An Ant’s a Centaur In His Dragon World

Author : Janet Shell Anderson

I’m just a kid on my own. The question I have is, should I try to save the man who killed my Dad?

It’s just after dawn; the river’s still, silver, silken, the banks, shadowy. A heron yaps. I’m sitting across from the Three Sisters rocks. Ivan claimed three nuns died out there a long time ago. Now Ivan’s gone, probably buried in the walls near Meridian Park, with the other Disappeared, where 16th Street drops down to the Potomac.

I haven’t seen my brothers, David and Jonathan, in weeks. It’s midsummer, hot; the river smells like mud and fish. I‘m hungry. I stole some jerky, but I’ve eaten it all. My Dad worked down at 1600 Pennsylvania. I stay strictly out of there. My father should have too. He was killed. He knew too much.

People disappear in Rockville, Gaithersburg, Damascus, into camps. Half the city’s empty; there’s no traffic. Sometimes I hear artillery across the river.

A few days ago I was in upper Rock Creek, hunting, working my way into a dense thicket of small spruce, holly, mountain laurel, sweetbriar, when I smelled cigarette smoke and heard voices. I hunched down. Near the creek, two men appeared, hard looking, in camo, bio-armored, weaponed up, scary. Though I could see them, I made sure they could not see me.

“We’re taking out the Old Man,” one said.

“What the hell?” He was young, dark, looked startled, tossed a cigarette into the dirt road.

“Thursday at three hundred hours,” the first continued, a man with flat eyes, expressionless. “You’re in the detail. Word is, he’s gone too far. Meet at the Three Sisters on the river at two hundred hours. You know the drill. We’ll be at 1600 in fifteen minutes. On the roof. Then in the Residence.”

“They say the Old Man never sleeps.”

“What difference does that make?” I saw his eyes narrow, heard a drone overhead.


“Max doesn’t trust you, said you’d go down there to the Secret Service and warn them.”

“Who gave the order?” the younger man asked.

I knew the way you do somehow he shouldn’t have asked that. The first man turned casually, weapon in his hand, it hissed in the way they do, fired. The young one fell; the older spoke into his wristband as the drone approached. “You were right,” he said. “Couldn’t trust him.”

Afterwards, the woods were silent for a long time, even the grasshoppers in the meadow near the creek went still. Finally, I came out of the brush, and in the massive summer heat, the thick, humid air, bent over the dead man, looked. His eyes were open. He was young. A red and black ant climbed over his ear.

The forest behind me was a green silence.

Now it’s dawn. I stare at the small granite rocks in the river, The Three Sisters. I’ve heard it’s deep there, eighty feet. People drown.

My grandfather used to go see a poet housed in the insane asylum, Saint Elizabeth’s, not far from here. The poet wasn’t insane. He was a traitor. My Dad met him too, quoted some of his work.

“An ant’s a centaur in his dragon world. Pull down thy vanity, I say. Pull down thy vanity.” I’m not sure if that’s right, but that’s what I remember.

I watch the silver water slide past the rocks, the Three Sisters, see the white glitter of the rising sun, the line of it all the way to Virginia.

What should I do?

Future View Function

Author : David K Scholes

Canberra, Australia

“It’s limited to a few long term users – one hour access every month to the future view function of face book,” I was face book chatting to a group of holograms.
“You get to view your friends’ 3D face book posts up to 2 days in the future.”

How do we know they actually are future posts?” Chantelle’s hologram piped up.

“Friends posts checked a few days later are pretty much spot on. Apart from the c-factor,” I added.
“The c-factor?” queried Jane. She was the only one present in the flesh. Other than me.
“The extent to which history gets changed because people get glimpses of the near future and act on that,” I replied.

“It appears to be very low, but it’s increasing,” I added with a salutary warning.

“They should shut the whole future view function down,” exclaimed a gatecrasher hologram. “It’s too dangerous for even one person to get flashes of the near future. However that’s done. It’s interfering with human history.”

“Who was responsible for adding this future view function anyway,” asked Jen.
“The face book admin are saying nothing but it came about shortly after the Trell visit,” I replied.

“Aliens, aliens might have had something to do with face book changes?” Max, or rather his hologram, was indignant.

“Well they did have input to a lot of things,” I replied. “It’s not like we had a lot of choice. We had to agree to a lot of things just to get them to go.”

The Trell had been subtle but any mechanism that offered flashes of the future to an elite few had the potential to alter human history significantly. Especially if the knowledge of the elite few became the knowledge of the many. Had this been their intention?

* * *

I left it until every one had left the face book chat except Jane and Max before telling them I had future view access on face book.
“Let’s take a look at it now,” I said. “Whose future posts should I view? How about yours Jane?” I said it with a slight air of mischief.
“Creepy!” exclaimed Jane but she didn’t say no. I think she was just as interested just as curious as Max and me. Maybe more so.

So all three of us hunkered down in my large face book room and tuned in to a 3D audio-visual indeed full sensory post by Jane one day into the future.

I don’t know what we had been expecting but certainly not what Jane had to say in her post.

“Just commenting on the face book administration’s decision to close down in the next hour it’s near future view function. I think they are right to do this. These flashes of the future glimpsed by an elite few are extremely dangerous. Set up I believe by the visiting Trell they cannot be good for humanity.”

We tried to view some hours ahead of this post on Jane’s face book page and got nothing.

The next day we heard the announcement live from the face book administration. Confirming the accuracy of Jane’s post.

For that hour before it was closed down there was hyper activity on the face book near future view function. Those with access going in with intensity and spreading the word as broadly as possible. The c factor – the extent to which aspects of human history were changed shot up to significance but then thankfully died down a time after the function was withdrawn.

I breathed a sigh of relief.


Author : Mark Renney

The homeless are prevalent in the City. We pass them on the streets every day, stepping around them on the pavements.

But the Men were different; they simply stood, like sentinels, on the corners or in the middle of a busy thoroughfare, almost anywhere in fact. They didn’t move or at least hardly at all. They certainly didn’t move for us. They didn’t step aside and give us the road.

At first, we didn’t mention the Men. And even as more and more of them began to appear in the City, the place where we come to work, still we pretended they weren’t there.

It seemed impossible to me that the Men could stand like they did and for so long and I attempted to steer clear of them and keep my distance but this wasn’t easy. The Men tended to take up position at the most crowded of places. They blocked our way, causing us to slow down and holding us up. It was fleeting, I suppose, but it was an inconvenience nonetheless. And on the busy streets we were jostled and pushed up against them and forced to stand alongside them.

I was unnerved by the Men and this was only compounded by the fact that we didn’t talk about them. All of our questions and the speculation had been stifled and the silence had become an entity in and of itself. Not only in the City but also in our homes, with family and friends quickly turning into something sharp and pointed, something dark and foreboding.

The Men, with their arrogance and indifference, were an imposing and intimidating presence. It wasn’t unusual for the homeless to come into the mid-levels; easier pickings here, I suppose, for the beggars and hawkers. But the Men didn’t ask for money and they weren’t trying to sell anything. They hardly seemed to notice us at all. It was as if we weren’t there. And when they talked it was only to each other and those moments of camaraderie were few. It was unusual in fact to see more than two or three of the Men standing together, although I often spotted one alone talking to himself, mumbling incoherently, as if locked in some inner conflict.

The Men were always dressed alike. This again wasn’t unusual. The Salvation Army provides clothes for the homeless but the Men appeared different, they had achieved a uniformity. I suppose it was because we were looking properly at these clothes for the first time, taking in these garments, the heavy overcoats and woollen hats, the crudely cut jeans and working man’s boots.

The Men stood out. They were clearly defined both when it was busy and when it wasn’t. I still tried to avoid them, but not to ignore them as this, of course, would have been impossible. But I was determined to maintain that distance, to keep them away.

I was almost entirely pre-occupied with the Men. Even in my fourth floor office I couldn’t settle, couldn’t concentrate. I would stand at the window gazing down until I found the Men, located them. I needed to know where they were and if and when one of them moved along I needed to know when another appeared.

Perhaps if my office had been up above, somewhere in the higher levels and I hadn’t been able to see what was happening down there, my work wouldn’t have suffered.

Eventually, however, the Men began to leave. Gradually there were less and less of them. And so the Men became much, much more difficult to pinpoint.

Making Amends

Author : Dylan Otto Krider

After I got out of prison, I stopped by the O’Malleys place first. I passed a sicky on my way, babbling to himself, screaming about the spirits. “The spirits are upon you!”

I hate sickies. Their brains rotted in space.

I knocked, but no one answered, so I hacked the locks. I surveyed the apartment, and heard splashing on the other side of one door. I hacked it, and went inside. Their daughter was there in the bathtub.

“I am looking for your parents,” I said. The daughter – Cassia, I think her name was, if remembered from court – just sat there, hugging her breasts, slacked-jawed and wide-eyed. Looking at me like some kind of pervert. “I’m not gay,” I snapped. “Nothing I haven’t seen before.” She wasn’t anything I would want to look at, anyways. She had this mutation that made her bones all crooked, like hunchbacks.

Different planets have different environments that screw up your genes. Some have underground rivers of mercury, other planets covered with lead dust. Infinite combinations, in infinite varieties, all of them poisonous. People were just made to live on one planet, I guess.

My counselor said I should make amends, so that’s what I am here to do. I went into the kitchen and fixed myself a sandwich. I was finishing making it when the O’Malleys came home. Mr. O’Malley look kind of pissed because he blamed me for killing their son, which wasn’t really my fault, but it is important to not make excuses when making amends.

“What are you doing here?”

“Making amends,” I said.

“We don’t want anything from you,” Mr. O’Malley said. “We never want do see you again.”

Cassia came out, fully dressed, using those crutches that strap in the forearms. “She barged into the bathroom when I was taking a bath,” Cassia said.

“Leave,” Mr. O’Malley said.

“I came here to make amends,” I said.

Mr. O’Malley stood there for a beat, looking me over. He looked resigned to it, now. “Fine,” Mr. O’Malley said. “Make amends.” He crossed his arms, waiting.

I realized I didn’t know how to make amends. My counselor kept telling me to make them without telling me how. Up to now, I thought it was saying you are making amends, and you were done.

“Sorry,” I said.

“You’re sorry.”

“Well, he shouldn’t have been there in the first place.”

Mr. O’Malley looked like he was about to blow his top, but Cassie got between us walking with her crutches like a praying mantis. “Dad,” she said empathetically, “Can’t you see, she has space sickness.”

“Do not,” I said.

“That might get her a lighter sentence,” Mr. O’Malley said, “but it doesn’t bring my son back.” Mr. O’Malley grabbed me and pushed me out of the apartment.

“What’s your problem? I’m making amends.”

“Where does it say that I have to accept them?” Mr. O’Malley said.

The door slid shut.

“I don’t have space sickness,” I said to the door. It kind of pissed me off that she said that. I started heading back to the shelter.

The sicky was still there on the corner, screaming at no one in particular. I started to chuckle. “You think there are spirits!” I said. I pointed him out to one of the passersby. “He thinks there are spirits!” She kept walking, ignoring me. “Hey! Hey! He thinks there are spirits!”

I laughed, trying to get people to laugh with me, but they were too polite. I laughed and laughed, even when it stopped being funny. I’m not like him. Sickies are sad. They are sick in the brain.

The Last Meeting of Intelligent Organisms

Author : Ljubo Popovich

On the planet Yug-Yuk, a glandular toad called Opziggle effervesced into a translucent jar. On the stone pedestal twelve similar jars were arranged in a circle.

“What took you so long?” asked the creature in the jar to the right, which spoke by emitting ultraviolet rays with pseudopodia.

Opziggle didn’t deign to answer since his entire body was encrusted with ammonia, which had condensed from the atmosphere around him.

Let’s begin the meeting, said the formless one from the center jar, which from all appearances was empty. Has anyone encountered any new intelligent life forms? The communication of the formless one entered each consciousness in his vicinity smoothly, producing no physical manifestation.

Several of the jars’ inhabitants began to speak at once.

One at a time! roared the formless one. Now you go first, Wow-hut.

A worm-like entity drew intricate, glowing characters on the surface of the jar with its slime. These were instantly interpreted by the formless one, who answered, Even if the sentient rings of planet E42 in the Hemlock Nebula could be considered living what possible use could they serve?

Wow-hut remained still, deflating slightly.

Now how about you, Gaggle-worst? the formless one continued.

The crystal-lattice that was Gaggle-worst vibrated wildly. Loosely translated, this is what it said: “I recruited Opziggle. Therefore, I should be exempted from further obligations.”

The formless one frowned (invisibly), and replied: The search for life is an enterprise I have pursued for over eight-billion years. It’s hard to believe that the lot of you is the best I could come up with.

Just then Opziggle emitted a subtle odor, which is to say, he spoke: “on the habitable exosphere, third planet from the G-type sun on the far edge of the spiral arm of our galaxy I happened upon a certain bipedal organism.”

Go on, urged the formless one, intrigued.

Opziggle’s multifaceted odors began to cloud his jar: “The organism seems to rely heavily on synthetic materials, and instead of a jar, inhabits an ornate artificial cave.”

Your description seems to hold promise, the formless one said. I expect a full report before our next meeting; the entity may possess a fleeting lifespan.

“Actually,” exuded Opziggle, “I observed several of the bipeds, of varying sizes.”

That suggests either reproduction, or possibly psychic projection, the formless one said.

“Furthermore, the creature in question expelled air, producing deliberate sound waves after absorbing fumes from a fragrant rod clutched with pincers.”

A dense cloud of meaningful associations hung over the congregation. After all of the odors of Opziggle’s statement had been sensed, the formless one put forth another theory. Perhaps the creature uses the fuming rod to communicate. Expelling different gases… What a novel method!

“I don’t think anyone else found another life form to compare to that,” said Gummock-cha, flapping its wings and producing the atmospheric currents that served to convey its meaning.

Very true, the formless one said. Good work, Opziggle. You’ve renewed my hopes. I must accompany you on your next trip to this singular planet.

“There’s no need,” Opziggle replied, “since I’ve brought the biped back with me.”

The gathering was uniformly stunned.

You brought an alien species into our midst! said the formless one, and didn’t think to mention it till now!

Without further explanation, Opziggle produced a sac of phlegm from a posterior orifice, which wiggled frantically until a strange animal peeled off the mucus coating.

“Where am I?” Jared asked, reaching into his shirt pocket automatically for a cigarette. The air around him smelled like chemicals as he struck a match, igniting the entire atmosphere of planet Yug-Yuk.