Author : Thomas Desrochers
Grant watched as steam curled up from his mug and disappeared into the foliage above, weak spears of early morning light dancing through the leaves. He smiled – it was rare to have a moment of peace. The girl’s mattress creaked in the next room. His fingers brushed along the edge of the picture frame in the middle of the table.
“Well,” he grunted. “Nothing lasts forever.”
The quiet was a blessing any more, a moment to try and build energy for whatever came next. He needed it – the arthritis in his legs was slowing him down even as the children seemed to get faster and more curious.
Another minute, another hour, another day. It was all borrowed, he knew, in a body that by all rights should have been retired a decade earlier. Time was coming to collect its debt, tapping at the balance sheet with an impatient finger and a smile that brooked no argument; there would be no warning.
He thought it was fitting: a body on borrowed time carving out a life in a ruin that had its own debts coming due. A dying man in a dead city trying to shelter the gleaming spark of a child’s life from the howling wind outside.
The City groaned below. Was it still alive? Maybe. Grant had come across dozens of lonely computers still humming away, tucked in bedrooms and offices, in server rooms alongside scores of dead machines, tucked into the corners of utility spaces. They were being fed, but every time he tried to tap into that energy it had flitted away from him, rerouted like a bird leading him away from a nest. Never any power to tie into, but every time a small gift: an untouched medicine cabinet, a shoe box full of seeds, a stuffed animal the day before the girl’s fourth birthday. Grant cleaned the machines every year, fighting the dust – half out of gratitude and half superstition.
But if it was alive, it was dying too. The computers were going dark. It was rot, he thought, brought about by the cut in The City’s side. It wasn’t large, but it let in the wind and moisture that blew around at ten thousand feet above sea level. Let in the world, and trapped them.
Another groan, humming through the floor and rattling the glass. The City had been the most impressive feat of engineering the planet had ever seen, a country compressed into a building.
Grant wrapped his hands around the mug, the heat providing some relief to his stiff knuckles. His thoughts danced around the question that had bothered him for the last four years: what would happen to the girl when he died? There wasn’t anyone left to pass her on to, or a way down. He hadn’t found a good answer yet. Truth was, he was out of time to find one. He could feel it.
Grant stood, knees popping, and pulled a small notebook from his jacket pocket, leaving it by his tea. He stepped out the apartment’s front door, closing it quietly behind him, and smiled at the trail of soft lights that hadn’t run in years leading away down the corridor. The City was still alive, and knew it was time.
Lyn stepped out of her bedroom, carrying her stuffed walrus in one hand, rubbing her eyes with the other. Another morning, Grant’s tea still steaming on the table, the rosy light caressing a yellowed picture of a young man and woman touching foreheads in the middle of a sunny field, eyes crinkled with happiness.
Author : Beck Dacus
“How’s it coming along?” I asked Dowmir, the spindly little ambassador to the Clathalnra species. He was sitting at a computer, constructed in the old-fashioned, desktop way so that he could use it better. He didn’t like holograms. Or tablets.
While looking at the screen, he said in his characteristic high, quavering voice, “What!? Really?”
“What? What is it?” I leaned forward to see what he was looking at. Something about human reflexes.
“Not forty-three minutes ago,” he said, “I was looking at documents on how you don’t want your careers to be taken away by robots and whatnot. And that being hooked up to feeding tubes in hospitals takes away your dignity. And now I’m sitting here, reading this! I mean, I thought human beings were contradictory, but…”
I sighed. “Are you saying what I think you’re saying?”
“That your entire species is automated on some very fundamental levels? Yes! And it scares me!”
I looked at the web page a little closer. All it talked about was how our breathing was usually subconsciously regulated, about the neural signals the heart receives from the brain, how our eyes reflexively adjust their size to the light level. “This… scares you? Your species doesn’t do this?”
“No! ‘Automatically adjusts to light levels’!? There’s no way that your, uh… ‘subconscious’ can get it right every time!”
“Well, it doesn’t. But it does, like, over 99% of the time. And our subconscious isn’t ‘out to get us,’ so there’s really nothing to worry about.”
“Oh, come on. Even you humans know that that’s not the whole issue!”
“Just spit it out, Dowmir.”
“Isn’t doing some of these things yourself part of the… the ‘life experience’? Like, you don’t want to incorporate robots into every laborious aspect of life, because then you would all become obese blobs that watch whatever is fed to you on this so-called ‘public television.’ At least, I read something like that. Don’t you want to be able to consciously regulate how much light enters your eye? You’d have camera vision! You’d be able to see whatever you liked, however you liked! Don’t you want to stop a teacher’s words from blending together and becoming background noise? To be able to focus yourself in general? I guess I just find this whole matter… hypocritical.”
He was starting to get to me, but I still had some points left. “But if we took all that upon ourselves, that would take up an enormous amount of brain space and effort. Having to adjust the size of my pupil every time I entered a different room? And if I hang on to a professor’s every word, *actual* background noise will constantly be at the front of my mind, driving me mad! Honestly, I don’t know how your species has managed to make it into space with such a heavy workload on your brain.”
“It did take us an extra few millennia, but it’s mostly because our brains are bigger. And I realize that, in spite of that, we’re not a whole lot smarter than you, but it’s worth it! We Clathalnra, for the many thousands of years our great civilization has persisted, have actually *lived*!” Abruptly, Dowmir turned back to the screen and skimmed on, shaking his head once every thirty seconds or so. While he did that, I had to think. What do we humans *really* want? Is complete automation and freedom from the mundane our destiny, or manually controlling ourselves completely, achieving the dream of “living in the moment”? To move forward… will we have to choose?
Author : Jules Jensen
Dancing white light fills the citadel through the many holes in the ceiling. Mournful wind howls through the massive chamber, rustling the ragged clothes on the corpses of men and women that cover the whole floor.
One remains alive. He sits on the floor at the end of the huge room. His black leather armour and the silver blade at his side have seen better days. He looks to be thirty or so, yet aged beyond his years to the point of frailty.
The large doors at the end are already open, and do nothing to stop the casual entry of four men. Each of them wore silvery armour, their backs adorned by strange cylinders and engines that look to weigh forty pounds.
“King Evander.” The man in the lead says, lacing the title with scorn.
“Betrayers of the light.” The man on the floor says, not even looking up.
His machine-packing enemy snorts at this outdated notion that accepting technology means he’d betrayed the light that granted humans magic.
“The Emperor of Steel and Thunder has asked for your execution.”
“That is a grand mistake.” King Evander gets up off the floor. Despite his withered appearance he manages to look regal.
The man leading the other three holds up a hand, signalling to his allies that he will do this alone. Then he starts to run, stepping on the floor between the many limbs of the dead followers of King Evander.
The cylinders on his back roar to life, and he launches up into the air, sailing towards the King. He raises a long thin sword that has some wires connecting the hilt to his back.
Evander is ready for it, though. He holds perfectly still, closes his eyes, and then there’s suddenly a sphere of red light that encircles him. The flying man’s sword smashes into the barrier, and electricity crackles sickeningly from the blade across the magical shield.
The King smoothly motions with his arm, as if he were pushing an invisible person aside. The shield explodes outwards, sending the other man flying back. He flips over in the air, the pack struggling to balance him, and he lands hard on his feet. The King wastes no time in rushing forward, sword raised, deadly calm on his face.
The man with the flying machine draws a strange thing from his side that’s no more than a handle and short cylindrical barrel. He points it at the charging King.
A thunderous boom echoes in the citadel. The King falls to his knees amongst his dead followers. He gasps and holds his chest.
“The Emperor was right. This was an easy mission.” The man in the glimmering metallic armour says with a grin. “Only fools like you and the ignorant peasants that serve the Emperor think that magic is a necessity of the world. The time of technology is on the rise. Your death proves that…”
The man trailed off as he noticed the King slowly start to stand up, despite the fatal wound.
“What is this? What’s going on?” The man asks, angry and confused. He points his weapon at the King, and there’s another echo of deafening thunder. The King jerks a little, but does not go down.
Movement all around them make the men with the flying packs exclaim in terror. The people on the floor were getting up, even though they were dead.
As was the King. Who was smiling.
“Killing me has only made my magic, and my army, stronger.” The King’s voice was cold, full of quiet rage and strength. “It is time for magic to rise, and technology to fall.”
The Emperor’s men don’t stand a chance. After falling at the hands of the King, they too rise, mindlessly ready to obey their new leader.
King Evander sets out immediately, intent on taking back his lands and his people by any means necessary, even in death.
Author : Kraig Conkin
“The dogs are barking,” Hannah whispers. We scurry to the cabin window.
“What are they barking at?” I ask.
“Something’s coming up the path.”
We’d been playing “Life.” We always play stupid board games when we come to the cabin. Hannah was winning. Hannah always wins, usually by cheating. That’s why, when she pointed out the picture window, I thought it was one of her tricks to get me to look away from the board.
“What the heck is that?” Dad said, getting up from his chair.
Knowing Dad wouldn’t help Hannah trick me, I turned and saw it too- a bright, blue light hovering above the tree tops. We all stood at the window and watched the light pulse a few times then change to pure white.
I heard Dad get his camera. Dad was always taking pictures. That’s what he did for his job- working for magazines and newspapers.
The light changed color, this time to orange, and pulsed so bright it looked like the sun had come up.
When the light went dark, the ship, now just a dark circle, slid through the sky, paused and descended into the treetops.
“It’s landing,” Dad said between camera clicks.
“What is it?”
“Spacemen, dummy,” Hannah explained.
Dad moved to the hall closet, checking the batteries in the flashlight. “Now, Hannah,” he warned, “what have I told you about jumping to conclusions?”
Hannah looked at him like he was crazy. “It’s totally spacemen, Dad.”
Dad whistled for Nanook and Honey, who rose from where they were sleeping in the mud room. “I’m going to get a better look… at whatever it might be. You girls stay put. I’ll lock the door behind me.”
He slid the silver keys from the hook next to the door.
“Keep the lights off while I’m gone,” he said, giving us his serious look.
We heard the key in the lock and the deadbolt slide home, then we watched from the window as Dad and the dogs walked toward the woods.
But when Dad passed the kennel, he called the dogs back. He patted their heads before putting them inside, then turned on the flashlight and followed the beam into the trees.
The dogs are barking worse, jumping against the fence.
“I see something,” Hannah whispers.
A figure emerges into the moonlight.
“It’s Dad,” Hannah says.
“It can’t be,” I shake my head. “The dogs wouldn’t bark at Dad.”
But I’m wrong. It is Dad. I feel a rush of relief.
“Why isn’t he using the flashlight?” Hannah asks.
When Dad passes the kennel, he stops and looks at Nanook and Honey, who are still snarling and growling, going crazy.
Dad has a strange look. It’s like he doesn’t recognize the dogs- almost like he hasn’t ever seen a dog before at all.
Then he looks away from the kennel and at the cabin. His eyes find Hannah and I in the window.
The relief I felt when I saw him step from the woods evaporates completely as I watch Dad, or whatever it is, fish the key to the cabin from his pocket and walk toward the porch.
Author : Henry Gribbin
I am a searcher. In the past I have searched for god, little green men and the spirits of my ancestors. I have come up short all three times. However, I always felt that there was something out there, something different from what I have experienced in my life, and if I kept looking I would find it. Truth be told it found me.
I am a self proclaimed gentleman farmer. I grow corn on twelve acres of ground in central Pennsylvania. If I wanted to plow my land under and make a baseball field I could afford to do so. My neighbors (one is a dairy farmer and the other is a goat rancher) and I have been having some issues lately. It concerns drinking water, or the lack of it. You see, there are mountains to the east of us. Recently, an energy company bought the rights to the coal underneath said mountain. To get to that coal they basically cut the top of the mountain off and pushed the debris down it’s side. Also, a gas company bought property in our area and erected drills. Now we have fire in the sky at night. My neighbors and I believe that these actions polluted our ground water. There is a meeting scheduled for this evening to discuss these problems with agents from both companies at our local grange hall. Many other farmers were going to show up. It promises to be a testy affair.
It was dusk and I was getting ready to leave for the meeting. As a recently acquired habit I took a walk around my house and barn. Since our dear energy companies made their appearance, bears, mountain lions and other wild creatures have made their appearance known in our neck of the woods. I always go armed now which was lucky for me because I saw something which sent shivers up my spine. Along the outer perimeter of the corn field I saw a large red eye looking at me. I started to move back to the house, and the thing followed me. It looked to be on four legs, but I couldn’t get a good look at it. All I could see was the red eye. I unholstered my sidearm and kept moving. Then it sprang. I shot and whatever it was plopped to the ground. I slowly walked over to whatever it was. It was one hell of a shot. I got it right under its jaw, and the bullet went through its heart. Its hide was the fairest shade of grey I had ever seen. It appeared to be a mountain lion, but I have never seen a one-eyed cat like that. I went to the house and came back with some tarp. I covered the cat and put it in the back of my truck and went to the meeting.
The meeting itself was under way when I got there. The company reps were denying any knowledge of contaminated water, livestock being mutilated and any other thing they could think of to deny. I walked to their table and dropped my bundle. There was an uproar. I explained what had just happened a short time earlier. Other neighbors said they thought they had seen something like the thing lying on the table but were afraid to speak out because people would think they were making it up. The company reps made a hasty retreat, and the rest of us came up with a plan to combat our one-eyed friends.
Sometimes things should be left alone. Mountains are one such thing. They were formed eons ago by natural forces. But sometimes they were formed to bury things which were not meant to see the light of day again. One-eyed cats are a good example.