Awful News

Author : Cody Lorenz

Mike was nervous, you could tell by the stains at the armpits of his shirt, and the way he kept shifting, causing that awful gown to rustle. He coughed, if only to make the little man with his chart speak up.

“It is hard to put this,” he started, in a regretful, timid tone, “but you’ve got EIT.”

Mike had never heard this particular acronym before. But it was all in the doc’s words – fatal, terminal, the end of his long, strange trip of 233 years. It was too bad his shocked, gaping mouth couldn’t move, letalone come up with a word or sound.

“I can tell you that it will not be painful, and-”

He was cut off by his patient: “Just…shut up. Tell me if…what does it do…why…why me, why did it happen?”

“It is a new disease, but swiftly becoming a common one,” the little man took his glasses off, wiping them with a black cloth, “Tell me, Mister Evadne, how many times have you used a Rebooth, or one of their home products?”

“Every day, why wouldn’t I?”

“And that is the problem,” replacing his glasses, the doctor sat on a rather unpleasant looking stool, “You just can’t reorganize your body’s basic materials! Replacing cells willy-nilly! You’re ripping yourself apart for vanity’s sake!”

The little man’s outburst was quiet, still nervous-sounding, but it had force. Mike was taken aback. But rather than focus on a perceived insult, he chose the smarter option.

“I…I don’t…is it curable? Vaccine? Pills or…or something?” The panic was all too clear in his voice, now high, reedy, and discomforting.

The doctor pushed with a foot, gliding to his computer.

“I’m afraid not,” and, after a pause, “I am deeply sorry.”

That’s when every word the little man said lost all meaning to his patient.

The fog had lifted after nearly an hour. Mike had changed in that dream-like state, and had sat in the clinic’s waiting room amongst the young and old. He didn’t realize that his wife was in the car outside – seventh wife in his life, and he’d outlived two of them.

He just didn’t want to get old, didn’t want to fall apart.

The irony was lost on him.

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Inconspicuous Conspicuous Consumption

Author : Lucas Atkinson

“Tell me what it is you do, Mrs. Adam, In your own words.”

“Well,” she said, and leaned forward onto my desk. “I deal in luxury goods. One specific luxury good.” She smiled. “Obscurity.”

“That seems a strange way to say it. Usually one would…”

“Of course. But then my clients are not usual men. Lesser men seek fame, to increase their fortunes or what have you, but only a select few can know true obscurity. Those whose fortunes and position are secure…” She pulled at the sleeves of her suit. “The media’s a circus, you know. It can tear you apart. Fifteen minutes of fame can be fun, but the aftermath can kill. You’ll be associated with whatever gimmick you were a part of for the rest of your life. I’m sure you’ve also seen those celebrities with scandal after scandal, hounded by the tabloids.

“My clients don’t have to worry about that. Neither their face nor their personal life will ever appear on television, in newspapers, or in the internet. These days, being completely unknown is the ultimate status symbol. That’s how the technocorps and other companies hire their upper echelons. They only hire those they’ve never heard of, despite their numerous qualifications.”

“Do you have any clients I might have heard of? I mean, their positions?”

“You’ve never heard their names, but the man who invented the fluid processor, or author of the Countdown novels. You know the richest man on earth? Ryan Turner? He’s not the richest. By my count, there are over fifty people richer then the supposed tenth richest. The forty not on the list are all my clients.”

“It seems a wonder I’ve never heard of you,” I joked.

“Yes,” she said, and smiled. “I’m my own best advertisement.”

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Mythlabs

Author : Andy Bolt

Senator Bigfoot sat at the top of the Eiffel Tower daintily sipping espresso from one of Café au Francais’ literally bottomless vortex glasses. His massive, gorilla-derived nostrils inhaled the artificially addictive coffee smell, and he smiled to himself as Jenny stepped out of the spacebender and glided toward his table. He liked Jenny. The multicolored nanolights in her flowing blond hair sparkled with hypnotic blinkery. She hummed low and smooth, her pitch-perfect artificial larynx set to a calypso love song. The lowjack pheromones pumping out of Jenny’s pores didn’t affect bigfeet, but Senator Bigfoot thought Jenny was pretty anyway. Not just because she had been engineered to be pretty either, but because she really was. (Although Senator Bigfoot had an I.Q. of 220, his silverback genes granted him a simplicity of thought that made him more contented than most.)

“Hello, Jenny!” he called to her.

He caught her eye, and a wild swirl of rainbow pigments cascaded through her irises.

“Big!” Jenny’s mech-wings fluttered with delight, and she half-flew the remaining twenty meters to the table. “I’ve missed you!” she sang, kissing his leathered cheek. “Congratulations, Mr. Senator!”

“I’ve missed you, too. Sit, sit.”

Jenny smiled and swished and sat, still humming. “Green tea,” she trilled to the overexcited waiter. “So does this make you the first senator from Mythlabs?” Senator Bigfoot smiled as her loose silky coat almost swallowed her up.

“No,” he responded. “You’re forgetting Senator Gremlin.”

“Oh! Yeah, yeah. He got asked to leave, though, right?”

“Sort of. He was asked to holocommute. He kept making everything malfunction. But how have you been?”

“Alright. Being a siren is fun, most of the time. I get to sing a lot. That part’s nice. But all the boys try to sleep with you, and women hate you. It seems a bit artificial because of all that. Everything happens without me really doing anything.”

The waiter, a jumpy young man in a jumpy smart suit, whizzed up to Jenny with a glass of green tea and a walnut sized diamond.

“Here’s your tea,” he said. “May I have the honor of being your eternal love slave?”

“Not right now,” Jenny laughed, patting his shoulder. “But thank you for the tea.”

Senator Bigfoot shifted uncomfortably. He glanced out the longview window at a flock of three-legged Samjoko swooping and diving over Ulsan. Their bioluminescent flesh-mesh made them glow like bright little suns.

“Jenny-“ he started.

“Yes, Big?”

“Will you marry me?”

Jenny stared at him for a long minute, steam drifting around her cheeks and turning them pink.

“Yes,” she said. “I think I will.”

Senator Bigfoot smiled. In the longview, a Cherokee rain dancer shimmied, the kinetically fueled barometric sliders in his hands and feet producing a light summer mist in southern Oklahoma. Jenny giggled.

“It’s a silly world, Senator Bigfoot.”

“Yeah,” he replied.

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Caution, Adults at Play

Author : Jennifer C. Brown aka Laieanna

Mary passed the town’s graveyard, her eye on the mobile facility parked in an empty lot. The line trailing out from the small trailer door was already thirty deep, but a rush of people was only a few steps behind her.

Linda turned to give Mary a big smile after Aaron had nodded to her approaching. “Mary, you came early!”

“Yeah, I figured I’d get a jump on the line this year.”

“Understandable. I think the older we get the less this holds our interest. Can’t stand on these feeble legs as long as the young ones.” She laughed at her own apparent joke that Mary didn’t get.

Aaron leaned forward and gave Mary a wave, “Hey Mary. Did you decide on something this year or are you going with of the usuals?”

“The usual, I guess. Maybe a vampire or witch.”

Aaron nodded again. “Don and I have a bet going. He’s going to be a werewolf, and I’ll be a hunter. The money is all ready to be wired to the winner in two days. I can’t wait till I take him down and his hard earned cash will be paying for my spot,” he jabbed a thumb towards the graveyard, “which I hope not to use for years to come.”

“You should already have one prepaid,” Linda huffed. “You guys are boring. I’m going for something different, like…”

“You won’t believe what Johnny said to me,” Stacy interrupted, panting as she jogged up to her friends, cutting the line. “Says he read in a book that Halloween used to be for kids.” The group stared incredulously. “Seriously! Said kids would dress up and go from house to house asking for candy. He wanted to go out tonight.”

Linda crossed her arms. “I would never let my child out on Halloween. With all the freaks running around, the last thing you want is a child outside a safe zone.”

Confused, Mary shook her head slightly. “Why would they need to ask strangers for candy? We give them tons of candy on Halloween. It’s traditional.”

“Besides, no one is at home on Halloween. And there’s no way the guards will open a safe zone during the holiday,” said Aaron.

“I know,” Stacy sighed. “I tried to make him understand that Halloween was for adults, that he had to wait till he was eighteen. He cried, saying we were doing it all wrong. I can’t get him to understand that it’s not safe.”

Three kids, just barely legal for the holiday, walked passed the group, chatting about the demons and psycho killers they were going to be that year while rubbing the spot a needle had penetrated in their arm. The change was already showing on their bare skin and one girl squealed in excitement when she looked at it.

“First timers,” Linda snorted.

“They’ll be dead before midnight,” Aaron said.

“So what are you turning in to this year, Linda?” Mary asked, remembering she had been cut off earlier.

“A princess.”

Stacy laughed, “Oh geez, you’ll be mauled by any number of people in town if you’re turning in to that.”

“Not really keeping to tradition,” Mary said.

“That’s where you guys are wrong.” Linda had a sly grin on her face. “I’ll be a crazed princess, having been locked in a tower for years with no real contact. I even have an axe and knife at home, all sharpened and ready to take someone down. I won’t be right in the head tonight. You guys will be safer if you stay away.”

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Off Key

Author : Andy Bolt

It started when a song got stuck in Jola Ndenga’s head. She had just gotten the new aMix mp12 player, the one that could store a theoretically infinite number of sub-quantum sound files and injected just under your cochlea. They had just become available at Charon Station, and she had been amped to get her hands on one. Even though C1 was supposed to be the blistering edge in scientific research, the United Inner Rim’s top priority, she had spent most of her time out here watching space-faring rocks and trying to resist the urge to stick her head in the neutron remuter. Truth was, there was not much use for a xenobiologist on Charon. Someone from the initial survey team had reported a possible site for microbial bacteria, but that had amounted to nothing. At least now, she had maniacally decided, her suicide-inducing levels of boredom could be set to a pleasing soundtrack.

She had been aural-loading the new Virulent Photons album – thirty-four tracks of twelve second bursts of intergalactic noise mixed over a calypso backbeat – when her transmitter began playing the song. She had never heard it before. Indeed, she had never heard anything quite like it before. When the newsites would come asking later, she would describe it as a combination of meringue, plasmatronica, and a third type of music that she was unable to fully identify.

At the time, however, she simply became very nervous. The aMix was still a relatively new technology, and there was a post-urban legend flying around about a beta tester for the Grape corporation. Supposedly, she was still in cryogenic suspension after an early model had become inextricably integrated with her central nervous system and driven her psychotic with round the clock renditions of Tom Jones’ “Sex Bomb.”

So Jola greeted her own malfunction with some alarm, half-prepared to gouge out her own eardrum with a pinpoint cooking laser. She approached Ryx Marcomb, the station’s biotech engineer, and Willix Frog, the knowledge-specific medical clone, with great haste.

“Alien music is burrowing through my skull,” she told them. “Help.”

Willix offered to operate instantly and found that the magnetic scalpel did its job cleanly. Within twenty minutes of the problem’s first discovery, Willix, Ryx, and Jola were staring at a slightly bloody, centimeter square aMix chip under a broad-beam microlight. Ryx had jury-rigged a nanophone and a bag of Willix’s emergency transplant tissue to play back the still repeating song at an audible level.

“You know this song?” Ryx asked, flipping his gaze between the chip and Jola.

“No one knows this song,” Willix answered, offering his colleagues a look at his handheld sonic spectrometer. “˜It doesn’t conform to any extant musical style. Half of these lower tones are infrasonic and wouldn’t even be audible to the human ear. And this,” he continued, gesturing at a garbled looking wavelength, “isn’t even a sound in the conventional sense of the word. It’s a permutation of a sound wave that the computer can’t even begin to analyze.”

Ryx raised an eyebrow. “New life communication signal?”

Jola glanced at the pad. “Don’t think so.” She took it from an obliging Willix. Within a moment, she had overlayed the spectranalysis and one of Willix’s medical files.

She displayed it to her colleagues. Onscreen was a translation of the sound waves into a rough approximation of a DNA sequence, and the helix seemed to hum.

“The song IS the life.”

And inside the aMix, the alien song breathed its musical breath.

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