Four Minutes

Author : Christopher Albanese

With her eye pressed to the inside of the window and his eye pressed to the out, their lashes navigate the viscous silicate surface of the glass. Somewhere inside, they twine.

The same happens at each of their fingertips — ten hers and ten his press to the window, hers on the inside, his out. A human eye cannot see the wriggling strands of DNA trickle and tumble from the sweat on their fingertips to push through the glass, seeking the heat from the other.

A human eye cannot see the surge, the urgent chemical transaction that occurs as these strands strive through the silicate surface with a drive not unlike that of spermatoza starting new life. Incensed and alive, these precious pieces of their selves wriggle and writhe as they drive on, headlong.

The glass heats to liquid beneath her fingertips. She presses out tighter, her fingertips. Just beyond the glass, on the outside of hers, are his. He is receiving.

Behind him, lightning crashes across the stars and indigoes bleed from bruise to red as chemicals cut the sky. Inside, the space behind her is vacuum silent, vacuum empty, vacuum deadly. Yet, she lives. She is a new form of life, and she is limitless. He is the way of all things. They peer through the window, and a new form of creation has been engaged.

They open their mouths and press their sets of lips to the window, hers on the inside, his out. Her blue eyes blink and his green do, too. Sealed in this O-ring kiss, they inhale – her the vacuum, him the stars.

A skin like mercury bubbles into the cavity created by the kiss. It takes four minutes for the glass to cease to resist. The sound that shakes them apart is not a shatter, but a torrent. The sound that shakes them apart is the union of all things to the vacuum. The sound registers at the frequency of a new form of creation screaming alive.

Their invisible barrier boiled and broken, they melt the space between them as lightning screams down indigoes from the sky.

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Interface

Author : CK

“Synaptic couplers disengaged.” Andrei Milosovic sat up in the recliner, gingerly rubbing the back of his neck. He glanced at the control room window; his colleague there beckoned him up. The Institute had paid for the nanosurgery and training- all so that one of the country’s most promising minds could be one of the privileged few with unrestricted access to the whole of human knowledge- and for what? Fields of fog, and chills down the spine. Milosovic swung his legs over the side of the chair and made his way upstairs.

“Mind telling me what I’m supposed to be seeing?”

“Look. Right there. Those aren’t human alpha patterns.” Albert Gürz pointed to the screen displaying the records of his colleague’s MMI session.

“Not on the screen. I mean during the interface. It’s all gray.”

“Like I said, these aren’t alpha patterns. Maybe you aren’t relaxing?” Milosovic snorted. It had taken him years of psychological exercise to achieve a restful, ‘alpha’ state during these sessions, despite the fact that the previously sacrosanct boundary between his consciousness and the world outside had been so brutally violated by this machine. The thought that his training was failing him, now that it finally came to it, was laughable. He peered at the screen again.

“Was I asleep?” Gürz looked puzzled.

“No. Why?” Milosovic remained silent, instead merely indicating a section of the brain wave graph in response.

Gürz’ eyes narrowed and his hand moved towards his chin, mannerisms characteristic of his most pensive of moods. “They look like delta waves.”

“I know they do. Does the system work both ways?”

“That’s immaterial. Even if we had built it to, there would need to be a consciousness on the other end. It was made to be an interactive database, and that is what it is.” Milosovic remained skeptical. His training allowed him to seamlessly exchange data- information, but also sense data, emotion, unadulterated thought- with the machine’s processor. But what it could not prepare him for, and what Milosovic was having difficulty accepting, was the machine’s response to the most human of these processes. A machine has no use for emotion, but where Milosovic had expected an inability to parse such data, he instead experienced a void, as though the bits and bytes of his humanity were absorbed in their transmission: processed and rejected. Computers were cold and impersonal by design, but this mind-machine interface seemed cold by nature, if machines possessed such a thing. The looming monstrosity of the processor’s protrusion into Milosovic’ thoughts left him with the impression that he was dealing with an analytical, dispassionate individual as opposed to an information-relay engine, and it chilled him to the bone.

“Punch up the brainwave reader.”

“What? Why? You’re disconnected. There’s nothing to read.”

“Just do it.” Gürz tapped a key and his eyes widened in shock. There, though the machine displayed operational standby, were patterns coherent with human delta brainwaves, indicative of deep sleep. An iron fist closed around Milosovic’ gut.

“It’s dreaming…”

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Cargo

Author : S. Clough aka ‘Hrekka’

“Excuse me, umm…”

“Can I help?” Roisin responded pleasantly, turning to see who had addressed her.

“My name’s Gillian…I’m looking for someone who could courier something for me…do you know…?” Gillian’s question tailed off. She had never been able to approach strangers with any degree of confidence.

Roisin hadn’t met Gillian before, and her Captain had taught her to be immediately cautious around strangers. ‘It isn’t possible to be too suspicious.’ These words became a mantra after a time. Strangers, especially here, at the races, made her particularly uneasy. Roisin had drawn up a graph before, charting proximity of any gambling opportunity against ‘number of people who Kate owes money too’. It came out as you’d expect, really.

There was nothing about this woman that might mark her as a run-of-the-mill debt collector. She wore ornate clothes, oriental in style, in white and patterned with green. The collar was high enough to almost cover her mouth. Roisin judged her to be approaching thirty, if she hadn’t had any age mods. Her hair, though, gave Roisin pause. It was impossibly tall, bubblegum pink and there wasn’t the slightest chance that it was in any way natural. All these thoughts passed in a moment, and Roisin put on a warm smile, whilst nonchalantly letting one of her hands drift to the pocket of her overalls to wrap her long fingers around the spanner tucked there.

“Well, Gillian,” she said, her face genial, “that depends. I assume you know what kind of ship I work on?” She gestured to the dark shape of the River, behind her, dominating the bay. “We don’t usually run cargo. You’ll have to give us a few very good reasons as to why we should make an exception for you.”

“Umm…well…”

“Spit it out.”

“It’s the cargo.” She hesitated, shuffling her feet nervously. “It’s…different.”

“Show me.”

Gillian bit her lip, and nodded.

“Okay.”

She led Roisin down one level, into the cargo storage areas. The young docker followed her through a maze of utility bays and lockers, until they finally drew to a halt in front of a door unremarkable from the next. Gillian palmed the door open.

Roisin took a step back.

“Whoa…”

The storage bay was almost filled by some species of giant lizard. Mucky green-and-purple scales caught the light from the corridor at odd angles, a blunt head turned slowly from side to side, nostrils flared, seeking scents, while a long tail twitched around, occasionally ringing off the metal walls. A brown leather harness and saddle had been stretched over its head. Gillian approached it. Roisin pressed herself against the door on the other side of the corridor. Gillian stroked the lizard’s head, and cooed to it. Roisin was scoping the exits.

“What the hell?”

“His name is Bellial. I need to get him away from here.”

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Heat

Author : Beth Boyle

It was hot. It was always hot. There was no escaping it and there hadn’t been for hundreds of years. There was only the unyielding, unbearable sun and the empty horizon wavering like seasickness before her. Not that seasickness was really an issue anymore. Where she was walking had once been the bottom of what they called the Indian Ocean.

She wanted to drink (oh god all she ever wanted was to drink, to bathe or to swim- anything to be submerged in water), but every member of the colony had a carefully rationed allowance of water adjusted to the individual’s weight, age and health requirements. Only just as much water as the body required, and a pocketful of hydration pills to keep body and soul together. The water bottles were a psychological comfort, really they survived on the little blue capsules. Each one behaved as a single 8-ounce glass of water- but without any of the delicious sensuality that had once been associated with hydration.

She would be even thirstier in ten minutes. The water would feel that much better, that much cooler in ten minutes. She rubbed her left eye (her eyes, they itched all the time and they hurt there was nothing but fucking sand and it burned) and felt the skin around it crack and flake. There may have been a trickle of blood flowing into the canyons of her arid face. She felt sick.

She was going to the laboratory, as she always did on her free-labor days. She was exotic-looking for her colony, with almost dark-colored hair and eyes where everyone else was sun bleached and burnt into photo negatives and she had a wide smile in a place where few smiled at all. With these tools she charmed herself an unauthorized lab pass, but it wasn’t necessary anymore, everyone knew the girl who sat in the Archives Room.

Some days she read old books and played with the minuscule menagerie of mammals and birds the scientists kept so they would not become fully extinct. Sometimes she lay in the Aquarium room and listened to the water move and the fish swim, basking in the crystal light dancing through the water. But mostly she would lock herself in the Video Room with bottles of stolen water and watch movies.

Two hundred years ago, there had been rain. There was wind that was cold and things that were green, animals everywhere- and water. There was water all over the world. There was so much, and they let it all die.

She would sit in the basement for hours, mesmerized by images of snow falling and flowers projected on the white wall. She sat for hours and hours and cried because all the snows and flowers and greenness and coolness had burned away.

She cried for hours without tears, because all the tears had been burned away too.

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ICE

Author : TJMoore

Conrad latched his helmet and checked his seals. The adrenaline was pouring into his system as he fidgeted in line with the others waiting for the lock to cycle. He was about to face his first battle against the ice marauders.

Academy had been the hardest six weeks he’d ever endured, but now he was in the best physical condition of his life and he was top of his class in marksmanship. Still, the stories the veterans told of the ferocity and cunning of the bloodthirsty raiders from far side left him feeling a little edgy. Just stories he told himself. Something to keep us a little scared, a little more alert he thought.

The warning strobe began to flash and the outer doors slowly swung out into the harsh glare of lunar daylight. His unit pushed out in practiced formation and began the rhythmic hop across the dusty mare toward the ice pits. Visions of crazy eyed mad men frothing at the mouth crept across his mind as he searched the horizon for any sign of attack.

Silently and with almost no motion the faceplate of the cadet next to him dissolved in a haze of shards and the cadet tumbled slowly toward the ground. Conrad crouched as he hit the dust, wildly scanning the horizon and all the myriad shadows on the plane before him. The order to disperse was given and he turned to his assigned compass point and leaped into the sky. At the height of his assent, he had a clear view of the entire plane and he caught the smallest of movements from an outcropping about fifty meters ahead. Bringing his rifle up to the firing position, he took aim and squeezed off a round.

Behind the large rock a figure jerked and then drifted slowly to the right until it came to rest motionless on the ground. When he reached the downed raider he turned him over to see the grizzly face of a mad marauder. A boy no more than fifteen gazed back at him with dead eyes. Conrad searched for his weapon only to find a trenching tool in the dead boy’s gloved hand. The boys face was gaunt with dark circles under his eyes. With sudden horrible understanding, Conrad realized that the boy was dehydrated and withered like a dried twig. The mad marauders were just people like Conrad only suffering from lack of water. They were attacking out of desperation. He turned and doubled over and vomited violently into his face plate. The smell made him retch again and he spewed another stream into his helmet.

Back in the ward room Conrad sat on the ready bench and gazed blankly ahead. His sergeant noticed the dried puke in his hair and all over his helmet and laid an uncharacteristically gentle hand on his shoulder.

“We’re all scared the first time out soldier. You’ll do better next time” he consoled.

Conrad hung his head and quietly wept.

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