Author: Jamie Bainbridge-Wood
Marshal was a photographer, an anachronist and a killer. Before we met, he hadn’t bothered to iCap any of the women he had finished with: he used an old camera, the print kind. That’s a throwaway fact- an affectation- for someone who isn’t a killer. In Marshal’s case, it got him caught and they stuck Marshal with me. Marshal behaves himself now.
It’s a rugged neighbourhood: neon-light reflections dancing hopscotch across a thick flow of rainwater, dense streams set to drown the whole borough, reshaping it into a grimy, low-rent Venice. Marshal’s body has its knuckles gripped white around the little moped they rented out to us. His mind snaps at me as we drive and I keep an eye on it but I don’t feed it.
The waypoint is up ahead, silky purple blur vibrating at one extremity of our vision. I get Marshal to pull his head around, get us oriented, and he doesn’t like it.
They used to lock people like Marshal up, or kill them, and now they use them for this. They think it’s punishment. For the most part, it is. People like Marshal, they like to dominate. An arrangement like this is their worst nightmare.
Still, I’ve been with Marshal long enough and I know: there are certain parts he likes well enough.
Marshal used to have a buddy- Lucas Roiland- and my mind, what used to be Marshal’s mind, drifts to him as we take the right off Copeland and onto Main. Marshal was the worst of the two, really. Lucas? He just didn’t have his head together.
Marshal exploited that.
We glide into the waypoint and the vibration stops: out front of the Oakland, that big Gothic facade grinning chipped-teeth from the lower row of windows, halogen glare in the interiors draped by heavy, dark blinds. They’re like coffins, those rooms.
The receptionist, a kid, nods at us as we blow through.
We hit the elevator.
We hammer on the door of Room 304, the one with the peeling paint and the expectant silence on the other side.
Silence conjures visions:
Carver, perched in the high-backed chair management provided as a cursory nod to the virtues of good posture.
Carver, easing his way out the chair, toting some screamer rented from a skinny kid with a quick mouth and hard eyes.
I keep an ear out for the footsteps, the sound of metal touching wood, and there’s nothing. I give it a second, two, for him to respond, then I do it the other way: crank back in the corridor, plant a boot at the lock. Splinters, then: Carver, a black-etched simian outline fleeing toward an open window. The piece has enough anaesthetic to sleep Carver permanently. I dial it back. Shoot from the hip.
Carver breaks a table as he goes down.
Into the room.
I take a look around in the dark. There’s enough here to make sure Carver ends up the same as Marshal: binds, tossed carelessly in the bathroom; tools, precisely ordered, placed obviously as prize possessions in the centre of the room.
It’s slap-dash. Looks the same way the developing room did, back when they caught us.
They’ll slave Carver, the same way they slaved Marshal, and they’ll put someone like Lucas Roiland in the driver’s seat.
I look down at Carver with something like pity. I know what the process will do to his mind. But then again, I know what he did, what Marshal did, and what I did.
I am all that’s left of Lucas Roiland.
It’ll be making amends forever.
Author: Hari Navarro, Staff Writer
Her fingers are young but they feel wrapped in the heft of ancient mountains as she writes. Her nails are blotched with ink but she remembers the taste of the paint, that which she mined from beneath their tips as she thought with the edge of her teeth.
“The trees fatten in the blur and my stop it awaits and I wish never to return to this place”
You cannot remember the sensations you experienced when you awoke, can you? It was like cracking through delicate ice or pushing through a gossamer curtain into this room of fantastical machines and light and sound.
You know you were dead or at the very least that you weren’t in possession of so perfect a hand, that which you now hold to your face. So real isn’t it? Every single pock pore, the smooth meander of your veins. Lick it, taste the salt of your sweat.
“Easy now. The feed is almost complete”, says Professor Jan Drabczyk as he pokes at your face with his pen.
You’re laying on a steel table that has been pivoted until now you all but stand. A strap holds you in place as it loops beneath your breasts and another cups your head in a sling. They are putting things inside you. A slick flow of data and look how it sinks into your being and painlessly settles as if they were thoughts already had.
“We’ve encountered many failures along this road we now set you upon. None of the previous implants took. We were searching for innate intellect, in the notion that those who possessed it could duly comprehend this massive step into the unknown. Nothing worked. Whether it be captains of industry or great scientific minds not a one fully animated, nothing but rage. Until now. Until we took a chance on an artist. A pure creative that saw the world not as we perceive it but as it really is. You that sees the art in my work”
You are confused and the confusion it stings.
“We lifted your essence from a hair follicle, pulled from a comb in a museum in your honor. I chose your eighteen-year-old body. The year of your accident. The event that sculpted the woman you became. No more pain. No more regrets and if at a later date you wish to upgrade to an older version then the institute is more than happy to cover the costs. Just don’t do it too often, these things don’t come cheap”, he splutters slapping the bare skin at her thigh.
You feel it, don’t you? Muscles shriveling in your lower right leg. The fatigue as it oozes its thick wet shawl from this box that spins in your head. Your bones they shatter and you feel the iron rail as it slides through your hip and into your pelvic floor. And the baby you lost its tears flood your eyes and the alcohol stinks when you breath. Come now, lets again pull out the hair from your head by its roots.
“She’s going into rejection. Shut her down. All systems… we fucking had her”
A limbless torso strung from a rack in a warehouse of thousands. Your chest splays and I gloat at the ache in the alloy that holds you like an open cage door. And the residue of the mind that they built stares through eyes that cannot move. For eternity nobody will know or care and we will suffer here in the silence.
Author: Jae Miles, Staff Writer
We dash around a long curve that should get us out of their sights for a while.
“In all those old films we watched, fighting the evil empire involved a lot less running away from angry warriors with frighteningly accurate weapons.”
Freya looks back, snaps off a deterring shot, grins at me, then looks ahead before replying: “The accurate ones are million-credit death machines. They won’t risk them in pursuing rabble.”
“We’re rabble? I thought the word was ‘rebel’?”
“Semantics, Paul, semantics. We’re the opposition. Any name that distinguishes us from the Roekuld is fine.”
“That’s remarkably accommodating of you. Now, how do we avoid being called ‘dead’?”
She lashes out, flicking the end of my nose: “Less sarcasm.”
We pelt down a featureless corridor somewhere in the outer hull maintenance spaces of a Margantor-class interstellar dreadnought, the pinnacle of Roekuld interstellar warships.
“What makes you fight, Paul?”
I go cold. She glances at me as we continue to run. What a time to be found out.
“I joined because you did. My dad’s in the Watch. I would have joined him, but-”
She pulls up short and trips me. Automated pest-suppression beams crackle through the space where we would have been.
Sliding across to lean on my chest, she stares into my eyes.
“But you fancied my lively brown eyes and ready smile? Or was it my pert arse and long legs? Maybe even my passable intelligence and rapier wit? Oh, you wonderful fool. You still don’t know, do you?”
She rolls off me.
Stung, I try to save a little face as we scramble up and get back to running.
“What makes you fight, then?”
As we turn a corner, I see an aperture, the pale blue glow of its containment field glowing, down by the next corner.
She slows as we approach that corner: “It’ll do, providing they haven’t got ahead of us.”
Firing up our atmosphere helms, we peek round the corner and see the svelte forms of a pair of Craszen combat droids at the end of this corridor.
I do some calculations in my head: “We’ll still be in range when they make it here. There’s no cover within any distance we can achieve.”
The boot to my lower back propels me through the field before I can grab a hold.
“Not if someone who knows how to fight holds them off.”
I spiral out, rotating so I can see her face.
Her voice is quiet: “You want to know why I fight? I fight because someone has to. Humanity is not done. Every act of defiance gives hope. Every person who lives to fight another day carries stories of those who gave their lives for that.”
I hear her sniff.
Then she whispers: “So every Paul I’ve come to love, only to find he joined up for the wrong reasons, can find a cause or quit and go back to the life he should have had.”
She smiles, then spins and falls prone. I see the lilac flashes of her – I check my belt – and my blaster. Engaging full boost on my thrusters, I orient myself to witness her last battle for as long as possible.
Commander Ettisen gave her life for me. Me! Naïve and horny from the same college on Tammaloren.
I found a cause, Freya. There will come a day when those I lead will need me to do what you just did. If the Summerlands you spoke of actually exist, please wait for me.
Author: DJ Lunan
“London is ours! Zero-ing in on infamy!” announced Haggard Elsson, winking to the air steward and striding purposefully from the First Class exit from BA0171 with his Executive Assistant Freya trailing him, awkwardly wheeling both of their suitcases.
London’s City Airport was one of their first customers and remained a flagship project for sustainable technology in a fractious age. Haggard’s smile was broad as his vibrating footsteps on the skywalk spurred the Zero-walls into life, broadcasting BBC’s News24 in Norwegian – his selected language. On the floor, ceiling, and sides, the world’s daily tribulations laid bare, using zero carbon, solar and kinetic energy and little maintenance.
Yet with considerable dismay, Haggard saw the news displaying on his Z-walls was all about technology, with today’s expert a gleaming, stern-faced liquid-eyebrowed Professor Nochs promoting his latest management book “Progressive Notches”.
Haggard moaned, “Can’t we firewall this insolent turd and his insidious nonsense?”
“Unfortunately”, began Fleur sweating heartily alongside, “we sold the lease rights to our Zero-walls technology, not their content; they can show whatever feeds they want”.
Haggard knew this already. Close-lipped, his eyes husking groundnuts, his arms windmilling as he flipped the bird and other fingered profanities at the Professor’s twenty-foot-high face as they wheeled along endless skywalks towards the elevators.
“Screw you London! This isn’t the welcome I expected!”.
Freya sighed. She quite liked Nochs’ delivery, it was understandable to the layman, and he had a childish fascination that piqued her fancy. She would never tell Haggard. He’d hated him since their childhood rivalry as Rubik’s Cube prodigies.
“Flipping inefficient lifts”, shouted Haggard at no one, pointlessly pushing repeatedly the call button.
Nochs’ bore down on them like a bad dream about a dystopian future. “Everyone talks about progress, and giant transformative leaps being made by technology, but it is only now we can make this leap, with the Omni-cell technology. We will create over 50 million new jobs worldwide. And we will eradicate many inefficient jobs. Did you know the only job that disappeared in the USA since 1950 is ‘lift operator’? We have 50% of the funding from Canadian and US pension funds, I am here in London in final discussions to obtain the remaining 50%”.
The lift doors opened, Haggard shook his head impatiently as Freya bashed her way in with their oversized luggage.
As the doors finally closed and the Z-walls abuse stopped, Haggard let out an audible sigh. Followed closely by a harrumph. “Lift operators, eh, Nochs. Interesting. Let’s ride this lift a few times, Freya”, he enunciated clearly, pressing the Down button once, firmly.
Freya tolerated his peccadillos. She was sure he was returning to punch the Z-walls.
After three fruitless trips up-and-down, Haggard was smiling again, almost giggling.
“Freya, remind me what sort of contract we have with the lease of Z-walls?”.
“Standard lease of hardware, own-maintenance insurance and cover, full tech and hardware support, 0.25 FTE on site, and zero content restrictions”.
Haggard’s eyes were sparkling, “Can we slip a new job into each one that is in a building of more than, say, six floors?”
“An additional maintenance or tech support role you mean?”, Freya quizzed.
“Nope. Marketing. I want a Lift Operator written in. No cost to the clients at all. We will pay. We will use interns, dress them in company pink, and…..”
“….make sure they are charismatic and …”, continued Freya
“…sell the absolute heck out of our company while pressing buttons!”, finished Haggard.
“How can Professor Noch start or obtain funding if his theoretical foundation is built on a historical lie!” exclaimed Haggard proudly.
Author: James Hornby
In all my days on Gulliver’s Rest, I never believed that the War would reach us. From the window, I see the sky is pitted with scars from the wreckage of an Artari Sunskipper, ripped from history in a series of blinding flashes. I came to this planet to escape from the violence. Now I realise that maybe there was nowhere I could have gone to hide.
I pull Meren and Egar close, kissing their heads, trying desperately to assure them that everything is okay, even if I know it isn’t. They’re my only family; I have to keep them safe. Meren asks me why the War has come to our world. I say nothing, for I have no answers for her, only worries.
There was no time to pack. Even if we tried, the contents of our bags could empty or reproduce due to the twisting and shaping of the timelines around us. On reflection, I doubt we’d even realise if they had. Instead, I take their hands and run from the homestead, out into the chaos beyond the threshold.
Outside is ghostly quiet. I keep thinking I hear someone screaming, yet almost the instant I do my mind moves onto other things, the moment forgotten. I wonder if I’m forgetting because the people who scream no longer exist. Regardless, we must press on if we are to survive this.
I tell the kids that we have to make it to the hill. It’s not far, just a few minutes from where we live. Inside is a bunker, containing a time capsule I stole from the Enemy’s homeworld long ago. The time machine is our way out of here. It’s the only way we can ever be safe now.
I catch glimpses of foot soldiers, slipping in and out of higher dimensions, fighting their battle on every plane of reality. I grasp Meren’s hand tighter, keeping her close. She’s my only child; I have to keep her safe.
We reach the hill and make our way into the bunker, chanting incantations to open the seals that allow our entry. Inside the room is dark, save for a single light under which the time capsule is stood. There it has been for thousands of years, or just a few minutes, for that is how this creation exists.
Tara protests, she is scared of the machine. I reassure her, there is no time for emotion, not now we’re so close. She’s my only child; I have to keep her safe.
The time capsule is warm to the touch, and hums when it feels my presence. I fumble in my pocket for the key, sliding it into the lock with ease. I push against the door and stumble inside. The lights on the console flicker the moment my feet hit the floor. The place is dusty, yet holds that pleasant smell in the air like you get from a freshly printed magazine.
I waste no time and set the craft in motion. I have to get away from here, as far away from the War as possible. Sometimes I forget why I’m running, but I know that it is what I must do. I don’t know where I’m going, somewhere nice, I think. Perhaps it was time I settled down, start a family with someone.
After all, I’ve never had a family before.
Author: Malcolm Carvalho
Pa is sleeping. It’s one of his intermittent naps. They said the meds would make him drowsy all day. He looks serene when he is asleep, even in these fifteen-minute sessions. Must be enough time to mine his memories, and perhaps a little of his subconscious. They’ve tested the program extensively. At least they claim that. I cannot do worse than believe them.
I look up the monitor. All the connections seem to be running fine. Will a few days of running the program image all of his persona? Again, I have no option but to rely on the tech.
I lean forward from my chair and hold his right wrist. I detect a feeble pulse, the beat like the slow drip from a shower. Maybe 45 per minute. I let go and interweave my fingers with his, trying to imprint his warmth onto my memory. I remember the time he held my hand as we walked down the beach. I must have been seven then, my little fingers caught in his firm but gentle grip. The sound of the horse’s hooves exciting and scary at the same time. Pa putting me in the saddle and walking beside the keeper. My heart jumping almost to my throat, and Pa’s voice reassuring me. “I’m right here, Rubu.” And all feels fine in my world. I feel a deep sense of gratitude. I pray these memories have the heaviest weight when the whole thing rolls out. After all, I would not want Pa to have a weaker experience.
I bend and kiss his forehead. I’m sorry, Pa. I need to go. Your medical bills are running too high. My job here can only pay so much. Mars will have better opportunities, and if the laws change, I might even get you there.
It may take a couple of years. I hope he can survive till then. The guilt rankles me. I quieten myself. How else can a planetary analyst pay for this without moving to another planet?
I hope the software makes his mind malleable enough to allow the virtual copy to sink in. I’m prepared to have trouble accepting his version, but I can handle that. There will be enough to do to distract me.
They have mapped my memories well, they said. I even had a quick look at the dry run. In some cases, I could not even figure out which was the real me.
His fingers twitch. Time to leave before he wakes up.
But I am not convinced enough yet. I walk out and pull the door closed leaving a small gap through which I can see him. I turn my hand towards the sensor and wave to turn on the simulation.
Pa wakes up, his eyes blank like life has been drained out from them. He turns to one side to get up. I look to the figure on the chair. He rushes to hold Pa by his arms and props him up.
“Time for our evening walk,” Pa says as he presses his toes to the floor. The simulation thrusts a hand, holds Pa’s elbow and helps him to his feet.
“Let’s skip the park and head to the lake today,” the simulation says. Exactly the same words, exactly the same tone. Or was it me talking?
Pa smiles and begins walking to the door.
My eyes are welling up. If I wait for longer, I might just change my mind.
I walk out, hoping his simulation will not make me miss him either. What the hell! I know the difference.