Author: Hillary Lyon
The beaded curtains sounded like the patter of soft rain as they closed behind Georgina. She navigated the dimly lit room, taking the only seat at the small round table situated in the middle. In the LED candlelight, a crystal ball gleamed in the center of the shawl-covered table. Georgina sighed. Why did she let her roommate talk her into this? A visit to a mystic-bot was likely a complete waste of time and money.
A soft light ignited within the crystal ball; dark blocky letters grew and took shape: “Welcome to Stella’s Parlor, a division of Mystico Entertainment. Please place right palm here for chip scan.” Georgina did as advised, annoyed with herself the whole time. A tiny, tinkling tone signaled her payment had been approved. There go twenty-five credits.
Soft ambient music began to emanate from the corners of the room, almost masking the mechanical swoosh sound of the fortune-teller’s entrance. Stella, the mystic-bot, docked at the table across from Georgina. The bot appeared to be right out of Hollywood Central Casting for horror-movie gypsy fortune tellers, circa 1940. Paisley silk headscarf, jangly bangle bracelets, multiple gold-coin necklaces, a face creased like a road map. Her dark glass eyes met Georgina’s.
“I am Stella. Tell me what you wish to learn. I know all.” The mystic-bot’s mouth moved convincingly.
Georgina cleared her throat. “My boyfriend, will he—”
“Five to ten,” Stella interrupted. The mystic-bot put her hands together, as if in supplication, and continued. “With time off for good behavior.”
“What? No, will he ask me to—”
“His cohorts will testify against him.” Stella droned on.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about! My boyfriend has a great job as a loan officer. He’s honest, he’d never—all I want to know is if we’ll get married! Or am I wasting my time with him?” Georgina was exasperated; Stella obviously had her confused with some other client. Maybe her prediction program was corrupted?
“Your Simon has a gambling addiction, well hidden from those he loves.” The mystic-bot closed her eyes. Georgina could see the glass orbs rolling spasmodically beneath Stella’s silicone lids. She watched in fascination as Stella’s factory-tinted lips moved in silence, as if the bot was whispering prayers; Georgina wondered what deity a mystic-bot would invoke. The God of AI? The Goddess of Entropy?
Georgina refocused on the session. “No,” she objected, “he doesn’t have a problem, he’s a dream come true, and how did you—ah, you learned Simon’s name when you processed my payment,” Georgina realized. “You did an instant search on my name, that’s all. Nothing ‘mystic’ about that. This is a joke.” Georgina began to rise from the table, but Stella clamped onto the woman’s wrist with a machine’s unshakable grip. “Later this very afternoon,” Stella hissed, “he’s arrested for embezzlement. Big time bookies, human hookers involved. You must distance yourself.”
“If you don’t let go, I will report you and your ‘entertainment company’ to the authorities. As it is, I’ll be filing a grievance to get my credits back.” Stella relaxed her hold and Georgina jerked her arm away. Without looking back at Stella, Georgina stormed out through the beaded curtains, ignoring the mystic-bot’s plaintive warning: “Leave him now and save yourself from a world of hurt!”
Standing on the dirty pavement outside Stella’s Parlor, Georgina mashed Simon’s number in on her phone. Her fury quickly morphed into rising panic, and her button-punching became more frantic, as over and over again, the call went directly to voice-mail.
Author: Skye Sweven
Sand slips through my fingers.
The sky is dusty gray, with a mix of amaranthine glow reminding me that it is dawn. This time of the morning is quiet. Stars, too, must feel this way, as they lose their glitter on the clouds and begin to fade away into the break of day. The sea breeze shyly tousles the silky strands of my black hair. When I sniff in a handful of breath, the somewhat sticky smell of salt still lingers in the air. My nose has tinged slightly pink, but the cold is the least of my concerns.
Dreamscape. Oh, would it have been a dreamscape, had not the ocean been taken away from us.
The vintage radio barely held together with duct tape consistently spits out hisses of static noises. It isn’t time yet. I once again run my hand through the sand absentmindedly. Sighing, I let the soft grains fall to the ground. Some blow away as the wind catches them before the fall. Then I lay my blank gaze on the horizon—where the sand meets the sky and the sun prepares its rise to shed its luminance on the godforsaken land. What use is all this sea of sand when there is no sea?
A few melancholic moments later, the first line of orange finds its way through the crusts of the earth. My pupils greet the emergence of the sun’s young rays. They soon taint the purple sky blood red—the lighter it gets as their hands stretch further toward the withdrawing dominion of night.
I nearly don’t notice the static noises morphing into unintelligible debris of voices. It is finally time. I raise the volume on my beloved radio and adjust the frequency so I can get a clearer sound of whatever’s coming through the aged speakers. And then, taking the machine in my palms, I listen to the sounds it delivers as I fix my eyes on the dreamscape unraveling before my eyes.
Waves crash onto the shore, spewing white foam everywhere. Children giggle when the briny drapes of seawater chase them away from the borders of their emerald empire. Dogs shake the moisture off their furs as they run alongside their masters. Families are having the time of their lives, basking in the sunlight and relishing the summer bliss. The clear blue sky blesses every soul underneath its embrace with a feeling of revival and freedom.
A small smile appears on my dry lips. I can see it. I can see the ocean, not through my eyes but through my ears and my heart. The sound of the bygone days oozing from the radio opens the inner eyes within me. It is almost as if I’m back in those times, before I grew up, before I lost everyone, before the ocean was taken from us. I’m once again the clueless, innocent 7-year-old building sand castles with my brothers and sisters. Wading in the shallow parts of the ocean to observe curious sea creatures that resemble the stars. Listening to the radio as my mother rubs sunscreen all over my back for the fourth time that day.
My reminiscence is suddenly interrupted by the familiar static noise. Time’s up. The abrupt quiet is like a slap in the face, but it does what it should to scoop me back to reality. The sky is already a palette of myriad hues. Stronger than before, the wind brushes all the hair off my face and takes away my purple scarf in its grasp. Golden light is approaching.
I scramble to my feet, facing the rising sun with a million different feelings muddled up in my heart. I know this is unhealthy. I know that clutching at the echoes of what had been will never get me anywhere far from these shores of asphyxiating solitude. I know what I see every morning is but an illusion, and that it will never bring back the ocean that had been taken away from us.
But I also know this. I will come back to this same spot every dawn, watch the same sunrise and relive the past through the radio again and again. Again and again, until there is no past for me to remember anymore.
I look at the radio hissing in the sand. A single tear travels down my flushed cheeks as I shift my gaze to my shaking palms.
Memories slip through my fingers.
Author: Arkapravo Bhaumik
Meera was a superhero minus the cape, the streaky lightning, and the fan-following. Right from her childhood, she could listen-in to the thoughts of other people. Unfortunately, her superpowers were a curse and her own social skills were never fully developed – her cognition never needed it. She came across as an oddball lacking in social acumen. How different life can be if you knew about every thought of the person next to you? There are nuances and social skills which makes all of us socially acceptable, but for Meera, there was no need to talk, no need to write, no need for cordial gestures. And, since she was born with it, she was never able to express her gifts to anyone. She never realized her uniqueness. Anyone attempting a conversation would find her blank stares accompanied by calm yet despondent gestures. Sometimes she would reply with a short phrase.
Her parents considered her different from other kids. At the age of seven, they had decided to keep her away from school and confined to her home on the suggestions of her doctors. Society loves pigeonholes and adjectives such as, ‘nutcase’, ‘lunatic’ and ‘crazy’ were burdened on this little girl.
Her only peace was while drawing or watching the television. Most of the times one would find her in a quiet corner of the room busy with her crayons. Her best friends were creatures of pixels on the television screen and sketches she drew on paper. Her favourites were Tom and Jerry, and watching a Charlie Chaplin movie was always a laugh riot. She had named Charlie as the ‘silly-man-who-is-always-falling-down’, the moniker more often was reduced to, ‘silly-man’. Her favorite movie was the 1921 classic, ‘The Kid’ which she had watched more than fifty times.
The day the Technological Singularity arrived Meera was sketching. All of a sudden the television started up to a buzzing white noise. She did not know what was happening and responding to her instinct she walked to the television and touched the screen. The white noise absorbed her as though it was magic, and brought her to what can only be called as, ‘TV world’. Green fields, blue skies, and a bright sun – with a buzz and a flicker once in a while. She knew Charlie was nearby, she could sense him. A stroll past the meadow, she found him. “Silly man” she called out to him with a smile. “sssshhh… I am not supposed to have a voice” Charlie said in reply.
It really did not matter! The Technological Singularity had brought Meera to a new world where she could not listen-in to any thoughts and no one judged her and one could hear her laughter for miles, or kilometers – if that is how distance is measured in the ‘TV world’.
I am not sure if everyone else became robots, or if the machines won with the humans, but a little girl found her happiness.
Author: Desmond White
We were all playing Birdu Vanilla, rumored to be the latest lightbug of Hayashi. The game was a free download on his blog but was posted after his arrest and extradition from the Philippines. The file was up for two hours before someone, probably Interpol, took it down. By then 10 million people were playing the game.
The game menu sported a man in a gray coat and beer yellow glasses, clearly a rendering of Hayashi. He was holding a phone and above him, a gun drone was firing the words Birdu Vanilla through the air. Below the title were the words: Play to Steal! Whatever that meant.
We pressed play.
The game was what the nu-media calls a lifelogger. The object of the game was to use Hayashi’s day tools — rootkits, router implants, zero-day search engines, metahacks, kill clicks — hidden behind cute names like Angel Hips and Mew Mew — to sabotage the infrastructure of the United States. Not a digital United States but the physical nation itself. Players quickly noticed how a meltdown in Oklahoma corresponded with an embedded Hello Doggy. Level six point two involved manufacturing flybots in Area 29. Suddenly drones were swarming from the Rockies.
By the time intelli-tanks were blowing up New Jersey, We the Players — fed-and-fried on bonus yields, insta-highs, level lumps, and omni coins — couldn’t care less about how many cyber-clusters made how many real-life craters. If destroying Fort Bragg meant I could choose a new color scheme, well, this flybot wouldn’t spray-paint itself.
It was only with reluctance that we finished the game, sending infinity drones to defeat the final bosses. There were short posts on forums complaining about this feature. Very short posts. Bosses would typically be sitting in suburban homes, eyes fixed on laptops. Only a few rounds were necessary to obliterate them to meat and bone. Then we’d be forced to watch the credits through blood-wet eyes, lifeless by the time the screen flashed game over.
Author: Glenn Leung
We decided to go on foot, so we left ‘Yes Sir’ Dave guarding the Rover with orders to keep the engines warm. The regiment of monoliths stood at attention as we walked towards them, piercing the alien sky like blunt yet deadly spears. Streaks of blue, purple and green flora draped their pensive bodies. The planet’s star peeked over one of these colossal tombstones, as if trying to wake this dead city. It was hard to believe all these were natural. I sometimes think about what Earth would look like if everyone just got up and left, and this view always comes up.
As we moved farther from the low hum of the Rover’s engines, the strange foliage seemed to sink us into an uneasy quiet. It was much like the way snow absorbed sound to give a sense of foreboding. I had returned home after watching my classmates partake in the largest snowball fight ever. My mother was on the ground, the tall chair on its side and pieces of broken lightbulb strewn amongst the red ooze. We moved to the city after that, and I discarded my memories to make room for new ones. The sound of nature gave way to the sound of traffic.
We came across a near-rectangular protrusion, and I was asked to examine it and take some samples. I brushed the red vines aside, half expecting to see my grandfather’s name. My father had felt that the only thing he needed to do was spend a month’s salary on a sarcophagus. The visiting was then left to me. After a while, it had probably become something like this. I cannot say I was surprised when what I found was hard soil instead of marble. This was good, I didn’t have to work too hard to chip it away.
Suddenly, Hysteria Ben let out a scream and pointed at the sky behind us.
The team turned around to see the red glow of the setting star, and the peaceful drift of the odd-looking clouds.
“It was a huge shadow, like a tentacle. It swung across the sky then vanished.”
As if on cue, other members of the team started reporting their own sightings. None were as grand as Ben’s, falling mostly on the creepy side. Our commander’s reprimand got swallowed abruptly, so we knew it was time to head back. We returned to a confused Dave who checked his watch as he saw us emerge from the shadows. It was my turn to drive, so I started the engines and turned the Rover back to base.
That night, we were examined, and no evidence of hallucinogens were found. Dave, however, came down with nausea and had to be monitored. We were told to watch ourselves and each other for symptoms. I didn’t want my teammates making their assumptions, so I took my place in the viewing room. I watched the brightness of a billion stars light up the distant monoliths. They were calling. They were calming.