Dodgy Homebrew Love

Author: Thomas Desrochers

The most popular topic of all was always

Love.

That was how neuro-sims came to the forefront of entertainment, you know. Plug in and a skilled corporate smartiste can have you feeling all that nervous giddiness your stomach borrows from your junk when you’re in

Love.

The magic, and danger, of neuro-sims is how fast they are: an hour in a neuro-sim is a minute in the real world. You can fall in love a thousand times over a weekend. Who needs family, or friends, or lovers, when they have

Love?

I’ll admit, I never went for the popular “most ‘lived’” titles. Back in the day homebrew neuro-sims outnumbered the professional productions 10:1 and there was content for whatever niche you like, ranging from the benign to the truly disturbed. That was how I ended up in possession of the last sim I ever tried.

I should start with this: the author disabled user over-rides.

There I was. The woman I love on the ground, seizing. She’s never done this before; I’m terrified. Jump, then, to the appointment where the doctor points out the brain tumor on the scan. Even as I drown in the mix of emotions – the dread, fear, and resolve – the sleeplessness and anxiety of the weeks since the seizure trickle in.

More jumping. Life, absorbed days at a time. Camping out in the chair by her bed after the first surgery, holding her hand and arguing with the nurses for more painkillers every time she wakes up screaming. The morning after discharge: she tries to make bacon and stares as it burns. I ask her why she doesn’t take it out, but she doesn’t know.

Another seizure at two in the morning. Six weeks of radiation therapy. Countless nights next to her unable to sleep, wondering when the next seizure might hit. Waking every morning to her indomitable spirit and a terrible unease in my gut.

Years pass.

A shock scan. The doctor can’t hide his reaction at how quickly it’s grown. A whole week spent arguing because she doesn’t understand basic things and I don’t yet understand that she doesn’t understand. I wake up at one in the morning to find her making coffee, getting ready for work that doesn’t start until eight.

She can’t work. Trouble using her hands, walking, eating. The weeks blur together – I honestly forget what I experienced and what I was made to remember experiencing. The ability to talk is wrung out of her like water from a rag, until she points at me Christmas morning and says the last thing she’ll ever say:

“Love.”

Every hour of every day spent taking care of her: she can’t talk, can’t eat, can’t use the bathroom, everything stripped away until I even have to smile for her. Hard work, long hours, punctuated by quiet mornings: the two of us in bed with the sun on our faces while we hold hands and just look at each other. She’s broken down piece by piece until all that’s left is her intense, burning will to live, and as the sun rises one morning her breathing slows until, with one last gasp, that too is crushed.

It took my body a week to recover from lying on the floor so long. I still think about it in the quiet moments of my life, that dodgy second-hand love. Being forced to never shy away from that awful reality hollowed me out.

It’s probably good someone stepped in and regulated the market, not that it gives me closure.

Unsettling, unsatisfying, nothing like a professional first kiss.

Love!

Q&(A?)

Author: Alex Z. Salinas

There was once a creature much like a man who lived on a planet all alone. He was carbon-based, drank water, and received nutrients from luscious plant life born from fertile soil. Because the creature was always left to his thoughts, and possessed what you’d call higher-order thinking abilities, he, in approximately 50 earth years, discovered the meaning of life. Yes, in roughly half a human lifetime by 21st century standards, he identified what it was his purpose was on that vast, lonely planet. His discovery filled him with joy. He-without-a-name—for there was no need for him to assume an identity—lived another 200 earth years in solitude, his mood only affected natural weather events and illnesses associated with change in temperature. Only once, on a rather warm night, did the creature have a nightmare. He dreamed of another him. In his nightmare, his twin was identical to him in every way except one, and he, recognizing this in the eyes of his twin, stood paralyzed in terror before his other. When he woke up, his skin hot and sweaty, he was relieved to find his world as it was. He soon forgot about his nightmare and went on with his life.

Upon his death, the discovery of the meaning of his life perished alongside with him. His body decayed into the fertile soil, and eventually, traces that he had ever existed ceased to exist.

***

There’s a planet impossibly distant from earth where hyperintelligent creatures with mirror-bodies roam. They communicate by absorbing light from their giant red sun, processing the energy into uniquely coded data, then transmitting it decoded to each other via reflection. This occurs soundlessly. The transmission of information—their language—also serves as their food source, supplying their bodies with necessary nutrients. The inherent flaw in these creatures’ design, as is true with two mirrors facing each other, is light reflected between them gets dissolved into oblivion. The particles scatter seemingly until they disappear. This means the creatures’ thoughts fragment and distort until their original content is lost entirely. Think “the telephone game.” Eventually, the mirror creatures, through the act of communication, are driven mad. As they age, they develop increasingly distrustful, violent, and suicidal ideas of their world. Since they require communication for nourishment, there’s no cure for their deadly madness. Life on their planet is brutal and unhappy. Brutally unhappy.

***

Humans and their love—love: the so-called boundless driver of their action. But what your kind has gained with love it has also lost in flesh, for you manipulate. Your proneness to attach to others—to philosophies, objects, and gods—seems to define your purpose. All leading to slaughter. I’ve noted your behavior mirrors the mirror creatures, in that dispersion of your language occurs daily. But unlike the mirror creatures, your communication is not a food source. Rather, it’s a choice. Luckily, for your sake, the mirror creatures don’t know about this.

So to answer your question, the meaning of life, as you can guess, boils down to a matter of space, angle, and insertion point. I’ve told you enough for you to draw your own conclusions, so be on your way.
But one last thing. The difference between prosperity and destruction, in your case, walks a tightrope. An infant’s breath can tip it over.

Whether you remain or not, I can’t tell. Either way, I’ll still be here.

A Man and Three Brothers

Author: Mark Joseph Kevlock

A man and three brothers knew the secrets of the world. Thus, they began a quest to unlearn them. They sought a place to pour out their secrets, where none would ever find them. They found a cave that ran deep and walked down its throat for many days. They heard strange sounds and the footfalls of the world above them. They tired not, nor did they speak.

Eventually, the cave opened upon a bigger cave. One of the brothers took measurements with his eyes. He held that gift. And many more. Too small, he indicated, in his thoughts. The others concurred.

They passed through landscapes of long-dead civilizations. They saw secrets in the walls, in the rocks. But they had enough of their own to carry and took no interest in gaining more.

The man led the way — not by choice, simply in accordance with the universal order of things. The man was the leader. He carried the most secrets, the greatest burden.

Water ran towards them and then away. Another of the three brothers lifted his ear to passages read eons ago, still alive on the currents, echoes awaiting a listener. He listened. Their bible proved to be a bible like his own bible: words repeated often enough to lose their meaning in the crevices between tongue and heart.

Their search continued.

The third brother lay nearest to the grave. He kept disintegration at bay through force of will: pictures of beautiful women who raced alongside his preserved youth. He held the wisdom of the moment, though seldom shared it.

Interchangeable thoughts leapt between them, lightnings across the inner sky.

The world got deeper and deeper. All across its surface, they had journeyed with secrets in tow and no place to put them. Was it fair for the world to end, every so often? Perhaps fish would rule the next imagining.

They called themselves Lagonians. Names gave weight to thoughts collected into matter. Eventually, only the thoughts remained.

Certain that they had traveled through the center of it all and failed to recognize it as such, the man and three brothers halted.

In order to begin anew, the universe must forget itself, burn its paintings, bury its books. Men were paintings of muscle with books for brains.

Light shone feebly ahead.

A man and three brothers moved toward it.

A machine sat before them, needing secrets for fuel. They had secrets.

The first brother tried to measure it with his gifts. He could not.

The second brother listened to its hum, but could not understand.

The third brother tried to die, but it would not let him.

The machine waited for the man, the leader. He tilted his head and a secret fell out.

Secret number one: Machines made the world. All matter is inorganic at its deepest level.

The man beat a fist to his skull and knocked another secret loose.

Secret number two: Willpower creates matter. Thoughts give birth to all.

The three brothers knew these secrets. Everyone knew these secrets. That was why the world had to end: it had no secrets left to reveal.

Might this machine be God?

The man fell to his knees and dropped a secret, accidentally.

Secret number three: No one ever dies… for no one has ever lived.

The machine ate secrets from each of them, all they had. This accomplished, it gave no further acknowledgment of their presence.

A man and three brothers departed.

They had forgotten the secrets of the world and could begin to make them up all over again.

Two’s A Crowd

Author: Thomas Desrochers

Effedel and Ifrit found each other in the subspace E-bands while they were still more than five thousand light-years apart. Both were on sponsored three-decade survey flights finding out just what exactly their sponsors had laid claim to, a venerable tradition dating back to man’s first extra-terrestrial colony.

The E-bands didn’t let much data through – transmitting astrographic data was out of the question – but were plenty fine for relaying voice communications.

“You know, Effie, it’s taken us three years to get close enough to send more than voice.”

Effedel laughed, his silky bass as charming as ever. “I know how you feel. I’m more than a little nervous!”

Ifrit smiled and admitted the concern he’d been sitting on for two years: “Being honest, I’ve never heard of two surveyors running into each other.”

“For good reason,” Ifrit snorted. “Nobody wants a corporate war on their hands.”

This was true. Corporations almost always coordinated their survey flights in an effort to avoid border conflicts. War, after all, was for the impoverished space-locked ‘corpses’ that fed on the scraps of the frontier powers. If survey boundaries overlapped it almost always meant a war was coming.

“Well,” Ifrit mused. “True. Then again, we both left nearly 10 years ago. If a war had been brewing, they would have briefed us.”

“Undoubtedly true. Nobody wants to send a survey ship off without warning them about might go wrong – too expensive.” Effedel sniffed thoughtfully. “I worry more about our computers, if I’m honest.”

When the two had decided to ‘meet’ by adjusting their survey paths to keep them within C- and D-band range they ran into a curious problem: the computers saw their reference object, a solar system with an obnoxiously bright collapsing star, as being on opposite sides of the universe. There was no room for confusion – each was using the same Universal Standard for 4-Dimensional Location Modeling, where a single ‘coordinate’ took 15 minutes to send across the E-band.

“Well, we’ll find out soon enough,” Ifrit said. “After two years of waiting I’m quite excited to get into the D-band. I’ve got some wonderful pictures of my balding parakeet to show you.”

Effedel laughed. He was mostly sure Ifrit was joking. Mostly. After all, who would be crazy enough to pay to ice a bird for thirty years?

A few minutes passed in silence.

Effedel spoke up: “Alright, we should be comfortably within the maximum. Firing off a D-band pulse.”

“Hey! I’ve got it,” Ifrit said. “Alright, running through the handshake. And,” a pause, “there we go. Let’s solve this. Transmitting astrographical charts.”

“I am as well,” Effedel confirmed.

The data transferred, the computers processed it. The two friends looked at the result and began to think. Seconds ran to minutes. A half hour went by.

Effedel snorted. “Damn.”

Ifrit started at the sudden noise. “What?”

“Well.” A pause. “You ever read any theory about the shape of the universe?”

“Of course.”

“You know the theory about the toroidal universe?”

“Yes, of-

“Oh.”

Ifrit admired the map again. The political ramifications would be enormous, yet there is was: two astrographs covering .1% of the known universe each, and contiguous along a single edge. The computers insisted that, based on standard relative-to-center, they were on opposite sides of the Known Universe. Here they were, simultaneously flying away from and toward each other. Growth had continued unabated a thousand years. No longer.

Effedel let out a low whistle. “From my boss to the top boss, they’re all gonna be pissed.”

“I hear that,” Ifrit muttered. “I just hope they let me have my Millie back.”

Customer Service

Author: Ken Carlson

“Where did you find this one?”

“Does it matter?”

“No, I suppose it doesn’t.”

“Then stop asking!”

Norris kept his mouth shut. What was the point now? He and Sheila decided this was the path to follow. That was that.

Norris and Sheila stripped the body, roughly removing the stranger’s sweatshirt, flannel shirt, khakis, boxers, socks, and shoes. The watch, wallet, and book bag contents were placed in the safe below the shelf reserved for their automotive supplies. Norris noted to himself how the man would have been considered underweight just a few years ago. Now, things had changed.

It was a typical Saturday afternoon. It being fall, the leaves had mostly fallen. They could take solace in that comfort. Norris looked forward to these afternoons more than any other time in the week. From this suburban split-level home garage, this was where he used to work on his car with a buddy or two, putter on some woodworking with a beer and listen to a game. Now it was time set aside for something else.

Norris and Sheila had joined the freelance economy as a side venture. They still had their regular work at the plant, but with their kids locked away upstairs, to avoid the move into company housing, more income was needed. Norris was cleaning his tools foolishly wondering if it could be considered moonlighting during the day. He couldn’t remember the last time he thought something was kind of funny. Each dreary day blended into the next. He couldn’t wait for all of them to end.

“You act like this is all my doing,” Sheila said, “that somehow I enjoy this.”

Norris didn’t respond. He knew it was unfair to lay this on her. She was the stronger one. She heard about the idea and suggested they give it a try. She sent away for the training course and equipment. She browbeat Norris into taking it on and being a man for once and actually committing the physical act. She also managed the procurement of the necessary subjects. More than once she muttered that all those acting classes were paying off and the part she played at luring these men made her look like a natural.

Norris took stock of the tools on hand. If he were a doctor, they could be instruments, but he was nowhere near that. He was a college dropout and blue-collar worker who read a couple of books, watched a few videos and was on his own. The first few had been grizzly failures. Then they got easier.

“If you must know,” Sheila said, “he was at the university library. He was probably a student there a while ago. It was that hard to bring him in.”

Norris opened the shipping containers. They arrived once a month from the company, along with instructions, requests, and a company newsletter of sorts, listing bonus options and Employees of the Month to instill competition and team spirit.

Norris paused. He stretched his gloved fingers. His safety goggles, mask, and gown were in place. Sheila typed the specs and set the timer into the company console so their techs could follow along from their offices.

He gave one brief look at their latest subject, hopeful the anesthesia would hold. He had heard from somewhere that sometimes it didn’t. He chose the #60 blade, one of the longer ones. The checklist called for a heart, some lungs, a kidney. Anything else would be sold to someone sometime.

He made the cut and the young man screamed his last breath.