Beyond, Inc.

Author : Scott Hatfield

Nobody needs to die anymore.

Science has made amazing strides in the last couple of decades. Everyone gets to about 27 or 28 realyears and then simply stops aging. They sell packages if you want to be older or younger, taller or shorter, prettier or uglier, or a different sex. Or both.

All priced appropriately, of course.

And because you don’t need to die, you can try them all eventually (assuming you can afford all the combinations). You’ll see great great grandparents looking younger than their great great grandchildren, children originally born around the same time varying wildly in their personal preference of how old they feel they should be, spouses taking a -80 honeymoon back to when they were youthful – and there’s a discount package for that, too. Just talk to an Aging Consultant, they give you the injections, and your sleeping tube at home does the rest in about a month.

But why am I telling you this? You already know all that, you just asked about my job. I’m only 278, but I carry on like I’m 700. Sorry.

We call ourselves the Death Dealers. Not in public; death is still a taboo subject as you well know. There are the Aging Consultants, and we’re the Beyond Consultants. We sell inhumation packages (get it? It’s exhuming when they’re pulled out… sorry, industry joke) for everyone from the poorest slob to the richest conglomersecutive. Death isn’t good for profits, you see, and self-inhumation is taken very seriously. It reminds me of the Drugs War waged back in the 1900s…

What? I’m surprised you’ve never heard of it, though I guess I am a bit of a history buff. People weren’t allowed psychoactive drugs… Yeah, it is weird, isn’t it? Anyway, the families of self-inhumers face stiff penalties and fines if one of their own chooses that reckless path, so we’ve kept it down in the triple digits. Nothing to worry about at all.

And that’s where we come in.

Another joke: we have four departments, named after the classic War, Pestilence, Famine, and Death. As annoying as an F-inhume is, many cultures still find it keeps them closer to their long-lost ancestors. I mean, who would want a death like that? Everyone gets all the nutrients they need in their daily injections, and it just seems silly to me. But it’s cheap, so the Famine Department keeps going strong.

The Pestilence Department handles all the diseases, cancers, and other microbial inhumes. Along with curing all these mean-n-nasties, we’re able to replicate them at will. A basic long-term cancer package is remarkably affordable for anyone past 400 and only takes twenty to twenty-five years to run its course, and drugs can keep you away from most of the pain in the last half. Remember Ebola? They have a remarkably fast-acting strain that’s very chic these days. Very chic, and very expensive. The chance of spreading is very low now that we’ve tinkered with it, and they’ve been able to vaccinate most of the collaterals in time.

Over in Death Department, they get all the people who have a bit of money, but can’t spring for a WarI. Inhume on the spot, and it includes cremation. A traditional ceremony is only about 20% more for the replication of wood for the casket. Not very exciting over there, but they keep posting steady numbers.

Now for my department. I’ve wrangled a position here in War, and it’s great. They still call it War because of the four horses thing, even though nobody knows what a war is anymore. Or a horse. Can’t get away from tradition, can we? Well, in the War Department we get all the cool ones… and the biggest sales. With death being the last stop (science can do a lot, but we haven’t figured out how to bring them back yet), the last great adventure to take in a full life, the people with the most money want the biggest bang – sometimes literally – for their buck. Want a high-profile assassination? We can do that. The classic chainsaw murderer? A favorite that your family will be talking about for generations, and we can do that too. Just about anything interesting you can think of that isn’t that damned Ebola craze is our specialty.

So, since we’re friends… I can get you a great deal on a freak hover coaster accident. It’ll be the next big thing, I swear.

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Girl Shopping

Author : Benjamin Fischer

Alana examines the next child. The young girl dodges her eyes. Alana frowns and gently grabs her by the chin, forcing the little Asian girl to meet her gaze.

“Have you been feeding this one enough?” she asks.

Viktor grinds his teeth.

“Some have no appetite,” he answers.

“And they are all here voluntarily,” Alana sneers.

Viktor swallows.

Alana looks over the eight year old again.

“Not this one,” she says. “Who is next?”

Viktor exhales.

“I will have another shipment arriving from Earth in one week-”

Alana glares at him.

“There is one more,” Victor says.

“Where is she then?” Alana asks, glancing around expectantly at the girls she’s already seen.

“I declined to bring her out,” Viktor says, “because she can be . . . uncooperative.”

Alana’s eyes light up.

“Show me,” she orders.

Viktor snaps his fingers and his lackeys quickly shuttle the six previous girls out of the showroom.

“‘Uncooperative,’” Alana repeats. “Explain.”

“Trust me, you don’t want this one,” Viktor says.

“You have no idea of what I want,” Alana replies. “I’m not here for an idiot clone–I’ve already got one of those.”

“My girls are not idiots,” Viktor says.

Alana laughs, her voice crackling with ire.

“Of course not. They all could have twice the genius of Einstein–and I could have each of them crawling on all fours baa-baa-baaing in five minutes. No, there’s a reason that Earth stays under our stilleto heel, and it’s because they’re all fucking sheep,” Alana spits.

“Show me something different or show me the door,” she says.

Viktor sighs. “The next girl is no sheep. She is . . . dismissive of my authority.”

“I would hope so,” Alana says.

“She actively attempts to undermine my control over the other children, and I’ve been forced to keep her separated in order to avoid using narcotics. She has formed, I think, a low opinion of her prospects up here.”

“And just what are her prospects?” Alana asks.

“If I come down in price any further,” Viktor says, “a Golden Crater brothel. And they will make her behave.”

Alana frowns but then the door to Viktor’s kennels opens and two of his lackeys muscle their way into the showroom. They struggle to keep hold on the hellcat between them, who lashes at their shins and thighs with shoeless feet and scuffed knees. She is whip-thin but nearly Alana’s height, and her unkempt black hair is mussed and a big tear is rapidly developing in the shoulder of her smock.

“Let her go,” Alana commands. Viktor’s men step away, glad to be done with their burden.

The girl’s hazel eyes focus on Alana.

“Who the fuck are you?” she asks with a sneering drawl.

Quick as lightning, Alana slaps the girl across the face.

A pregnant pause, and Alana can see the fury boiling up inside the girl. Sure as thunder, her little hand comes flying at Alana’s head.

Alana catches the blow bare millimeters from her cheek.

“This one will do,” Alana says.

“Who are you?” the girl asks, struggling to pull her hand out of Alana’s grip.

Alana smiles.

“You can call me Mother.”

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Winking Out

Author : Christopher Albanese

There it is, a wide-open wink. It slowly slid the light from my eyes, then the warmth from my face. And still there it sits.

They say there’s no sound of it, here or in space, but I feel in my bones the hum of such a gargantuan braking of motion.

They say there’s no smell, no way a smell could be caused by the most passive of galactic events, these massive bodies just passing each other by in our sky; but I smell cordite, and I smell burnt lumber. I smell blood.

Around me the fires still blaze, but the screams have long since passed from this remote, rolling green hill. It is springtime and warm in Wisconsin, and the hills in the Midwest do just as they say, roll and roll and roll. It looks as if they roll right off the Earth’s edges.

The darkness of night clings like humid velvet to the noontime sky. Fires glare and sparkle. Fewer and fewer miles away, the Atlantic heaves and boils as it spumes across West Virginia, Ohio, Indiana. Before the lights went out, they said it would slow when it hit Lake Michigan, but not for long. Milwaukee would be gone before Chicago finished a final exhale.

Last November, they said it was going to be spectacular, the first total solar eclipse visible from the US in almost 40 years. Back then, with Thanksgiving still a week away and a full Wisconsin winter to endure, August was still a distant closeout to a far off summer, and was not at the forefront of most people’s minds.

But on May 21 – just three months before the eclipse – word came from the Keck Observatory that something seemed wrong up there, something with the moon. They said it was rotating the wrong way, or slowing down, or something. It was a lot of scientific talk about “lunar torque” and “tidal bulge,” but CNN, CBC, the BBC, they all distilled the chatter to the same chilling fact: The moon was going to snap its gravitational elastic given the right push…or pull.

It was all a matter of timing.

Around me, the night quavers; behind me, the ocean moans. Above me, the total solar eclipse – the first, and last, in my lifetime – has finished its thirtieth brutal hour.

They say there’s no sound of it, here or in space, but I feel in my bones the snap of a gargantuan, celestial elastic. Above me, the corona around the moon begins to expand as it is pulled away from the Earth.

Around me, the night withers; behind me, the ocean roars. As the moon’s umbra dilates and salt water fills the air, I reach up to touch the glare and sparkle of the winking sun.

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Retainer

Author : Benjamin Fischer

“King Midas believes that his days as absolute ruler of Crete are ending.”

McCarran coughed, a single bead of coffee escaping his left nostril. His big, pawlike hand wiped it out of the air.

“Say again?” the burly pirate finally managed.

“Forces outside the King’s control have conspired,” continued the baldheaded eunuch, “to engineer his imminent downfall. For that reason, he has dispatched me to secure the services of a ship in the event that he should need to depart this asteroid. With speed.”

McCarran flung his spent coffee bulb at the gaping maw of his stateroom’s recycler. He missed, and the soft plastic baggie rebounded, spinning madly and spitting brown flecks of liquid in every direction. The pirate captain sighed and pushed off from his broad velcro-laced sofa to recover the spent container.

“And he wants me,” McCarran said, mid-flight.

“No, he does not,” replied the eunuch.

“Oh,” said the pirate. He reached for the bulb, missed, and knocked it away with a light touch of his scarred knuckles.

“It’s my lack of stereoscopic vision,” said McCarran, poking a thick finger at the black patch over his left eye socket.

“As the master of the only vessel within the vicinity of Crete that has the capabilities to seriously impede his escape, the King is willing to offer you a small retainer,” the eunuch said. “You would be required to do nothing.”

“Well, now we’re talking,” said McCarran, coming to rest on the far wall.

“Of course, he expects that you will be approached by the other involved parties,” his potential employer said, “and in fact they may have already been in contact with you.”

“I honestly can’t say,” McCarran said, ignoring the coffee bulb as it lazily spun by his left temple.

“The King can be most generous.”

“Then I’ll need to see one hundred thousand examples of his generosity,” McCarran replied.

The eunuch didn’t even bat an eye.

“It is done,” he said.

“Outstanding,” McCarran said. “I think I hear my targeting computer eating itself right now.”

A shadow of a smile crept across the eunuch’s lips, and then he was gone, the connection broken and his hologram evaporated.

McCarran finally remembered the stray bulb. His right hand whipped out, snatching the tiny satellite from the air. His fingers collapsed into a fist, crushing it. Then he touched his temple.

“Your Lords-ship,” he said, “Captain McCarran here.”

“Pirate! Make your report,” boomed a disembodied voice.

“Your majordomo just swung by my ship. Said you were planning on taking a trip in the near future. Didn’t want me to interfere.”

There was a howl of rage that was only checked by McCarran’s timely application of the volume control.

“So I take it that won’t be you on the outbound ship?” McCarran asked once the King’s fury subsided.

“There will be no such ship!” King Midas roared.

“Aye,” the pirate replied. “And all subjects are loyal.”

More cursing.

McCarran snapped his thick fingers, and the deck of his stateroom dissolved into an overhead view of the asteroid Crete, feeble sunlight creeping across its pockmarked face and sparkling where it caught the diamond windows of the King’s palace. The pirate flipped his patch up, and blinked a few times, bringing his eye online. A thin red cross hairs flashed into view, tracking across the craters of Crete.

“Now, your Eminence, if you’d like to talk contingency plans . . .”

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Questioning

Author : Duncan Shields

What a cliché. There I was, handcuffed to a chair and telling them that I knew my rights. Yelling at them about what an outrage this was. Straight out of a movie. I couldn’t help it. You have to remember I thought I was above the law at this stage, a member of the political cabinet currently in power. What a naïve little twit. This was their lucky day.

She walked in briskly and slapped her briefcase down across the table from where I was sitting. Quickly and without ceremony, she shuffled through the papers she had brought.

When she had sorted them into three neat piles, she finally stopped and looked straight at me. Well, ‘looked’ isn’t the right word. It was more of a stare. She still hadn’t sat down.

I could hear the hum and whisper of her internal headphones and I could see the reverse image of the datafile spooling down the inside of her glasses. My life was flashing in front of her eyes.

It was an uncomfortably long thirty seconds before she sat down across from me, steepled her fingers and with a deep breath began to determine the best way to proceed with my case.

“Senator Peterson” she began, “You have illegally copied yourself in no less than three separate incidents. We have begun digging on your property and have found six bodies. It will take time to go through them but I have no doubt that the DNA will show that they are also you.”

She took off her glasses and pinched the bridge of her nose with her eyes squinted shut. She put them back on again and resumed.

“You are guilty of not only copying yourself but also of committing clone-slaughter. Your career in politics is over. I will try to keep you out of jail. Your regular lawyer will not take this case, no professional lawyer will. To be associated with you at this point would be career suicide. I am your court appointed lawyer, I’m working sixteen other cases this week and as I’m fresh out of law school, I really don’t care if I keep you out of jail or not.”

And there it was. It hit me hard. She spoke with such nonchalant authority. I knew this wasn’t a scare tactic. It hadn’t even occurred to me that my career could be in jeopardy, let alone over.

I’d need to buy time for Peterson-One to get to a safe place.

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