Renegotiations

Author : Benjamin Fischer

Basajaun sighed and rubbed the sweat from under his eyes. A shadow had fallen across reflected rays of his private sun.

“What is it you want?” he asked, blinking and groggy.

The shade resolved itself into the slim image of a woman standing over him.

“Mr. Miquel, I am Yasamin Judd,” she said. Mocha skin, some sort of South Asian. Medium of height, medium build, dressed in a generic gray skintight softsuit that could have belonged to one of a thousand extraterran concerns.

“They always send a pretty one,” Basajaun muttered.

“The spa staff granted me entrance,” Yasamin said.

Basajaun grunted and made no attempt to cover himself. Lying flat and naked on a cedar deck chair, he rubbed his belly.

“You are from Palamos?” he asked her.

“Yes, I represent the Pioneer Union of Palamos.”

Basajaun fumbled around at his side.

“Pioneer Union. Hmph,” he said, bringing a bulb of oil up to his prominent stomach and farting out a glob onto his belly button.

“We wish to renegotiate-” Yasamin continued.

“Renegotiate,” Basajaun said, an ugly look on his face like he’d just caught a whiff of something foul.

“Yes,” said Yasamin.

“Have you read the contract?” Basajaun asked the woman. He began to rub the oil in slow circles around his paunch.

“Yes-”

“Then there is nothing to renegotiate,” Basajaun said. “The contract explains all.”

Yasamin made to open her mouth again, but he waved her off.

“No renegotiation,” he said. “If you had found nothing on that rock, would you come running to me? No. You would have taken my wages and been happy for them. But now that there is copper and platinum at Palamos and you grow greedy.”

“We are not looking for a higher percentage,” Yasamin replied with patience.

“Bullshit,” Basajaun barked. “I have hired gypsies and tinkers and jews before–you always want more.”

“Sir, the Union remains ever grateful for your employment,” Yasamin said.

“Then be silent,” he replied.

“We are,” said Yasamin. “These negotiations exist purely between us. The Union does not wish to give the appearance of labor difficulties at Palamos.”

Basajaun rotated a pair of beady eyes onto the woman.

“So that’s your threat?” he said.

Yasamin shifted on her feet.

“What to you want?” Basajaun asked.

“Rights to the asteroid,” Yasamin said.

“Minus the heavy metals?” he replied.

“Mineral rights will be maintained per the existing contract,” she answered.

Basajaun shut his eyes and sighed.

“I don’t understand–that rock is worth shit without the platinum,” he murmured. “And that’s all you want.”

“We want a place to call home,” Yasamin replied.

Basajaun shook his head.

“The membership of the Pioneer Union consists mostly of refugees,” started Yasamin.

“I know, I know,” said Basajaun. “Those without hope will work in the worst places for the worst pay. I know this–it is why I hired you.”

He paused.

“Finish the extraction a month before the scheduled time and the rock is yours,” he said.

“Thank you, sir-”

“Go away. I have to tan my ass,” Basajaun said.

Yasamin nodded politely and backed out of the sun booth. Basajaun could see that she was trying not to smile too broadly.

When she was gone, Basajaun looked up at the heavy mirror high above him. There the sun blazed away, its glare beading up the sweat on his cheeks and his chest. Almost hidden in its rays was a tiny sliver of blue and white where the ruins of a flooded Costa Brava fishing village lay blistering under a similar heat.

The deck chair creaked like the worn planks of an old trawler.

Basajaun sighed and rolled over.

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Necessary Fictions

Author : John Mierau

“Mr. Jerome?”

Pen and thoughts still pressed to the page, the writer looked up: a tall man in an old-fashioned suit weaved his way through the happy hour crowd.

“David Jerome. It’s really you!”

Another fan? God, why can’t people be happy with the books and leave me alone! “Uh, look, I’m right in the middle of…” David gestured down at the page.

“You write the way people think, did you know that? Almost like you read people’s minds.” He reached out a long-fingered hand. “I’m Jack.”

David didn’t take the hand. “Jack, I’m really -“

“Would you like to? Read minds?”

David snorted. “I don’t write that kind of fiction.”

The tall man shook his head. “‘I’m not making fun. I know… how much it hurt when Prudence left, how scared you are. I can fix that.”

David shrank away as the stranger rubbed salt where Pru had left him raw.

I know… your publisher scares you. He yells at you, wants the novel you owe him. Short stories are a waste to him.”

David’s knuckles whitened around the pen. The tip cut, slicing his palm.

Jack smiled at David again. “Sorry. I bet your brain’s about to burst…” The stranger reached across the table, ran two cool fingers across David’s temple. David let it happen, couldn’t think what to say or do to stop it.

“You got into people’s heads better than anyone,” Jack whispered. “It’ll all be clear soon. I wish I could stay, but they’ll be coming…”

David watched Jack rise, unable to speak, divining greater meaning in each word than sound could carry.

“If it wasn’t for you, David, I’d have never known Mystery!” Jack giggled, backing away from the table. “Now all mysteries will be, heh, open books to you.”

David didn’t see Jack leave as the world roared in like exploding bombs, like a lover’s whisper.

David knew…

The bartender didn’t notice the pretty blonde who’d bought her blue dress just for him, after he’d chased off the drunk who spoke ugly words to her and clawed under her skirt.

David knew…

The old man in the corner tried not to be angry. His son hadn’t shown. The boy always sent his mother flowers, and he’d paid to fix the roof last summer. He felt horrible for wondering if the boy remembered today would have been his mother’s birthday.

David knew…

The guy on the stool by the door had slaved six years to pay for the ring in his hand, and the down-payment on the house Shelly loved. He couldn’t wait any longer: he’d pop the question tonight!

The words… David had gotten them almost right. He looked down at the page and his ink-stained fingers; at the words so close to truth and now so empty.

Across the room, the blonde’s insides shook as the bartender noticed her dress.

David dropped the pen. It fell to the floor as the writer put his head in his hands and wept.

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Einstein’s Last Words

Author : J. S. Kachelries

I walked into the offices of Temporal Travel Inc. A bored agent three rows back motioned me toward him with his free hand, as he peered around his upturned coffee cup. “Good morning, Sir.” he said as he placed the empty coffee cup squarely on a coaster. “Where and when may we send you?”

I sat down in the large chair at the side of his desk. “Yes, hello,” I said. “My name is Dr. Marc Strohm, Dean of the Physics Department at MIT. I’m interested in going to Princeton, New Jersey, April 15, 1955, at about 1:00 AM. Specifically, the Princeton Hospital. I need to stay about 20 minutes.”

The salesman motioned to his AI assistant to begin the temporal calculations as he scanned the iridium credit transponder implanted in my forearm. He said, “I don’t believe anybody ever asked to go there and then before. Sounds boring. You sure I can’t talk you into Mars, say 3.5 billion years ago? Tropical climate, twenty foot waves slowly crashing onto orange beaches? Very beautiful, and we’re having a special this week.”

“No, it has to be the hospital room of Albert Einstein on the day he died. You see, just before his death at 1:15 AM, he uttered his last words to the attending nurse. Unfortunately, he spoke them in German, and she only understood English. Nobody knows what he said. I’m hoping that during the heightened brain activity at the end, he may have solved the unification problem. Einstein had spent the last half of his life trying to develop a single equation to unite the four fundamental forces in the universe. As far as we know, he never did it. Two hundred years later, we still haven’t solved it. I’ve been studding German for three years for the opportunity to understand his last words.”

The salesman looked disappointed. His commission was based on years traveled, not scientific merit. “Listen, professor,” he said, “what if Einstein said, ‘Nurse, you’re standing on my oxygen hose.’ You would have wasted a trip for nothing. How about the end of the Cretaceous? You can watch The Great Asteroid impact the Yucatan peninsula.”

“Sir, I’m a Theoretical Physicist, not an Astrophysicist, or a Paleontologist. Look, if you’d prefer, I can go to Time Excursions.”

The eyes of the AI began blinking green. The salesman quickly changed tactics. “No, no, no. You’re the boss. OK, I think we’re ready now. Please step into the Phase Transporter, and we’ll send you on your way. You’ll be able to see and hear everything, but you’ll be in ‘phased-time,’ so you’ll be invisible to them. Have a good trip. And, good luck.”

When he shut the door to the Transporter, everything went pitch black. Then there was a flash of intense light. When sight returned to my eyes, I was indeed in Einstein’s hospital room. He lay propped up in his bed. He looked so old and feeble. But even at this hour, as weak as he was, he was feverishly writing in his note pad. I drifted behind him to study his notes. Fantastic, he was working on the unified field equation. I started to get chills up my back. He appeared to be on the verge of something, when his eyes closed, his hand went limp, and his chest stopped moving. The pen fell out of his hand, rolled off the bed, and dropped onto the floor. The attending nurse ran to his side and shook him gently. “Mr. Einstein, are you all right? Can you here me?”

His eyes suddenly fluttered open. He motioned for her to come closer, and whispered, “Gott zeigte mir die Lösung. Sie war… schön.” Then he smiled, closed his eyes, and died.

It was a bitter sweet moment for me. Although I was disappointed, I was happy for Einstein. His last words were: “God showed me the solution. It was…beautiful.”

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Alternate 7816JS

Author : Joshua Reynolds

Dinosaurs thundered through a post-industrial city on their way to work. Suits and ties. Briefcases built to fit thick, knobby talons. The stink of mammal bacon on the breath of some, boiled plant on others. Pollution choking the air and grease and oil and garbage on the streets. A thriving, productive society.

This wouldn’t do. Oh no, not at all.

Not because the dinosaurs had evolved, or even because they had simultaneously supplanted the mammal and driven it to near extinction (except for those in processing farms, getting fat from no movement and squirting out infants every nine months) but because they intended to do it elsewhere.

The Censor stood on top of the tallest building in the city, invisible to the saurian eye, his coat heavy with light-bending circuitry and Ellison cells. He tapped the side of his head, bringing up a HUD screen on the insides of his eyelids. A series of tiny screens within screens appeared on the display, an infinity of bureaucracy. The Timeline Validation Bureau. Bland faces appeared in each screen. Gray little men leading gray little lives in their chronal separation cubicles hard at work, never to know the joys of the infinities of the continuum. And to prevent others from doing so as well. That was the job of the Censor. Of all the Censors, though they were all the same man.

They were all him. All Wight.

And they all loved their job.

“Report.” A multitude of somber voices echoed in his ear.

“Alternate 7816JS is experiencing a major chronal incident.”

“Nature?”

“Scientists have discovered the back roads. They have open doors to Alternates 7826JS, 7846JS and 7886JS respectively and a fourth tacking directly into the continuum itself.”

“Eliminate.”

“My thoughts exactly.” The Censor smiled. “Initiating reality disruption.”

He stuck his hand in his coat and pulled out a smooth sphere-an entropy grenade-and twisted it’s top half lightly. The sphere began to glow as he tossed it up into the air where it rose higher and higher finally fading out of sight altogether. It would phase itself into the heart of the sun. When it exploded it would send out an entropic pulse and erase the rogue timeline from existence as well as the three it had infected with its disease in a controlled ‘Big Bang’. The Censor leaned over the edge of the building, arms resting on his knee and breathed in the humid, swampy air. How many sentients would perish? The machines in his head began to calculate and he hummed to himself as he prepared to leave. Overhead, the sun seemed to flash for a moment, growing brighter with every second as the entropy wave devoured it from inside out.

The Censor smiled as his eye lenses polarized against the glare.

He did so love his job.

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The Last Beautiful Thing

Author : D. Magliola

Ron was sprawled on a park bench. His dirty hands were tucked into the kangaroo pouch of his salvaged Nike hoodie. He exhaled a cloud of vapor and wheezed with his next breath. A single tear ran down his cheek and was absorbed in the dust mask that protected his mouth and nose. Everything had gone to hell since the day before. The scene that previous evening had been different. She had been there.

People had been fighting over things for longer than anyone could remember. First it was for oil. Then it was bombs. Then it was freedom, then food, and finally people just fought for themselves. All around the filthy world, people had stolen shotguns from WalMarts and fought for their lives. Later, people lost hope even in themselves. There was no reason to go on, death was easier than fighting.

Then, in the broken cement jungle of Chicago, a small group of scavengers found the girl. She was small, soft, and autistic. It was as if her fractured mind had turned down the volume of the fighting. She was the only one who hadn’t lost hope. She shared it with those who found her. They became the Protectors. The group of men and women, only a few dozen strong, defended their little bubble of hope for years. She was the last beautiful thing. In a world of horror, she was the only relief. The Protectors risked their lives to steal her food. When she became ill with typhoid, they tore apart every abandoned supermarket and pharmacy in Chicago until they found penicillin that hadn’t dried up and become like chalk. She could play the piano, so the Protectors stole her one. While a handful of them stood night watch in the entrance of their decrepit subway station, she had played beautiful music. Wonderful random little notes would tinkle through the frigid night air and help people forget their dead families and hunger. Sometimes she’d sing.

Then one night some freakoids came through in a minivan. They had all the seats taken out and a .50 caliber M-2 Browning bolted to the interior. They hit the guards and crashed down the stairwell, throwing the passenger door open and filling the depot with hot lead before Ron could blow the bastards away.

She had been sitting on the bucket next to the piano with her head on the keys. Her torn dress was an off shade of muddy red, the puddle beneath her matched.

Ron took another ragged breath through his mask. The world had ended that night. There was nothing left to fight for. What would he do? Maybe he’d join the other Protectors, at the bottom of the Sears Tower. Their broken bodies felt no pain. Why go on living in a world with nothing beautiful?

Ron removed his mask and took another breath. He hawked a pint of warm red relief, his scarred lungs liberated of life by the razor dust. If she couldn’t come to him, he’d go to her. Ron closed his eyes and departed to find the last beautiful thing.

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