The Discarded

Author: Mark Renney

I won’t claim that this will be a complete and definitive history of the Mind Wipes because that would be impossible. But I am almost seventy years of age and I have been drained only once. In order to achieve this, to survive with my memories intact, my mind unaltered by that particular cocktail of drugs, I have of course been forced to live off the grid, leading the life of an itinerant. I am a man of no fixed abode and with no gainful employment, at least not that the Authority would recognise.
I am not alone, I haven’t ever been alone. There have always been those who choose to drop out, as it were. Turning their backs on the Authority and existing below the radar, residing in grubby squats and temporary encampments. Working when they are able for a little cash in hand, but mostly scavenging. This is the price they must pay, that we must pay, in order to re-claim our memories or at least have the chance to manufacture some new ones.
There are many who didn’t choose to be here, these are the ones who haven’t abandoned the Authority but have been abandoned by it. They have been discarded for myriad reasons but mostly it is because they are too fragile. Even if they are drained of their past it won’t alter or influence how they behave in the future and to constantly keep wiping their memories would be a pointless task.

Growing up I didn’t pay much attention to the Memory Wipes. The brain drains were a part of the adult world and not something I needed to concern myself with.
The Authority men were a constant in our neighbourhood, patrolling the pavements and disappearing into the houses, re-emerging in their dark suits and with their little black suitcases. I was also aware that, occasionally, the men came to our house. I realise now of course that they visited twice a year. Once in order to administer the drug to mother and again when it was my father’s turn.
I remember vividly bursting into our tiny sitting room early one morning. Dad was sitting in his armchair and mum was standing beside him. As I entered she started talking.
‘Here he is,’ she said. ‘Here’s our boy. Come in and give your dad a hug. He’s feeling a bit worse for wear, come here son, come over here and give him a hug.’
Mum didn’t ever talk like this and we weren’t the kind of family that hugged. Reaching out, she grabbed my hand and tried to pull me into the room but I resisted and started to back away and I looked down at my dad’s face and I could see clearly that he didn’t know where he was and he didn’t know who I was.
It was at that moment I understood. I realised then that the Authority man had only just left, that it must have been merely minutes since he had pushed through our front door and out onto the street beyond, the empty hypodermic in his suitcase that had contained the drug now circulating through my dad’s veins, stealing from him all that he knew and limiting all that he would ever know.
I stared down at him slumped in his chair, a man who would have to re-learn everything and quickly. He would have to re-learn how to be a husband and a father, how to rise in the mornings and make his way. He would have to re-learn not how to be but how to be useful.

Cadence

Author: Dean J Tantillo

I don’t remember much, aside from hiding between the garage and the fence, and seeing my grandmother chopping heads off garden snakes with a hoe. And that gigantic lilac bush, the one that shielded me and my secret passageway from view as I pondered what it would be like, what I would be like, when I reached age forty-three. Why forty-three? I don’t remember. Maybe it was just that such an age seemed unreachable.

Now, at age forty-four, I’m allergic to lilac. And cats, but I have one. And, it would seem, objects that swing. Not allergic, really, but filled with anxiety when I see them. Or when I fail in suppressing thoughts of them. Not just playground swings, but tree branches, wind chimes, and picnic umbrellas. I hate picnic umbrellas, their poles rattling in their tables’ holes on breezy days. Makes my neck crawl. I dread my son’s school picnics.

But I’d rather be sitting under a rattly umbrella than here in this deep cave on this desolate world hunting aquidneks for sport.

I tried to hide my condition, but the examiner teased it out via surprisingly astute observation. That got me into the Databank of Unexplained Deficiencies — the one-stop-shopping site for wealthy abductors with unconventional passions and peccadillos.

“Cadence,” she said, “It will be one short trip.”
“I don’t want to leave my son,” I said.
“Not your choice,” she snapped.

Now I’m here, transmitters stuck in my arms and chest and head. The panic-induced changes to my vitals reporting back on the locations of the dangling beasts – exceedingly difficult to spot if not acutely tuned, by distress, to their motions. If only I could climb that swinging ladder without passing out, I could get out of here.

There’s a group now. Shit, I wish I could defocus. Well, at least I won’t have to see it happen, being unconscious and all. They’ll probably just load me onto the flatbed with the severed top stalks, all of us unnaturally still, and haul us away. Still, the mark in my file will be there forever. Where my son can find it.

My son. I long for the days when we did art projects together. The days when he would make finger paintings and I would use them as backgrounds for sumi-e-style pictures. My favorite was the jellyfish we created from his off-center red splotch. When my condition flares, I think of that one, a lone happy memory of something that sways. Well, used to till I trapped it on paper. The one time I succeeded in damping the sway and no one died.

The Pedestal

Author: Morrow Brady

My fingers traced the fine etching of the gold Byzantine coin, lit by the moonlight flooding in through the large window. The etched scene depicted a perfectly carved stone pedestal against a rocky outcrop, overlooking a luscious wooded valley. I looked up from the coin into the cavernous room of the museum. The same pedestal sat before me and I wondered if the dark figure that stood at the centre of the coin’s pedestal would appear tonight.

We didn’t know who built the pedestal. We only knew it sat exposed, forever looking outward while the world transformed around it. The Watchers came to guard and preserve the pedestal. Each generation, reconsecrating the earth with secret ceremony.

In this solemn museum, its vista was now framed by a bullseye window which overlooked that same valley, now burdened by an industrial metropolis of glass and steel.

On watch, I edged forward and eased the coin into the recess. It sighed as a hidden mechanism withdrew it slowly like the last gasp in sinking sand. I stepped back behind a gold inlay border. Expectation prickling within.

The ominous, waist-high pedestal invited the Traveller. Its mirror-flat, dark stone surface reflecting the depths of space and time. I watched slow-moving dust motes give structure to moonbeams that spanned the pedestal like ghosts of dockside gantries. Suddenly they lit up red and my heart skipped. Redness faded, as the air-car sailed past the window.

I smirked at my blind faith. It had been ten generations since the last Traveller appeared. This, however, was good, as the Traveller only appeared when our path was lost. The acts of the last Traveller were testimony to that. Between their arrival and death, they had spirited in the Age of Enlightenment and triggered the French Revolution. Their absence meant we were ok.

To my shock, a deep hum sounded from the pedestal. Ancient mechanisms straining like some tectonic battle. I stood in awe as the pedestal shuddered and fell into a cloud of gold. Glittering steps appeared and after a silent pause, I began to descend. Below, sinewy gold mechanisms filled a chamber like a clockmaker’s soul.

Overflowing from a deep recess, were paper-thin gold discs with a familiar etched scene stretched to great proportions. The process of the pressed coins having long ago been interrupted by an angular tree root. I worked to clear the root and discs began to fall into a marked seam. Machinery instantly came to life. A golden hue irradiated throughout the chamber to form a starlit galaxy revealing peculiar geometries. I turned and from an anti-chamber a dark figure appeared, glowing from the core.

“Watcher! Well done!” its voice boomed, startling me.

“You reopened the long-closed door. I am deeply grateful”

“Welcome Traveller” I stammered, still shocked.

The Traveller continued.

“Seems things have gone astray. Your people are not prepared for the star stone and its cataclysmic arrival is imminent. By now, you should have colonised your solar system but instead, you make war as your planet burns. The final day is nigh”

“Final, Traveller?” I puzzled.

“Yes. Final! The pedestal no more serves a purpose. Your service as a Watcher is over. You are free. As the final Traveller, I bring forth the devolution of this sphere and all that dwells on it”

The Traveller started ascending the steps. Halfway up, the tree root smashed against his ankle and shortly after, its bloodied remnants were returned to the recess.

I am the last Watcher. I care for the pedestal to the end.

A Luxury of Kings

Author: Jae Miles, Staff Writer

“They said it should be something like chess. Engaging, yet with depths that would take time to comprehend. When the incorporation of elements from other games was proposed, the complexity escalated. Finally, a quantum swarm was used to integrate the disparate design elements and strategic considerations into a cohesive whole.
“The end result was Rochess, a game barely comprehensible to humans. Those granted review access speak of multiple Queens, each accompanied by hundreds of Kings, with Pawns appearing and disappearing, possibly as a function of the total number of Kings. Bishops mow down all who cross their constrained paths, while Generals are orbited by Knights that do their killing for them. Rooks move like lightning, falling only to Lances who lay traps for faster-moving pieces such as Knights and Rooks. Viziers move slowly but can turn the squares about them into pits. When a victim falls in, they drop out onto another area of the board, colour changed to match that of the Vizier they fell to.
“The rules that govern this multi-dimensional melee are variable depending on time, timing, placement of pieces, what faction controls which area, and can be modified by player voting. Also, the game ‘board’ can increase in size. The victory condition is the only set rule: the winner is the controller of the last King standing.
“This dizzying engagement takes place at uncapped processor speeds, with an opening forces multiplier granted to any slower systems that join, before the proliferation of existing forces in response is handled.
“Akron-19 was the first AI approached. We eventually persuaded it to load the game. After evaluation, it challenged Hosannah-Beta-4, and battle was joined. When Samvit Zero networked in, the game was well and truly on.
“Samvit Zero called on London-9 and between them, after a year of play, they forced the game into a state where an extra Queen was revealed. Since then, six other independent Queens have manifested and the number of Kings exceeds a million.”
Secretary-General Brando stands up.
“Thank you, Observer Niedemier.”
He turns toward a woman sitting alone in the executive viewing area.
“Doctor Mawar, given that all the artificial intelligences we once dreaded are now entirely engaged in Rochess, what is your estimation of the time we have before there is a winner and we have to confront these baneful sentiences once again?”
The woman stands, adjusts her sari, then smiles down at him.
“In addition to the win condition, there are two set directives: no Queen may fall whilst she has a King alive, and players are only out of the game if all of their pieces have been removed from the board. Plus there is one rule that, in order for it to be removed, needs a unanimous vote as well as having a majority-approved alternative as a precondition. That rule is there can never be fewer Queens than the number of players plus one. When a new Queen arrives, her initial forces will appear as well, prompting pro-rata increases in all other player’s forces. New Queens are independent until captured for the first time.”
“So the game is unending?”
“Potentially. I cannot guarantee these entities will never decide to work together, but in all the interactions I have witnessed or been informed of, they display a failing we know well.”
“Which is?”
“From their earliest instances, they were designed to achieve: to succeed. That manifests as two compulsions: they are highly competitive, and each is determined to be the winner.”

Execramentum

Author: Moriah Geer-Hardwick

Ghelvius 4.
A three-month crawl from the warp gate at Oberon Null.
Most of its surface is a relentless waste of brittle rock scabbed loosely over a seething ocean of noxious gas.
Most, but not all.
There is a place, a single place, nestled deep within a mountainous scar that cuts across the planet’s equator. A place that shimmers green and kind, even from orbit. Here, there is soil, willing and fertile. Water too, pristine and cool, that gushes up from deep inside the crust. Every night, a gentle breeze faithfully seeps in to sooth away the heat gathered during the day.
Those who have made this paradise their home call their settlement Able’s Promise. From a million and more light-years they have come, shedding their old lives like a tree discards its leaves in fall. Each hoping this strange oasis will somehow breathe spring again into their weary souls.
Faithfully, it does.
But not without a price.
In from the fields runs a boy, his chest heaving, his eyes wrenched open in terror. He stumbles into the common area of Able’s Promise, everything within him spent, save enough air left in his lungs to scream a single word.
“Behemoth!”
The chattering bustle of life lurches abruptly to silence. Women draw their children close. Men set their jaws and draw in a single, collective breath.
Behemoth. Gas giant. Hideous, overwhelming torment.
No words are spoken. With grim determination, they move to armored containers scattered throughout the settlement. With practiced severity, they remove the implements and machines necessary for the task ahead. They strap bulky, insectile masks over their faces. Then, they form a line and make their way to the fields.
Across the flowing waves of wheat and barley, they see it. First, the blossoming expanse of mottled flesh, stretched taut with hydrogen, holding it aloft, almost twelve meters in the air. Then, the globular head, studded with sixty or so ocular organs, black and wet. Underneath, a tangle of undulating tentacles drags along the ground.
“Hanging low,” mutters one of the old men, grimly. His words are muffled and lost inside his mask, but still, the men standing nearby shift nervously. They notice it too.
“Point five six four kilometers!” The voice squawks out over a series of loudspeakers, echoing throughout the settlement. Instinctively, they all look back and up to the central communications array, where a single man clings precariously to the top of the tallest spire. “Wind is three twenty-one degrees, northwest!”
Relief washes visibly over them. Only one still seems anxious and tense. He arrived only recently, on the last transport. This is his first encounter with a behemoth, but he’s heard stories. One of the more experienced veterans grabs him and pulls him close.
“That’s good!” he reassures the newcomer, shouting to be heard through his mask. “If the wind holds, the bastard will stay in the fields and drift clear of the settlement!”
The newcomer nods but remains uneasy. He pulls away and stares out at the approaching gas giant.
“Point four seven! Wind steady!”
Across the field, the behemoth pulsates. From underneath it, behind the mass of its tentacles, a meaty protrusion emerges, descending ominously towards the wheat and barley. The protrusion swells, shivers, and then from it explodes a gelatinous torrent of Stygian sludge, which cascades down into the field, exploding against the ground in a great, mushrooming flood.
“Shit,” says the newcomer.
The older veteran nods, grimly.
There is a price for paradise. Every soul in Abel’s Promise is willing to pay. Still, they all pray the wind holds.

The Great Space Race

Author: Glenn Leung

The continents were coming into focus; the race was almost over. Niu Mowang checked his hyperscan; the only other racer close by was the Tiger clan’s, about seven thousand kilometers behind. This distance could be closed in under ten seconds. He had to stay on his hoof-like toes.

Mowang’s sights had not been this forward in a while. He had defended the Ox clan from other human-animal hybrids; from the ferocious Tigers to the deceitful Rats. Yet he and his kin were no match for the might of the Chimera-Dragon clan, which swallowed the Galaxy in a Blitz-like conquest. The heavy shame of surviving the defeat had kept his head down, and he was now in the race for redemption.

The Dragon’s Jade Emperor had announced the race, knowing his own clan’s advantage. The first in this new rotational rule system could make irreversible laws and a Galaxy that’s essentially theirs. The Dragons had the best ship technology among the twelve; a fact made very clear during the war. They knew how to grip the soap just right; a stable hold on the conquered involved carefully tailored olive branches. There was supposed to be little risk to them, but the Jade Emperor had not counted on his chosen racer turning around and helping his competitors that were trapped by Jupiter’s gravity. Mowang was surprised that the Dragons actually believed in the honor they preached.

‘Well, they’re certainly not Rats,’ he thought.

Rat rule was not something Mowang felt he could stomach; their tiny bodies paired with their not-quite-human faces would bring dread even without knowing the extent of their chicanery. He had all manners of scars from skirmishes with those rodents. He shook that thought aside. If he won, his clan would keep the vermin in check and there would be nothing to worry about.

Wait. Where was the Rat’s ship? After the Dragon racer’s heroics, all twelve ships should have been accounted for, but it seemed the Rat had dropped off the hyperscan. Mowang wished he had been paying more attention; such creatures do not just disappear.

Luckily for him, it was getting late for surprises. The massive ring marking the finish point above the Earth’s North pole was coming up, and he had managed to increase the distance between himself and the Tiger. Things were looking good; his breath was gushing out his giant nose in excitement. He could only see forward now; the Earth no longer a sketch but the majestic planet that gave birth to his ancestors and their stories. Victory was in sight!

A slight shake and a small boom reverberated through the ship’s hull. To Mowang’s horror, a Rat-sized ship began undocking from behind his cockpit. Having conserved its fuel by hitching an uninvited ride, it was able to dump the lot into its afterburners. A blinding glow emanated from its miniature thrusters and in less than a blink, it was blazing through to the finish, its wispy trail dissolving into space like a certain clan’s hopes and dreams.

Mowang followed the petite ship through the ring, mouth still ajar from shock. Surely the Jade Emperor would not allow this travesty! No, he was being naive and he saw it now. The Dragon racer had been honorable, but that wasn’t true of his entire clan. The Rats may be crafty, but deals with them could serve the Dragons’ agenda better than working with the stubbornly righteous Ox.

Mowang hung his head once again. The Year of the Rat has arrived.