Author : Elle B Sullivan
He stood in the exact center of the house. There were three clocks on each of the four walls. He had set them up perfectly to tick at the same time and then tock at the same time. He counted the four seconds on each clock, when the fifth second came around; he switched his gaze to a new clock. He did this for the first minute of every hour and every fourth hour he would stay for four minutes.
“Evan?” His mother called from the kitchen. Evan was a perfect name. Four letters: e-v-a-n. Vowel-Consonant-Vowel-Consonant. No tall letters like “k” or low letters like “j.” He hated “m’s” and “w’s” because they were much too wide. Evan Rose… r-o-s-e. Consonant-Vowel-Consonant-Vowel.
“Evan, it’s time for dinner.” He counted the last few seconds as the second-hand ticked through the eleven, then turned at a ninety-degree angle and strode out of the room.
“What are we having?” Evan asked, careful to only use four words in his question.
“Tomato soup and grilled cheese again. I forgot to go to the store yesterday.”
“I can run to the store for some.” Eight words. Four twice.
“No, I need to get some things for the weekend anyway.”
“Okay, if you change your mind please let me know very soon.” Twelve words. Four three times.
“That’s very sweet of you honey.” She kissed his head and sat down with the two bowls of soup. His grilled cheese sandwich was cut into four perfect triangles. He grabbed his spoon and stirred the soup four times. Then he picked up a sandwich, dipped it into his soup four times, and took a bite. He took three more bites, put his sandwich down, and stirred the soup four times again.
Later that evening Evan was reading a book while his mother watched the evening news. He would read four sentences, look up, and then read four more.
“It’s eight Evan, time for bed.” She said softly. Evan looked up at the clock and waited until the second-hand reached the ten, then got up and walked to the center of the house and counted the first minute before walking to his bedroom. “Goodnight sweetheart.” Evan climbed into bed and counted the corners of his room. He fell asleep within four minutes.
It was ten o’clock and Evan’s mother was in her closet talking to headquarters.
“He’s been on four for at least three weeks. Is it time to up the dosage and see how he reacts?”
“Last time we changed it to five, he received higher mathematical scores and higher reaction scores. I feel that six might be a good change of pace. To see if his scores increase exponentially or linearly.”
“Very well, I will change the pulse rate to six.” Evan’s mother walked into Evan’s room, picked up his arm, and adjusted the settings on his watch. She listened for the six small electrical pulses to start at twenty-second intervals, and then typed in something on the keypad by his door.
“Steven. Steven. Steven. Steven.” The speaker slowly said his name over and over. Six letters.
Author : Liz Lafferty
Go to work.
Go to work.
“I don’t know. It’s the worker program jamming up again.” I frowned at the array of code for that particular program. The pattern had changed over time. The wild fluctuations so common to new programs was normal, but since they layered in the worker program, the blips had steadied out into a monotonous up, down, up, down rhythm that had gotten slower and slower.
I scanned through hundreds of worker programs seeing the same results.
The automatons with this program seemed to be in one repetitive loop after another.
“Did you reboot?”
“First thing. It went right in to loop again. I’ve been seeing more and more problems with this schematic. What do you want me to do?”
“Did you try loading the motherly instinct program? Maybe it would do better in a home environment.”
We’d stopped identifying them by name years ago. To us they were drones.
“Let me check the records.” My fingers flittered over the keyboard as I punched in the series of codes, revealing the events for this female automaton’s life cycle. “No, we can’t. That model was programmed not to have children. It was supposed to find joy in the labor force.”
“The entrepreneur program has always been successful. What about an overlay?”
“Well, it’s better than suiciding the model.”
“I hate that term. I’ll shut it down for a few days of rest. See what happens.”
“You’re call, but we’ll probably end up shutting her down anyway. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.”
I went home.
Time to sleep.
I woke up. Made coffee. Went to work.
“I don’t know. It’s the worker program jamming up again.”
“Did you reboot?”
“First thing. It went right in to loop again. I’ve been seeing more and more problems. What do you want me to do?”
Author : Jacqueline Brasfield
I was 18 years old when they’d captured the first howlers.
Mom and I stayed up to see the first footage of them flash across the TV screen on the 11 O’clock news, blurry images of hollow-eyed men and women wearing orange jumpsuits, their arms hanging limply and obediently at their sides. I felt a pang of disappointment. From all her stories I expected them to be fierce, savage, proud creatures struggling and straining at their chains. I expected them to be warriors. They looked no more savage than my science teacher at school. Mom said I shared a connection to them. I didn’t know what she meant.
On the screen, three figures stood proudly at a podium adorned with microphones from various news agencies. My mother spit down at her feet when the camera panned over their faces – two men, one woman, all impeccably groomed. One of the men wore a military uniform decorated with medals, and it was he who spoke to the camera.
“We’ve prepared a small statement regarding the hybrids and then we’ll move to your questions.”
My mother spit again and took a long swallow of gin straight out of the small glass bottled held in her hand. I’d never seen her drink before.
“It is with great pleasure that we can confirm we have successfully located and retrieved all of the hybrids. The last remaining rogue tribes were identified and brought into protective custody for their integration into the United States Military Evolutionary Hybrid Unit. The success of the device used to free these hybrids from their condition continues to prove effective and provide a stability and peace of mind these individuals will not have ever known. All of them have been offered training and assistance and the opportunity to serve this great nation, and we can confirm we have 100% uptake on this offer. The public is safe once again – if not safer. We believe these hybrids will make the finest soldiers in the history of the United States military forces. My colleagues and I will take your questions now, on the understanding we cannot reveal information that is classified.”
Immediately, a flurry of questions came from the mob of journalists off camera. My mother turned off the TV before I could hear any of the replies.
“Why’d you turn it off?”
She sat there in the dark for several long seconds before answering me.
“Because they’re lying, Ben. About everything. All the stories I’ve told you. All of their history. Does any of that suggest to you that they would willingly give in to slavery and bondage? That they would agree to serve those who rape the land, and poison the water and kill the innocent?”
I opened my mouth to speak, to tell her no I did not think they would, but she was quick to interject.
“And do you think they’ve really caught all of them?”
She looked over my shoulder as she said the words, eyes fixed on something behind me. And that something began to move, causing the hairs on the back of my neck to stand up like orderly soldiers.
I turned quickly to look behind and stood frozen at the sight before me. A woman more bone than skin prowling forward on bare feet. Her movements were alien and animalistic and savage. She spat haughty words at me in Russian that I didn’t understand.
I thought her the most beautiful thing I’d seen in my life.
“Meet the resistance Ben,” my mother murmured. “Meet Katja, your mate.”
Author : Chris Deal
It’s the only story the news is talking about today: twenty years since the fall, since the wall came down. My boy asked me if I remembered it, where was I when I heard it had come down. Told him I was right where he was, asking my father what it meant, the wall coming down, the people separating. I told my boy, I told him my dad said it meant we could be together again, undivided by petty differences.
My boy, he said my dad sounded like a smart man.
He was, I told him.
What I didn’t tell him was that I was lying. I wasn’t sitting with my father when the wall came down. I was there. I held a sledgehammer in my young hands and I swung that thing over and over, until my muscles ached of acid and my shirt was soaked with sweat, clinging to me in the cold night.
What I didn’t tell him was that I was on the other side of that wall.
That wall wasn’t to keep people inside, but to keep them out.
What I didn’t tell my boy was my father, he remembered the first wall, way across the ocean, the remnant of another war, long before the last one. One country divided from itself, not one country cut off from the rest of the world. Families separated, not entire cultures. He knew his mother wasn’t born in here, but he never asked where I met her. He never asked where we lived before him. There was the way it was now, the way it was before, but he never cared about anything from then. Him, he had an entire life ahead of him, an entire world to see. He would never have to see his homeland tear itself apart, people of a different color removed from their homes, sent to a land they only knew as stories from their parents, grandparents. The war in our borders was a history lesson for him, not real life. He would never have to kill to preserve what was right.
My boy grew bored of the news, and he started surfing the neural-net.
One day, he may ask more about my father. He may ask about the before. He might ask about the wall that ran the full course of the borders, the guards who patrolled in jeeps with gauss rifles, the camps we sat in before being dumped on the other side, the constant broadcasts from the leader, the man who put an end to heterogeneity and proclaimed through homogeneity we would better ourselves, the man who declared war on the other, who defined that there was an other, the man who became a martyr before the revolution was complete, before I held that hammer and brought down that wall.
When my boy asks, I’ll tell him. For now, though, he can keep on as he is.
I’ll remember for him.
Author : Petter Skult
“How was the game?” Ann asked as Jeremy crawled through the hatch. She had to wait with the answer until he had pushed it close, metal screaming.
“It was awesome!” He replied breathlessly, as he threw his bag off his shoulders and went directly for his cot to change clothes. “Jenny and Ahmed’s characters planned on having a garden party for Jia – that’s Mark’s character – on account of her getting that promotion.”
Ann chuckled lightly, continuing to fry that morning’s catch, the smell of meat permeating the whole container.
“Hey mom, what’s a ‘water cooler’? My character is supposed to go there to meet all of his new workmates, but I have some trouble imagining it.”
Ann explained what a water cooler was, and for good measure what it meant to ‘shoot the breeze around the water cooler’. Jeremy listened intently while gathering his .22 rifle, clearly making mental notes. She tried to keep the ruefulness out of her voice. By the time she was finished he was ready to go. He was already looking a bit glummer. Ann felt sorry for him, having to go out there again. When she had been his age…no use thinking of it.
“When’s the next game?”
Jeremy lit up.
“We talked shifts; I’ll be on night for the next week, Ahmed, Jenny and Mark are all crazy as well, but we thought Wednesday the week after that.”
“That sounds wonderful, dear. Be careful up there now.”
“Of course mom. See you tomorrow!”
Jeremy crawled back topside for his evening guard shift. Ann continued frying the ever-grey little pieces of rodent, stirring them in the sudden silence with her wooden fork. She was thinking absently of water-coolers and garden parties and promotions and regular jobs. Things that her children might only know through make-believe, role-playing games they play when they get together for those brief moments when there was no alert, no danger, no attack.
Still, she was happy they were allowed those moments of escapism into a world so completely foreign to their own.