Eigengrau

Author: Morrow Brady

“What do you see?” She whispered into the darkness.

He widened his eyes and held his breath.

“Nothing. Just pitch black”

Her next lesson would be her last.

“Not black. Eigengrau. A dark, dark grey. Perfect for….”

And then it all kicked off.

It was over in minutes.

In the stillness, when the blood rush and panting subsided, he lay in agony, staring wide-eyed into eigengrau. Waiting for the final stroke to be delivered.

With trembling fingers, he reluctantly thumbed an orb air-ward and a soft patina green illuminated a decaying Tuscan colonnade and a grisly scene.

His burdened, limp arm was riddled with pulsating grey ribbons, like an overgrown Buddhist temple. The violent tech had infiltrated his boosted biology. Unrecoverable.

Glittery sauce spilt from the severed end of a thick ribbon that serpentined through murky puddles to splay into a ham sized seeder, gasping in the rubble like a dying fish.

“Bag o’ bits” He grittily mumbled.

A horrid squeezing sensation informed him his arm’s tattoo armour had failed. What remaining nerves tingled, their fellows hollow. Dead. His thrashing, moments earlier, while in the throes of a shower of pain, now a shocking core memory. The other hand, uncorrupted, clamped at the wrenched tricep where the other severed end of the ribbon protruded, still squirming, longing for its seeder host. A ghastly mix of glitter and blood seeped from its hollow centre, pooling on the ground.

He started to yank it out and her voice in his head mocked him.

“Not backward compatible buddy”

He rubbed his bruised, aching neck, where moments ago his corrupted hand had tried to strangle him unconscious. The seeder’s desperate bid at buying time to fully overthrow its host.

In the soft green light, he hesitated, then forced himself to roll his head to look towards her last position. Small muddy boots, legs akimbo and smoke rising from her seared skull. His mentor’s sacrifice her true final lesson. Her tortured femininity convulsing under a seething mass of eigengrau straps lit up by the white laser flash-band to the temple. Her final deep wail through vocal cords engulfed with blackened snakes and then the foul stench of burnt hair and strange cooked pork filled the dark, dark grey.

He edged on defeat, but rose to his feet anyway, reliant on his sole working arm.

“Still standing, so the mission still stands” he mockingly muttered her mantra, as shrill bucks sounded in the distance, heralding the approach of the scrapers to recover the victim.

Of course their presence had been sounded. He kicked the deflated seeder into a stone column. It crackled in jest.

Stumbling forward, he picked up his still steaming weapon, reinserted it into its chest slot. He withdrew a thick silvery band and clamped it high on his infected arm. He breathed deep, braced and hit activate. Red rings glowed and everything fell. A metallic ping followed a meaty thunk and he tottered for a new centre of gravity. As the sharp pain dulled, he craned his sore neck and examined the beefy cauterised site at his shoulder, recoiling instantly at that sweet porcine odour.

“Oh lovely” He muttered sarcastically.

He restarted along the seeder filled colonnade. Their eigengrau ribbon stems wafting, waiting, willing an unknowing host.

As he entered his target sector, a mighty explosion in the distance made him grin.

“Felt that one”

Deep now into the sector, he extinguished the orbs and crept forward once more in eigengrau. A patient stem waited to end his mission, the explosives implanted throughout his body waited to end theirs.

Use a Human

Author: Jae Miles, Staff Writer

Nine years ago today, I think, is when my fervent wish came true: my mundane life was transformed into a thing of wonder.
Wonder… Plus confusion, pain, fear, grief, longing and, right now: abject terror.
The cause of that is crouching next to where I lie in the torn ruts of the field I’d been hoeing. It plummeted from the green clouds above, paused a few metres off the ground, then proceeded to float down.
They look like ochre smoke captured in a human-shaped plastic bag. They smell like apple pie. They squeak when they move. They’re faceless, fingerless, and toeless – but have thumbs on all four limbs.
“Hello, Malcolm.”
I wet myself. Feeling the warmth spurs me to do something.
“H-Hi.”
The head moves like it’s looking about.
“I see you’ve got the settlement up and running. With an emphasis on running.”
I think that was a joke?
“N-not f-funny.”
It nods.
“I can understand that. Anyway: thought you’d like the explanation I promised.”
I remember. Amidst that whirl of light and sound, I’d screamed out, demanding of God why I’d been picked to die in a freak accident when there were so many bastards deserving of death still walking about. God didn’t answer. Something else did: ‘If you survive, I’ll come and tell you.’
I’d blacked out at that point.
“It was you?”
“Talking, yes. Picking you up, no. That was done using an energy field generated by one of our machines.”
I sit up.
“Go on, then. Tell me.”
“Nothing personal, I assure you. We just prefer your kind. The population of what you call Earth has a usefully delusional approach to anything outside the realms of their accepted beliefs, and if anyone does know about us, they’re too busy trying to find ways of exploiting the situation to their advantage. Either way, when we grab a few people, no-one investigates in any effective manner.”
“You prefer us?”
“Yes. Apart from the self-deluding aspects of your minds, you have a trait that is unique: you adapt and survive no matter what. It’s quite incredible to behold. Pick up a few hundred of you from Earth, fix that degenerative inbreeding thing – and slow your aging while we’re in there – then drop the lot of you on some appalling planet and leave you to it. We come back a century or so later and eight times out of ten you’ve sorted the place out enough for us to live there. There’s sometimes a bit of conflict over us moving in, but, like I said, you’re adaptable. Most of you make the switch to serfdom nicely.”
“What about those who don’t?”
It stands up.
“Those who want to serve usually make short work of them.”
“What about the unusual ones?”
The thing shrugs.
“We transplant hundreds of you between galaxies, modifying your bodies with barely any effort during the process. Updating those modifications is simple.”
“You force the uncooperative to comply?”
“No. We bring about their deaths. No resistant strain can be allowed to survive.”
It shrugs like it’s reluctantly acknowledging a point: “Infectious stubborn is the other thing humans do too well.”
We regard each other in our own ways, a metre and a vastness between us.
It nods to me, then rises into the sky.

Pop’s Time Machine

Author: Warren Benedetto

When I was eleven years old, I told my dad I wanted to invent a time machine. He told me he already had one. I asked him where it was.

“Right here,” he said. He tapped his forehead and smiled. “All I have to do is close my eyes, and I can travel back in time as far as I want.”

“That’s not time travel, Pop,” I said. “That’s just remembering stuff that happened.”

He shook his head. “I don’t just travel to places I’ve been. I can go anywhere, at any time. I can go back and be a caveman, or a sea explorer, or a Civil War general. Or I can go forwards, to when we find a cure for cancer, or when the first man lands on Mars. Or,” he said with a wink, “to when someone invents a time machine.”

“So, you’re talking about imagination, then,” I said. “Making up stories.”

“Maybe,” he said. “Maybe not.”

After that, I dropped the subject. There was no point in arguing with him. He just didn’t get it.

Pop died a few months later. He never got to see me graduate from high school, or from Harvard. He never saw me get my Ph.D. in quantum physics from Princeton. He never saw me get married, or have kids, or win the Nobel Prize. He never saw my time machine.

But sometimes, when I’m walking across campus on the way to my lab, I’ll catch a glimpse of someone who looks like him, smiling at me.

And I think, maybe he did.

Illegal

Author: George Morales

I woke up early to make breakfast for my daughter and my wife. It was going to be a grinding day at work. Even though everybody denied it, it sure felt like there were quotas to fill up the cells. The immigrants had been in those cells before the current occupants. But the immigrants were gone now.

I heard Rebel stir in her room so I pulled out a panel of eggs and a loaf of bread from the fridge. I tossed a few slices of bread into the toaster and cracked the eggs into a bowl. I looked around the kitchen as I beat the eggs. When we moved in, Athena had marveled at the size and beauty of the kitchen. It was open concept, just like she had always wanted. I remember I walked her over to the little laundry room outside the kitchen and thinking it was the first time either of us lived in a place with a washer and dryer inside the unit. In fact, we were no longer in a unit. We were in a house.

I almost tripped over Felipe the cat as I moved to pour the eggs into a pan. A little bit of salt and some stirring to keep them from setting. They didn’t need much time, just a few minutes. Long enough to toast some bread. I heard Rebel yell in the room so I knew Athena was probably changing her diaper. This moment was probably one of Athena’s most difficult ones in the day – changing Rebel’s diaper before drinking her morning coffee. Her morning coffee!

I dashed over to the espresso grinds and scooped some into the coffee maker, grabbed some water and started brewing. Felipe followed me to the fridge where I grabbed some blueberries and strawberries. I cut the strawberries up into quarters how Rebel liked them and plated everything before the girls came downstairs. I felt like one of those fancy chefs on the telescreen shows. Chang was always watching those shows while we were on patrol.

But I wasn’t a fancy chef. I was just some schmuck. And cooking breakfast for my girls made me feel good. Working a job to provide for them made me feel good. And yeah, maybe it was selfish deep down inside but I was just like everybody else, caught up in a job that I didn’t really want to do. When it was the immigrants, I used to say – I could never do that to people. But when it became the robots that had gotten out of hand … well … I had my credit card bills and my conscience to deal with every night. And I could only pay one of them away to buy sleep.

Rebel ran straight to the table and pulled out her chair. She still struggled to get up on her own, but insisted on doing so. She’d get upset if we tried to help. Athena came over to give me a kiss and, more importantly, to grab her coffee. I smiled and hugged her. She grunted as I almost made her spill her coffee and Rebel yelled at me from the table for her breakfast.

“Rebel, ask politely!” Athena flung the words through the steam rising from her mug. Rebel pouted and signed for food by bringing her hands together a couple of times. I smiled and said “thank you” as I signed back by lowering my fingers from my chin.

Athena grabbed her plate and I grabbed the other two. “I’m going to call one of the gardening services to cut the shrubs out front,” Athena told me as we joined Rebel at the table.

“No, don’t do that,” I looked down at the bright creamy eggs, the slightly browned toast and the bright polished fruit in front of me. “I know a bot that’ll do it for cheaper.”

At Last: Earth Colony Finally Takes Hold On Naria 5!

Author: Ken Poyner

We used to eat whole herds of ballan, letting them first graze a while to get used to the slightly thinner atmosphere, adjust to the new gravity. Company issued, company raised, they were better having fed a few cycles on the native grass, taken in some unprocessed air, gotten foot-steady with their new weight. Sweeter. For the last few years, we noticed the shipments getting slightly further apart, the size of the herds delivered seeming just a bit smaller. We figured some transportation official was skimming the shipment, taking a ballan here, a ballan there, selling at pure profit on the black market. Maybe he thought we did not count, would not notice. But then they stopped coming altogether. We pointed out to the home office that there was nothing here suitable to eat. We could starve before farmers, if they shifted a few here, could set in a crop. And it might take years of good guesses to see what might actually in this soil grow. They said they understood, and would get right on it. A few more transmissions, and then the home office went silent. In fact, the home world went silent and we started to worry what forms we should fill out and where we might send them. No response, no ballan. After a few planetary cycles, it was beginning to look quite grim.

Then this new food source started coming. A bit smaller, but from the point of starvation, anything looks like a feast. We peeled the outer skin, discovered right away there was a thinner inner skin to peel as well. Not much work once you learn how to hook it with a crooked tentacle. We ate right away when they first came. It had been a while since the last ballan, and our rationing plan had not been all that well thought out. But once we had our fill, had backed away from the face of famine, we thought: maybe like the ballan, if we let them be for a while, perhaps they would grow softer, lose a little of that hard metal taste. So, for now, we let them go on, let them practice their small industries. We stay out of their way. When we think the meat has come to prime, we can harvest the whole lot of them.

Confines

Author : Mark Renney

Despite the confines, we are encouraged to want things. Although we can only achieve so much, it is instilled into us, from birth, how important it is to be successful. Successful means a house and the ability to fill it with all that we need plus a little more; big, bright, shining things. A flat-screen TV, surround sound a car in the garage, something sleek and stylish. Despite everything, despite the constraints and the cut-off point, here in the mid-levels there is still a lot of choice.

We are middle-management material and work only for particular corporations and particular government departments rising only so far in the ranks. I think it is harder for us here in the mid-levels because we are so close and many of us could easily make that little leap upwards if allowed.

I often stay on at the office after my colleagues have left for the day. I don’t use the computer nor my own devices. I don’t want my presence recorded. I am not breaking any rules but am aware that my behaviour would be considered a little odd.

The lighting drops to an energy-saving level and in the half-light I sit with a newspaper trying to read. But mostly I listen to the noise coming from above where they remain hard at work. At regular intervals, I fetch a drink from the vending machine. Carrying the little plastic cup, I wander as I sip from it. The coffee is always too hot and bitter. I listen to their laughter and I try to pick out individual voices, one-sided telephone conversations. I can’t make out the words but it all sounds so focused and urgent.

I hear those that leave out in the lobby and I flinch but they don’t look in through the glass doors. They don’t see me. They are far too pre-occupied, eager to get home, or perhaps they are heading for a restaurant or bar. Maybe their day’s work isn’t over and they still have much to debate and decide.

Eventually, I have to think about leaving in order to catch the last train. It is still a hive of activity up there and this annoys me. I want to outlast them, be here when they aren’t. I consider booking a hotel in the city or sleeping here in the office. A clean shirt, a different tie, and who, come the morning, would be any the wiser. But I don’t bring in that shirt and tie. After all, it’s only one floor and what would a lull, in the early hours of the morning, prove?

Many in the mid-levels decide not to enter these tall buildings. Despite the fact that they have garnered the necessary experience, ticking the right boxes, they choose to keep working for the smaller companies, those that operate out of the storefront offices both here and in the suburbs. They don’t have the security, the retirement plans, extra holidays, and bonuses but if they work hard they can earn almost as much out there. They call it the ’Real World’ and this is frowned upon by those above but ultimately they haven’t any choice but to accept it.

I made that leap from there to here as soon as I could. And that is all I have managed to do. I step into the lobby, push through the doors, and make my way to my desk in the far corner. I haven’t ever been required elsewhere, I haven’t even as much as stood on the stairs.