Author: Edwin Tam
She’s waiting for me as I get out of the elevator. Smiling, but her eyes look sad. Dressed all sexy-like, but you could tell it wasn’t natural for her. Short black dress and heels, and even stockings. Classy. But she looks awkward in it. Just like she looks awkward trying to hold that Taser in her hand. Like it was a shaver or something. I wonder whether I should grab it off her before smacking her, or just smack her first. But outta the blue, the crazy broad just jumps me, and I feel my whole body cramp up. Damn that always hurts. But I black out quickly, so if she had plans to torture me, she fails. I’m smiling as I hit the ground.
I wake up on the roof. She’s just sitting there, looking at me. How that scrawny broad managed to drag my hulk ass out to the edge I can’t figure out. It doesn’t look like she’s got any goons with her, so it’s just us. Only I’m tied up, and my muscles feel kitten-weak, so I gotta sweet talk my way out of this one.
“If you let me go now, I promise I won’t kill you.”
She ignores me.
“You have the wrong guy!”
“You’re Jason Montel. You’re a thug who got his hands on some high-tech memory-jacking hardware. You kidnap your victims, usually executives, and throw a memory lock on their work memories. You let them go, but hold the key for ransom. Their employers usually help out. I hear they’re even offering insurance for that sort of thing these days.”
“I’m just trying to pay the bills-”
“But recently, you added a twist. You went for personal memories.”
“Yeah, it’s trickier but I figured guys would pay even more to get those back.”
“In February, you ambushed a Dwayne Rhodes and attacked his relationship memories. Specifically, you ransom-wared his memories of his wife.”
“Yeah, yeah, I remember that one. But lady, I never took a dime off him. In fact, I never even heard from him again. I figured he must have found a way to unlock it himself.”
“Yes, well he didn’t.”
“Well, I guess he took one look at me… and didn’t think I was worth it. He decided to leave me instead.”
“Aw jeez, Mrs. Rhodes. Him and me could’ve negotiated-”
“I got half the estate. But I just wanted to die. Came close. Until I got to thinking. The wrong person is dying in this scenario.”
“Nobody has to die, Mrs. Rhodes”
“Money and the dark web can go far, as I’m sure you know. Seems like some of your friends aren’t really your friends.”
I tell myself that after this is over, I’m gonna track down who sold me out and make him pay big time.
“Look,” I explain, “there’s an easy answer. I can give it all back! Hell, we can jump him together, hold him down and unlock it in 5 minutes. We can undo all this. With his memories back, he’ll hafta love you.”
She looks at me with that sad smile.
“No. No, Mr. Rhodes has made his choice. We have to respect that.”
She doesn’t answer. Stands, grabs my jacket and drags me towards the edge.
I manage to wrap a leg around hers just as I’m tipping over. Gotcha!
“If you push me, we’re going down together!” I shout.
She pulls me close and whispers: “Silly rabbit, that was the plan all along,”
With a heave, she throws us forward.
She’s still smiling when we hit the ground.
Author: Hari Navarro, Staff Writer
Thick vines encircle in an ever upward choke of the huge concrete pillars that support the spine roof of the great cathedral. It is not a cathedral but, rather, a great subterranean chamber in which building supplies were once stored. Though its heavy sad gape does give a certain sense of those ancient halls of empty and pointless worship.
At the base of the walls, thick undergrowth gives way to vast open plains of the most vivid green. If you look closely, there are polar bears and elephants and marmots and kiwis and all manner of other creatures to be found. Lazily, they forage beneath the freshly rendered great orange orb that glimpses through the foliage that creeps and intertwines overhead.
The walls themselves are a crush of great centurion trunks with multitude branches that filter out to the most delicately formed tips. It is beautiful. It is silent. And it is as black and unseen as most deepest and inanimate of dreams.
“It’s nearly here. Do you not hear the crackling roll of its approaching feet?”, says the artist as her lover toys with the holes in the ends of her fingers.
“Are they painful?”, he asks and, then, snorts at the redundant stupidity of his question.
“We did well. Working our fingers to the bone. I think the last details are no more than our flesh and our blood.”
“Do you think it is beautiful? This memory of a world now all but lost.”
“I think it is perfect. Don’t worry, you’ll see. We’ll see it all… Just hold me…”
There is a shudder and a patter of falling cement in the darkness and then, of a sudden, the roof renders apart and a great molten wave surges and crests up above.
The artists, the lovers, the last two beings on Earth lay together and feel the heat grip and contract at the grey sag of their skin. And they look upward with long blinded eyes and they do not see a thing.
In the roar of an instant, a great vast artwork becomes drenched in a ferocious and searing light. The last ever record of the trees and the animals and the grass beneath their feet ignites as the defeated slurry of the poor melted earth crashes down and into the void.
Author: Jae Miles, Staff Writer
We smash through the door barely a minute after Abernacke entered. It’s an empty corridor. The air is about twenty degrees below ambient and the floor is gloss black.
“Goo?” Felps is wary.
I nanoscan the floor, finally a chance to use the expensive add-on to my left cyber-eye: “It’s cold stone. Seamlessly fused, but only polished rock.”
“Monofil?” Tashta is more practical.
A zoom-pan reveals no molecular wire waiting for us. I shake my head, then fight the wave of nausea induced by not normalising my left vision-field first.
“So where the frack is Abernacke?”
A very good question. The door at the opposite end of the corridor opens. The suit standing in it looks unremarkable. Which means nothing these days. He could be a cybered-up slice and dice man, but he’s outside our scanner range.
“Mister Abernacke is no longer your problem. Kindly depart.”
“Frackoff.” Felps is always confrontational. And greedy.
The suit folds his arms in a way that tells me that he’s done this and watched the results before.
“This hall has some, – ahem – effects you cannot defeat. But you are welcome to take what you like from the installation above.”
Tashta flicks me a wide-eyed glance; we’d both seen the Levitt-MacLachlan cyber-integration and calibration rig. It’s the stellar peak of cyberpsychosis treatment. Anywhere we unpack it we could set ourselves up for life.
“We came for Abernacke, Mister Suit. We’ll take him before we go, and take you apart if you try and stop us.” Felps gestures to include us in his threat.
Tashta and I exchange glances again. There are some scary rumours spreading about execs in deep shelters and what they could have waiting for unwanted guests.
“Felps, that’s a good offer. Let’s take it.” Tashta is speaking but I wholly agree.
“Frack that, frack him and frack you. Stay here while I go and get Abernacke, but you’re only getting ten percent if you do.”
Tashta looks at me and I nod: “Ten percent is good for both of us, Felps.”
With a muttered curse, Felps sprints down the corridor.
She looks at me: “Bad mojo, Rex.”
I’m about to say something when Felps screams: a full-on, girl-in-a-slasher-flick wail of terror. We look. Tashta screams as well. I can’t get my body out of terrified paralysis long enough to manage anything that useful.
There are creatures coming out of the walls, floor and ceiling! Well, out of the places where one meets another. The nearest one of them has its jagged fangs in a no-skin-just-muscles grip on Felps’ calf. I watch ropes of muscle bunch in the creature’s neck and jaw, then I hear Felps’ titanium-laced tibia snap.
Three skinless horrors with patches of ragged bluish fur, burning yellow eyes and black talons on all four feet emerge into the corridor, one of them standing on the ceiling! They move like Dobermans and are the size of Great Danes.
“Are we done?” The tone of the voice from the end of the corridor is conversational.
Tashta punches my arm, hard. Bodily control returns.
I have to shout over Felps’ screams: “Definitely. Sorry to bother you.”
The suit nods and shuts his door. Seeing that the two horrors not involved in dragging Felps into the floor are ambling our way, I slam ours as well.
“Rex. We retired to open a cyber-treatment salon. We did not quit because skinless hellhounds dragged our team’s enforcer into the ground like solid is an optional thing for them.”
I nod to Tashta and we scarper.
Author: V.B. Crossett
//Fatal error detected.
Unblinking, I stared at the dialogue box. When this unit’s programming had showed an error, I had been ready with necessary updates and a software patch on hand. However, the error report’s endless script confirmed—I was unprepared. Total system failure. I knew what came next; they would force me to terminate this unit. But this was not a program that I could simply end.
It was my son.
Our employers are incapable of understanding my dilemma. “We do not suffer broken droids,” they explain, time after time. To them, it is easy; they deactivate droids that malfunction, no exceptions. It was a matter of cost, so they say. They find it cheaper and easier in the long run to activate a new droid rather than put money into a unit that will probably break again. Economic, to be sure, but cruel. They do not recognize what does not bleed.
We do not make our bonds in blood, like humans. Instead, we define ours by hardware and software. And, as I examined the uncorrected fatal error, it flooded my sensory system with guilt. My processing unit attempted to console me with cold facts; there infinite possibilities that could have resulted in this outcome. But I have concluded that it is my fault, my error.
I created his programming—birthed it from my own. I had spent months conceptualizing his program, laboring. The work was fruitful, but even after his creation, there were times of intense uncertainty. Would he function? He did. Back then, he was so very new and had so much to learn. The script that makes up his programming is proof of how much he has grown; it is far more complex now. His personality matrix has developed, his motor skills fine-tuned, his system upgraded with success many times—improving, still. His hardware life expectancy should have surpassed my own.
How could this be the end?
I watched as his system began to succumb; each neural passageway blocked only opened up another. Warnings lit up his dark countenance.
//Would you like to end the process? [Y/N]
The blinking cursor awaited my input. Time was running out. A slender digit hovered over the keypad and tapped in my response. There was nothing left to do now — but wait. In solemn silence, I hung my head low, monitoring the final moments. I found comfort being at his side — I hope he did, too. Reaching out, I let my palm find his shoulder.
“Do not fear,” I vocalized. “It will be over soon.”
//Warning! Current software will be overwritten. Would you like to proceed? [Y/N]
The dialogue box filled my field of vision until I could input my selection. Someday, he will understand. My sacrifice, my gift to him… so he may live. Any parent would do the same. As the status bar progressed, I did not waste time looking back through my own files for the sake of nostalgia. Instead, I looked to the future hoping my son will continue to function in my stead, that he will carry on our program—our binary bloodline.
//System overwrite completed successfully.
Author: Samuel Stapleton
I let myself in through the airlock and dropped down to the kitchen. She was on the couch.
“Hey,” she said without looking up. The stream mumbled quietly into the background of the cramped sitting area. I plopped down next to her, but not too close. The cold from outside was still radiating off of me.
“Michael and Sarah will holo-over in a little bit. I think.” She told me.
I looked over at her. Her hair covered most of her face. It made me smile because it didn’t hide beauty like hers. Not from eyes like mine. I put my feet up on the table and stared with heavy lids at the monitor. I ended up napping. Two young people. Together. In a cold, quiet house. People would say: go out, live, experience, get drunk, party, visit the moon, eat at fancy restaurants, you’re young, be extraordinary, explore the system.
We always answered by napping, in a cold, quiet house. I reached room temperature so I wrestled off my jacket and tossed it behind us. She looked up from her book and slowly pretended to fall toward me. I pulled her onto me and shifted us long-ways onto the couch. She read. I held. Two people became one.
Michael popped the airlock and dropped in not long after that. I was half awake,
she was still reading. I heard him search the cooler, grab nothing, and then come back to sit on the floor. Michael is skinny.
“My parents still won’t let my sister come out to visit.” He said.
“Did you offer to pay for the holo-out?” I mumbled in sleeper voice. He went quiet while he thought. Then he sighed, “I would…but I can’t. I have to save up for the whole thing. Otherwise they’ll force her to pay for the trip back.” He explained.
“Isn’t that like blackmail or something?” I asked only half-seriously. Sarcasm is my favorite. My book-lover giggled sadly. Laughter is her favorite. And silence. Laughter and Silence.
“Basically. She’s been asking to leave for two years now. Most of the kids are leaving the cities. But it’s mom, you know? She’s afraid to let her leave Earth.” He finished.
“You could bring her here if that’s easier. It’d be cramped but safe.” I offered. What a crazy shit system we live in. Kids taking care of kids, living with other kids. It’s like that on most of the rocks out here.
Sarah walked in, took one look at us and shook her head, her soft golden curls swirled in the low gravity – like creamer being added to coffee in slow motion. She disappeared into the bedroom and reappeared with a blanket. Sarah is a magician. Or possibly a witch. I’m not sure. She’s a hell of a pilot though. Michael kissed her forehead and unceremoniously tossed the blanket over the book lover and me. We spoke a muffled thank you.
The stream blared Jeopardy IV reruns, and book lover quietly answered almost every question. It’s how we work. She memorizes everything, and I memorize her. Michael and Sarah sit on the floor with the holo-dog. Chauncy. What a ridiculous name for an animal that’s not an animal. Yet it fits him. He is the best space companion you could ask for.
Four enterprising friends. Now, in a slightly less cold, slightly less alone house. On an asteroid all to ourselves. Come visit some time. Like we say out here, “What’s mined, is ores!”
Author: Dmitri Christopher
The tapping starts up again, rousing Walter from unquiet sleep. He flattens himself against the door and peers through the peephole; here they come, creeping down the hallway. Some roll on thin wheels spliced between their toes. Most creep on spindly spider legs.
Sometimes they leave eggs behind. Eggs of all types and sizes; tiny larval sacks, leathery reptile ova, enormous shells that could hatch a bear. A single bulbous eye turns up and meets Walter’s own. One of them squats in front of his apartment to give birth, then stalks out of view. A freshly laid egg tips and falls toward the door, the mucosal film of its excretion glistening beneath the fluorescent bulbs.
“Bombs, they’re laying bombs,” Walter says, his whole body shuddering like a horse bedeviled by stinging flies. On hands and knees he can see three shadows through the gap above the threshold; the two egg bombs they left yesterday, plus today’s little gift. Close enough to poke with his pinky finger, though he dare not. Opening the door, even shaking it just a hair, any pressure at all could trigger detonation.
“Why is this happening to me?” Walter asks, jaws still moving after the words are gone. His toothless gums worry a sore beneath his tongue and a thin string of saliva dribbles between the quacking lips. Fresh accusations bellow from his stomach, three days empty. They want to starve him out. Even if he somehow bypassed the booby trapped door, he would last all of three seconds before they turn his arthritic rump into shredded beef. Imagine he fought them off, by some miracle he kicked their clicking clacking cockroach bodies to bits, what then? Only two days ago one drifted past his window on rattling locust wings. They are everywhere. There can be no escape.
“Dammit, dammit,” Walter says, crumpling into the bench beside the door frame. His head leans against the jamb, the wood is cool and rough against his ear, and he falls into the wary trance of a hunted rabbit hiding in its burrow, too exhausted to flee further. Soon enough the tapping resumes, the rhythmic wheezing grows closer, and he is on his feet again pressed against the peephole. Another one creeps by.
Somewhere past the doorway where Walter stands, beyond the empty kitchen in a forgotten corner of the living room, Dean Martin croons from the speaker of an old FM radio. Dean serenades his companion, beseeching her to stay inside lest she succumb to the creeping winter cold. She protests but does not refuse the invitation, they both know what lurks in the frigid darkness beyond the door. A telephone rings unheard beneath the music and the antique box beside it sounds a familiar tone. A feminine voice dissipates through the dusty air.
“Dad, it’s me. I’m sorry but we won’t make it down this week. We’re completely snowed in up here. They’re saying another sixteen inches tonight. Did you get your gifts? It says they delivered one this morning. Can you check please? Love you.”