Upvote, Downvote

Author: Sarah Klein

Candy watched her brother cross the room and hit the woman in the face.

She blinked, stunned. She watched for a moment longer out of morbid curiosity. Then she quickly closed the tab and firmly punched the THUMBS DOWN button.

She tabbed over to the Today’s Angels page and looked for her mother. In vain, of course. Her mother was never going to make Today’s Angels. But she had to check, just in case she’d rescued a bus of preschoolers or fought off a school shooter. That happened a lot these days, the school shootings. If you were looking at Today’s Demons and some nobody under a certain age had rocketed up there, it was a solid guess.

Candy decided to look in on her mother, but she didn’t for long. The poor woman was still at her desk grading papers, looking sad. Not as crushed as usual, but not what Candy wanted to see. She softly pressed the thumbs up button.

She wondered about looking at another part of the world today. At first she loved to do this. It was easier and more exciting for people with people you didn’t know, seeing things you didn’t expect. But sometimes it was still difficult, or there was a cultural norm she wasn’t sure about, and she’d still have to hit a button, and she didn’t want to muck up anyone’s score like that. Every point should be earned. What was the worth of it if it wasn’t?

She definitely needed to put the selector on random today, though. Just North America only, maybe.

There was a little boy comforting a little girl who had skinned her knee. Candy’s heart swelled. Easy. She felt conflicted with kids sometimes. Should your childhood mistakes really follow you like that? But they shaped your life, they did. It was, after all, just a number.

Candy vacillated back and forth about the system a lot. She had a lot of time to think.

The next was a group of teenagers. As usual, she picked her victim at the beginning. But after that, it was a long while before she voted. Nothing especially unusual going on – giggling, gum-chewing, a trip to the movies. Candy lost herself in the immersion. The girl she had picked seemed a challenge – almost a blank slate. She made a note to check her current score afterward because she was curious. When the girl got dropped off at home, she thanked her friend for the ride. It had been hours. Candy shrugged and hit thumbs up before checking her total score. Like a lot of people, modestly positive. Nothing too interesting. Did she want to see something interesting today? She never knew until she saw it, after all.

It’s just that being dead gets really, really boring after a while…

Summer Help

Author: R. Gene Turchin

We hired college students for work at the moon history park during the lull between semesters. The cost to get them up here is still high even though we now have weekly shuttle runs. The shuttle carries 20 passengers plus a crew of four. Launch and landing are automated and controlled by AI. Crew is window dressing and for emergencies.
The work was mostly cleaning and painting. Simple stuff. We get some good, some bad, up from earth for the summer. The ads read: Spend your summer on the moon. The adventure of a lifetime. Do you have what it takes?
Government foots the bill for college students and subsidizes tourists. Pretty sure they use it as a weeding out process. In a couple years the current students might become colonist. The summer work is a test. How will they fare with the lower gravity, the lack of open air, and protocols. The colony has been running thirty plus years now and our safety record exceeds anything on earth. Very few serious accidents and no breaches.
Mikey was a stumble bum, one of those characters who could screw up an iron anvil with a banana. He was the type who thought he’d meet girls up here. If you can’t find companionship on Mother Earth with her population, the logic of hooking up in a restricted colony is bound for failure.
Supervisor can tell how well newbies will fare during the first auditorium welcome meeting. We could read their personalities from the way they moved, giggled, asked questions. Up here, we have to be good at body language signs. Mikey was borderline cabbage from word one. His eyes never made contact with the stage.
“Anybody know who the doofus in the red shirt is? Cause I don’t want him,” Jim said. Others nodded. We scanned the ID images.
“Michael Arbogast, age 19. Wants to be a pilot,” I read from the tab.
“Into the bowels of the dungeon,” Samantha said. “Organic waste detail.” There were nods around the room.
Much to our surprise, the kid did well with the organic waste detail assignment, in fact, he seemed to enjoy it, paid meticulous attention to the finer points but he was vocal about wanting to experience outside. Everyone new here gets a required outside tour, first in a tractor and then an easy walk around the launch facility and the solar farms. It’s another test. Psychologically, some people are just not cut out for the vastness of the lunar surface and the sight of earth hanging in the sky. Metaphorically they run screaming and usually take the next shuttle home. Arbogast didn’t freak nor did he reach that other end of the pendulum swing where the idiots become too casual about being outside. It seemed that the kid had some sense. He was assigned park duty.
The park is covered over with a clear plastisteel shield designed to let light in but keep the meteors off. Strict protocols keep the tourists in line to protect the fragile exhibit. For many it is their first time in an environmental suit. Claustrophobia becomes an issue.
On the tours only the rangers are allowed behind the line. Mikey thought he was a ranger and ducked under the wire to display his status and scuffed Armstrong’s foot prints with his own.

The Good, the Bad, and the Zombie

Author: Majoki

The Good was the worst. The Bad was worthless. The Zombie, at least, was willing.

Life is so energy intensive. Though the Zombie held few thoughts in its putrefying head, this one stuck as flies buzzed feverishly around, attracted by the kill on the street. The Good had done it. Savagely struck down the child and then walked on fingering his rosary beads as if he’d just blessed the poor little soul.

The Bad, as always, looked away.

The Zombie appreciated the flies. No waste there. Committed to the carnage. Fully alive. The Zombie didn’t believe that of its companions. Self-avowed and twice saved, the Good spouted a doctrine of divine disinterest. A filcher and fraud, the Bad lacked common decency. Together, they were very modern.

The three were now bound together by the times. End times. It would not last. Nothing human could, but the Zombie had just enough cognition left to imagine a peaceful denouement for a deserving few. Like the broken child at its feet.

For that, the Good would pay, the Bad would collect, the Zombie would witness.

The streets were empty. Emptier when deadened creatures such as they passed through. The Good stopped at an intersection. He stared down the cross lane lit by the uncontested blaze of the low sun. He never checked to see if the Bad was with him, but he always waited for the Zombie, his expression unreadable until he registered the child in its arms.

An almost smile.

“Sick. Just sick,” the Bad spat. “Not right.”

“Our angel is always right. Our angel understands the new ways better than a reprobate like you ever will.” The Good headed straight into the fallen sun.

The Zombie felt little, but the dead-on radiance of the sun flecked its eyes with colors, shapes, images. Life. Energy. Intensity. The child in its arms became something else entirely. A memory. A little girl on a porch. A peaceful sunset. A world not yet unmade

Darkness slowly snuffed out the last ember of day and still the Zombie held a shiver, a long-ago thrill of its promise. The Good would soon be preaching to the stars. The Bad would disappear to sate his appetites. The Zombie would cleave to the child and remember more. More than the Good or the Bad ever dared.

Deep in the night, the Zombie with child, watched the heavens and was watched. The Bad lurked nearby, his pockets full of grievances. The Good approached.

“Is it foretold, angel?” Only the glint of his upturned eyes visible. “Judgment should be swift.”

Faint lines appeared between the stars. More and more. A web, a net, forming above them, as it had in the beginning of the end times. The child kicked in the Zombie’s loosening arms.

“Another offering?“ the Good asked of his angel.

The Zombie was more than willing. It was willful.

The child roared.

Life does not ask permission.

They Came Out of Mirrors

Author: Mattia Ravasi

They came out of mirrors. Out of shop windows. Out of lakes and ponds, if the water was clear and still enough.
Our doubles. Identical, but opposite. Indistinguishable from us except for that look in their eyes, the look that people like my mom (mired in horrid prejudice) still believe to be proof that they are not the same as us, not truly human.
A defiant look. Unapologetic.
There were accidents at first, bursts of spontaneous or organized violence, but it is hard to harm yourself – and almost as hard to harm your anti-self. It feels wrong at a deep, primeval level.
Looking back at the panic of those early days, it is astonishing to realize how smoothly the world adapted when the Earth’s population doubled in a single day.
It turned out that overpopulation was a lie. There is enough Earth for everybody, as long as people stop eating for ten, and taking up land for a hundred. It wasn’t difficult, after that point, to shrug off Power’s other lies. If we don’t build these weapons, our enemies will kill us in our sleep. If you don’t work hard, our competitors will put us out of business, and you’ll go hungry.
(I lie. It was difficult. It took blood, sweat, and years, both ours and theirs, our doubles’.)
I live in the same city as mine. Apparently this is very common: people residing quite close to their double. It might be that we don’t trust them, and prefer to keep an eye on them. It might be that it’s as hard to give them up as it is to avoid looking at yourself when you pass your reflection in a car window.
The idea that they might harbor the same feeling, an unquestionable urge to check on us from time to time, never crossed my mind until now – perhaps because I am not as different from my mom as I like to think.
I have never spoken to him. He ran out of my house the second he emerged from my bathroom mirror, not without first giving me that look. We don’t say hi, or even nod, when we meet around town. And yet I somehow know quite a lot about him.
He does not feel the cold. Even in Winter, he rides his bike in short sleeves.
He never smiles at passersby, never moves out of the way to let pensioners or couples or groups of teenagers walk past him, but I’ve seen him run to the rescue of an old man who’d slipped on ice, and try to talk down a homeless man who was having a fit.
He eats with great gusto. He belches openly, unthinkingly.
He married a woman with black hair and a penchant for flowery dresses. I have seen them walk hand in hand, and I have seen them having loud arguments at café tables. I get the sense that he would rather call her out on the things he disagrees with, rather than stifle his opinion for the sake of a peaceful afternoon.
I doubt he ever read a single book, but he discusses the local soccer team loudly and jovially with strangers on the bus.
He is too distracted to send token texts to his aging parents – how are you today, I had pizza for lunch. He does make a point to travel to see them as often as he can.
The reason why I hate him so much is that I cannot shake the feeling that he is a better person than I am.

A Gift For Brain

Author: Sophie Villalobos

Phyllis was carrying in a three-tiered sponge cake. Her hips ticked one way and the cake the other. She lifted the party hat that was perched on top of Brain’s tank and set it down on the table beside him.
‘Happy birthday, Brain!’
A lacklustre stream of bubbles rose from beneath Brain’s frontal lobe. ‘Alas, another year,’ he said. His voice crackled in the speaker system.
Phyllis ignored him and started to cut the cake. ‘A slice for me,’ she said, removing a perfect wedge, ‘and a slice for you.’ She cradled a second wedge over to him, uncovered his tank, and sprinkled a few crumbs into the water. They fluttered down like fish food.
‘How’s about a little champagne to soften the blow?’ Brain said.
She licked the frosting from her fingers. ‘Okay, but just a drop. You know what alcohol does to your grey matter.’
Phyllis retrieved a bottle from the refrigerator and added a splash to his water. She replaced the lid of his tank and balanced the party hat jauntily on top of it. ‘I also got you a present. Any idea what it might be?’
‘It’s another hat.’
She dropped her arms by her sides and moaned. ‘Have a little imagination!’
‘Phil, darling, I’ve been stuck in this jar for forty years. There aren’t many other options.’
She stifled a squeal. ‘Oh, shush!’ Her shoes slipped over the floor tiles and when they reappeared, she was nudging a wrapped box with the point of her toe.
Brain drew behind a curtain of bubbles. Phyllis tore off the paper and heaved the contents out of the box. Brain heard her groan. The bubbles parted and he moved forward, rising a little like a cloud.
‘Lift with your back, not your arms!’ he said.
‘Easy for you to say.’
She rolled the gift onto her knees and lugged it over to the table. The cake jumped into the air as she dropped the object down beside it.
‘Well, it’s not another Panama, that’s for sure.’
‘Do you like it? It’s a diving helmet. But wait, that’s not all!’ She turned a key and the helmet began to whir. Cogs rode up behind the eyeholes and spun like pinwheels—a click—then six metal legs shot out from underneath it. Phyllis reached inside and tripped a switch. The helmet took a step forward. ‘Isn’t it wonderful?’ She grabbed a handful of electrodes from inside it. They hung between her fingers from a tangle of blue wires.
Brain fizzed with joy. ‘I can’t believe it! A brain-machine interface?’
‘Yup! Adapted from old Soviet gear. All we do now is pop you in here and you’re off! You can operate it without a body!’ Phyllis was about to attach the syphoning hose to Brain’s tank but she stopped herself.
‘What? What are you waiting for?’
‘It’s just,’ she pointed to the bottle of champagne, ‘You aren’t really supposed to drink and drive.’