Subtle Influences

Author : Aaron Springer

“Of course we are not the first!”

These words were unspoken, and were in other ways communicated. No human alive would even understand the rough approximation. Sound waves were non-existent, and no mess of soft tissue and bone could begin to detect the subtle fluctuations in the quanta making up the exchange. This exchange is simplified down several orders of magnitude and has sacrificed the complexity and elegance actually portrayed.

“I have been studying their culture, and it is pockmarked with other such actions.”

The first being, who had no real name as such, gave what, to its race, would have been a disgusted snort. It did not filter through the nasal cavity, as the beings did not have noses. In fact, it had no face to carry a nose, no head to carry the face, nor body upon which to have a head.

“And how does this affect what we are doing?” said the first.

“No effect that cannot be corrected.”

The student was learning, thought the first being.

“Anything we do to this universe changes all manner of things. It is the nature of this reality. It adds flavor.”

The second being gave a deferential nod, although even the most advanced equipment on Earth would have barely registered the respectful neutrinos.

“Tell me of the previous influences.”

“Well, one was about sixty thousand of their ‘years’ after they first began to ripen to sentience. It appears that someone isolated two of them, male and female, and convinced them that they were special.”

Again, the first being snorted using gravity waves.

“Amateurs! Direct contact? Absurd! And what was the result?”

“Apparently, the being set out some simple rules, and someone else appeared and convinced them to break the rules. Elements of the resulting faith exist even now. They have been alternately victimized or become victimizers for close to six thousand of their years.”

“You see?” the first being waggled a finger equivalent at the first, “Such direct influence does nothing but damage. When dealing with an infant race, you must operate with the utmost delicacy. Direct influence is too blunt, too forceful.”

“In another incident, a female was made to bear a modified young. The youth, when it matured, led a small group of others around the country they lived in, performing acts of healing.”

“And, again, the results?”

“A ritual sacrifice, followed by two thousand years of warfare. Another sect, created by an intervention about five hundred of their years after the first, was led to believe the other was evil, and the two have been fighting since then.”

“Rank novices!”

The first being looked down on the small blue sphere. Or, more accurately, it observed instantaneously in almost every way possible.

All at once, several of the inhabitants looked up with flashes of pure insight.

Unlike previous interactions, this appeared as a group of ideas.

“You see,” said the first, lecturing to the second, “these subtle ideas will be mulled over in their biological brains. Some of the ideas will survive, and resonate within them. Over time, they will add their own flavor to the ideas.”

Again, the second gave a courteous spray of neutrinos.

“To what purpose?” it asked respectfully.

“The ideas will lead to their expansion beyond their own world, into the greater universe. Interaction with several thousand other races will flavor and mature them, make them full and round with wisdom.”

“And then?”

“Eventually they will rise to meet us, and then we dine.”

The second being wiped what could be called hands on what could be called an apron.

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Trust Your Doctor

Author : Timothy T. Murphy

Hurley sat on the examination table, naked to the waist, and sneezed for the umpteenth time. He reached for yet another tissue, his eyes watering, as he watched Dr. Mills flipping through charts and scribbled notes and rather pointedly ignored him. Shivering in the cold of the exam room, he finally broke the long silence, “Can I put my shirt on?”

“No, you may not.”

“Why not?”

“Because I’m going to want to listen to your lungs again in a few minutes and because I’m extremely angry with you.”

“Hey look, just because you didn’t think they were ready for testing…”

“Clearly, it doesn’t matter what I think, does it?”

“All the tests showed that they were ready.”

“The tests were flawed, as I tried to point out.”

He sneezed again, blowing his nose loudly. “Okay, so I have a cold after the injection, proving that they don’t work, so why don’t you just say ‘I told you so’ and get on with the prescription, okay?”

A smug smile crept across her face as she tossed her clipboard on the desk. “Well, you see, that’s my point. They’re working perfectly.”

“Excuse me?”

“Your beautifully engineered medical molecular robots are doing their job just fine.”

She just stood there smiling at him with that infuriatingly superior manner of hers and waited for the inevitable question.

“Then how did I get a cold after I was injected?”

“You had the cold when you were injected, you simply weren’t feeling it yet. Had you been subjected to a physical before the injection, I could have warned someone.”

“Okay, but that still doesn’t explain why I still have it.”

“They were programmed to imprint on the first D.N.A. code they encountered upon injection. They were injected into your bloodstream.”

Again, she stopped and smiled like that would explain it all. He thought about it for a moment and it hit him. “Oh, crap.”

“Oh crap, indeed.”

“Are you telling me…”

“You are infected with a computer-enhanced virus.”

“So, no NyQuil?”

“Well, NyQuil hasn’t been tested or approved for use against the cyber-cold, but that certainly won’t stop you, now will it?”

“Can it kill me?”

“Yes.”

“Excuse me?”

“Well, mind you, I’ve never encountered Robocold before, so I can’t be sure, but there is a possibility of rapid production of mucus membranes and other fluids interfering with the functions of your lungs.”

“Look, could we have this conversation in English?”

“You could drown on your own snot.”

“Okay, ew. What do I do?”

She handed him a dosage cup with two pills. “You take this. It’ll help.”

He downed the pills quickly as she picked up her phone. “What are you doing?”

“Calling the C.D.C.. You need to be quarantined.”

“What? No chance. I have to get to work on fixing this.” He stood and pulled on his shirt.

“I can’t let you out into the public. If your brand-new supervirus gets out into the general populous, it could kill billions.”

He strode over to her, towering over her and staring her down, despite the dizzy, unfocused feeling in his head. “I can’t let you do that, doctor.”

She held his gaze steadily. “I know. That’s why I gave you the tranquilizers.”

He started to ask what she meant, but the room spun, his knees gave out, and the room went dark just as his head hit the floor.

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Employee of the Year

Author : Ryan F. Bracy

After a couple of weeks, Alan didn’t even notice the feeding tube. It took him a bit longer to stop trying to control his bladder and his bowels and just let the tubes do their work.

He’d used to get stiff, sore from hours of non-stop work, but the new tube bringing him a constant IV drip to suppress his pain centers took care of that. Now he could really get some work done! Eighteen hours a day he would type away, coding, debugging, and testing. He was never hungry, never tired, never needed a break. If the EEG sensed he was bored or sad, no problem, just a little extra something in the drip. Sex? No need for that when an orgasm is a button press away during his off time.

Alan used to be an insomniac, now his sleep was perfectly regulated, and he always woke feeling rested. Alan paused from his work for a moment to reflect on just how good it felt to have been given this opportunity to serve his company so efficiently. A gentle buzzing at the base of his skull reminded him that his woolgathering was happening on company time. Right back to work then! He was peripherally aware that the buzzing would increase in intensity if he ignored it, but it wasn’t fear that got him back to work, it was loyalty. The same sense of loyalty and commitment kept him on his task even when two men entered his cube.

“Alan here is one of our very best tubers Mr. Lipton. He works day and night, rarely makes mistakes, never complains. A fine accomplishment.”

“Yes, I’ve read the reports, 902-71-8430 is one of our greatest successes. One of the earliest volunteers. Now, about your latest reports; am I to understand that 45% of your original employee base has agreed to the tubes?”

“Yes Mr. Lipton, and we’ve only experienced a 3% attrition rate, more than that wanted to leave of course, “offended” at the very thought they claimed, but the brainwashing was very effective.”

“Oh yes! About that, didn’t you get the memo? Corporate has decided that “Brainwashing” sounds too controversial, we’re calling it “Re-Education” now.”

“Very good Mr. Lipton. Would you like to see some of the other tubers?”

“No Bill, I’ll let the efficiency reports speak for themselves. Let’s get some coffee.”

Alan smiled as the two men walked away; he wasn’t bothered one bit by the thought of brainwashing. Just to know that Mr. Pallmer thought he was one of the best had made his day.

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Birthday Present

Author : Ping Sharoda

The small man with the strange hands passed thru the smashed opening and moved into the large room. It was dimly lit from the holes in the roof and there was a door at the other end. He retracted his claws and clenched his fists.

“Be careful Puppy”, said the large man with the faceted eyes. He moved slowly, more cautiously, behind the small man. “You can’t tell where it might be and I don’t want you to get hurt again.”

The steel wire muscles of the smaller man quivered slightly, his head bent forward. He opened his hands and his claws extended their full inch. “I smell it Johnny. It’s here, I can smell it,” he said and moved to the door.

The large man with the facetted eyes hung the rusty wire strung with rats on his belt. He put one hand to his temple and scanned the room for anything, any sign, any clue that would help them. There was only the disturbed dust trail and it headed to the door. He couldn’t smell anything.

I’m so hungry Johnny, and I can smell it.” There was a frayed edge to his voice. “I’m tired of rats and it hurt me…I want to get it…and kill it…and eat it.”

Overhead, in the shadows, in the rafters, Becky giggled quietly to her self. Today’s game was to get some of the rats that the large speckle-eyed man had on the wire. She generally trapped her own food but she was hungry right now and so was her father; and today was her birthday. She could have anything she wanted on her birthday. Today she was ten.

Behind the door was Becky’s dog; a small metal military surplus monster that hovered a couple of feet off the ground. Its blades were extended and spinning and its static discharge pod was fully charged. It sounded like a purring cat as it waited in the dark.

“Open the door, Puppy,” said the large man with the faceted eyes.

Becky mouthed the words to Happy Birthday and her smile broadened as she watched the small man reach for the handle of the door. She was quiet and still as she sang soundlessly. She didn’t want to spoil the surprise.

The small man with the clawed hands turned the handle and pulled open the door.

When the commotion stopped she climbed down from the rafters and picked up the wire. Carrying the string of rats, she followed the trail of blood to the hole in the wall where the 2 men had first come in. She looked outside for the men and for her dog but saw neither. She shrugged her shoulders and thought,”The dog will find his way home, he always does”. Then she headed out, toward the trees, toward home, to show her father her birthday present.

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The 10:04

Author : Mishal Benson

“This is nuts!” Kitty whispered harshly to her companion, “Why did you bring me here?” He remained silent, framed by the subway’s exit, waiting as she surveyed the scene before her. Am I nuts? She thought. Tall glass buildings rose around her with aluminum sidewalks coiled at their feet beside streets of steel. Just as puzzling as the city before her was the realization that she had no memory of taking the subway to get here, wherever ‘here’ was.

There’s no one else here; is the city abandoned? No cars deserted, litter, or artifacts of lives no longer present. Is it new? No, there was a sense of history and age. The city felt ancient, despite its modern materials and architecture.

Her companion led her towards the tallest building. His black cloak fluttered around his feet; although the hood was thrown back, a featureless mask of white obscured his face from view.

Through the doors, across the lobby and into an elevator, Kitty followed her guide. Arriving on what seemed to be the highest floor, he led her down a hall to a door, with only the simple name plate: “President”. Kitty jumped despite herself as the door opened seemingly of its own accord. Through the door Kitty found herself in a spacious office overlooking the empty city below. Seated comfortably in a capacious burgundy leather chair behind an expanse of very expensive looking desk was the man she assumes was ‘The President’. He closed a file he’d been reading, and handing it to a similarly clothed guide chaperoning an equally confused looking woman.

“Your time has not yet come,” he said. From the desk he produced a basket of flowers, with a card nestled among them. “You saw a lovely landscape with flowers, green grass, tall trees and a beautiful rainbow. Relatives who had come before comforted you and said to return later.” He smiled, handing the woman the basket. She took it, numbly allowing her companion to guide her from the room.

He then turned his attention to Kitty. “Welcome”, he smiled politely beneath dark emotionless eyes. She sensed her companion retreating from her side.

“Where am I?” She demanded, forgoing pleasantries, “What is this place?”

“Where we are has many names, and you may decide on one at your leisure.” He walked towards the all encompassing windows, motioning her to follow. “Come, look, tell me what you see.”

“I see nothing,” she answered, “Where is everyone?”

“They are all here,” he beamed. “Being new you may not see them at first, but one purpose in my greeting newcomers is to open your eyes to see what surrounds you.”

“What do you mean?”

“Do you remember how you arrived here?” his question tugging at some recent memory, “What do you remember last?”

“I got off the subway, no I was leaving the subway station, but I don’t remember riding the subway itself.”

“What else? What where you doing before that?”

“I left work early, and was riding home on my bike, listening to Gary Jules on my headset, ‘Mad World’ I think it was, and I’d just crossed the tracks on 14th when…,” she paused, “No. I didn’t cross. I was crossing the tracks, and then I was at the Subway station…then that man brought me here.”

“Look again, tell me what you see.”

“I’ve just told you, nothing…” she stopped, gaping at streets suddenly teeming with cars, sidewalks crowded with people.

He rested a hand on her arm, speaking gently. “The 10:04 train is usually past 14th by the time you get there on your bike.”

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