A Little Extra

Author: Marcel Neumann

After years of living in an unjust world, being disillusioned by an ideology I once thought held promise and having lost faith in humanity’s collective desire to live in harmony, I decided to live off the grid in a remote Alaskan village. Any needed or desired supplies were flown in by a bush pilot who became my only contact with the outside world. Which was fine with me. The man had offered several times to fly me down to Juneau to catch up on world news, but I had gained an aversion towards people in general, so I declined.

As time passed, I noticed my heart was not keeping me going as it once had. I brushed it off as simple fatigue. When the heart attack happened, I had the pilot fly me to Juneau International Airport, where an ambulance took me to the hospital. It took nearly a week for me to recover from heart surgery. I felt I was strong enough to venture out into the hallway outside my hospital room. Surprisingly, no one came after me as I made my way to the elevators. I had managed to dress myself, so anyone who passed by me had no reason to assume I was a patient. I pressed the button to open the elevator door and waited, keeping an eye out for any large, duty-bound orderly coming to take me back to my room. I noticed people acknowledging one another with a gesture I had never seen before. They would tap two fingers over their chests. There were subtle nuances in their facial expressions and body language as well. A peacefulness exuded from them, which seemed foreign to me. People greeted one another with what appeared to be a genuine desire for the other’s well-being. I sensed a jovial, positive vibration coming from the people around me. I pressed the button for the elevator door once again, anxious to leave this eerily alien world in which I found myself.

When the elevator door opened, I realized I had accidentally pressed the button for the maternity floor. A young girl stood peering into the viewing window. I cautiously approached. Her smile was infectious, her aura bright and inviting. I asked her which baby was hers.

“They all are.” She looked at me with twinkling blue eyes. When she laughed, I felt stupid for believing all ten babies belonged to her.

“I’m sorry,” she said as she touched my shoulder, sending a warm feeling of acceptance through my whole being.

“Actually, I am just window shopping.” The statement brought another resounding laugh. She shook her head indicating again she was only joking. The girl seemed to enjoy causing my dazed look of bewilderment with her witty comments. When a nurse came to the window holding a baby wrapped in a white cotton blanket up to the glass the new mother took a deep breath. Her following words this time caused me to let out a raucous laugh.

“The green one is mine.” She smiled at me as her eyes began to flood with tears. I felt my face flush. Thirty years is a long time to be away from civilization. What I saw beneath that blanket defied all reasoning. The nurse touched the baby near its torso and tapped it twice. “Two hearts.” The girl whispered. She then turned towards me and tapped me once.

When the tall reptilian man approached, I did not fear him. The harmony I wanted to see in the world was not of a terrestrial nature. It took something a little extra.

Dream State

Author: Majoki

They call us the new DJs—Dream Jockeys—because we stitch together popular playlists for the masses. I think it lacks imagination to piggyback on the long-gone days of vinyl playing over the airways. But that’s human nature. Always harkening back to something familiar, something easy to romanticize, something less threatening. I guess there are similarities in what DJs did then and what we do now, except rather than trying to insert things into popular culture, we now work to extract them.

‘Export’ is the kinder term that our marketing overlords use. Still, modern DJs like myself are in the extraction business. We mine dreams. We dig through countless live-streaming dreams every day and night, weaving together real-time dreams from the thousands of amateur and professional Casters who wear a neuromitter when they sleep. It’s as trippy as it sounds.

And the tech is as scary as it sounds. Neuromitters amplify and broadcast any detectable neural network activity. Even Alice probably wouldn’t have gone down that rabbit hole. But, she’s fictional and we’re not—so, of course, we burrowed down into our nether consciousness. Even though the tech was glitchy as all get-out in the early days, humans being humans, we kept prying this particular Pandora’s box open until today the tech is highly refined, widely reviled, and strictly regulated.

Makes sense. If our last bastion of privacy exists only in our heads, then who’d be willing to part with that. In the pioneering days of thought-casting tech, some folks would try casting a presentation to share a particularly complex or nuanced idea, but it inevitably led to embarrassing moments. I mean, who can really control their fleeting thoughts enough to stave off feeling that they are being asked stupid questions or getting distracted by the attractiveness or unattractiveness of someone near them.

Nobody really wants that level of transparency brought to their thinking.

So, other than in high-profile criminal cases or national security investigations, neuromitting tech cannot be compelled on an unwilling soul. But, that doesn’t mean there aren’t those willing to strut their imaginations, especially when your subconscious has the reigns and provides social cover for you. Damn the Ego and Super-Ego, full speed ahead! Our species also tends to give the subconscious a lot of moral leeway, so there’s always built-in plausible deniability for the content of our dreams: just blame that damn Id.

We did and loved it. A prurient pursuit at first, dreamcasts, quickly became booming business. It was embarrassingly inexpensive to produce wilder-than-wild content. Fresh faces, outrageous situations, impossible puzzles. The masses gobbled it up. Dreamcasts were on everywhere. And, to media titans, that meant the content was ultimately going nowhere.

The big streaming services wanted control of the product. So, the smart money watching the dreamcast feeds began to hack the trends and recognize the anomalies—the real talents, the Casters that they could make into stars.

And once they tagged those nascent Casters with a knack for conjuring dreams that mesmerized the masses, they needed us. Dream Jockeys. They needed us to find, curate and cultivate these casting icons.

I got pulled into my current gig after being recruited from a Day Dreamer channel. Let me just say that a Day Dreamer that holds the interest of an outside audience is a rarity. Daydreaming is so individual, plus you have the privacy issues of consciously bringing other individuals into your daydreams and broadcasting their images and voices without their permission. Dreamcasters got around this because of the whole subconscious thing. The legal parallel is intent and control. Kind of like invoking an insanity defense, which based on some of the most popular Caster’s dreams was very much the case.

Day Dreamers have a very refined skill which depends to a remarkable degree on their level of in-the-moment storytelling. Still, daydreaming streaming lacks the freshness, energy and unpredictability of the subconscious. That’s why Casters rule, and why discovering a Caster whose dreams have mass appeal is the grail.

And, I think I’ve found the one true grail. Her name is Lottica. She’s nine years old and her dreams are sublime. They are Beauty. Yes, capital ‘B’ Beauty. And no DJ but me knows about her. A doc I know gave me the lead after Lottica’s mother came in worried about the dreams her daughter would tell her she was having every night. I convinced the doc to have the mother bring Lottica in for some tests to rule out any medical conditions like a brain tumor. I loaned him a neuromitter. During her exam, the doc put Lottica under with the neuromitter and recorded her dreams.

Holy Chrislam! She is the one true dreamer!

Lottica’s dreams will change us all. And probably kill us all. That’s the problem. I’ve found the grail. But one drink from it and we’ll forget everything.

Everything.

Lottica’s dream vision is perfect. She not only casts dreams, she casts a spell. She creates a world apart. A Beauty that all must seek. No one will want to live in this world anymore. They’ll want to live in Lottica’s heaven.

And there’s only one way to get to heaven.

Cold War

Author: David Barber

Like nuclear weapons before them, the plagues each side kept hidden were too terrible to use; instead they waged sly wars of colds and coughs, infectious agents sneezed in trams and crowded lifts, blighting commerce with working days lost to fevers and sickness; secret attacks hard to prove and impossible to stop.

This time the letter from his fictitious pen-pal in Germany is written with black ink and in capitals. Warned, he does not open it but goes down to the basement.

Donning mask and gloves, he switches on the fan that draws air into the biohazard cabinet. Carefully slitting the envelope he discards the letter; it is the pinch of viral dust in one corner that he taps out into a broth of Bacillus subtilis.

Such a pleasing concept, like binary nerve agents or sub-critical hemispheres of plutonium; not lethal until brought together. The bacteria was common enough and harmless, until reprogrammed by this smuggled virus.

After incubating the bacterial culture for 48 hours, he would add a gelling agent and then smear it on door handles, lift buttons, supermarket trolleys and keypads of ATM’s across the city.

He would be patient zero, but he was a patriot and believed in his sacrifice, whatever that might be.

Later, when he goes out to his car, they fell him with a taser without any warning.

“You’re under arrest,” someone snaps, as a needle stings his neck and darkness takes him.

He wakes in a biosecure room.

A previous suspect had a capsule implanted beneath the skin of her inner arm. When popped, it released a geneered hemorrhagic virus into her bloodstream, like Ebola but airborne. Her first hacking coughs had infected the interrogation team, then the whole building.

Although he’d been scanned and minutely searched while unconscious, they were taking no chances and his interrogators watch from behind armoured glass.

“How did you catch me?”

They ignore this. “Tell us about the virus.”

He knows nothing of the epidemic he would have unleashed. His ignorance is deliberate, so that however brutally questioned, he has nothing to confess. This was understood. It was all part of the game.

But they persist. Was it the modified polio virus? The same one the others in his cell possessed?

“It’s being sequenced, so you might as well tell us.”

“There are no spy cells. We work alone, you know that.”

“Why this escalation from respiratory infections?”

He shrugs, but is happy to speculate. If he cooperates perhaps they will spare him, though he doubts it. The bleak truth is that his own side had already sacrificed him.

“I’m guessing this new virus isn’t designed to kill. They just want to overwhelm your medical services, to tie up resources with the long term sick. Do you remember those pictures of halls filled with iron lungs?”

He has no suicide capsule because all he knows are the names of handlers and trainers long since retired or dead. He had lived here now for sixteen years.

“They’re struggling to keep up with you,” he muses. “You encourage your researchers to be creative. It is your strength. What were we to make of outbreaks of contagious impotence, that epidemic of muteness, and wasn’t there amnesic flu?”

They stare at one another through the glass.

Such innocent times, before psychiatry was weaponized. Armies afraid to go outside; the compulsive counting virus; whole cities too sad to go on; scientists infecting themselves
with psychopathies so they would not be hindered by conscience.

‘Lineartrope 04.96’

Author: David Dumouriez

I thought I was ready.

“I was on the precipice, looking down.”

Internal count of five. A long five.

“I was on the precipice, looking down.”

Count ten.

“I was on the precipice, looking down.”

I noticed a brief, impatient nod. The nod meant ‘again’. I thought.

“I was on the precipice looking down.”

No nod. But the Experts looked at each other and not me.

“I was on the precipice … looking down.”

Count of four. Too short?

“I was on the precipice. Looking down.”

“No …”

“No?” (Perhaps I shouldn’t have said it.)

“No.”

One of the others agreed, more emphatically. “No.”

***

Time wasn’t a factor, I thought.

The movement of the head was ‘when you’re ready’. Or I interpreted it as such.

“I was on the precipice-”

“No. The other.”

“Ah. Sorry.”

I looked in front of me. I didn’t think about hurrying.

“When the value exceeds four, begin.”

Ten.

“When the value exceeds four, begin.”

Ten.

“When the value exceeds four, begin.”

They said nothing. They made no movement. I sat up straighter.

“Save one and play one.”

Ten again.

“Save one and play one.”

Ten.

“Save one and play one.”

They offered nothing. Nothing – I was sure – was advancement.

“Suspension …”

***

I looked ahead. I felt utterly relaxed. I took my own cue.

“Egress. Confess. Regress. Ingress …” I held up my hand. I knew it was wrong. “Sorry.”

Smooth stone expressions confronted me. It wasn’t so bad. You just go again. Right? When you’re ready.

You’d guess you need to think, but you don’t. Thinking is the last thing you should do.

I took a breath, perhaps audible only to myself.

“Egress. Confess. Ingress. Regress. Obsess. Transgress. Address. Repress. Digress. Success.”

“Again.”

“Egress. Confess. Ingress. Regress. Obsess. Transgress. Address. Repress. Digress. Success.”

“Again!”

I went faster, because I could. “Egress. Confess. Ingress. Regress. Obsess. Transgress. Address. Repress. Digress. Success.”

“Repress, digress, success?”

“Repress. Digress. Success.”

“Obsess, address, transgress, regress?”

I stated it firmly. “Obsess. Transgress. Address. Repress.”

“Dispossess!”

Was it a joke? Whatever it was, they seemed to appreciate it.

“Suspend …”

***

For how long, nobody said anything. For how long?

Finally, one of them said: “Suspended …”

I wasn’t sure whether I was glad.

***

It was like we’d all left and come back, but we hadn’t.

Each one of them in turn looked at me and nodded. Mostly, these movements were uniform in duration and execution.

“I was on the precipice, looking down.”

Ten.

“I was on the precipice, looking down.”

Twenty.

“I was on the precipice, looking down.”

Thirty.

They looked at each other.

“Where were you?”

“I was on the precipice, looking down.”

“Were you on the precipice?”

I said nothing.

“Were you looking down?”

I made no response.

“Were you on the precipice, looking down?”

Still nothing.

“You don’t need to answer …”

I don’t know why I said it. “It wasn’t me. I wasn’t there.”

“Thank you very much.”

That was it.

They deliberated. They conferred. After a fashion.

“Yes.”

Another nodded.

“Yes …”

“Permiso …”

Were they convinced? Had I convinced myself?

I stood up and went towards the door. I didn’t look back.

Verbatim Thirst

Author: Gabriel Walker Land

In every direction there was nothing but baked dirt, tumbleweeds, and flat death. The blazing sun weighed down on me. I didn’t know which way to walk, and I didn’t know why. How I’d gotten there was long since forgotten.
Being lost wasn’t the pressing problem. No, the immediate threat was that I was thirsty, more than I’d ever come close to knowing. I was stumbling thirsty, the kind that makes you hallucinate refrigerators where cacti stand. This was the kind of thirsty that killed within a day.
I stumbled and I fell. I couldn’t get back up, not past my hands and knees. Now I was the kind of thirsty that killed within an hour. Still I clawed my way through the dirt. If I kept going perhaps I’d reach a ravine, some shade, a spring, anything. In such a survival situation, everything’s a gamble.
Then I stopped. There right in front of my face was a Gulp Brand hydration pouch, the kind marketed to athletes and mercenaries as a way to boost performance on the field. The neon purple package sweated, with beads of condensation collecting on its surface. I didn’t believe my eyes but I picked it up anyway. It was ice cold in the palm of my hand.
After wrestling with it with my weak grip I finally tore the cellophane open and drank. Saccharine electrolytes cascaded down my throat and cooled my guts. There had to be few contrasts in life so stark as that between deadly dehydration and the relief bestowed by chilled, life-saving liquid.
“You have arrived at Century City,” the speakers inside the Tesla Taxi said as the curbside door opened.
The wireless neuralink connection to the taxi’s system was severed. At once I was snapped out of virtual and back in the real world, my commute over.
“Due to your participation in the paid Gulp advertisement, your wallet will be deducted a reduced sum of only fifteen Satoishis.”
“Great,” I said as I exited the vehicle, briefcase in hand. “Only fifteen.”
The car didn’t leave. I looked up. It was a hot midsummer Los Angeles day. Beyond the top of the nearest skyscraper a cloud seeding blimp floated across the sky. It wasn’t doing its job very well. There was no rain and the sun beat down on me again.
The car door closed as I stood by.
“I’ll be sure to purchase a pouch next vending machine I see,” I said.
“We can service you from the on board supply, sir, at the cost of only one Satoishi.”
I held my hand out, open palmed. It was good for one’s social credit rating to demonstrate brand loyalty.
“That’ll be fine.”
A pouch shot up out of the Tesla’s sunroof, like a single slice of bread ejecting from an over-zealous toaster. I reached to catch it then slipped it in my brief case, wiping the condensation from my hand onto my shabby corduroy sport jacket.
The Tesla sped off as I walked towards the doors for my job interview. The distance was only a hundred meters but it was also a hundred degrees outside, so I started sweating beneath my suit. Good thing I had a Gulp brand hydration pouch on standby.