If At First You Don’t Succeed

Author: Katlina Sommerberg

Five seconds on the clock. Rachel hurled her coffee cup at the reactor’s control panel, but she missed by five inches. The porcelain shattered against the worn carpet, white shards skittering across the floor. Before the coffee spray hit the ceiling, the cup fused together and smacked back into Rachel’s outstretched hand.

Closed timelike curves featured in Rachel’s favorite movie:‌ Groundhog Day. She wished she’d read Gott’s book on the physics behind the concept; perhaps she would’ve already broken the endless five-minute loop.

Instead, time threw her back into her seat, steaming coffee in hand and 8:42 am displayed on her computer monitor.

Her papers scattered to the floor when she stood up, knocking her chair over and running out the door. The first loops, she hadn’t found the reactor room; the twisting hallways doubled back on themselves. Even with a map at every intersection, it took her ten loops before she learned the way. Then it took fifty more loops before she consistently arrived at Dr. Soot’s office.

“Time-meddling superhero coming through!” Rachel yelled out, expertly weaving through five Ph.D. students loitering in the hallway, interrupting their conversation on gravitational waves for the hundredth time.

Skidding to a halt before Dr. Soot’s pale wooden door, her fist slammed against it. It took three loops before she learned the magic words to entice him to open it, and she hollered the first word, “Professor –”

Another woman slammed into her, cutting her off and flinging her coffee cup into the hallway. Tumbling to the ground, a traveler’s mug of orange juice splattered open by her head. The foul combination of coffee and citrus hit her like a freight train, and her eyes widened when she recognized the other student. She hadn’t known Ember took a summer research position, until now.

“Who stands in front of a blind corner like that!” Ember said, picking up her half-empty bottle. The black student usually ended up paired with Rachel during their shared classes, but Rachel hadn’t worked up the nerve to ask her on a date.

“Who says nonsense like that when we have less than two minutes?” Rachel grumbled.

Dr. Soot’s door opened, and the short professor frowned at her students. Behind her, an open laptop looped through cat videos in front of a shimmering ball. The reactor, deemed a failure by a previous Ph.D. student, had been turned into a reading lamp. Various glowing buttons, looking as real as the functional ones, decorated the surface to turn it into the most expensive piece of furniture in the Maus building.

“What are you two –” Dr. Soot started to demand, before time reversed itself.


Author: Morrow Brady

The desire ached deep inside. She was in his head again. The first thought of every day, just true perfection. The beautiful dream of her standing in the red dress, echoing through the halls of his mind.

The further he birthed from sleep’s wonderful womb, the nearer he drew to journey’s end. The dreamachine at his bedside, heeding his awareness, disengaged with a click and the memory of her sweet face faded to rejoin the night. Barely a warm feeling lingered by the time he crossed the threshold.

At high sun, a faint image of her beautiful face. A luscious leak of nocturnal thoughts. It was a minor but pleasant side effect of the machine. It momentarily bewitched a faint smile and then she was gone again. His fairy tale was trying to escape his subconscious and needed his help.

He began withdrawing from his family and friends. He ceased the mundane routines and shed lifelong hobbies. At his centre now was his true passion. That moment of fantasy, when she would appear and give meaning to one more breath.

The sun fell below the oaks and silence came in waves. Sleep was coming and he needed to prepare. Power down the home. Take up the armchair with a warming drink and follow the hallway that illuminated his path back to her. He pulled the caressing duvet over his shoulders and tingled as he tempered the cold night. Soon time would exist no more. Click.

Morning sunlight spilt across his bed and he fought consciousness for one dear moment longer. Her eyes lingered until his contented smile broke through. This was the best feeling he would have all day. Click.

He glimpsed her across the park. Her perfect face framed in the window of the lakeside cafe. Dappled light through weeping willows played across her red dress. Elegant fingers cupped a steaming broth. From the water’s edge, he watched her smile at noon’s sun and turn to look his way. Her wondrous eyes touched on his, then passed on by.

He recalled a playground from his youth where he had lacked the nerve to speak to her. The night of the gala when she smiled, only to vanish before his courage arrived. He walked through the tinkling cafe door and approached her. He introduced himself and knew immediately he was a stranger to her. She smiled and politely declined the invitation. He left serenely, knowing they would be together tonight.

She took a deep sip of the warm broth, turned her face to the sun and almost smiled at the thought of his proposition. That night, she pulled her duvet close and tingled into dreams at the click.

The birds on the trees woke her gently and his smile lingered. The handsome face she had dreamt for years finally had a form. Click. She sat mesmerised, grasping at a memory of dreams as they faded to mist.

Time’s river flowed at day and froze at night. Together their dreams intertwined and together their realities crumbled. They passed their nighttime lovers on daytime’s street, each knowing they were one click away from perfection.

The Red Ones

Author: Moriah Geer-Hardwick

“Don’t try to talk to them.” The consultant clicks another cylinder into place. It makes a satisfied hiss as it seats properly into its compartment. “They don’t react well to the noise. Imagine one of them emptying an entire scent gland in your face. That’s how they feel if you start spewing sound at them.” She inserts the last cylinder, powers up the regulator, and then hands the belt to the specialist sitting across from her. Dutifully, he straps it around his waist
“The belt has seven cylinders,” she explains. “Five are passive pheromones, good for about three hundred and sixty minutes of steady dispersal. Should make us fairly uninteresting, provided our encounters stay casual. Fifteen minutes before the last one runs dry, the regulator pack will start to vibrate in short intervals to let you know you need to refill.”
“You think we’ll be down there that long?”
“The drop is less than a kilometer from the financial sector. Ideally, I’d like to be back in orbit before the first two passives are spent.” She begins working on her own belt. “If the regulator detects any hostility in the chemical spectrum it will automatically vent one of the other cylinders, which are panic pheromone concentrates. They should clear everything around us, for at least thirty meters.” She slings her belt onto her hips and snaps the buckle closed. “Right before it goes off, you’ll get one, long buzz. You feel that, things are about to get heavy.”
The specialist nods, slowly. He eases his weapon around in its tactical harness, checks the action, and initiates the charge pack.
“One more thing,” says the consultant. “We need to stay as far away from the red ones as possible.”
The specialist looks up at her.
“If you spot one, run. If it spots us, hit that button on the regulator, and then run.”
He lifts his weapon to inspect the angular device connected to his belt. In a shallow recess on one side is an unmarked red square.
“That fires both panics instantly. I should warn you, it’ll soak through your clothes, and it smells like cat urine. Old cat urine. And it doesn’t wash off.”
“So, last resort.”
“It’s better than what the reds will do to you, but only by a slight margin.”
“What are they? Soldiers?”
The consultant shakes her head. “They’re more like a militaristic religious sect. Not literally, of course, but the term is arguably analogous. They’re xenophobic, ritualistic, and extremely violent. They’re red because a lot of their ceremonies involve ingesting inorganic materials, mostly metals. Causes an excessive amount of iron to be absorbed into their chitin. It makes their carapaces almost impenetrable. Unless you’re firing depleted uranium rounds, you probably won’t even dent one.”
The coms chirp once to notify them that the skiff is landing. The specialist heaves himself up and moves to stand by the door. He grips his weapon firmly, pulling the stock in tight against his shoulder. One hand drops to the regulator, his thumb just above the red button. The skiff shudders, and lands hard. With a wistful sigh of escaping air, the door splits, the bottom half lowering into a ramp.
In unison, their regulators erupt into a frenzied chatter.
“Uh…” says the specialist.
Through the widening gap, they glimpse a flash of writhing exoskeleton, serrated, angry and red. Instinctively, the specialist clenches down on the regulator and right away the sharp odor of cat urine claws into his eyes and sinuses.
With a sigh, the consultant reaches over and presses the control panel to close the door.

The Discarded

Author: Mark Renney

I won’t claim that this will be a complete and definitive history of the Mind Wipes because that would be impossible. But I am almost seventy years of age and I have been drained only once. In order to achieve this, to survive with my memories intact, my mind unaltered by that particular cocktail of drugs, I have of course been forced to live off the grid, leading the life of an itinerant. I am a man of no fixed abode and with no gainful employment, at least not that the Authority would recognise.
I am not alone, I haven’t ever been alone. There have always been those who choose to drop out, as it were. Turning their backs on the Authority and existing below the radar, residing in grubby squats and temporary encampments. Working when they are able for a little cash in hand, but mostly scavenging. This is the price they must pay, that we must pay, in order to re-claim our memories or at least have the chance to manufacture some new ones.
There are many who didn’t choose to be here, these are the ones who haven’t abandoned the Authority but have been abandoned by it. They have been discarded for myriad reasons but mostly it is because they are too fragile. Even if they are drained of their past it won’t alter or influence how they behave in the future and to constantly keep wiping their memories would be a pointless task.

Growing up I didn’t pay much attention to the Memory Wipes. The brain drains were a part of the adult world and not something I needed to concern myself with.
The Authority men were a constant in our neighbourhood, patrolling the pavements and disappearing into the houses, re-emerging in their dark suits and with their little black suitcases. I was also aware that, occasionally, the men came to our house. I realise now of course that they visited twice a year. Once in order to administer the drug to mother and again when it was my father’s turn.
I remember vividly bursting into our tiny sitting room early one morning. Dad was sitting in his armchair and mum was standing beside him. As I entered she started talking.
‘Here he is,’ she said. ‘Here’s our boy. Come in and give your dad a hug. He’s feeling a bit worse for wear, come here son, come over here and give him a hug.’
Mum didn’t ever talk like this and we weren’t the kind of family that hugged. Reaching out, she grabbed my hand and tried to pull me into the room but I resisted and started to back away and I looked down at my dad’s face and I could see clearly that he didn’t know where he was and he didn’t know who I was.
It was at that moment I understood. I realised then that the Authority man had only just left, that it must have been merely minutes since he had pushed through our front door and out onto the street beyond, the empty hypodermic in his suitcase that had contained the drug now circulating through my dad’s veins, stealing from him all that he knew and limiting all that he would ever know.
I stared down at him slumped in his chair, a man who would have to re-learn everything and quickly. He would have to re-learn how to be a husband and a father, how to rise in the mornings and make his way. He would have to re-learn not how to be but how to be useful.


Author: Dean J Tantillo

I don’t remember much, aside from hiding between the garage and the fence, and seeing my grandmother chopping heads off garden snakes with a hoe. And that gigantic lilac bush, the one that shielded me and my secret passageway from view as I pondered what it would be like, what I would be like, when I reached age forty-three. Why forty-three? I don’t remember. Maybe it was just that such an age seemed unreachable.

Now, at age forty-four, I’m allergic to lilac. And cats, but I have one. And, it would seem, objects that swing. Not allergic, really, but filled with anxiety when I see them. Or when I fail in suppressing thoughts of them. Not just playground swings, but tree branches, wind chimes, and picnic umbrellas. I hate picnic umbrellas, their poles rattling in their tables’ holes on breezy days. Makes my neck crawl. I dread my son’s school picnics.

But I’d rather be sitting under a rattly umbrella than here in this deep cave on this desolate world hunting aquidneks for sport.

I tried to hide my condition, but the examiner teased it out via surprisingly astute observation. That got me into the Databank of Unexplained Deficiencies — the one-stop-shopping site for wealthy abductors with unconventional passions and peccadillos.

“Cadence,” she said, “It will be one short trip.”
“I don’t want to leave my son,” I said.
“Not your choice,” she snapped.

Now I’m here, transmitters stuck in my arms and chest and head. The panic-induced changes to my vitals reporting back on the locations of the dangling beasts – exceedingly difficult to spot if not acutely tuned, by distress, to their motions. If only I could climb that swinging ladder without passing out, I could get out of here.

There’s a group now. Shit, I wish I could defocus. Well, at least I won’t have to see it happen, being unconscious and all. They’ll probably just load me onto the flatbed with the severed top stalks, all of us unnaturally still, and haul us away. Still, the mark in my file will be there forever. Where my son can find it.

My son. I long for the days when we did art projects together. The days when he would make finger paintings and I would use them as backgrounds for sumi-e-style pictures. My favorite was the jellyfish we created from his off-center red splotch. When my condition flares, I think of that one, a lone happy memory of something that sways. Well, used to till I trapped it on paper. The one time I succeeded in damping the sway and no one died.