Winking Out

Author : Christopher Albanese

There it is, a wide-open wink. It slowly slid the light from my eyes, then the warmth from my face. And still there it sits.

They say there’s no sound of it, here or in space, but I feel in my bones the hum of such a gargantuan braking of motion.

They say there’s no smell, no way a smell could be caused by the most passive of galactic events, these massive bodies just passing each other by in our sky; but I smell cordite, and I smell burnt lumber. I smell blood.

Around me the fires still blaze, but the screams have long since passed from this remote, rolling green hill. It is springtime and warm in Wisconsin, and the hills in the Midwest do just as they say, roll and roll and roll. It looks as if they roll right off the Earth’s edges.

The darkness of night clings like humid velvet to the noontime sky. Fires glare and sparkle. Fewer and fewer miles away, the Atlantic heaves and boils as it spumes across West Virginia, Ohio, Indiana. Before the lights went out, they said it would slow when it hit Lake Michigan, but not for long. Milwaukee would be gone before Chicago finished a final exhale.

Last November, they said it was going to be spectacular, the first total solar eclipse visible from the US in almost 40 years. Back then, with Thanksgiving still a week away and a full Wisconsin winter to endure, August was still a distant closeout to a far off summer, and was not at the forefront of most people’s minds.

But on May 21 – just three months before the eclipse – word came from the Keck Observatory that something seemed wrong up there, something with the moon. They said it was rotating the wrong way, or slowing down, or something. It was a lot of scientific talk about “lunar torque” and “tidal bulge,” but CNN, CBC, the BBC, they all distilled the chatter to the same chilling fact: The moon was going to snap its gravitational elastic given the right push…or pull.

It was all a matter of timing.

Around me, the night quavers; behind me, the ocean moans. Above me, the total solar eclipse – the first, and last, in my lifetime – has finished its thirtieth brutal hour.

They say there’s no sound of it, here or in space, but I feel in my bones the snap of a gargantuan, celestial elastic. Above me, the corona around the moon begins to expand as it is pulled away from the Earth.

Around me, the night withers; behind me, the ocean roars. As the moon’s umbra dilates and salt water fills the air, I reach up to touch the glare and sparkle of the winking sun.

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Retainer

Author : Benjamin Fischer

“King Midas believes that his days as absolute ruler of Crete are ending.”

McCarran coughed, a single bead of coffee escaping his left nostril. His big, pawlike hand wiped it out of the air.

“Say again?” the burly pirate finally managed.

“Forces outside the King’s control have conspired,” continued the baldheaded eunuch, “to engineer his imminent downfall. For that reason, he has dispatched me to secure the services of a ship in the event that he should need to depart this asteroid. With speed.”

McCarran flung his spent coffee bulb at the gaping maw of his stateroom’s recycler. He missed, and the soft plastic baggie rebounded, spinning madly and spitting brown flecks of liquid in every direction. The pirate captain sighed and pushed off from his broad velcro-laced sofa to recover the spent container.

“And he wants me,” McCarran said, mid-flight.

“No, he does not,” replied the eunuch.

“Oh,” said the pirate. He reached for the bulb, missed, and knocked it away with a light touch of his scarred knuckles.

“It’s my lack of stereoscopic vision,” said McCarran, poking a thick finger at the black patch over his left eye socket.

“As the master of the only vessel within the vicinity of Crete that has the capabilities to seriously impede his escape, the King is willing to offer you a small retainer,” the eunuch said. “You would be required to do nothing.”

“Well, now we’re talking,” said McCarran, coming to rest on the far wall.

“Of course, he expects that you will be approached by the other involved parties,” his potential employer said, “and in fact they may have already been in contact with you.”

“I honestly can’t say,” McCarran said, ignoring the coffee bulb as it lazily spun by his left temple.

“The King can be most generous.”

“Then I’ll need to see one hundred thousand examples of his generosity,” McCarran replied.

The eunuch didn’t even bat an eye.

“It is done,” he said.

“Outstanding,” McCarran said. “I think I hear my targeting computer eating itself right now.”

A shadow of a smile crept across the eunuch’s lips, and then he was gone, the connection broken and his hologram evaporated.

McCarran finally remembered the stray bulb. His right hand whipped out, snatching the tiny satellite from the air. His fingers collapsed into a fist, crushing it. Then he touched his temple.

“Your Lords-ship,” he said, “Captain McCarran here.”

“Pirate! Make your report,” boomed a disembodied voice.

“Your majordomo just swung by my ship. Said you were planning on taking a trip in the near future. Didn’t want me to interfere.”

There was a howl of rage that was only checked by McCarran’s timely application of the volume control.

“So I take it that won’t be you on the outbound ship?” McCarran asked once the King’s fury subsided.

“There will be no such ship!” King Midas roared.

“Aye,” the pirate replied. “And all subjects are loyal.”

More cursing.

McCarran snapped his thick fingers, and the deck of his stateroom dissolved into an overhead view of the asteroid Crete, feeble sunlight creeping across its pockmarked face and sparkling where it caught the diamond windows of the King’s palace. The pirate flipped his patch up, and blinked a few times, bringing his eye online. A thin red cross hairs flashed into view, tracking across the craters of Crete.

“Now, your Eminence, if you’d like to talk contingency plans . . .”

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Questioning

Author : Duncan Shields

What a cliché. There I was, handcuffed to a chair and telling them that I knew my rights. Yelling at them about what an outrage this was. Straight out of a movie. I couldn’t help it. You have to remember I thought I was above the law at this stage, a member of the political cabinet currently in power. What a naïve little twit. This was their lucky day.

She walked in briskly and slapped her briefcase down across the table from where I was sitting. Quickly and without ceremony, she shuffled through the papers she had brought.

When she had sorted them into three neat piles, she finally stopped and looked straight at me. Well, ‘looked’ isn’t the right word. It was more of a stare. She still hadn’t sat down.

I could hear the hum and whisper of her internal headphones and I could see the reverse image of the datafile spooling down the inside of her glasses. My life was flashing in front of her eyes.

It was an uncomfortably long thirty seconds before she sat down across from me, steepled her fingers and with a deep breath began to determine the best way to proceed with my case.

“Senator Peterson” she began, “You have illegally copied yourself in no less than three separate incidents. We have begun digging on your property and have found six bodies. It will take time to go through them but I have no doubt that the DNA will show that they are also you.”

She took off her glasses and pinched the bridge of her nose with her eyes squinted shut. She put them back on again and resumed.

“You are guilty of not only copying yourself but also of committing clone-slaughter. Your career in politics is over. I will try to keep you out of jail. Your regular lawyer will not take this case, no professional lawyer will. To be associated with you at this point would be career suicide. I am your court appointed lawyer, I’m working sixteen other cases this week and as I’m fresh out of law school, I really don’t care if I keep you out of jail or not.”

And there it was. It hit me hard. She spoke with such nonchalant authority. I knew this wasn’t a scare tactic. It hadn’t even occurred to me that my career could be in jeopardy, let alone over.

I’d need to buy time for Peterson-One to get to a safe place.

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Perfect Mates, Inc.

Author : Patricia Stewart

James Stevens sheepishly peeked around the doorjamb. “E-e-excuse me m-m-mister, can you help m-me?”

Robert Boyer looked up from his desk, and smiled. “Of course, sir. Come in, and take a seat. What can I do for you?”

“I’d-d-d like to order a w-w-wife.”

“Well, you’ve come to the right place. Any idea of what model you want?”

“I’m not s-sure. M-my m-m-mom recommended I c-come here.”

“Son, your mother is a smart woman. Make yourself comfortable, and I’ll walk you through the basic package, and explain the upgrade options. For $50,000 you get a baseline female. Thirty seven years old, five feet six, 140 pounds, sandy blond hair, hazel eyes, two of course.” He waited for the customary chuckle. Not even a smile. Mr. Stevens sat there like an unblinking mannequin. Best to push on, Boyer thought. “She can cook, clean, do the wash, has an IQ of 100, and can make love in four positions. By the way, how much do you want to spend?”

“I d-don’t know. A-about $80,000 I s-suppose.”

“How do you want to spend it:? Intelligence, looks, age, sports knowledge, house keeping skills, or maybe the deluxe bedroom package, if you know what I mean?”

Stevens turned beet red. Boyer reconsidered going for the big commission options. The sex models would probably freak the kid out, or maybe even kill him. “If I were you, I’d go for the intelligent type, but still hot. Am I right?” Stevens was smirking and nodding his head. Boyer pulled out a stack of photographs. Tall blonds with blue eyes, athletic brunettes with olive skin, top heavy redheads with long legs, and a dozen other options and/or combinations. As predicted, Stevens’ index finger tapped the photo of the Asian woman with the beautiful smile and long, straight, butt length black hair. “Excellent choice, sir. You should have enough money left over to purchase the 125-130 IQ upgrade. We’ll get started on her right away. Cloning and programming should take about 30 days. Then 5 days of additional training. Let me see…You can pick her up on the twenty third of next month, anytime after four o’clock.” He stood up and walked around the desk to shake Stevens’ trembling hand and to escort him to Financing. “This way, Jim. Tony here will handle the money end. Good luck, and feel free to call me with any questions.”

A few minutes after Boyer returned to his office and sat down; he heard a barely audible tapping on his opened door. He looked up to see a slender female with straight brown hair and glasses. “Come in, please. Have a seat, young lady. Would you like some coffee? No? Well, OK. What can I do for you?”

“Nancy, my sister, said she got her husband here. And that you have lots of good choices.”

That we do, ma’am. That we do. Let’s start with the baseline male. Forty years old, five feet eight, 198 pounds, balding, brown eyes, two of cour…ah, IQ of 100, missionary position only. They start at $10,000 dollars. Of course, there are thousands of upgrade options available. How much were you planning to spend?”

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Proctoring the Exam

Author : Grant Montoya

Everything was prepared. My satchel carried all the tools. They could not be too advanced; I would not have access to gas or electricity, and batteries would only backfire my intentions. I checked my watch, which said it had plenty of life left for the week I anticipated needing. I looked at the technician. “Activate.” The cold, clinical office melted away, and I was on the outskirts of a seventeenth-century village.

Hurrying to the center of town, I pressed through the crowd and entered the church. “Mister Danforth, I have evidence that will acquit the accused. May I be allowed to speak?”

I expected mayhem, but I also expected the judge to be a good man, and to carry the day. He did; I was given the floor. I stepped to the sacramental table, which had been cleared for the proceedings.

“My lord Judge,” I began, “I know you are concerned that these people cannot be tested through natural means because their affliction appears supernatural. However, the methods of Galileo can demonstrate to you that they are indeed natural, albeit dangerous afflictions.”

“Continue, sir, but first tell us in God’s Name, who you are!”

“I am a scientist. My work descends from medieval alchemy and while we have not found the philosopher’s stone, we have found many wonders, including a liquid that will show you what afflicts these girls.” I spoke quickly, setting up a series of test tubes, some of which hung over candles. “This yellow liquid has a substance in it that reacts in a most extraordinary way. If you add a chemical which in Latin is called lysergic acid diethylamide, or LSD, it will turn blue. Observe.” I took a small dropper and added a few drops to the first vial. It immediately turned a bright blue.”

I spoke over the gasps and murmurs. “I assure you, my lord, this is no witchcraft. The response of this liquid is purely natural.”

“This rye came from Boston.” I dropped a few grains in the next vial. Nothing happened. “This rye came from Reverend Parris’ stores.” The liquid turned a bright blue, to the amazed gasps of the men around me.

“If you test the grains of the other afflicted girls in Salem, you will find the same. The rye in this village is contaminated with a fungus that produces LSD. If I am permitted to bleed the girls, you will also find their blood is contaminated. The substance causes hallucinations—wild visions, my lord, as well as seizures and catatonic behavior such as afflicted young Betty Parris.”

It was done, and the girls were tested. John Proctor was saved from the hangman’s noose, and it was time for me to go. I left the village with my tools and deactivated the field which kept me in 1692, and saw again the cold, clinical laboratory in front of me. My research partner greeted me with a question. “Well, John, did you save your great-great-great grandfather?”

“Yes, yes I did.”

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