This Fable is Reversing

Author: DJ Lunan

The policewoman eyed me sternly through the crosshairs of her pistol. Her blue uniform wet from the remnants of the time blizzard I’d arrived with. Her free hand flat-palming to dissuade a rash attack.

Yet she clearly wasn’t police.

And I was freezing, shrouded in space-dust and time-sperm crystals. Great snowbergs crashing to the floor, pooling as elliptic slime ponds on the sawdust-scattered floor. My numb arms raised compliantly accelerating the avalanches.

This was Paddy’s Bar in Kilkenny, alright. But she isn’t Paddy or his sister. And her gun is wrong for 1996: triple-cross-haired, used by amphibious peoples in a distant future I’d only glimpsed through a time storm long ago.

“I’ve never seen an inter-dimensional being cry”, she said slowly, circling around me, her large feet crunching frozen time, as she crouch-walked alert, trigger-poised until she was behind me.

I was warming up after surfing time at double-zero Kelvin for this t-delivery. My face was re-flushing with blood, my tear ducts flowing energetically. I flexed my fingers, relishing the beckoning warmth.

“The poetry of being menaced by a cold-blood never fails to bring a tear to my eye”, I replied in the worst fake Irish accent I could muster.

“I need the package, Postie”, she demanded.

An Interceptor. The fabled time-beasts. Lowly paid, reverse time-liners, paid by future reptilian corporations to quash poor choices by long-dead rich humans.

Interceptors steal your message and your memory. You don’t realise its happened. Seamless bi-directional time plods on.

“Doesn’t it worry you are intercepting personal messages. I don’t see how this one will help anyone”, I replied tersely postponing inevitable surrender.

Posties have our own fables. Whenever a Postie disappeared, we’d speculate they’d met an Interceptor and made bad choices. We hoped they’d found a way to disconnect from the Sorting Office, dodged the Mail Retrieval Bots, met a boy, moved to the ‘burbs, had biological offspring.

“The message!”, she menaced, emphasising her multiple threats by jabbing her pistol.

I was outgunned and maybe I’d never remember if I complied. “Teresa Minnstrom, 40a Chepstow Ave, South Dublin. Buy Niveau Ltd and Cromex Corp; Sell Shell Renewables and Apple-Trump. Dad xx”

“Shit!”, she wheezed, theatrically dropping her gun guard, her elongated arms almost scraping the floor.

I continued cascading snowbergs down my back, “Rich folk keep me in coin. Always prioritising financial security for their dumb entitled kids”

“All the power in the world, yet you chest-beaters waste time travel to get rich!”, she sounded disheartened.

“Is that how you reptiles took over, by being mean to your kids?”, I joked.

“Oh Rosie, we’ve shared so many beers right here right now in Paddy’s Bar. I know your life, family, four kids, love preferences and your debt with the Boston mafia. Yet the bloody message is always the same!”, she barked, her frustration echoing off the tobacco-soaked walls.

A melon-sized snowberg dislodged from my helmet, its acid-white crystals tumbling. I instinctively scissor-kicked it in mid-air, triggering a brief snowstorm, and acrobatically evaded her flaming gunshot by diving over the bar.

“Jeez, you are getting nimbler, girl”, she whistled, “I think you are ready”.

“Ready for what?”, I shout cowering behind the bar, the aroma of sweet tobacco and lost nights toasting my nostrils.

“Reverse timeline travel, you are coming with me to kill my Dad”, she calmly replied.

“Teresa?!”

“Well, just my good parts! Cromex makes me so rich, I innovate, and …. “, Teresa motions to her body, “…evolve”.

“Kill your future-dad, stop evolution, delay lizard take-over?”, I propose.

“Something like that”, she replies shrewdly as the time-blizzard begins again.

A Strongly Worded Letter to the Department of Future Persons

Author: John McLaughlin

To Whom It May Concern:

My wife and I have reviewed your report with great disappointment — with such disappointment, in fact, that only after two straight weeks of sobbing, dry-heaving, and manic-hysterical disarray, only then could I sufficiently collect myself to pen this response.

After carefully calibrating, documenting, and sending you a dozen of our most prized permutations of bodily secretion, the Department of Future Persons replies that these genetic combinations would, and I quote, “constitute the cruel and unusual punishment of a future person(s).” Really now?

I shall have you know that both the Cunningham and Miller clans are descended from only the most hearty and resourceful of ancient cave peoples. Sadly, it comes to this — my dear Mabel and I, embarking on the joyous journey of parenthood only to fall victim to a bureaucratic witch hunt. Very well, then. Our first set of designer children, for reasons incomprehensible to us, was declared unacceptable. May I propose a few alternatives?

Sperm number 8,312,111 coupled with Egg number 371: A boy, with his mother’s wispy blonde hair, father’s eyes of mud brown, the fortitude of an ox and a razor-sharp wit.

Egg 129 with a dash of Sperm 14,901,395: A girl, light of our life, with the reflexes of a mongoose, arm span of a stealth bomber, grandfather’s Florida-shaped birthmark, and the radiant glow of a freshly waxed bus seat.

Sperm 11,359,011 paired to Egg 1,034: A boy, with the proud bearing of royalty — skin the hue of a mozzarella cheese stick, the widow’s peak of a comic book villain, musculature like a honey badger, the verbal felicity of a carnival barker.

Egg 971 affixed to Sperm 37,902,485: A precious girl, a glorious little cherub — mother’s droopy blue eyes, the sultry baritone pipes of an Elvis impersonator, and broad cheeks as rosy as a dog’s erect penis.

Well, there you have it. I trust that these new genetic pairings will be granted a priority rating — otherwise, I fear, my Mabel and I will be forced to take swift legal action. We (impatiently) await the DFP’s response.

Sincerely,
Donald F. Cunningham, MD, MFA, Esq.

Just Human Nature

Author: Rick Tobin

“He’s on edge again. It’s intolerable when he tears into our crew like this. Makes me itch all over.” D-7 moved away from overheated control panels. He heard sputtering of wiring insulation against conduit. Corrosive effervescence from singed plastic revealed damage others still missed, but his reports were ignored. Their limitations–his curse.

“Relax, D. Besides, you’re always itching. You need your fur treated. Remember how you messed up on the last cargo run? You caught those changosa ticks after heading for a whiz in the bushes. You could’ve waited. And lay off L-2. How’d you like to have the Captain’s lizard scales, with psoriasis to boot? ” C-23 felt hull vibrations on her whiskers–perhaps a warning of a meteor storm. She activated ship perimeter sensors.

“Hey, you use a stupid box for your dumps. I have more pride than that. Everyone on board hears you scratching your litter. Do you even wash your hands? Drop your potty comments. Inappropriate.” D-7 shifted, giving his tail a rest from his cramped control room chair. “Why they ever slapped two like us on the same shift baffles me,” D-7 complained.

C-23 yawned widely before responding. “Two Cs on navigation…never a problem. You should be down in engineering with your mutt buddies.”

“How about I bite off one of your arms, you useless breeder?”

“And you thought L-2 was touchy?” C-23 moved her chair a few feet away from her reluctant assistant, dragging her feline claws over metal panels, creating ear-shattering screeches. D-7 howled, covering his furry ears. “Oh, good. You can hear me. Now get this straight, bow-wow. I’m a superior officer. We cross train because we lost both pilot and co-pilot on our last escapade through this Taranus Escarpment. We almost bought it. If automatic systems had failed, we’d still be adrift, boiling in magnetic fields. We need emergency backup staff. Simple as that. So, take my lead, learn what you can, and lick your wounded ego somewhere else. Got it? There won’t be a eucatastrophe ending in your life’s story if you don’t.”

“You ca’ what? I don’t understand cats. All right, I’ll be still. My DNA makes me act rashly on occasion. I wonder why humans breed us to run their ships. They have robots. I would have been happy as a normal dog.”

“It’s risk variables. AI never mastered long-distance space travel. Animals have specialties that were not programmable…like your smell and hearing and my sensitivity to vibration. There is a reason a squirrel’s in communications, a raccoon cooks and an oxen works loading docks. Besides, it’s easier and cheaper to replace us after radiation exposure. Some die sooner. You’re only a seven for this ship…but my kind takes it harder. That’s why I enjoy my time. It’s short.”

“Not as short as R-200. He’s our intelligence officer. Those rats drop like flies. No wonder they quarter them down below in the hold.”

“We have rats? Damned rats! Where in the hold? How many?” C-23 was visibly shaken as her ears flattened, eyes widened and her shoulders pulled lower.

“Not sure. I heard in dark spaces–bilges, maybe. Pretty spooky down in that heat.”

“You take the con. I need to step out. Be back.” C-23 scampered away with no further instructions.

D-7 chuckled deeply, recalling reptile warriors below, loyal to L-2, constantly hunger driven, ensuring vicious attacks of pirates or mutineers on command. He became distracted; he focused on a tall, potted shrub C-23 had placed against an adjacent electrical panel. He ignored the ‘Out of Order’ warning sign. It was just his nature.

Prisoners

Author: David Henson

The prisoner, his shoulder burning with pain, winces the pickaxe overhead then slams it down. The crystalline surface fractures. The shards slice his hands as he loads the jagged pieces into his wheelbarrow. When he hesitates, a disembodied voice tells him to pick up the pace. The prisoner finishes filling the wagon then struggles it to a pile about 200 meters away. He dumps the load then sinks to his knees, gasping.

“You know what to do next,” the voice says, hurriedly. “You think I can spend all my time watching you?”

The prisoner braces himself with the pickaxe, pulls himself to his feet, then slams the tool into the surface, gathers up the broken pieces and wheels them back to his previous location.

“Pick up the pace,” the guard says, watching one of the control panel’s myriad of monitors. Each screen shows a prisoner working loads of shattered crystal back and forth. Suddenly a buzzer. The guard scans the monitors until he sees the culprit, a prisoner leaning on his pickaxe. Before the guard can react, another buzzer, another lollygagging prisoner. Another buzzer. Sweat beads on the guard’s forehead. His hand trembles and he looks over his shoulder at the door to his monitoring station. He needs to get the idle prisoners back to work before —

The guard’s unit manager barges into the station. “What the hell is going on in here?”

“I … I can’t keep up. Too many. I get after one, and three others start goofing off. There’s too many. Too much to do.”

“Find a way,” the unit manager says. “Or you’ll be joining them.” She claps her hands. “Pick. Up. The. Pace.”

“Yes, ma’m,” the guard says, wiping his brow with his sleeve. “Prisoner 182,” he shouts into his microphone. “Pick up the pace.”

“That’s more like it.” The unit manager steps back out into the corridor, one of many that connect the array of monitoring stations. She lowers her head, charges toward the sound of buzzers coming from down the hall … and plows into the associate warden.

“Your sector is out of control,” the associate warden says. “Sounds like a kazoo band in here.”

“I’m sorry, sir. I’ve got a bunch of incompetent guards.” Buzzers sound from the station she just left. Then more alarms from the opposite direction.

“No excuses. Now pick up the” — A badge on the associate warden’s lapel chirps.

“Are you sleeping down there?” a voice blares from the associate warden’s badge.”

“No, warden. I’m on top of it. Sometimes I don’t think my unit managers know what they’re doing. I —”

“I don’t have time for excuses,” the warden says, a tinge of panic in her voice. “Now pick up the pace before —”

#

The former warden dumps the shards then sinks to her knees gasping for air.

“Pick up the pace,” a disembodied voice shouts.

#

The editor closes his laptop, winces back from his desk and groans.

“What’s the matter?” his wife says, massaging his neck.

“So many submissions. I move one, and three more pop into the queue. Can’t keep up. Eyes are burning. Gotta take a break.” The editor starts to stand, but his wife shoves him back down into his seat.

“I think you need to pick up the pace, Sweetie,” she says. Then looks nervously over her shoulder.

The Painted Face

Author: Rollin T. Gentry

A series of video clips play on the large screen behind the podium, low budget re-enactments, as a smooth, male voice narrates: fear of heights, fear of the dark, snakes, and spiders. Primitive humans making simple mistakes leading to their demise. All dead, but their tribes never forgot them.

Dr. Janis Everett takes a deep breath and steps to the podium. To the crowd of potential investors, she says, “Genetic memory is a window into our past. With the next round of funding, we hope to begin treating common phobias.” She pauses, thinking, I should stop here before I make a fool of myself. But she doesn’t stop. “Before I conclude, I would like to present one last phobia, which on the surface seems trivial compared to the others. But ask yourselves, ‘Why couldn’t a clown be as deadly as a poisonous snake?'”

Around the campfire, half-naked, dirty people watch a prehistoric clown entertain. Choluk’s long hair is tied up high in pigtails bound with cords of leather. Drool runs down his beard, and his nose is tinted red from the juice of berries. This is not the first time he has acted the fool for the chief. In fact, he loves to make the chief laugh; he loves the chief. Choluk acts drunk and falls down; everyone laughs. The voices Choluk hears are the gods speaking, are they not? When he saw a mouse die after it had eaten the red berries, the gods told him what to do. He dried the berries, ground them to powder, and hid them in his leather pouch.

Choluk bounces around on all fours like a monkey. When everyone is laughing, he empties the poison into the chief’s cup. The chief will now become a god. He continues his act until the chief falls backward, gasping for air. Choluk readily admits his deed. The warriors of the tribe execute him, but they never forget how the laughter distracted them, how they underestimated the fool. And they will always remember his painted face.

Another scene begins.

In Mongolia, a fat man dressed in fine silk sits on a throne. Before him, a juggler stands on one foot, keeping four rocks in the air. The juggler used to be a hunter among his people before the king’s army made slaves of them. He wears the white face paint and clothes of a woman. When he drops a stone, he feels the crack of the whip.

The juggler asks in a little girl’s voice for three torches to replace the stones. The king motions for the guards to comply. The king wants to see if the fool will catch himself on fire. After successfully juggling the torches, he asks for three swords, saying that if he fails, he might very well cut off his manhood and really be a woman then. The king laughs and orders his guards to swap the torches for swords. Keeping the swords in the air, the juggler flirts with the guards like a concubine. They mock him, slapping his face, and laugh until they are out of breath.

In that moment, the juggler hurls the swords at the king, pinning him to his throne, straight through the heart. Before the guards can kill the juggler, he shouts, “For my wife and daughter, you pig!” But the king is already dead.

The screen goes dark. The house lights brighten.

Then like a crack of thunder, sudden applause, and people standing.

Dr. Everett relaxes her grip on the podium and smiles the faintest smile. It seems she isn’t alone after all.

Field of Flowers

Author: Hari Navarro, Staff Writer

The man hangs inverted and naked from the pole that sits at the centre of a galaxy. A neglected cosmos of once delicate but now mob trodden flowers. A meeting place that slopes down, pulling away from where the eternal city had halted its crawl, before thinning to sip of the great river that glides at its edge.

He cries through fear sodden eyes and he cries through a throat that now gags at the steel and the hard swelling lump of his tongue. His brilliant eidetic mind swims in sounds and colours foreign and sharp and he grasps for just what he has done to entice these things to hate him so.

The four-legged beast that had drawn him through the streets had looked back at him twice as he’d stood screaming through the bars at its back. It knew. It knew, that the words that he spat were but shadows of ideas and of experiences had, and not the daggers of demons.

“This beautiful globe spins as it voyages around its great star. Its song echoed throughout the glorious infinite gape up above. Everything is familial, where even the stars in the sky have with them their own family of spheres. These dark-matter filaments that connect us all. Devoid of the politics and the caveats of intelligent construction, it calls down with a beauty and horror and diversity all of its own”, he’d screamed in words that none did care comprehend.

And then, as the crowd parted, they spat and jeered as the cage door flung open and they clawed and they ripped. They tore the suit from his body, how they cackled at this thing so unknown and different, with its panels that flashed though no flint had been struck and no candle had offered its glow.

An iron spike is driven through his cheek and another up from under his chin until it bore into the roof of his mouth. Together they form the same symbol as that at the top of the staffs that sway through the crowd and his ankles are clamped in chain.

Up becomes down and the man smells his hair as it bubbles and pops as the flames tendril up from the faggots. He wails, and for an instant the baying falls silent as his last guttural cry seems not of this world. There is unfathomable truth in this hanging moment as the man history calls Giordano Bruno he flakes away and into the ash.

This great man, the very last of his kind and the very first to step down from the stars.