Author: Jae Miles, Staff Writer
The magic came back. It went unnoticed for a while. Then a couple of bane magic covens got nasty surprises. Apprehension turned to fear as authority figures came up with increasingly implausible explanations.
‘Magewinter’ is the term everyone uses: a word that conceals more horror than the survivors care to recall. Afterwards, the superpowers allied. Frantic experimentation and desperate conscription combined with some questionable black projects from all sides to form the Magister Army – a dedicated force with the best in modern technology and rediscovered sorcerous might.
Just in time. A starving shepherd named Fusman prayed over some ancient scrolls he’d found in a cave. Desperately pleading for salvation, he accidentally raised a jinn by the name of Emeyt. After making Fusman immortal, Emeyt set about turning the Middle East into his techno-magical empire.
The Magister Army went in to deliver Operation Ascent. Full-colour footage of the operation was to be captured by the drones accompanying the army.
Two days later, those drones recorded the army melting like wax. Emeyt and the few kin he’d summoned had been practicing magic for millennia. The Magister Army had only been at it for eight months.
Meanwhile, Fusman sought to undo his mistake. Eventually, his quest brought him to the man who recruited me. Tonight, a year later, is Samhain. My mission is to stop Emeyt by any means necessary. I have been told – off the record – that if human sacrifices are needed, Bournemouth can stand to lose a few.
I take a wand made from the antenna of a tank used in Desert Storm, wrap it in a braid of ivy, stripped CAT5 cable, and my hair. On the makeshift altar in front of me rests a ruby, a chalice full of rum, an old iPod, a piece of cloth from Fusman’s turban, and a small screen with a real time feed showing Emeyt flying across the Sahara.
“Don’t we need a protective circle or something?”
I turn my head and grin at the Corporal.
“Didn’t they tell you? If this goes bad, there’s nothing on Earth that’ll save us.”
“Best leave you to it, then.” She steps back.
Squaddies. You just can’t shake ‘em. Right. Time to do chaos mages – and my mother – proud.
“I’d say something powerful, but the words are just for show. And thus: Cernunnos, I ask your forbearance. Ogun! I need the loa of the deep woods, he who knows the tech and the lore.”
The forest about me goes still. The iPod plays Greensleeves, then bursts into flames. I can’t help but laugh.
A voice from behind: “What would you of me, wyld witch?”
“The means to defeat the one named Emeyt.”
A heavily muscled arm reaches over my shoulder and retrieves the chalice.
“He’s of the old power. To defeat him would be to end the magic.”
“Tolerable. What cost your intervention?”
“Let not one more tree be cut down. You may take old branches and what time provides, but no more.”
“You know that edict will be broken.”
“Only to start. Oathbreakers pay in blood, even with low magic. You know the law. Spread the word.”
“Will the magic be lost?”
“Back to being low magic, thence to wait once more. The spiral goes ever on. Our time will come again.”
“Then, by my will, I accept your terms, and bid thee farewell.”
“Formality, so polite. It is d-”
The empty chalice lands on my foot. The screen shows empty desert.
“Had anyone made plans for how we handle the transition back to being without magic?”
I grin at the Corporal: “Oops.”
Author: Timothy Goss
Moulju squeezed his hand. Bernard reciprocated as best he could in his feeble condition. Moulju was thankful for the liquidity of her natural state. She wanted to cover him, become with him, aid his breathing and allow him to rest. But she knew it wasn’t her decision and Bernard wanted to die naturally.
Moulju whispered in his ear, “Do you remember when we first met?” she asked with a wicked smile. Bernard smiled too, equally wicked and they remembered together, every moment played out on the tides of her physical form. It was something he loved about her species, something he loved about her, something he had always envied.
As the Moebius Nebula erupted around them, points of light, magnified through liquid, illuminated the room. Each of her movements changed the perspective casting shadows and light. Moulju held his hand in her chest and Bernard felt the warmth of her for the last time. His body became light and airborne as it used to be when they were young and loved in the morning and the night – ‘cause one is nothing without the other.
They met in the hold of a giant KiiK freighter, the Gglokjd Bah, on its way to the Vega gate and the edge of known space – the Nix move closer and closer to the edge. Bernard was hitching a lift he wanted to travel to Tiangulum and the gate was the fastest route. Moulju found him curled up in a consignment of Ref droppings.
They travelled to Triangulum together. The gate dropped them in the nearest system and they were able to ride the ripples toward their destination star. Moulju listened while Bernard explained. She would help him, she and he were one.
A small cloud apparatus above Bernard’s sickbed made an awful noise while flashing red and purple. A nurse drone snaked from the ceiling, connected as it was to the mainframe surrounding them, in the walls, ceiling and floor. It administered medication and adrenalin, fusing them with an eighty volt shock through the central nervous system. Bernard’s body twitched, violently at first, but soon it tired and ceased.
It was an age ago on a planet where time moved in strange, bloated and elongated phases. It was the gravitational distortion brought her closer to the essence than ever before – her soul suddenly moving in opposition, the separation an opening of body and mind. Moulju wanted to share her knowledge her feelings, her clarity with Bernard and covered him where he stood. Bernard breathed her spirituality – they were destined by the universe to be and to become.
Bernard lay still, lifeless. Moulju smothered him him as before, filling his rotten lungs with her oxygen rich liquid, turning darkness into light. He absorbed the gift and took a sudden gasping breath. Moulju smiled at him and Bernard smiled back. He took his final breath holding her image in his mind.
A Jovian vessel scouting for the Lonemire Chemical Corp saw the blaze from orbit. Moulju had left Bernard’s corpse for the nurses and exited quickly. Within hours they were threatening each other with their stink glands – there is something about decomposing humanity. It was an OoLoo technician who finally burned the body before the medical staff bit each other’s ears off, along with other bits and bobs.
At the Vega Gate Moulju thought of Bernard; For all that it was, she mused, there’s a lot that it wasn’t. Moulju joined a KiiK vessel headed for the boundary – she gave the captain of the Gglokjd Bah as a reference.
Author: Matt Ingoldby
‘Room’ conjures three dimensions of no specific shape. This will have to do.
‘Waiting room’ seems speciously appropriate except that it conjures time – not apt for eternal, infinite multitudes like us. Nonetheless, we are all waiting, most of us since before there was a universe to lay time across.
In your misleading and dimensionally-confused parlance, we have waited ‘a very long time’.
In the waiting room (okay, okay) we dwell. Though we exist at no point, there is a queue. It may shock you to learn that social laws have existed long before the laws of physics.
#953426304582635402390839472-69476029864324538763406578530692876-862-629867534857634876553875623984762342364876238676260000624626230462346200000032426346328756438765235782364 is my friend.
#953426304582635402390839472-69476029864324538763406578530692876-862-629867534857634876553875623984762342364876238676260000624626230462346200000032426346328756438765235782364 is dreaming of what they will achieve in life: “I don’t care what others say,” they muse warm-heartedly (the words are my own). “I’ll still remember. I’ll come and find you, breather to breather, wherever you end up.”
Wherever, in this case, is not meaningless. It means a specific range of coordinates.
I express a mutual sentiment, aware that many others have vowed this before. #953256304582635402390839472-69476029864324538763406578530692876-862-629867534857634876553875623984762342364876238676260000624626230462346200000032426346328756438765235782364 and I stick together.
A jolt of desire takes us into the presence of Perfection. A subliminary byproduct of Perfection greets us with a bath of warmth. Forever they express: “Ready?”
The smell of rotting meat is introduced to us. #953256304582635402390839472-69476029864324538763406578530692876-862-629867534857634876553875623984762342364876238676260000624626230462346200000032426346328756438765235782364 and I respond with nausea. Correct: a positive is expressed.
Now a burst of animal terror lunges at us. It creates fear no academic grasp could prepare you for. In the eternity it leaves, a negative is expressed.
“You forgot to breathe.” the envoy informs #953256304582635402390839472-69476029864324538763406578530692876-862-629867534857634876553875623984762342364876238676260000624626230462346200000032426346328756438765235782364. My friend inflates imaginary lungs desperately, but their portal is already closed.
They transmit courage to me for the advanced round. ‘Human’ is notoriously hard.
(But you did it. You sly genius, you.)
I am forced to regard myself. I respond with hatred and fear. To return to this state of absence is a poisonous thought – I am disgusted by death.
A positive sounds; my disgust is enough. I am jettisoned from non-life. But I remember those eternal moments even as I begin to breathe, witness, and cough.
At last I am born.
Author: Glenn Leung
The fog in my brain had lifted, and all I saw was the rubble. My memories were there; my family, my friends, my comrades of the ill-fated revolution, the building blocks of my identity. But these blocks lay in heaps and piles, the cement and the steel that once held them together lying uselessly around them.
“Do you remember the imperial guard you shot?” The well-dressed man sitting across me in the interrogation room asked.
“I do,” I replied without thought.
“Do you feel any remorse or pride regarding your actions?”
“I do not feel anything,” came my stone-faced answer.
It was true. I felt nothing, not even the surprise that was supposed to come with realizing you felt nothing. I have memories of being actively involved; of making and throwing Molotov cocktails and laughing as it smashed in the faces of imperial loyalists, of high fiving my friends after I broke through the imperial firewall and messed up the tax records. I should be swelling with pride as the well-dressed man recounted them to me, but I felt nothing.
The well-dressed man made some notes on my eye movement and pulse, then spoke into his voice recorder.
“Teleportation subject appears to be clear so far, proceeding to stage two of confirmation.”
I remember the teleporter, the two stygian obelisks in a room of chrome and ebony. I remember being dragged screaming into one of them and coming out the other with the fog in my head, a side effect of the brain being torn apart then recreated. Often loosely compared to restarting a computer, it is part one of the most effective brainwashing method ever accidentally developed. We kept all our memories, but the Empire could put them together the way they wanted. We would be filled with shame, then pride as we were reminded of the Empire’s regimented education system and the free healthcare. We would believe that the surveillance, the suppression, and the brutality is needed to sustain the New World Order. We would come to love the Empire, and it would be easier to do so without a desire for freedom.
Let the Man repaint the canvas.
“Get in there!”
The well-dressed man had left and returned with a woman in handcuffs, his vice-like grip on her upper arm. She was sobbing. She was my wife.
“You recognize this woman? She’s under suspicion for aiding your kind with crimes against the empire. What can you tell me about that?”
I looked at my wife’s tear-filled visage as she stared back at me in horror, realizing what they had done to me. I remembered how we had embraced amidst the fires of protest, how she had defended me from her friends who said I was no good for her, how she had nursed me back to health when the Empire used biotoxins on the mob. Without any sense of identity, it just felt like somebody else’s life.
“She helped steal the virus that I used to break the firewall,” I told the well-dressed man.
There was a gunshot and my wife fell dead. I blinked a little.
The well-dressed man checked my pulse and spoke again into his recorder.
“Teleportation subject confirmed clean.”
As I sat alone in the interrogation room, my wife’s corpse lying near the door, I remembered my last thought in the teleporter just before the pain of my old body disintegrating.
“How could anyone think this is a good idea?”
Author: David Barber
The morning Ethics Officer Summer flew in for duty aboard the USS Grover Cleveland, a pair of ancient Tornados jinked in at sea-level, heading for the task force on Golf-Bravo Station. They were still twenty miles out when they were brought down in balls of flame.
“Most excitement we’ve had all month,” Lieutenant Commander Hightower said.
The carrier was ploughing through heavy seas and Summer steadied himself. “I suppose those planes had human pilots.”
“I suppose they did.”
Hightower could not conceal his dislike of the young man. “What with this, and the South China Sea, we’re in overstretch. The Cleveland was brought out of mothballs, and we’re flying old F35’s retrofitted with AI pilots, so there’s no remoting. You’ll have a seat on missions.”
Hightower had been a Navy flyer during the Iran conflict, now he baby-sat someone with a philosophy degree pretending to be an officer.
“You know you won’t be popular round here.” Shame if the new guy fell down a ladder, seemed a popular opinion.
“Daniel in the lion’s den.”
“They see it as interference. Just don’t…” Just don’t be so righteous, he wanted to say.
Summer was woken by the bang and roar of planes being flung into the sky from the deck above. AI pilots needed no rest, no downtime, and night was same as day to their avionics. But he fell asleep again, reassured that humans were back in the loop.
His first mission launched at dawn. He sat in a cockpit stripped bare of manual controls.
Welcome Officer Summer. This autonomic pilot has been reconfigured for human oversight. I currently have 96% mission success rate and hope together we can do even better.
This was the problem he was here to address.
They crossed the coast near a bombed-out naval base, the glittering water dotted with wrecks. Summer was comforted by the steady whine of the engine. Below him the green land lay idle. Target One was an arms dump.
“It’s a church,” said Summer. Its tall, square tower had stood since the Middle Ages.
Munitions are stored inside.
“And when they’re moved, we can hit them in the open.”
Target Two, a mobile radar array, was too close to a school.
They sited it there, the AI protested.
After landing, Hightower was waiting for him. The AI had already registered a complaint. “They love their mission stats.”
“Every decision was within guidelines,” Summer maintained. He spoke with utter certainty.
Mostly they returned with their weapons load unused. Risk of collateral damage. Poor Intel. Once they safely destroyed a bridge. Climbing down from the cockpit, deck crews greeted him with ironic cheers.
Summer had aborted a strike on a convoy winding through narrow streets, when warnings sounded in his earphones.
Small arms fire. Critical systems damage. You should eject before I lose control.
He hesitated, and the plane yawed and pitched violently. He reached for the handle between his feet and was blasted into the sky.
Summer tried to tell his captors about the churches he’d saved, the targets next to playgrounds he vetoed, all the civilians unharmed because of him, but the rage of those bombed and strafed daily by robots could not be satisfied by kicking the wreckage of downed drones.
In a war-crimes trial they might have let him read out a statement, but he saw it would not come to that. The soldiers stood aside and let the mob have him.
His last thoughts were of multicoloured fields spread below his chute, and his plane receding into the distance as it headed back to Golf-Bravo Station.
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.