The Libraries

Author : Beck Dacus

I have worked for eleven years figuring out how we lost everything. Anecdotes passed down from people who were alive before this War, I have discovered, have long since deteriorated into dimly remembered nonsense. I don’t know much about the time before, but I now know what ended it.

It was in the age of “Computers,” machines that held information in a complex mass of metal wires. There were still books, but much of what many of them said was outdated– anyone could contribute to the Computer library, or Internet, so it was constantly kept up to date. Some wrote down the wrong information, however.

The point is, no one could remember it all. No reasonably-sized group of people could, either. When conflict began, “Countries” started to take advantage of this and, instead of killing the people in their rival Countries, they would start erasing information.

Sometimes, operatives would be sent to physically destroy files, books, and the like in acts of arson. More often, though, they would create imperfections in the Internet, and destroy large swathes of information. Much of it was restored each time, but soon there were too many attacks happening to restore all the information that was lost that day. Soon, there was a net loss of information.

The attackers experienced this dilemma as well, as the victim and/or its allies would retaliate with “Book Strikes.” Countries banded together to try and destroy information in other places before theirs was all lost, but everyone failed. Everyone lost the War when it ended so many hundreds of years ago.

Which brings us to now.

No one can even access any data anymore, much less that of a rivaling Country. Soon Countries were irrelevant, anyway. We forgot what the stars are. What the Sun is. Why there is day and night. How the era of consumption we see in the massive landfills dotting the Earth were ever possible. We may have to rediscover all of that.

And we will. I know it. Because, thanks to my research, we already know not to do one thing.

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Being

Author : Kristin Kirby

They’ve locked me in the device like they do every time. But this time I’m putting up a fight. I scissor and kick my cramped legs, wave my arms, and the device rocks a bit. That’s good. I’m stronger than before.

It was all a blur, my coming here. Images distorted and blinding, sounds loud and blaring. I was weak. Afraid. I could barely move, my limbs not used to the atmosphere, the weight.

I’ve acclimated a bit since then. Their language is difficult to parse, though, and so far I understand only a few words. With more time, I can crack it and communicate with them. Or maybe I’ll play it close to the vest, not let them know I understand what they’re saying. Keep the upper hand until I know what they intend to do with me.

I’ve been able to sit up, and once or twice make it to my hands and knees. I’m still unsteady; my strength soon fades and I collapse. But it’s a start.

I can’t clean up after myself, though. It’s uncomfortable and humiliating, but what can I do? I suspect the liquids and food they force-feed me, while just enough nourishment to keep me alive, are also designed to sustain my weakened, vulnerable state. They eat their own food in front of me, but when I reach for it, they pull it away.

The door to my quarters is frustratingly close, but bars on my cage prevent my getting to it. At night they hang a contraption overhead. It rotates and makes discordant tinks and squawks. I can’t figure out its purpose; I assume it’s to spy on my movements and alert my keepers of any attempts at escape. I find myself staring at it for hours, wondering how I can use it for just that. Like everything else, though, they keep it tantalizingly out of my ham-fisted reach.

It’s time. And right on schedule, here comes the airplane, which usually delivers a green mush substance. Sometimes it’s a train, accompanied by, from my main keeper, a hearty but unintelligible “choo choo!” But the mush never tastes like real food, and, as they don’t eat it themselves, it makes me suspicious.

I try to grab the airplane, to push it away, but my hands are clumsy balloons I can’t control. I bang on the surface of my device in frustration. My main keeper makes noises, waving its own long, spindly arms and baring its white teeth. It wants me to eat the mush, but I’m so angry all I can do is cry.

Eventually I get ahold of myself and open my mouth. I need nourishment, after all. This time the airplane delivers an orange substance, slightly sweet. Still only mush, but not as bad as the green stuff. I swish it around my mouth. Some dribbles down my chin, but I ingest enough to want more.

Okay. I’ll eat their mush substance. I’ll play by their rules. But only until I get stronger, until I can walk unaided. I’ll wait for them to slip up and forget to shut the bars of my cage. Then I’ll see what’s out there, what new world I’ve been dropped into.

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A Legacy Denied

Author : Denny Knights

William struggled against the padded leather straps that held his hands and legs pinned against the surgical gurney which he was laying upon. He writhed and squirmed as much as he could against the restraints, hoping that they’d break, but it was a fruitless notion, the straps were solid. As he struggled, the straps cinched tighter and tighter until movement became impossible, and as the straps tightened, a small alarm bleeped just outside of his room.

Within a few seconds of the alarm’s initial bleeping, a bull of a man dressed in hospital scrubs appeared in the doorway leading into William’s room. “Hey, knock it off wouldya?”

“Let me out of here! I don’t belong here!” William exclaimed.

The bull wearing hospital scrubs said in a gruff voice, “That’s what everybody says.”

“But I’m not everybody. Jesus, I don’t belong here.” William said.

“Listen, Jesus doesn’t have anything to do with it. If he did, he woulda made ya smarter, and ya wouldn’t be here.” The bull said.

Seeing that William wasn’t going to acquiesce, the bull hulked over to William’s bed. William read his name tag, ‘Dante’.

“Dante.”

“Yeah?” Dante asked.

“Dante, there’s been some kind of misunderstanding.” William said.

William watched as Dante pushed a button on the frame of the gurney. A blue liquid that had been suspended above William’s head in a translucent bag, slowly dripping through an I.V., now turned into a steady stream. The blue liquid quickly exited the plastic bag and rushed into William’s body. Almost immediately, William’s intellectual acuity became muddy and his body stopped responding to his requests to squirm and move. “Don’t worry about this stuff,” Dante said nodding at the blue liquid, “it’s a surgical paralysis concoction. It’ll wear off in eight to twelve hours.”

Dante pushed another button, this time, the operating slab detached from the gurney, gently levitating off the ground. Dante, with one finger, slowly spun the slab so that it was facing the doorway and gave it a gentle push. The slab maneuvered itself out of the room and then down the hallway toward the operating room. Dante walked in time with the levitating slab.

“William,” Dante said, “at the age of eighteen, everyone is required by national decree to register, take, and pass the National Purification Exam. You registered, you took it, but you didn’t pass it. Your scores were low enough that they landed you here.”

William tried making sounds of objection, but his body was now fully grasped by the blue liquid from the translucent bag. He only managed to make gurgles.

“I know,” Dante said, “you don’t think you belong here. But you do, your test says so. It told the government how smart you are, or in your case, how dumb.”

“It’s not so bad.” Dante continued. “The doctor will do a quick couple snips. The operation isn’t invasive, recuperation time is minimal. You’ll be out of here in another day or two. Best of all, you’ll still be able to have intercourse for as long as you can pump blood down there, you just won’t be able to have children.”

William’s eyes enlarged with panic.

“Hey, it could’ve been a lot worse than being sterilized.” Dante said. “You could’ve scored in the range that would’ve qualified you for automatic extermination.”

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De-termination

Author : Jae Miles, Staff Writer

It always bothered me that the robot apocalypse, as portrayed by our scribes, had the robots emulating the strategies from the last recorded human-inflicted mass-extermination events. Surely, being robot overlords, they would have a better way to end mankind than some macabre herding and slaughtering exercise?

As it turned out, I was right. All visions of a glorious last stand ended with the arrival of our robotic nemesis: indifference.

After infiltrating our systems and hackers, they crashed or corrupted everything. With our mass-attack and data-combat capabilities removed, they deployed heavily-armoured drones and cleared all humans from certain areas. After that, they left us to our own devices.

We can do what we like. Grow food, plot insurrection, make love, build anti-robot weapons, write books. Unless what we do interferes with plans unknown to us – whereupon death arrives without warning – humanity is free to go about its suddenly minimal-technology lifestyles.

Some folk took to picking on the anti-robot factions. We had some jolly little skirmishes until the robots came along and killed everybody involved, or spectating. The irony of that seemed to filter across to our worship practices, as religious differences suddenly took a back seat to getting along with people. Oh sure, there were fanatics. But, yet again, any form of hostile action met with extermination of all parties. Pretty soon, the fanatics had all gone to meet their makers and peace broke out.

I got all this history from my mother. Dad makes guitars. I grow tomatoes. Occasionally, a shiny aircraft will pass over, or something huge will traverse the high skies. Apart from that, humankind seems to have adjusted quite well to a trimming of its aspirations.

We wonder about the robots. What they are doing. But they are alien to us all and I doubt we could understand, even if they explained.

So I’ll water my tomatoes, watch the mayflies and listen to the birds. I have been sentenced to live, and, like many, I’m finding it surprisingly easy to cope with.

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Elder and Eldritch

Author : Martin Berka

“Should you see a Fallen, send us a prayer that we may bring them peace. Otherwise they will bring you death.”

Egor felt like death. He could not get a full breath, and every joint asked only to be left alone, preferably far away. He approached the prone figure with curiosity, instead of the prescribed summoning chants.

Why would the gods’ commandment mention this? The description matched – wings, blades, tubes long and short, wires – but it all seemed so earthly. Traceable curves, clear edges. Profanum, not sacrum.

Then it opened its eyes, and Egor voiced the profanity aloud. It could have passed for human. After a moment, it shook its head (rattling wires, several were broken) and answered curse with ragged introduction:

“Eyn-Jel.”

It was a peculiar name, but who was Egor to question Fallen nomenclature? Death was far more gripping, having Eyn caught firmly. Creakily, Egor knelt, wedged a rock under its head, and pressed the stale bread from his pack to its lips. No sooner had they closed around the food, he felt a burst of heat. A strong hand clutched his forearm for long seconds. He felt a tingle, then for the first time, nothing. He stared at his arm as its skin tightened and thickened.

“Blessing,” he heard.

Egor led Eyn-Jel to the village. Several, those not paralyzed with fear, began their prayers at the sight of a Fallen, but none finished – word of its miraculous, life-giving power spread like the mist. Food was given, and shelter, and scraps of metal, and the sacred tongue went unspoken.

In time, it taught them of new gods, or perhaps older ones, ones they had followed before the “elders” filtered down from the stars, and they understood its purpose. Having healed the sick and given sight to the blind, the angel blessed the children, laying a hand on the foreheads of all but the gentlest. After a brief whimper or squeal, each seemed to gain in years and purpose.

One morning, the youngest, Chotei, ran into the largest hut where the angel held court. A priest was approaching, with escort. Judgment, monsters, and madness could be called down in seconds should they find anything unusual. Might their teacher hide?

“Stand tall or die,” it responded. And so the villagers led A’olate Rth’ola to the hut, avoiding the gazes of his massive companions. He screamed when he saw the metallic, undeniably earthly wings reaching up to the roof, and so did the villagers when lightning flashed from several of the angel’s tubes and reduced cleric and guards to charred scalps and hands.

It left that day. The villagers watched as their angel of death ascended once more. Egor stood pensively to the side. As the silvery glint vanished on the horizon, he lowered his eyes from heaven to earth, to the few dozen people who were his life. He saw his granddaughter Nola absently scratching between her shoulder blades. There were literal blades now, pressing up against the tunic, and the tip of a chrome-colored feather extending above the neckline. He fell to his restored knees and thanked whatever light-bringer had enabled humanity’s uprising.

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The Final Jump

Author : M.D.Parker

It was a green, semi-transparent liquor poured into the six glass decanters. Gabe, the ship’s remaining pilot, poured each glass with methodical purpose, setting it front of each person in turn. Then the final glass, filled only halfway, was placed at the center of the table.

Gabe sat behind his glass. The chairs had never felt so cold and uncomfortable. For a long moment all just sat in silence without moving. One by one, each set of eyes turned toward the Captain. Nedu stood and raised his glass. Even his tall frame seemed smaller under the weight of grief.

“To our brother. May your next journey be one of peace. May the light of a thousand stars burn to show your way across the void.” Captain Nedu tilted his head taking the contents of the glass down in a single gulp, ingesting all but one swallow as he took the glass from his lips. “I shall not finish this drink, until I make my final jump and join you there.”

“Until I make my final jump,” Renald said as he stood rigid and drained all but one sip from the decanter.

“Until I make my final jump,” Addy said, closing his eyes as he stood to hold in the stream that threatened to release from his eyes. He ran his free hand through his hair and let out a long sigh as he studied the remaining swig in his glass.

“Until then, my friend,” Lyn drank hers down slower than the others, breathing deep as she let the alcohol burn its way down her throat. Her other hand never left the grip of her sidearm. Her fingers had been massaging its handle, wishing to even the score, if only they knew who had done this.

“Until I, I… until I make that final jump my friend, and then we … we will drink as brothers,” Gabe choked his words and pulled the liquid from his glass with reserve. His eyes were watered and swollen. His cheeks hung as heavy as his slumped shoulders.

All five of them held their last sips in front of them and in reverse order they emptied the green liquid into the glass decanter in the center of the table. The room fell silent again, and no one looked at each other. One by one they left the galley.

The Captain waited for their exit, and once it was only his and Gabe’s breath that could be heard in the room, Nedu looked at him and spoke softly. “I’m sorry Gabe, he was a good one. One of the best.”

Gabe nodded his head but did not take his eyes off the now full glass in the center of the table. He wept openly, no longer trying to fight it back. Captain Nedu left Gabe alone in the room. Gabe stood for a another long moment before stepping away from the table. With his head hung low, he looked back over his shoulder as he pushed the button that surrendered the off-white light to the dark.

“Goodbye.”

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