Author: Michael Hopkins
It knew itself as awareness. No center. No end. Awareness. It did not know its name. It had no I. A perturbation arose – from where? The agitation expanded – a significant change. It grew. It caused disruption – a point of focus with hope for discovery – all new concepts for it. It asked why. It hoped it would speak its name.
Scientist arguably decided that the universe was billions of years old. From the pinprick of the big bang it was expanding in all directions at the speed of light. Intelligence, as measured through the development of languages (approximated at seven thousand) were starting to disappear. But as the dialects of man dwindled, with increased attention to the universal tongue of mathematics, the languages of animals were discovered and categorized: the song of whales, the chirps of birds, the movements of bees, the barking patterns of dogs. Beyond these, the languages of what were once thought to be unintelligent objects made themselves evident.
Aspen trees with their interconnected root systems, and ability to sway in the wind, which freed microscopic cells to be carried through the air to others of its type, were found to send messages of drought and fire over hundreds of miles.
Mycelium roots were determined to be the largest living organisms, connecting and communicating over thousands of miles.
The movement of the wind and seas, thought to be results of physical phenomena, such as changes in atmospheric pressures and the gravitational pull of the moon, were discovered to be complex dialects, with messages that gave rise to the climate transitions on the earth. The oceans, the large lakes, the small trickling streams carried their messages across the earth: water evaporated, molecules transmitted their utterances through the sky, the wind moved these codes, depositing information, to receptors, with rain.
The name of a god was thought to hold a final power; to know a god was to speak its name. Christ. Allah. Shiva. Vishnu. Elohim. Elah. Shangdi. Maykapal. Bhargava. Surendra. To know this name was man’s purpose for existence; its discovery, spoken aloud, as a prayer, would bring the purpose of man’s existence to an end.
Hebrew intellects searched the ancient texts for the all-encompassing name of god. The many representations all had their purpose. The Tetragrammaton YHWH: Yahweh: Jehovah, a piece, yet incomplete. The art of Kabbalah merged with the complexities of equation to divine the name. But it was the final discovery that gave the greatest hope.
Geologists agreed that the most inanimate of objects were alive – and had language. Stones spoke. The earth’s landmasses, once a single unit, had split into continents: separate parts that yearned to be whole. The 500,000 detectable earthquakes every year began to shape into an alphabet. Many, perceived by only the most sensitive scientific instruments, were seen as a constant chatter: words, sentences, and paragraphs. The largest destructive quakes were theorized to be shouts of pain, calling to their distant pieces. The religion of Gaia: a sentient earth, characterized these as soulful cries of longing across the chasms – lost love.
The earth went silent. As decades progressed with no quakes, the geo-linguists (a science to some, a religion to others), developed more precise instruments and found the mountains themselves spoke. The utterance of a single syllable took years. A word – centuries. The meshing of science and religion turned from the subatomic world for answers, to the macro, the large, the most visible of physical entities. It gave man hope that in the study of these ancient beings, the purpose of creation had focus, and struggled to speak the name of god.
Society, with its diverse economies, competing philosophies, anxious religions, and growing technologies, served to further divide man, rather than make them whole. Peace was always torn at its fundamental fabric by war. Love was subdued by hate.
When the sun grew in size by twenty percent (a surprise event that would reshape the theories of astrophysicists – if there were any to see it), all organic life on the earth was destroyed – in an instant.
The rocks continued to talk, for thousands of years, in the quiet of a dissolved humanity, and moved toward the first utterance of god’s name. When the sun expanded again, the earth was gone, vaporized – its quarks, fermions, and leptons, pulled apart, separated forever, blown in all directions to chaos, to nothingness.
It sensed the loss. It asked why. It wondered if it had a name. It became as it was before. It knew itself as awareness. No center. No end.
Author: Jeff Hill
A woman is crouching in the bushes, patiently waiting next to the house of her estranged husband. He has to know, she thinks to herself. The neighbors see her, but they pay no mind. They know she’s harmless, and they know she’ll never actually confront him. But she’s not sure which is worse: the fact that she does not deserve their pity or the fact that they will regret their dismissal. “He has to know,” she whispers to no one in particular.
She walks over to the front door and surprises the few neighborhood watchers out walking their dogs, playing basketball in their driveways, and grilling burgers while drinking beers in their garages. She knocks, then rings the doorbell for good measure. Then she surprises everyone watching yet again, removing each article of her clothing, one by one, waiting for him to open up the door.
She has black ink all over her body, in what appears to be the words of an ancient, long-forgotten, seemingly dangerous language. The beers drip, the burgers burn, the basketballs roll down the driveways, the dogs nervously urinate, and a couple of the neighbors do, too. The door opens.
Her voice is simultaneously quiet and booming, her words seem to enter the whole neighborhood’s heads directly. A jilted lover, a sad separation, a reckless deal, and a town that would soon make national news. The woman will not be ignored. The woman will not be pitied. And as the clouds begin to blacken above her, she says she will not be forgotten.
Author: Irene Montaner
By the time the aliens reached Paris, the streets were empty. Parisians and tourists alike had sought shelter inside the many churches in the city or underground in the metro tunnels. They prayed and hid or hid and prayed but regardless of their choice their end came fast. Ruthless and painful.
I didn’t run.
I stayed where I was, inside the Louvre. There’s something romantic about spending my last living moments surrounded by beauty, accompanied by some of the finest art ever produced by human hands.
Petrified, I listen to the first echoes of destruction. Through the windows I see Paris collapse. Houses, churches, monuments, all burning. The city is ablaze under a dense cloud of smoke. Heavy green bodies lean from the Eiffel tower until it bends and breaks. A handful of green colossi glide along the river, wrecking all the bridges over the Seine. And some are mocking their own reflections on the crystal pyramid. Glass shatters. The aliens are coming and I still haven’t seen her.
Time to run.
I run downstairs and race along endless corridors lined with hundreds of exquisite paintings and antiques. I find her in the same room where she has been for the last decades. There she is, behind bulletproof glass. She with the mysterious smile. She with the coy eyes. She with the plain looks and the rich robes. I look at her like millions before me.
Their foot-stomping startle me. I turn around and find myself cornered by six of them. Six tall, muscular, green monsters, their heads too small for their sturdy bodies. The look at me and laugh. They take another look and grunt. Their grumbling goes on for a while until one of them lifts its left arm and the rest shut up. It lifts its other arm, points its weapon at me and pulls the trigger.
My body plummets but I’m not bleeding. I feel myself burning, a fire consuming me from the inside. From my dying place, I see their leader walk past me, smash the protective glass and rip the canvas off its frame. I look at her one last time and see into her like no one before me, unraveling the mystery behind her tight lips and smiling eyes. She, too, had met these visitors five hundred years ago. And unlike any of us, she lived to tell it, only that she didn’t. Until this very moment.
The enormous fist squeezes the painting and Mona Lisa’s smile vanishes forever as the paint cracks and falls off the canvas. I close my eyes and vanish too, leaving nothing but ashes scattered on the floor.
Her secret is safe with me.
Author: Hari Navarro, Staff Writer
Tāne hoists himself over the wrought iron gate and as he falls heavily to the ground, he feels it. A deafening coldness as the old building strains and grins. It had been enticing him here for years.
Villa Mater had once been a home for the elderly. But for decades now it had laid empty, victim to a desire to expedite the process of dying, and not coddle those who had all but lived their lives to the end.
“Look at her shutters, hanging from hinges upon which once they swung. Now shedding the rot of their slats, scattering them as tears to the ground”
“Do you ever speak like a normal person?”, Meri prods as she pushes open the door.
“This place has haunted you well enough, personifying it gives it a face. Faces bite”
“Faces kiss too”, he smiles.
Upstairs they easily find the room. He knows the number from the records he’d searched – 92.
Tāne steps into the room and inhales as threadbare curtains roll in the slit breeze, agitating the black creeping rot of her bed.
“I’m here now, Nonna”
He sits on the beds sodden edge, but before the throb of his sad guilt can muster his next thought, he falls back. It’s like fainting, only it’s dying and down into the mattress he tumbles.
A tunnel formed from never known memories of an old woman and then…
… he awakens, an echo.
A phantom in a deserted hospital. The ghost of a great author, stashed away and hidden from the world, here where electrodes they bit and chewed at his temples.
A film crew readies for the night to arrive. An intern named Frances, steps into the exact spot where the author had screamed through his teeth and she sieves down into the floor. A sluice. A vein that pulsates amid fouled needles that ooze from its walls and…
… she’s barely conscious, as then, she melts into the bullet ridden body of a soldier. Just enough life to contract his fingers, as she grips up out from the mud.
She feels the tickling roots of poppies as they lace down and suckle her bones and the mud becomes hard and the sun ticks away at the years.
An archaeologist huddles in a trench. A hole pocked skull at the tip of his brush. His finger touches the soldier’s bones and he grabs at his chest. He snakes down into the earth and falls out into space and through and back into time…
… and he wakes. The first blink of a newborn child. And, in these first seconds, she remembers all that has past.
Nothing for years. Nothing until the ghosts they come.
As a teen, she will be diagnosed and plied with pills as she recalls the mind of a lonely boy.
She’ll sit in the street and piss in her veins as the author he hands her the needle.
She’ll lament a poor girl who lived for the horror in films. Her dreams and passions not lived.
And she will think about things she cannot fathom. Cold. Wet living things with feet that rot in the mud and she feels the ripping ache of her soldier.
The woman sits alone in the villa because her skin has furrowed and she can no longer count backwards from ten.
“Come to me, Tāne”, she chants to the air.
Hidden away behind shutters and doors, she waits for her end as she remembers again the lives that she’s lived.
And, though nobody will listen, she knows… she knows she’s back where she began.
Author: Jae Miles, Staff Writer
Another cold coffee. It’s the last one I’ll have for a while. Tigerhouse closes tonight and affording bean coffee will go back on the luxuries list.
Elena slides into the seat opposite, looking like a pinup from the side of someone else’s bomber. Her coffee is steaming and she’s got a double-stack bacon and stilton sandwich. It’s amazing what being pretty and having no truck with overbearing bosses will do for the punctuality and quality of your mealtimes.
She spins the plate so half of the pile is facing me.
“That’s yours. Since you haven’t had a break.”
I examine her expression to see if it’s a wind-up.
“Not joking, Doug. Get some while it’s hot.”
The lady watches without comment as I go face down in hot food. Minutes later, I come up for air, followed by cold coffee, then carefully wipe the wreckage from my face.
She grins: “That didn’t touch the sides, did it?”
Looking at the crumbs that remain, I shrug: “Good food doesn’t come along often.”
“How’d you like to afford good food every day?”
I wave toward the Sunny Chino across the road: “They’ve done recruiting.”
“I don’t want you to make coffee. Anyone can do that. I want you to kill. You know: do what you’re good at?”
They always say the one that’ll get you is the one you don’t expect. This pretty lady has obviously been paying way too much attention to me.
“Tell me my service number.”
She raises her eyebrows: “What, no disbelief? 16443790.”
The quickest check is asking for something that’s not on open- or restricted-access records. If answered correctly, the leverage is implicit and most other questions can wait.
“How much? Paid how? Who dies?”
“Five thousand sterling. Banded pack of one hundred B of E fifties. The owner of Tigerhouse.”
Her studied calm slips a little. Then, after taking a deep breath, she brings her handbag up and extracts the block of money. I take it, drop it below the edge of the table and fan it. While out of her view, I vet it for tracers and chemicals using the sensors built into my thumbs. It’s clean and genuine.
With a nod, I rise and walk across to the counter. Emilio, the owner, is conferring with Toni, the manager. I lift the leaf and step behind Emilio. He starts to turn and I snap his neck, then collapse her windpipe. Moving out from behind the counter, I close the panel, drop the leaf and reach over to latch it.
Elena’s halfway across the room, an eager look on her face.
I point a thumb back over the counter: “You’ll need to arrange disposal.”
She keys her datapad. As the contacts come up, she looks down, her mouth opening to talk. I take her down in a cybergrip stranglehold and relieve her of datapad and jewellery while she thrashes and dies.
Going back behind the counter, I loot bodies and till before lighting the serviettes, uniforms, and menus. Might go up, might not. Gives the right amateur flavour: a cue for the incident obfuscation mob.
I exit Tigerhouse and call a number using Elena’s datapad.
“Compromised. Vet this datapad and expunge anyone who flags as even remotely suspicious. Demise Doug Chaffin. Who am I?”
“Ian Valent. Chauffeur for Advocate Limousines of Stoke-on-Trent, holidaying in London. Your datapad will be updated by the time you catch your 00:05 train home from Euston. Her datapad is cloned. You may dispose.”
A cover where I’m allowed decent food. Just the ticket.
Author: Rick Tobin
Pressing slick walls within Perri’s briefing center opened gigantic multi-verse mapping systems across a great briefing hall aboard Haven’s interstellar spacecraft. The Order’s enclosure pulsated with its anthem, rising to crescendos oscillating beneath gathered crews’ blue slippers. White-robed acolytes raised covered heads to view Perri’s guidance for their next voyage.
“We will traverse Channel Aluhayo near Braxis Egua. It is tricky, but our passenger has little time. It is the essence of our charge to bring each seeker to final rest. We must submit ourselves to any challenge to support their trust in Haven.”
“May Haven await us all,” a confirmation returned in one voice from the Order, resting in their robes upon red floor cushions.
“With our pilot’s blessing, may we bring this being to ultimate contentment and joy. Mahuya Ho.”
“Mahuya Ho,” echoed the audience, just before standing and leaving for assigned posts. One remained to address Perri privately.
“You are Jardin Co, are you not?” Perri asked, surprised at an unscheduled conversation.
“Yes, Father, I have that honor of my House.” Jardin Co bowed in respect before speaking.
“Proceed.” Perri waved one of his many arms indicating consent.
“May Haven find us all, dear Father…but I have concerns about repercussions for returning Crax to Haven when its planet’s government warned us away. If Crax is a terrorist, do we risk initiating a conflict on this world? Does that create an imbalance in our core belief in Haven?”
“Your youth speaks loudly, Jardin Co. Let me explain.” Perri displayed no facial indications of anger or retribution. His golden robes continued to glisten under lights above the dais where he stood elevated over Jardin Co.
“I did not mean to offend,” Jardin Co replied, flustered.
“It’s a fair question for one new to our Order. Let my experience provide evidence that we are honorable in our cause. Every being has an inherent right to pass to their judgment while in the Haven of their home world– to touch their native soil, drink liquids of their home and dine on foods that return memories of youth long forgotten. Their passing, through our provision, prepares them for the greater journey beyond. It is our deepest calling to bring them to Haven.”
“But threats of war…the balance of our creed?” Jardin Co stared down as he dared question.
“Surprising… such considerations from youth. But, you have asked, and we maintain that all your questions be addressed. Crax is near death, posing no threat to this colony. War has been their way for millennia. Its presence will not change their ill-tempered breed. Our only focus is for a creature’s soul to journey peacefully beyond. We offer a bridge, no matter a species history, to their origination before ending life’s moments. Nothing is more frightening than taking one’s first step from the physical world while exploring voids of space, away from one’s like species and familiar surroundings. The Order has existed beyond time to serve all requests to seek Haven when nearing transition, especially for those at untold distances from their roots. Haven means something to them all, no matter their faults or glory, so we submit to this quest, regardless of threats from those who misunderstand this primal derivation of existence.”
“Have I acted poorly in my concern, Father?”
“No, Jardin Co. All who serve Haven are free to know by asking…and blessed to serve in trust. Our only continuance price is a client offering one offspring to our order. Your previous father’s house honored us with you. You will now serve honorably with the issue of Crax.”