Historical Writing

Author : David Zhou

“My card,” he said, bowing gracefully to the client from Tarqon, the fifth planet in the Tostis system out in the deep reaches of the Spiraling Galaxy.

“I want to thank you,” the client said. “Thank you for taking on this job. They said you were the only one who could — who would do it.”

“That I am, my friend. I’m a historical writer. I write history. And for this sum, I will write your history.”

The man handed his client a slip of paper with a number on it. It was not small.

“This sum is acceptable. Barely. How would you like payment?”

“Oh, I’ll take care of it,” said the man lightly. “I’ll take it out while I’m writing your history. You won’t even notice it’s not there. Because it won’t be there. You know. Causality and all that.”

The client nodded slowly. “So you have it? Our history? What we want?”

“Yes, yes. You want to win the Sixth War of Independence. You want to ensure that a Seventh cannot, and did not, happen. And as a personal favor, a freebie if you will, you will have married Willemena of Erustis in your thirtieth year.”

“Yes, that’s right. The outline we gave you has more detailed notes. The dates of events, the order we would like them in. And Willemena’s address at that point.”

“Got it.”

The man started to turn away. He stopped for a moment. “Don’t worry, it’ll be quick. You won’t even know it’s happening.”

“I hope so,” said the client.

“You can’t, really. Notice. It’s how it works. One moment Tarqon is suffering from a drought of freedom, and the next, Tarqon will be independent, and you’ll wake up with Willemena in your arms and by your side. Sides. However you people engage in such acts.”

The client smiled. “Good luck, then.”

The man grinned. And started towards the gateway.

“Um, one question.”

The man turned, eyebrows raised.

The client hesitated and then spoke. “With all of your writing, how do you know that you’ll still exist? I mean, what if you change yourself?”

The man laughed. And grinned again. “My friend, I don’t worry about that. I like what I do.”

“So?”

“I have supreme confidence that whatever set of choices I have to make, I’ll make the ones that lead to historical writing.”

He turned and entered the gateway.

“Besides, I’m too good at this.”

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Flight Test

Author : James Mallek

It was with a running leap that he finally brought himself to do it. John hurled himself off the top of the eighty-story Hertz Building.

5 seconds of free fall before he righted himself, face down, parallel to the ground.

Terminal velocity achieved, no more acceleration. Immediately reversing his acceleration would splatter his guts against the inside of his suit. A twitch of his calf ignited the chemical rockets sticking out of his ankles. Horizontal velocity increasing, thus a complete increase of net velocity.

“Shut up Computer.”

The suits A.I. promptly stopped giving a narration of his actions.

Spreading his arms granted lift, and he swung gently upward between the towering skyscrapers. An optimal state of powered flight had been achieved.

“Damnit Computer I told you to shut it!”

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Once in a Lifetime

Author : Matt Brubeck

We’re in the Starbucks next to the club, hanging out after a show. Aaron looks up and gives a brief snort. “Check it out,” he says, nodding toward the door. I see a trio of young kids, studying the menu and trying to look cool. I recognize them from the crowd at the concert.

“Time travelers,” Aaron says through a mouthful of croissant. “New arrivals, I’m guessing.”

“What? I think they’re college students.”

“Look again.” Aaron’s eyes twitch toward the newcomers, then back to me. “Their clothes are totally ridiculous, like they were picked out of random fashion magazines from the last decade.”

“I thought they dressed like that because they’re hipsters,” I say, looking again at their off-brand sneakers and thrift-store sweatshirts.

“You know how you always see these kids in low-paying service jobs?” Aaron goes on. “Retail, food service. It’s because they don’t have time to learn the period knowledge they’d need for a trade or professional job. See, I’ve figured it out.” Aaron leans over the table, whispering. “Say you’re a rich kid from the future on wanderjahr. You’ve got a time machine, but what do you do with it? Great Moments In History aren’t going to impress your friends. But if you can see a classic band from the twenty-first century before they made it big?” Aaron raises his eyebrows syly. “Watch, I’m gonna go mess with them.”

Aaron washes his pastry down with a swig of coffee, then wanders over to talk to the trio. I can’t hear their replies, but Aaron’s voice carries across the room. “Weren’t you guys at the show? Oh yeah, I know… Did you see them play here last week? Oh man, it was probably their best set ever… Yeah, a real once in a lifetime thing… Yeah, cool… Hey, I gotta go.”

Back at our apartment, we unearth my camera and download the last month’s worth of photos onto Aaron’s laptop. Aaron flips through images until he finds what he’s looking for. “Got ’em,” he proclaims, handing me the computer. On the screen is a photograph from last month’s show. In the back of the club, next to the exit, a trio of hipsters stands in familiar outfits, holding paper cups marked with a distinctive green-and-black logo.

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Children's Programming

Author : Kevin Byrne

The adults were all sitting down, watching the children interact with one another; to a soul, they all said the same thing to me: “I cannot believe how well-behaved your son is. We try so hard just to get our child to even listen to what we’re saying, much less do what we tell them.

“What’s your secret?”

I lean in and whisper. “My wife and I drill it into him.”

They all smirk and nod. “Yeah, right.”

At that point, I call my son over; when he arrives, I continue the conversation. “Seriously, we’ve drilled it into him.”

I lift the flap of scalp to show the inch-by-inch square where you can see his brain. “We opened up his skull and inserted electrodes; we were able to turn the behavioral patterns we wanted him to follow into binary code and transmitted them directly into his brain.”

I replaced the flap and told him that he could go back and play with the other kids. I picked up my drink and smiled.

“Next week, we’re teaching him French.”

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Best Friends

Author : Alex Meggitt

I shift around on the couch, flipping through the channels and trying to make myself comfortable. Tim is sitting on the other end, watching the television cycle through sounds and images. The complacent look in his eye clears for a second as he sits upright and slaps me on the shoulder.

“Go back a couple,” he says, and I tap the down arrow on the remote until he gives the signal and the screen settles on a familiar sitcom.

“You’ve seen this like a dozen times,” I say.

“Yeah, but I like it,” he says. I sigh and try to balance the remote lengthways on the couch’s arm. It wavers for a few seconds then falls. When blindly groping the floor proves worthless, I turn on the only lamp within arm’s reach.

“That lamp kind of sucks,” Tim says without looking away from the TV. “Wal-Mart’s having a sale this week. They’ve got some good ones. Saw it in the paper.”

Still bending forward in my seat, now looking under the table next to me, I turn my head to look at him. He’s still transfixed by the screen. After a second, I give up and say I’m hungry.

“Then let’s go to McDonald’s when the show’s over.”

“Why McDonald’s?”

“What? Cause I like it. It’s good. You like it, too.”

I lean back into a normal sitting position. “We go there all the time.”

“Cause it’s good.” He doesn’t close his mouth completely at the end of the sentence, and I stare at the bottoms of his front teeth. They’re very white despite the number of cigarettes he smokes per day. Mine aren’t comparable. He’s been telling me to buy his brand of toothpaste for a while.

When the commercials begin, Tim slouches a little and looks at the ceiling. He’s thinking, and the moment he opens his mouth, I cut him off.

“Tell me something,” I say, pulling a folded piece of paper out of my pocket. I’ve practiced in my head for a while now. Slowly and purposefully, I unfold the paper at an angle that lets him read. His eyes get a little wider as he recognizes the words printed on the gray watermark pattern. It’s his pay stub, a weekly check from a job he’s never mentioned. I have a question to ask, but it comes out a mashup of every topic in my head. “The catalogs, the checks. Honestly. Just tell me how long.”

“Why’d you go through my stuff?” he says.

“I went to borrow your toothpaste because mine ran out. I found it in there.”

“It’s good stuff, isn’t it? Whitens,” he says, smiling a little.

“Come on. How long have you been doing this? Tell me how long you’ve been selling me things.”

He looks at me, makes a sound, and hesitates. I glare.

“Remember when we were sixteen? And I told you to get a few more controllers for your Nintendo?”

“Jesus.”

“I mean, it was just meant to be a summer job at that point. But they liked me. And it’s good money.”

I stand up, looking at the floor as I rise, and walk out of the room. When I return a minute later with my coat on, he’s still looking at the point where I turned the corner and went out of sight.

“Are you going to tell the rest of the guys about this?” he asks. “If they all know, I’ll find another group of people. I’ll have to move. I like you guys.”

“I thought we were going to McDonald’s. Come on.”

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