Author : Steven Holland

Contemplating my life’s choice, I plunge my hand beneath the slowly flowing stream water. There was only one choice in my life that makes any real difference. The cool water rushes past my hand, caressing it with the softest of touches. The bubbling of the tranquil stream joins in chorus with the soft rustle of the lush meadow grass as the wind blows through it. The smell of freshly cut hay permeates the air. I remove my hand from the water, stroll slowly to a nearby apple tree, and delicately pluck an apple from the tree’s branches. The apple’s flavor defies any just description. The taste is luscious and full, sweet, yet retaining the slightest hint of tartness. Holding the apple in hand, I debate whether or not to take a bite of it.

What the hell was I thinking, I ask myself for the zillionth time. Burning in hell would be better than what’s coming. A vehement fury suddenly sweeps over me. I crush the apple in my bare hand, watching the juice squeeze from the apple and drip to the ground.

I know each of these sensations from memory, memories I will never experience again. It all happened so long ago.

I was a coward then. Withering away on my death bed with the knowledge of the fiery fate that awaited me, the deal was all too easy to make. Immortality and eternal youth sounded good at the time, but at the cost of all my senses? What the hell was I thinking?

“Oh don’t worry,” that soothing voice whispered in my ear, “I will give you 100 years between each harvest. You will hardly notice the difference. But on the other hand… if you wish to come with me, I can guarantee that your stay will be… sensationally intense.”

So like the coward I was, I agreed. Immediately, my strength returned and my body regenerated to the prime of life. For the next hundred years I existed; I really wouldn’t call it living. I witnessed everyone I knew and loved grow old and die. And all that time, the nagging knowledge of what fate I had chosen gnawed at my mind.

At the end of the first hundred years, that soothing voice came to collect his first prize. He gave me the choice of which sense would be harvested first. I chose smell. In an instant, that soothing voice disappeared along with my ability to smell.

So my existence proceeded. Every hundred years brought another visit and another loss of my senses, first smell, then taste, next (after a difficult decision), touch, and then hearing. That was 499 years ago.

For what purpose he chose me, I cannot imagine. I guess the twisted bastard has a sick sense of humor. It doesn’t matter. My eyes report the clouds are especially beautiful today. So like the coward I still am, I sit and stare, waiting for my senseless hell to begin.

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All in a Day's Work

Author : Michael Herbaugh a.k.a. “Freeman”

It’s eerie, ya know? Standing over myself, while I am performing surgery on my own body. “Standing” is really a misnomer, it’s more like I am suspended from the ceiling of the company’s surgical arena. I, that is my consciousness, am being held in a temporary construct, while I work to reconstruct my physical vessel. Today, with computers and the right equipment anyone can perform medical miracles, but it doesn’t make it any less tedious nor is it any fun. This was a close one – a lot of head trauma, so I have to rebuild a lot of brain tissue.

An implant doesn’t make you immortal, far from it. You pretty much have to hit my implant directly or separate it from my body, but I can rattle off ten ways to kill me permanently without even trying. Right now, my thoughts are free to explore the morbid possibilities while I am in this holder machine repairing my organic self. The hard part is getting the body back here.

It all goes along with my line of work. When I started, one of my senior colleagues recommended getting the implant – turns out it was entirely worth it. In my first year of service, this is my fourth near fatal encounter.

While I’m not immortal the implant gives me half a chance. Once I’m injured or sense trouble I just gather myself up and use the implant to jump back here to the office. Once here I use a holder machine to contact the authorities and recover my body.

Finished – now for the hard part, getting back into my body.

“God damn that hurts! I hate serving subpoenas.”

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Echo Menagerie

Author : Salli Shepherd

Feeding-time is an unnatural silence. The last otter walks in dry circles, won’t chirrup for fish. A bobcat, only yesterday elevated to the lone archetype of all American felines, has pined to little more than loose hide draped on a bone frame and sulks below the hang of a rock to the fading of rival scents. The lion’s enclosure is faintly sour and sharp, speaks of pride passing, and past. The tiger’s cage is still laboratory-sterile.

Still. You laugh, at nothing amusing, and find yourself wishing the keepers wore harder soles than obligatory rubber-grips; that you’d left your Nikes at home in favour of Blundstones. You crave a footstep, even your own, anything that might help you lose the sense of being an exhibit.

The memory of an ostrich strides across a mimicked tundra while your fingers trace over its likeness cast in bronze on a stone pedestal. You’d distract yourself with an ice-cream, but they closed the kiosks months ago.

At the entrance to the elephant-walk you find the massive iron doors open and thank God it rained the day of the dying matriarch’s Green Mile. Fitting your footsteps to her crater-tracks, you recall reading somewhere that elephants wept real tears and wonder if her tragedy, stretching like a forlorn trunk from sawdust to sawdust, had struck her at all.

No wonder nobody comes here, anymore.

We can only bear so much guilt; can only stand to carry our own share of the weight of twenty billion people standing shoulder-to-shoulder, shoving life aside as though it were the last passenger to board our peak-hour train. You are an anomaly: a human being with the capacity to accept blame for shriveled grasses struggling up through cracked asphalt, peeling paint, the soft shush of things aging in despair and terrible solitude.

An arthritic gorilla shambles from its concrete granny flat, and stares across the dividing moat. You stare back a while before you climb onto the low fence, bunch your legs under you like a great cat, and leap.

You’re nowhere near as elegant in the landing.

In his prime he might have torn your arms from their sockets like fresh bamboo shoots. His great humped shoulders sag as he bends to sniff your body, one sausage-sized finger prodding your neck and belly. You think it best to lie still— as if you had a choice with your femur splintered like that, blood welling over sharded bone.

The silverback gathers you up in his arms, rocks you like a child, or a treasured doll. He’s been deaf for years, or would not be so indifferent to the screams that bring the last pair of zookeepers on earth running, on silent feet.

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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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