on his way back from the mines, he stops in front of my unit and flings a helmet at my door. I let the helmets pile up. I clear them out twice every year.
The Partner cues me. She’s outside my door and I let her in. Instead of the Partner, it’s her bot who enters and immediately places two jars full of tears on the floor. The bot informs me that the Partner has suffered a fall while mining and needs an urgent motor replacement, for which the savings in her account fall short by five ks. The bot reminds me of the stipulation that anyone registering to mine for Conoptinium instantly gets paid five ks. I hold my hand out. The bot bolts out of the door.
I go to the home security tab and activate the armor. As my unit gets boxed up and buried underground, a siren goes off. The bearers will be here soon. I poke my tongue out and eclipse the darkness. I set the monitor aside, reach into the bottom drawer of my table, and retrieve the vial that the Mother had insisted I stow away. Inside, is the grey gravel that is illegal to hoard; inside, is Conoptinium. I put a pinch of the Conoptinium into an empty bowl. I bite down on my tongue, making it bleed. My tongue glows brighter and I let its blood drip into the bowl. I let my blood mix with the Conoptinium. The resulting concoction turns grey. With my tongue continuing to light the unit up, I glug the grey concoction down and immediately start coughing. I cough up black dust which is finer than the Conoptinium I just swallowed. The black dust pours out of my mouth and piles up on the table. The black dust fills my cheeks, coats my teeth, and cements my lips. The black dust plugs the pipes going down my throat. The black dust crawls into my chest, into my hands, into my fingers. My fingers begin to turn phosphorescent.
Author: Russell Bert Waters
“I’m a reliable courier,” she whispers to herself while entering the lobby.
After the Great Purging, the remaining Humans had been allowed to live, provided they remained useful to the Galactic Council.
Trade was the most important function of the Human race, as Earth was nicely positioned at the intersection of three of the five major trade routes.
She confidently approaches a security desk she has approached many times before.
The entity behind the counter seeks connection, she accepts, and it speaks into her thoughts.
She shares the skeleton of a story, the framework of her mission, leaving out some of the nuts and bolts.
The briefcase she carries is made of living flesh. It is Psionic, and its very strong constitution and mental stamina make it nearly impossible to open.
“I’m a reliable courier,” she whispers again.
The being studies her, studies the case, studies her some more. There is the needling sensation of additional probing.
The sedatives have done their trick.
These beings rely on anxiety and other exploitable characteristics to gain information if their suspicions are aroused. She has very little anxiety.
The being beckons and she approaches the large desk. The desk appears to be living, but not sentient. There is a slight ripple to its sheen occasionally. She briefly wonders if desks ever get nervous.
She is being needled some more. She made the mistake of becoming distracted. Allowing your mind to wander sometimes lets them sneak in with their probing inquiries.
No luck. If it could sigh, it would. Instead, it compels her to turn toward the Portals.
The sign on the wall behind one Pad reads “240 – 440” and she heads to that one. She stands on the Pad, and feels needled again, this time a bit more roughly. She sets her mind to a scene from her past, where she had eaten chocolate ice cream in a park. The needling eventually stops, and a more gentle inquiry comes. She informs the Portal telepathically that she needs Pad 317.
HARD NEEDLES! PAIN! MAKE IT STOP!
The probing seems to last forever, and the briefcase is being probed also. It twitches in her hands.
Suddenly, her mind again becomes her own.
She has been asked to end the war. She will end the war.
There was to be a final purge, as artificial intelligence and other devices were rendering humans obsolete. The room she is being whisked away to contains the Assistant to the Emperor, as well as a secret Pad leading to the connecting point of four enemy homelands. This building often holds meetings composed of several, if not all, of the Galactic leaders simultaneously.
She feels the slight shift of her balance which accompanies Portal travel. She trains her mind on chocolate ice cream in the park, and a bright sunny day.
As she steps off the Platform the needles come again, so forcefully she’s afraid her head will split.
The Emperor’s Assistant regards her without surprise or suspicion.
She quickly strides to the wall beside the Assistant’s desk, and strikes a wall-plate that is so subtly painted one would not even notice it unless they knew where to look.
A portion of carpeting across the room moves mechanically, as startled suspicion enters the face of the Assistant for the first time.
The Pad is now exposed, and the briefcase leaps from her hands popping open in mid-air.
A glowing orb emerges, floating to the Portal Pad.
As the orb explodes into the pad, with the intensity of many suns, she whispers once more:
“I’m a reliable courier.”
And everything goes white.