On A Runner

Author : James Smith

She started hallucinating yesterday, and now the center line floats three feet above the blacktop and glows in neon rainbows. Exhaustion makes her slippery in time, and she doesn’t know if she’s remembering– or actually seeing– the sparks she left behind on her way through broken glass and car parts.

When the Kaptech people brought these legs to her, wanting to graft this chip here, these wires there, the idea of running again made her cry.

At ten years old she was doing wind sprints a day after having her appendix out. At twenty she had one pair of pumps and fifteen pair of running shoes. At thirty she joked that not having a kid meant not having to run with one on your back.

At forty she was hit by a truck.

Now, at fifty-five, she was trapped in a solar-powered alloy chassis that stopped responding to her commands five days ago, and was dragging her around the country at an un-broken fifteen miles per hour.

The HUD was static overlaid on her blurred vision, and she couldn’t steer. She learned to direct herself somewhat by leaning left or right. Going through busy areas was tricky. She cried when the shopping mall loomed up in front of her, saw herself crashing through plate glass windows and baby carriages. That was when she threw herself to the ground, leaving behind skin in the doing. She lay there, legs kicking like some giant silver cockroach while cars skidded to a halt around her. A crowd formed, curious wet shadows between her and the beautiful sun, the lazy clouds. Big, square hands under her armpits, lifting her, and she was off again, gone over the hedges, taking out a bystander and slamming her shoulder into a post on her way out of town.

She could do it again now. The desert sand on the roadside looks more forgiving than parking lot tarmac. But dying here, alone, legs kicking forever as their cells drained and recharged, drained and recharged… She couldn’t take that.

But she knows where she is now. She recognizes landmarks where people from elsewhere might see only nameless desert. Soon she will pass through the town where she grew up. It is small. She will be on the main road. And if they haven’t built up the place, she will be able to see her old home through the gap between the church and the mechanic, and then she will be four hours from the sea.

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Aemilia

Author : Benjamin Fischer

“Last dance of the night,” said Aemilia.

Under harsh floodlights in the center of the deserted dance floor, Phil the bouncer was struggling with the maintenance access latch of the misbehaving auto-buffer. He rocked the bulky machine back and forth in his muscular arms, sweating profusely and fighting for leverage. Aemilia and Magic watched him from the bar.

Magic was tired. He rubbed his shaved head, blinking at the bright glare off the cleaning robot’s shiny black carapace. Thin, spidery fingers decorated with a dozen ruby rings hid his eyes for a moment, and he groaned, only partially from exhaustion. He did, however, smile just slightly.

That made Aemilia very happy.

“No luck?” she asked.

“It’s not about luck,” Magic replied.

“I think it is,” Aemilia said.

Magic slowly shook his head. “It’s about who you’re willing to wake up next to in the morning.”

“Mmm,” said Aemilia. She placed a tumbler at her lips and sipped. “Then no prospects?”

Magic sighed. A practitioner of the Venusian arts, he was very good at the pickup. But this had been a Monday, and a slow one at that. “None that caught my eye,” he admitted.

“The twins,” Aemilia said.

“Clones, and more interested in their source material than me.”

“The Brazilian dancer-“

“A wirehead. A puppet.”

“But very hot,” said Aemilia.

Magic grunted, nodding.

Somewhere a clock cheerfully marked six in the morning

“The blonde in the corner booth, with the sailors-“ offered Aemilia.

“Was in the company of his fellow men,” Magic said, finishing her sentence.

Aemilia giggled and draped herself across the bar.

“I thought you were more open-minded than that,” she said.

Magic flashed her a vicious look.

“You should know,” he said, “I have my standards.”

“Of course,” Aemilia said, her eyes fluttering shut.

“Hey!” called Phil, detaching himself from the innards of the auto-buffer. “Wake up, girl! You know the rules!”

Magic rubbed Aemilia’s shoulder.

“I’m not sleeping,” she said.

“Magic, wake her drunk ass up,” Phil yelled from the floor.

“I’m not drunk,” Aemilia whispered.

She felt a thin, wiry arm wrap around her shoulders.

“Hey, can’t quit yet,” Magic said, his breath on her ear.

Aemilia’s eyes leapt open.

“Tell me,” she said, “would you take me home if you could?”

Magic swallowed. “You’re the prettiest girl here,” he said.

“So you would?” Aemilia asked.

Magic looked into her deep green eyes. He gently brushed them shut with his hand. Then he pressed his thumbs to her temples.

Phil saw this and he swore.

“Yeah,” Magic said. “I shut it down.”

Phil came over, wiping his face and muttering.

“You know that buys her a cold start, man,” he said. “Now why the hell did you have to go and do that?”

“It was doing it again,” said Magic. “And I can’t stand it when they start acting that way towards me.”

Phil sighed and glanced back at the auto-buffer.

“Whatever,” he said. “At least something around here works.”

Magic snorted and shot back the slug of tequila he’d been nursing for the last hour. He stood, gathered up his jacket, and when he was sure that Phil’s attention was occupied elsewhere, he kissed Aemilia goodnight.

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The Immortal

Author : Jonathan Wooldridge

I finally finished converting enough of the ore to fuel for the flight home. My knee had healed almost completely from the landing, and the patch in the tank looked solid.

And he was still there, watching and asking questions.

“So you just stop repairing yourself, and create a replacement?”

“Yep,” I replied, “Happens to all of us; we call it the cycle of life.”

We had been discussing species differences for the past half hour, ever since the translator came back online. Watching me use the med kit, and then repair the ship fascinated him. He was as curious about mortals as I was of him.

“How old are you?” I asked.

“I don’t know,” the translator said. “I’m reasonably sure that if I started, it was long before my memories—but then is that me? Do you remember climbing out of the water, or standing upright?”

“No, not even as legends,” I said, while running the pre-flight check. “It’s just the creative extrapolation of our science department. Best guess.”

“Yeah, that’s what I do: Guess.” His little floating sensor pod had followed me into the cabin, and watched me as I worked. “Have you made a replacement for yourself?”

“We call them children,” I said, beginning to look forward to my comfy stasis chamber, “and it’s a touchy subject. But yes, yes I have, and they are doing well on their own.”

“So how come you are still around?” He asked, so matter-of-factly from the translator. “That’s the touchy part,” I said to the nuisance of a translator, “because I would prefer to continue repairing, instead. How do you do it?”

“Is this where wars come from?” He pursued, in an odd leap of logic. “Possibly,” I said a bit too testily, as I walked back to the airlock with my voyeuristic envoy following, “but you haven’t answered my question.”

“I’ve seen your wounds heal; you already know how to repair.” He said dismissively, as though I had asked a silly question.

I opened the airlock to let my guest back out. “That doesn’t happen at a level that I am readily aware of.”

“What was your question?” He asked, as his little observing orb floated out the doorway and turned to watch me close the door.

“Ahh…Nevermind,” I said, realizing the answer would also be something I could not be readily aware of. “It was just an impulse really.” In some ways, he did seem rather smart.

“I hope you find what it is that you are looking for.” And even as I closed the hatch, I began to miss him.

“Thanks, maybe I’ll see you again some time.”

“I’ll always be here.”

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The Steps

Author : R. A. Jackson

Each step came slower now. Her back hunched so that the long grey strands of her hair trailed across the stairs as she climbed. Counting the painful strides one by one was the only way she kept up hope of reaching the end, surrounded as she was by the damp shroud of mist that obscured the mountainside. The slate passage was partly impeded by tendrils of vine that would curl across her path, smelling lush and heavy, calling her to surrender. Just a few more paces now…

She reached the landing at the mid-point of the staircase and saw the twin leaden benches that sat on either side of the platform. Allowing herself a brief rest on one of them, the woman couldn’t help but notice that as the sun began to penetrate the dense clouds, she felt her energy returning. She listened to a distant bird singing, and drank deeply of the cool, clean air.

Reaching a withered hand behind her, she found that the package she had so carefully wrapped was still secured to her back. With creaking joints she stood and resumed her climb.

After an indeterminable time, the climber passed through the threshold of clouds and mist, coming into the light. Tall evergreens concealed the stairway from view on either side, but gazing upward she could see the village gate ahead.

“You’ve made it!” a young man’s voice cried out from the guard post overlooking the staircase below. Immediately the gate began to swing open. The woman smiled as she walked through it, her long labours forgotten. “Did you succeed?” the young man asked as he came to meet her. Her smile turned sardonic. “Yes, of course. Do you think I’d come all this way if I hadn’t?”

Once they were settled and she was refreshed with food and drink, she produced the item for him and for those who had gathered to see what she had brought. It was well wrapped in reddish-brown cloths, and as she revealed the contents of the package, the tension in the room became palpable. It was a metal box that glowed faintly, and when opened, a thick stack of star charts was revealed. She removed the diagrams and laid them out for all to see.

“Well done! This is the last component!” the young man said, his expression full of triumph. He gathered up the box and its contents. “Prepare yourselves, for this is the last day that we will spend in this galaxy.” Looking at the old woman he said, “Now we can transport the village back to where we came from. I’m sure you’ve been looking forward to it for a long time.”

That evening the village began to radiate a pure white light, signaling the beginning of a new journey. The old woman shuffled back to the village gate. Sitting down at the entrance, gazing at the steps that disappeared beneath the clouds, she watched the planet she had lived on for sixty years fade away.

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She Just Can't Be Still!

Author : Kenneth R. Harrison

She just can’t be still!

Her long blond hair forever in her eyes. Hands up. Arch to the side and over. Whoops! She fell! Hands up. Arch to the side and over. There! She made it! Another cartwheel.

She just can’t be still!

Legs apart. Drop to the ground. The “splits” she has those down pat. Now she arches her back, hands over and behind her head. Down she goes! One leg up and then the other. Into a wobbly hand stand. Look out! Down she goes. Right on her rear! Up she jumps dusting her behind and into another cartwheel.

She just can’t be still!

Her slender body moves with child like grace that only a father could appreciate. She brushes strands of hair from her freckled face. Head down, hands forward into a tumble. Up again and into another split. Her face shining red, not even breathing hard. She runs and jumps into a forward tumble followed with yet another cartwheel this time with a cross over step.

She just can’t be still!

There she goes, back towards the floor into a crab walk. Her belly arched to the sky. Up again, legs apart and into another split. Too painful to watch! Jump and run, bending forward her hands touch the ground, only for the briefest moment. Heels over her head and then to the ground.

Up she jumps, hands held high, arch to the left…

An acrid smell of burnt plastic fills the air. He jumps up muttering to himself, “Not again! Always on that same maneuver.” So close to perfection!

“Jessica” looked every bit the seven year old, blond haired, brown eyed girl he had intended her to be. Once again he traced down the faulty circuit wafer and deftly pulled it, replacing it with a newer model. “There, maybe now you can continue.” He closed the access cover on her upper arm as he pulled down the sleeve of her pastel tunic. For the ten thousandth time he wondered if any sentient thought passed through her positronic brain. He shook his head as if to dislodge the silly thought from his mind. “She is just a machine!” He said to himself.

He had programmed “Jessica” to act as closely to his own daughter as possible. Fifteen years in the making and fifteen years since the advent of his loneliness. Fifteen years since he had felt his daughters still lifeless hand slip from his. Fifteen years since his vow to see her childish grace again. An eternity of pain! He would see her move again! Tears filled his eyes as he once again activated her program.

Hands held high, arch to the left, feet lifted high. Over and into another cartwheel. Turn, one hand up, one hand behind. Bend at the waist feet off the floor and over her head in one swift motion.

She just can’t be still!

Run, head down, arms extended, down and over into a split. Arms up and back, down to the ground, legs up, legs down, body up , body over… goto “tumble”… if arms down then head down else goto “fall”… if not “legs up” then… The program repeats, on and on. Can’t stop, not allowed. Positronic circuits forbid.

She just can’t be still!

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