A Kiss

Author: Rachel Sievers

The crowd rushed on in the hot, stale air. Women holding the hands of little ones. Men rushing by with all their possessions. The holy and unholy fleeing before the wave of evil. All around people ran by him. His feet were cemented down as he watched them run. Fear paralyzed his whole body, the weight of it making him unable to move more than just his eyes to look at the scene playing out before him.

The bodies of people he knew and didn’t know lay all about as his eyes scanned the wreck before him. They lay with their bodies unharmed. Eyes closed like they were sleeping. Peaceful almost. There was a beauty in this destruction.

Destruction had come so quick. The end of his world had occurred in a matter of hours. There had been rumors for a while but in his small dusty village in the mountains of India seemed untouchable. They thought it would pass them over. They had prayed to their many gods to save them, sure that one would answers. They hadn’t. The gods sat in their way off place watching their devoted be turned to stone.

Viruses didn’t know borders. Or wealth. Or poverty. They didn’t know if you were a dictator or a slave. They didn’t know if you were from the riches of the developed world. They didn’t know if you were from a poor village in the mountains with ancient laws to keep you safe. They came in just the same and killed without care.

The virus took hold in the brain, killing and turning beautiful bodies to stone in one swift movement. The virus passed itself through body fluids, most commonly through saliva. It didn’t mind other body fluids but saliva was the most easily passed when they gave each other the kiss of death.

When hands from behind clasped his head and turned him towards her, he noticed how beautiful she still was. Had it not been for the black iris, pupil, and sclera he wouldn’t have known she was ill. When she pressed her pale lips to his, it was his first kiss. And his last.

Into the Caves at Last

Author: Lin Edwards

She knew she was close, and her heart was racing.

She’d been on the catering team of the dive expedition all those years ago; young, inexperienced, excited just to be part of it. They hadn’t let her go down into the cave system or its tendrils of flooded tunnels opening out into watery cathedral-sized chambers. But nothing would stop her now.

She parked, and killed the engine. The disability mods had worked well, but long hours of driving had exhausted her. She opened the window and listened. There was no traffic this far from anywhere, but she could hear the caves breathing. She smiled.

Memories flooded back of lying on the ground listening to the blowholes and gazing up at the billion stars splashed across the black sky.

She opened the door and dragged her legs out. She had not returned a moment too soon — any later and the disease would have consumed her. She waited for the pain to subside.

The breeze picked up, and a willy-willy appeared out of nowhere just as it had that fateful night. It had been a warning then, but they had gone into the caves, and so would she.

“Come willy-willy,” she whispered.

The willy-willy passed harmlessly overhead, and she looked in vain for an olive green snake. The few divers who had got out alive said a snake had followed them into the cave to warn them. Looking up, she saw a Min-Min light, or something like it, in the distance. Theory has it that Min-Mins are a Fata Morgana — like the mirage of a ship that seems to be floating in the air — but this light was moving erratically, almost as if it were alive, and approaching rapidly. Its edges looked fuzzy. She felt suddenly, incomprehensibly, calm.

As she dragged herself out to stand by the car, the light reached her and sped over her head, buzzing, then stopped and hovered, as if waiting for her to follow. She obeyed, using her sticks to stumble towards the light and the cave entrance she knew must lie beyond. Every time she moved forward the light moved on and then waited.

The fuzzy edges broke up into distinct, tiny circles of light, and just as the light shattered into a million pieces, she reached the cave entrance.

She stared down into the dark reflections in the water below. If she fell or jumped, she knew she would never get out. Not that she wanted to. She’d been planning for months, perhaps much longer. The divers’ disappearance into the caves had haunted her dreams for years.

She stood on the edge for some time savouring the sounds, the violent sunlight and shockingly blue sky. The Min-Min, now a shimmering mass of individual lights, waited patiently and then dropped beneath the lip of the entrance. She leaned over and peered in. Half-way down on a small ledge, an olive-grey snake lay watching her. She dropped her sticks and allowed herself to collapse and fall, and follow the lights deep, deep down into the crystal clear water.

The lights separated and the tiny circles surrounded her, each moving independently like miniature manned space ships. She felt herself being tugged and pulled, deeper down into the water and then along into a narrowing tunnel of almost blinding light. Around her the caves echoed with haunting music and she smiled. She had come into the caves at last.

White Noise

Author: Linda McMullen

I turn onto my side as a MyPillow ad launches behind my eyelids. They fly open. The algorithm adjusts. I settle back down. A commercial for a sleep number mattress plays, and I wonder if it’s worth the money. I decide that a) it probably is, and b) I probably need to let go of this spring-studded catamaran I’ve had since I lived at home – sentimental value notwithstanding. The micro-shot of dopamine that this decision produces has clearly registered, because the next ad is also for a mattress.

I wish I could afford to upgrade to the premium plan, but those sleep-number things aren’t cheap, and… well… it’s another $120 a year, and for that maybe I could invest in a heavy comforter –

A pop-up ad: Would you like to try our Silver Package? Just $5 for the first month –

“No!” I exclaim, “and if this is how you run your service, maybe I’ll just cancel!”

The next ad (for a weighted blanket) vanishes mid-word, and my program appears:

Complete blackness, accompanied by white noise.

It’s… gosh, that blessed static!… it’s louder than you… well, thank goodness for it, because… because… so hard to… much harder to… wide open… four a.m. flashing on the… I signed up after the… so many senseless…


…no beeps…

…but the white noise…
…helps to…

Three Centuries. Same Radio.

Author: Asch

My identity initiates with a signal into space, announcing my presence with a tangible image inviting others to respond if they are out there.

You ping me seconds after I project my presence onto the ether, complimenting the image. When you say that you love the way the stars glint, in reflection, haloing my hair as it streams into the water on Garanus VI, I question it. I cannot count the time that passes before you clarify: You look hot, Presna.

I cross-reference the intergalactic database that pins your location seven million lightyears away—somewhere near a place marker called Seattle. As oxygen-based planets breed emotional beings, I respond lightly: Grant, you are not unattractive yourself.

You play it light, as well, asking grounding questions I answer easily, such as why the water laps in pink whirls and how the two-sun system does not force sentience underground, as I, too, glean from you. When you inevitably tire, as Earth-based lifeforms seem to do, you propose that we meet, on the ether, again.

As I wade through the waves of the ether, absorbing more information about your world in an hour that your species might hope to gather in generational lifespans, I realize that it is not only possible, but probably, that a curious seeker like you will find a way for us to meet again.

The second time that you ping me, you indicate that much time has passed. You report on traditions that occurred as if listing off tasks to complete. Birthdays. Holidays. Weddings. You have the chance, now, to catch up with me due to a holiday—a worldwide independence week remembering the formation of a universal peace alliance, granting all international freedom of mobility. I hear the explosions that boom in the port-screen behind your travel-cam as you probe me to describe my own experience, for now, with programmed coordinates, we speak live.
You cut me off as I recall intergalactic trade ratios, gravitational comparisons among rogue docking bays, and advancements in ship operations, “When you research, how does that make you feel? How has your perception of self changed since we last connected?”

I shuffle through the carefully compiled and uploaded museum of me. Photos, video clips, and voice recordings hint at names and nicknames as well as interspecies relations. A plethora of hair styles. The entities add a byte or more, biweekly, to suggest that I exist outside of the ether.
I react with the suggested definition of a sensitive gesture as I watch your brow furrow—a humanoid sign of distress—by simplifying, “My personal interaction within the ether has not been unpleasant. Our previous conversation guided my research. I am—grateful—for your help.”

“People want to share their existence with others so that it gains meaning.” Your rate of speech significantly slows as you enunciate with care, indicating a cognitive shift in perceiving the sender to receiver impact. Your communication pattern suggests that you look upon me much as I have judged you—a baser being. “They do not reach out across the worlds for another’s gratitude, Presna. Do the Falsekki?”

As I sort through the geological terrain monitored by satellite and the history of synthesizing artificial memory Falsekki robotics farm from scavenge raids to rogue docking bays to elicit tactical information from more farmable species, I cut off connection.

I realize that the directed grunt bodies, devoid of memories circulating through the mainframe, and the operators—no more than binaries—do emote as baser beings. They desire conquest. Yours. I, just as base, will protect you.

Non Cogito Ergo…

Author: Dick Narvett

Professor Nia Elston was apprehensive about accepting the incoming telepathcom. She had a funny feeling something was wrong. As usual, she was right.

Kiana, Dr. Spellman’s assistant, entered her head. She informed Nia that her test results were complete, and that she was to mind the doctor immediately, “while she was still capable”. It was this last, foreboding piece of thought that further heightened Nia’s anxiety.

Nia sat down at her desk and immediately tried minding Dr. Spellman. After several tries and an exhausting amount of effort she finally got through to the good doctor.

“Nia, I’m so glad you minded me. We need to think over your test results.”

“Ok, Doctor, but from the tone of your thoughts I can sense this won’t be good.”

“I’m afraid you’re right. The results all point to hypogyriosis. In short, you’re rapidly losing your ability to telepath.”

“Can anything be done, Doctor?”

“I’m afraid there’s no known cure. All we can do is continue to monitor your situation. But Nia… if I were you, I’d make it a priority to mind all those who are important to you.”

Shaken, Nia cut off her thoughts to the doctor and buried her head in her hands.

Over Nia’s thirty-plus years as Professor of Anthropology at the State Virtual University she had often lectured on the sequence of events that had brought humankind to this point… the isolating pandemics of the 21st century… the development of direct-to-brain transmitting devices… the obsolescence of verbal communication… the accelerated development of the brain’s hippocampus… and the resulting evolution of mental telepathy.

That her own telepathic ability was now in jeopardy was hardly a shock to Nia. She had been noticing symptoms throughout the past year. People on the street seemed to be unaware of her thoughtful greetings. Several of her students claimed they weren’t receiving her telepathed lectures. Nonetheless, Dr. Spellman’s validation of her fears came as a crushing blow. She was in danger of losing contact with the only things left in her life that had meaning… her only son, Lux, who lived a thousand miles away, and her love of teaching.

Nia leaned back in her chair, took a deep breath, and exhaled forcefully through her mouth. With each subsequent breath, she tried hard to vary the airflow. She remembered her grandfather telling her that this was how people used to communicate. All Nia could manage were unintelligible swishing sounds.

Frustrated, she shifted her efforts to telepathing her son. After several unsuccessful attempts, Lux finally entered her mind.

“Mom?… Mom? Is that you?”

She struggled to think anything in response, but it was too late…he was gone.

Nia’s head began to ache. She moved to the bedroom to lie down. With the internal thoughts she still had left to her, she began to rationalize her situation. What was so bad about the loss of all external communication? After all, it was rare that she ever saw anyone in person. Not her son. Not her students. The few people she encountered on the streets were primarily delivery personnel from the few remaining companies that had not yet transitioned to automatons. Now she would have only herself to communicate with. She would become the center of her own universe. Talk about introspection!

With this thought she began falling into a deep sleep. Or was it sleep? Nia groped for another thought… any thought. But try as she might, she could not complete one. Every thought she began quickly dropped into a dark chasm until all that remained to her was a thoughtless void.

Fort Anger

Author: Julian Miles, Staff Writer

The sky is lit by colossal energy beams throughout an otherwise murky afternoon. Most of them originate from the monstrous shape that looms on the far horizon like a mountain cut from steel.
The outpost on the hill had been deserted since a war over a century before. Now it’s crammed with officers, staff, and equipment. All the people with weapons are on the outside, and are happier there, despite the foul weather. Even standing upwind, they can still hear the General shouting.
“What do you mean we’ve got no tanks left? We had over a thousand last month. I saw them from the Glory Day Overflight.”
Inside the outpost, the quieter reply comes from a bespectacled giant of a man.
“She destroyed the last of them yesterday.”
The General brandishes a cane at the giant’s chest.
“What do you mean, ‘she’? It’s a machine! A damn big one, I’ll grant you, but still a machine. Just because it’s as big as a bloody battleship there’s no need to get soppy about it.”
The giant removes his glasses and massages his temples. That done, he puts the glasses down and speaks with a hand over his eyes.
“Excuse me. Headache from the lights. Tell me, General, what do you know about the Oni-Class Fortresses?”
The General chews a stray bit of his moustache.
“Sodding great wastes of time from a few decades ago, weren’t they? Somebody got a bee in their bonnet and built a couple before it came to light the computers required didn’t exist?”
“Neat summation. Well, times change and computing power increases. I got tasked with seeing if the repulsor-lift fortress dreadnought called the Western Oni could be activated with current technology. Took me a few years, and the co-operation of the AI Research Unit, but we cobbled something together that addressed the shortfalls of the original project and added a few new ideas. We took a Therbithi cryobrain, flashed it into a vegetative state, then loaded seed mnemonics and the whole Oni suite. Like the Therbithi recommend: wake one up, then give it something complex to do. The intelligence will stabilise quicker that way.”
“You lazy bastards put alien technology in my hoverfortress?”
“No, General, us overworked bastards put alien tech in the repulsor-lift fortress because your people insisted we succeed at any cost.”
The General points as the looming threat ploughs through another city, explosions illuminating the angled slabs of its lower armour.
“Well, you certainly did that. Now, how do we call it to heel?”
“Her name is Tabitha. She’s in total rage because I made the mistake of using emotional attachment to reinforce her control routines.”
The General steps closer.
“I don’t understand.”
The giant grins.
“That was my second mistake. Things were going well. We were just preparing for you to be introduced as another authority figure when I cheerfully told Tabitha I was being sent to activate the Eastern Oni.”
“So what?”
The giant colours up.
“Embarrassing as it is to admit, for all intents and purposes, the hoverfortress with enough firepower to level a continent is in love with me. Finding out I was intending to go off and fire up what she perceives as a rival, and giving it all the improvements I’d got from working with her, Tabitha feels I am betraying and insulting her.”
“The hoverfortress is jealous?”
“More like a woman scorned. I might be able to talk her down after she’s levelled the Eastern Oni. Until then? Not a chance. Best stay out of her way.”
“Oh my God. You idiot.”