Author : Trip Venturella
“Freedom is not worth having if it does not include the freedom to make mistakes.”
Asher was heavy. Not fat, as it was impossible, borderline illegal, to be fat any more (for health safety, of course), but heavy.
He had spent the last two hours at one of the terminals at the Lifestyle Regulation Office. Half of that time was waiting for a terminal to open up. They were at full capacity, as usual.
The screen flickered, “The next field will require PERSONAL INFORMATION, are you sure you wish to proceed? YES/NO”
Asher pressed YES.
“If you wish to make a requisition, please enter your FIRST NAME and MONETARY IDENTIFICATION NUMBER.”
Asher typed ASHER and *******.
“Are you sure you wish to make a requisition involving a monetary transaction? YES/NO”
“Thank you for your time. To complete the requisition, please proceed to room fifteen, floor six.”
Asher almost smiled, but two hours at the LRO sapped anyone’s will to smile. He went to the front door, entered his name at the terminal, and the glass door slid open, a tiny ingress into the immense stone bureaucracy of the LRO. A voice warned him to watch his step. His glasses fogged up in the hot, sterile, soap-scented air. Asher blindly stumbled his way to the elevator. When the elevator arrived, a voice warned him to watch his step.
The voice warned him again when he got off at floor six. He entered his name again at the screen outside room fifteen, and when the door opened the voice warned him. Asher mumbled a warning to the voice.
A lady in a blue LRO uniform was seated behind a computer. She smiled at Asher. Like most LRO employees, she had no name tag. As many times as Asher had been to the LRO, he had never seen the same attendant twice.
“Can I help you?” Her voice was gratingly cheery.
Asher re-adjusted his glasses, “I need to requisition three gallons of gasoline.”
The lady examined the computer screen for a moment, “You are Asher?”
The lady in blue beamed, “Are you sure you want gasoline? It is both explosive and toxic.”
“I’m sure. I need it to drive a 1991 Chrysler New Yorker to Scottsdale.”
“Have you considered hiring a moving service? I can book them for you here.”
“I just need gasoline. A moving service costs four times as much.”
“But it’s much safer.”
Asher was finally frustrated, “I don’t need a moving service when I can drive myself!”
“Please don’t get angry. Anger results in poor decisions. And if you have any complaints, please register them at one of the terminals outside.”
“I won’t complain, but I need the gasoline, please.”
The lady printed out a piece of paper. She handed it to Asher, “Please read and sign this indemnification form.”
Asher signed it.
“Now take it to the Allocation Office on the second floor. They’ll safely fill your requisition. And Asher?”
“Drive safely and watch what you eat. A free country like ours needs safe, happy, healthy citizens!”
Author : Michael “Freeman” Herbaugh
It was time. The ship was on course for a slow burn into atmosphere, which it hadn’t done in over a millennium. Though Lars had every confidence that the ship would make it, his palms were slick holding the yoke which adjusted attitude should the navcomp vary slightly on approach.
He’d been set on this course by his father who had died three years ago and would not see the fruits of his planning. It was his father who had recognized that theirs was no longer a self perpetuating environment. While it had been many generations since the Great Travis had exterminated the last pilot liberating the colonists on board, no one at the time of the Revolution realized that the ship’s environmental systems were on a slow degrade.
His father saw it coming and knew they would have to find a planetary system to support them. He was the one who figured out how to access the ships logs and databanks. When he discovered the flight manual with everything one needed to know about controlling the ship, he also realized his own shortcomings. It would take a lifetime to master the ships controls.
This was when he set Lars on his path.
Lars had been thrilled at first, he was only 10 years old at the time, but 23 years later it felt as though he would never fulfill the destiny his father had set before him. Sure they had passed habitable systems several times, but after generations of living at near zero-g, it had made them a race with brittle bones and elongated bodies and extremities. He had to find a planet with a very low gravitational pull but enough to sustain an atmosphere and life as well. They would be weak at first, certainly, but they would survive and grow stronger.
Practicing with the ship was no problem – there was plenty of fuel on board as that was part of the equation their ancestors didn’t figure on. One of the waste bi-products from the engines was a part of the environmental cycle, without pilot’s to do periodic burns the cycle had been broken and now was beyond repair. So Lars was able to grow up making adjustments to the course by trial and error while studying his on-screen manual. It upset some of the elders to feel the ship shift as it adjusted course, but his father had managed to keep them calm and convince them of the necessity of a new pilot.
Overcoming obstacles to a near impossible mission had been all he’d ever known. Now he faced his last two. First, could the ship handle the descent; was the heat shielding still in place? Second, could he deal with the ships controls in atmosphere?
It didn’t matter though. If they didn’t land here they would be dead inside of three generations.
Lars flipped on the public address system, “Firing retros and beginning descent”. Grinning, he couldn’t help but be amused that the manual even told him what to say.
This was it; he could see the surface of the hull begin to glow.
Author : Pete Hayward
Wading through the long grass, her eyes and nose prickled by pollen, Erin could hear the thrum of helicopters in the distance. She knew they would soon catch her. As she approached the wire fence, she knew there was no escape; that she had lead them to her hideout.
Reaching the gate, she quickly turned the key and unhooked the padlock. She pushed the gate open and left it to swing behind her. She carried the padlock with her, the weight in her left hand some small comfort. Hideout, she thought to herself. Bunker, compound, whatever she called it, it was really just a wooden shed surrounded by a flimsy fence and some barbed wire. At least, that was all that was visible. She crossed the yard briskly, and pushed open the wooden door with a rusty whine into a dusty hallway.
Her stride unbroken, she dropped the padlock with a hefty clonk. She scooped up a brown paper package from a shelf to her left and continued to march. At the end of the hallway, a creaking wooden staircase led her underground. Above the soft foot-thumps of her sneakers on the steps, she could hear the rapidly approaching helicopters.
Reaching the bottom of the stairs, Erin tapped in her keycode to unlock the enormous steel doors there. As the mechanism clanked and swhooshed, she idly slid a fingernail under one of the folded corners of the paper-wrapped oblong she held in her hands.
How could she have been so careless?
Honey was big money on the black market. The bee trade was perhaps now the most illegal global market. It was certainly the most dangerous and expensive. Due to their near extinction some eighty years previous, and the threat this had posed to mankind, live bees had been replaced by tiny, sophisticated robots, for the sole purpose of pollenation. Private ownership of bees was criminalised, and, as the years turned into decades, honey and beeswax became the forbidden luxuries of the wildly decadent über-elite.
Erin allowed the paper wrapping to fall to the ground and stared at the waxy block in her hands. A comb like this would be worth seven grand. The cost of constructing and maintaining vast underground gardens in secret, and the expenses involved in smuggling produce and livestock, meant bee traders needed to mark their products up significantly to make anything like a profit. The sorts of people that bought honey didn’t care. The higher the price, the better; they were buying a golden spoonful of status.
Erin’s mother had been a canny trader, but one thing she had that Erin lacked was a deep and murky reservoir of paranoia. She reflected on this as the commotion of barked orders and heavy bootstomps filled the shack above her. Erin held the comb to her mouth and inhaled deeply. Her resolve momentarily strengthened, she tightened a fist around the waxy block, and entered the apiary.
Author : Leslie Smith
Hi there. Oh..you have a question? Someone at school said we were going somewhere? After dinner honey. No? Now? Okay, sit very still and I will tell you a story…….
Once, very long ago, we lived with our mother. She was large and round. She fed and gave us a place to sleep. She sang us songs when the wind blew through her hair. She showed us pretty pictures when the sun shined on her face. And we loved her. She asked nothing of us, but we gave anyway. For a long time, everything was at peace.
But sometimes, people forget. They forget about love. When something is given freely, they start taking it for granted. And that’s what we did, we took our mother for granted.
We stopped listening to her. We forgot about everything that she gave us without asking. We just took. We threw things wherever we wanted, like when you don’t want to clean your room sometimes. We did what we wanted. And just like you, we had people who said that what we did was wrong. They told us how to fix things. How to make things right again. But we didn’t listen. We wanted to do things our own way. We thought we were grown up. We were wrong.
Mother got sick from all of our ickyness. Pretty soon, we couldn’t be near her without getting sick too. So, since we thought that we were so grown up, we did the only thing that we could do, we left.
We sailed away on big mountains of metal and crystal. We sailed across oceans of blackness and time. We found new places to live. But they were never quite the same as living with our mother. Why? Because she made us. She molded us. She held our hands when we cried. She let us rest our heads on her great shoulders when we had bad dreams. It hurt to leave her, but we did.
Only…we didn’t leave her behind….not all the way. We gave her a kind of telephone. See, we knew that no matter how sick she got, that one day she would get better.
Yesterday we got a phone call. And you know what? She called to say she’s feeling a lot better and wants to meet you. You feel up for a family visit?
Author : John Kuhn
Bata stood beside Danny and held out his soda. The game blared in front of him.
Danny glanced at her.
“Thanks,” he smiled, wondering if the smile really mattered.
He took the drink and relished the sound of ice cubes clinking against the glass. His gaze reverted instantly to the game; kindness lingered in his eyes even after he’d forgotten she was there.
She was hesitant to interrupt, but this was important. Danny looked at her.
“Danny, I want to learn to paint.”
Danny’s world stopped. “What?”
The man dropped his drink on the floor.
He swore, but not about the spill.
Danny stood and squeezed Bata’s shoulder, and she slept. He lay the lithe creature in a heap in the back seat of his car and set the navigator on a course for the Ministry building.
Danny stood outside the double doors holding her in his arms. She was lighter than a human her size. A man in blue coveralls came out.
“What’s the problem, sir?” he asked.
“Desire,” Danny replied sadly.
The man nodded and seized a radio from his belt. “We have a 504 in the front,” he said.
“Take it on back to the processor,” crackled an androgynous reply.
“Can I watch?” Danny asked before the man could take her away.
The man looked him in the eyes. He had gone through a customer sensitivity update the day before.
“Sure,” he said softly.
Danny followed the man in blue coveralls through a powered gate to the back of the building, onto a cracked cement parking lot punctuated with hardscrabble weeds. The processor hummed in the center of the lot–it was a huge tin box with a conveyor belt jutting in front and a rusting bin in the back. Danny showed no emotion, lest the laborer think him an idiot.
The man in blue lay Bata on the conveyor belt and flipped a switch. The box came to life and Danny watched as the conveyor pulled her into its gnashing teeth. The titanium under her artificial skin squealed, and glinting sparks dove in arcing flight away from the destruction.
He drove home in brokenhearted silence.
“Bata,” he whispered over the soft music playing in the car.
The house welcomed him by echoing his every footstep across the cold kitchen tiles, its emptiness exaggerated by her missing standard welcome.