Angel of Time

Author : Jacinta A. Meyers

A man lay limp in my arms. The body of a little boy was sprawled a few feet away from us, his young face motionless against the blood-stained earth.

“I will stay with you through this.” I said, stroking the man’s face very gently. “I won’t leave you.”

He coughed a little, grit his teeth.

This was my least favorite part. I had only seen an unmaking twice before this. It’s different from death. In an unmaking, the body disintegrates before your very eyes. The DNA in every cell actually unwinds, each reverting to a more primitive state until they cannot hold a recognizable form, cannot continue to function as a complex whole organism. It’s a relatively quick process compared to the amount of time it takes a human being to develop over the course of a lifetime. The rate of change is comparable to the development of a fetus, only in reverse. I watched the wrinkles fading from his face.Very soon this man would be nothing more than a puddle of inert, inorganic matter.

His eyes roved slowly over to the boy still lying in the grass. “Why?” He managed.

“Because I had to.”

He sputtered a bit. “I only came back to tell myself I had a future to be hopeful for. I can remember being so… so despondent then…”

“I had to kill you. That is our job. The past must be protected at all costs.” I said it as I had been trained to. “Through it, we are protecting our future.” He would understand, if he still could.

He was shrinking in my arms. Growing lighter, growing limper. A small trail of saliva ran down his chin. He shuddered. But something in his eyes hardened. “You…are wrong. There is… no way you can be sure.” He was fighting it. “You… may have damaged the future worse… than I might have. Worse… than you could ever know.”

But I was smiling. I held his diminishing body close. “There will still be a future for us to be hopeful for.” I said. “Shhh, it will be over soon.”

“You… you broke the rules… you and your kind…”

“Perhaps we did.” I whispered gently to what was left of his ear. “But you broke them first.”

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Go out with a Bang

Author : Christopher Kueffner

“I thought you didn’t smoke,” she asked.

“I did, and I quit,” he replied through a bluish cloud, “but it seems an appropriate time to pick up the habit again.”

“Really,” she drew the word out as if stretching it like taffy. “That could very well be the most ridiculous statement I’ve ever heard from you, and that’s saying something.” She got out of the bed and walked over to the kitchenette. She filled a glass with water and drank it, unworried by her nakedness.

The man, also naked, took another drag from his cigarette. “A cigarette after sex is nice.” He contemplated the little pillar of ash at its end. “I’ve found something.”

“Oh?” She absently picked a feather from the bed off of her right breast.

“Yup.”

“What?”

“An asteroid.”

“Oh, come on,” she sniffed. “Ever since that asteroid missed us a couple of years ago, everybody’s talking about asteroids.” She sat down on the edge of the bed and handed him the glass. He sipped, looked fondly at her body and handed the glass back to her.

“Well, I found one, nevertheless.” He stubbed out the cigarette in a saucer on the nightstand. He leaned over and kissed her side where the waistband of pants would normally be. He kissed his way up her ribcage.

“What was it called, Aprophis or something?” she asked.

“Apophis was the one that just barely missed us in 2029,” he stopped kissing her body and lay back. “This one is not Apophis; it’s a different one.”

“What, is it going to hit us or something?”

“Well, yes.” He drew another cigarette out of the pack.

“You’re kidding, right?”

“I’m sorry, but I’m not.” He lit the cigarette and dragged deeply on it.

She put the water glass on the nightstand and rested her hand on his chest. “What will it do? They said that last one, Aprophis, I mean Apophis, would have wiped out a big city.”

“Yes, but life on Earth would have continued. This one gives every appearance of being bigger, denser and faster.”

“I thought they were looking out for these things,” she furrowed her brow, “I thought they had all these asteroids charted out.”

“There’s an awful lot of space out there, and an awful lot of stuff flying around. The prevailing theory around the office is that this is a charted asteroid, but it got close enough to another one for its orbit to change.”

“Around the office!” she blurted incredulously, “You mean other people know about this?”

“Yes. We’ve all checked and rechecked the data. The Director has been informed, too.”

“So the government knows, too,” she got up and grabbed the robe from its hook on the bathroom door. She wrapped it around her body and held it close as if it were woven of asteroid-proof cotton. She looked at him again. “You’re not bullshitting me, are you?” Her tone had acquired a bewildered, accusatory edge.

“No,” he shook his head and sat up.

“Well, what are they doing about it?”

“I’m not sure anything can be done. There wouldn’t be much point, other than to cause mass hysteria.”

“You mean they can’t shove it out of the way or dig some shelters underground?” She paced and gestured sharply with her hands.

“Not in six hours, no.” He put out the cigarette. “Would you take that robe off and come here?”

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Parasite

Author : Lucas Atkinson

In my dream I am wandering through Babylon. Prostitutes linger on every street, thieves wait at every corner. Barefoot children look at me as I pass; shopkeepers watch me too, from shadowed doorways, behind flags and tables piled with weapons and fruit. In the distance buildings rise – the courts, full of judges with grins and thick expensive robes; their eyes narrow as they smile, the markets with a subtle finger cheating every scale , the temples with their rows and rows of idols shaped like writhing snakes or women with many breasts or birds with teeth and human hands. The Babylon of my dream is also the New York of my childhood – the pickpockets dressed in rags mingle with gangs implanted with flashing fluorescent tattoos. As I pass them, their smiles are them same.

Every night, I wander through those streets again. On the ship, the narrow corridors seem lonely, and I am afraid the next turn will lead me there, to that place, and the scrubbed metal will give way to the mud, the brick, the littered streets. Sometimes I think I can smell the city – perhaps, behind the sweat of the crew and the scent of engine oil, might that be the faintest hint of the city’s open sewer? Of sun-baked stone? Of sour incense?

I can see it in the eyes of the crew as well. They are dreaming of the city too. They too are afraid that they will turn a corner and find themselves in the market, or one of the many shadowed alleys. When we eat meals together, the crew does not converse. The city is our other cargo, an unwanted twin to the one in our hull.

When we first met them they only farmed. They could not transport food more than a few miles; none of their villages numbered more than a few hundred. When we gave them what we knew – techniques, know-how, theory – their villages moved, changed, conglomerated. The largest was not far from where the ship landed. “We call the city Babylon,” they tell me in fluting voices. They pause. They are smart; they can read human faces already. “Is this a name you know?”

In the dream, behind the markets and the temples, there is a great structure. It was a tower once; now it is collapsed. Its form against the blue sky is ragged, like a wound.

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Secrets of the Universe

Author : Scott E Meyer

“Some of what you are about to read you will think is science fiction, ” said the front of the dust jacket, “But I assure you, dear reader, that it is not. It is based on sound scientific principles with which we are all familiar.” Edgar skipped on. The book looked dry, windy and boring, but Edgar liked dry, windy and boring. He amused himself, picking out the long words to see if he could pronounce them, words like “supersymmetry,” “quantum fluctuations,” and “unified field theory.” For a minute, he allowed himself to be absorbed by what this Dr. Ledbetter had to say. He imagined the world as Ledbetter imagined, a world of free energy, travel to the stars, transmutation of matter and all the dreams he had ever had coming true.

Edgar looked up, curious as to which section of the bookstore he had stumbled into. To the left were Bigfoot Sightings, UFO’s, and the Loch Ness Monster. To the right were alien abductions and government conspiricies. Not an auspicious place to find the missing secrets of the universe. He flipped to the back of the dust jacket, the author’s biography. It seems this Dr. Ledbetter had been laughed off stages and out of seminars for years before finally vanishing only a few years ago. He had only published one book, the very book Edgar held in his hands.

Edgar frowned. As much as he wanted to believe, wanted to be caught in the mystery and play with the secrets Ledbetter claimed to reveal, he couldn’t bring himself to take the man seriously when the entire scientific community had already laughed him into obscurity. He placed the book back on the shelf, determined to find something of value in this bookstore.

The secrets of the universe would have to wait for another generation.

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Constant Cravings

Author : Catherine Preddle

Wheeze.

I struggle to snatch a breath, wondering with each one if I’ll get the chance to have another. Life’s never felt so fleeting and basic as I fight with its raw elements, breathing and trying to keep the blood pumping round my withered body.

Wheeze.

Another tortuous intake of vital air and another rasping death rattle from my sunken chest. So this is it, my last moments of life. My mind is foggy with the pain, I can’t remember how old I am, but I know I’m only middle-aged. I’ve had a full life, but it’s been cut short; I haven’t finished yet. There is so much more to accomplish, experience and appreciate. Like seeing my children have children, like watching the sun setting behind the pyramids in Egypt, like catching the new Bond movie due out on Friday. Panic sets in – “I haven’t finished,” I shout out inwardly, “I haven’t finished yet!”

Wheeze.

I look up into the worried faces of the visitors clustered around my bed. All going through their own personal anguish: shame at how they treated me sometimes in life, guilt about things unsaid, anxiety about one day meeting the same fate that confronts them in this hospital bed.

Wheeze.

Another thought pops up, something that’s been niggling for a while. A craving that never dies. I could kill for a fag right now, one last drag. The sweet relief of that first inhale; the slow release of smoke and stress on the exhale. Oh, the irony of dying for a cigarette, literally dying for the sake of cigarettes …

Time stands still as I wait for my next heaving breath, but it doesn’t come. Instead my chest tightens and my eyes flicker round the room at all the people I’m leaving behind. My hand clutches my throat as I try to splutter some last words that will never be spoken. “No,” I scream inside, “I’m not ready … wait!”

***

There is a brilliant white light so bright that it burns into the back of my eyes. My head is spinning and I feel as nauseous as hell, but I’m alive, I’m alive!!

“Please, Mr Benson, lie still. Disorientation will wear off in a few moments.”

Suddenly, like the flash from a plasma rifle, my memories return. I know who I am and why I am here. I’m also vaguely aware that the technician is still talking to me … “What did you think, Mr Benson? Quite an old memory that one, back when Aversion Therapy Ltd was just starting out. An English male, 52, died in late 2006.”

But I’m not listening as I flee from that little sterile room, ripping out the wires still connecting me to the treatment computer as I go. I’m too desperate to escape from the most frightening and intense experience of my life.

“Hey! There are other memories we can access. There are thousands to choose from – lung cancer is only one way to go, you know. Remember, you have to want to give up, Mr Benson …”

There’s only one thing I want to do right now – need to do to calm down. Squeezing through the automatic doors of the clinic, I fumble inside my jacket pocket and with shaking hands retrieve the crumbled packet and my trusty lighter.

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