Guilty Pleasure

Author: Thomas Desrochers

The sweaty politicians like to remind us that the EcoFasc League were monsters, especially before we do a round of flyovers. “Remember,” they scream at us, “remember the billions.”

We come in off the eastern seaboard. It’s lovely this time of year, stretching away, an infinite green carpet. Back home the trees are planted in rows. They’re big enough, but you’re always reminded that it’s an artificial thing. Here the trees fight and jostle, untamed.

Billions. Unbelievably large, except when you fly by the countless shattered wrecks of the cities. Just, enormous. Reminds me of home: crowded and gray. Every piece of land we can use, we do. Not many animals left.

Not like here. Here, plants and animals build up in the streets, on the floors and rooftops – the sheer weight of life bringing down steel and concrete. Untouched, though. In a hundred years we’ve seen people wandering these places a dozen times. Elderly, usually, on some final pilgrimage.

It’s beautiful, this endless forest broken up by quiet glades, teeming with wildlife. Don’t go down there. That’s the first thing they tell you in training. Don’t go down there – you’ll cook.

The people there don’t cook, for whatever reason. They live in small communities turned towards the sun, sheltered from the wind, surrounded by fields and gardens that my grandmother would envy and ponds teeming with so many fish my grandfather would cry. We get close enough to take a look. The other guys like to ignore them, but I wave. The kids always wave back. They look happy.

It was a fast affair, if you read between the lines. The books talk about the decades of build-up and turmoil, but it was the blink of an eye. One year the news teems with references to a grizzled man speaking at a pub rally, and the next Asia is coated in VX.

Bummer.

War for a week after we beat back their missiles, but then the League saved everyone the trouble: they cooked off all the New World’s nuclear piles. It was impressive, really (but don’t tell anyone that – you’ll regret it). Invade? Why bother? They paid special attention to their minerals, and the days of heartland grains were over. No more fish from the oceans either, unless you like them hot. My forefathers starved.

Double bummer.

They’ve got technology still, though we’re not sure what or how. We’ve never figured out how they didn’t die out down there. Higher-ups worry: how many, and who? I say, who cares? They’re friendly enough for me.

Plains roll by, endless. I think the people here are obligated to feel free, but maybe they feel trapped. We cross over the continent in a day and it takes the riders and wagon trains half a week between settlements.

The mountains slide past. Before you know it you’ve hit the Pacific. Squalls roll under lingering clouds; it’s a rainforest down there, you’d better believe it. Our satellites watch as the forests grow back like hair on a ten year clear cancer patient – wild. The trees eats up our smog like candy.

I remember the billions. I shouldn’t be, it’s terrible that I am, but I’m grateful they’re gone and glad it happened. I love the flights. The doctors say flyover duty steals decades from us, but nobody’s ever quit.

We had an emergency put-down once – engine trouble. All I remember is the trees as big around as I am tall, wildflowers like scattered paint, and the choir of birds in time to the anxious whine of the geigers.

Paradise, I said. Who could disagree?

Time Travel? Talking Pigs?

Author: David Henson

“Hi, Dad, how are you today?”

“Same old, same old, Danny. Come in.”

Daniel and Stanley go into the kitchen, and the two sit at the table. Stanley begins scribbling in a notepad.

“I’m almost afraid to ask what you’re writing about, Dad,” Stanley says.

“Just an idea … an invention I thought of.”

Daniel sighs. “Now what?”

“I call it a DRTS — a Dematerializing Rematerializing Transporation System. It’ll beam you anywhere in the blink of an eye. That’s how we’ll get from place to place in the future.”

“There you go again, Dad. Don’t you see how you’re … confused?”

“I’m never confused, Son.”

“My gosh, Dad, you told Billy last month, this —” Daniel raises an arm and sweeps it around him — “is all just a simulation.” He raps his knuckles on the table. “You told Billy nothing is real, Dad. He could’ve hurt himself when he tried to walk through his bedroom wall.”

“I’m really sorry about that, Danny. I gave it some deeper thought after reading about this ‘Occam’s razor’ thing. I don’t think everything’s a simulation anymore.”

“That’s a relief, Dad. How about what you told me the last time I was here —  how we’ll all have computers in our heads? Years from now?”

“Son, it’s only logical. Computers keep getting smaller, right? It’s inevitable that sooner or later they’ll be implanted in humans to enhance our capabilities.”

“Dad, please. Don’t you realize —”

“And not just humans. In the future, we’ll put chips in the heads of animals. Their thoughts’ll be translated into human speech. Mainly your higher mammals — pigs, dogs, some horses. Computers,” Stanley continues, “eventually will lead to all kinds of amazing things — levitation belts, invisibility cloaks, time travel and —”

“Eventually time travel? Talking pigs? Oh, Dad.” Daniel takes his father’s hands in his. “I’m worried about you. I’ve got to run now, but we’re going to … fix this.”

Stanley pulls his hands away from Daniel. “I’m fine, Danny. You don’t have to worry about me.”

***

“How was your father today, Dan?” Lydia says.

Daniel shakes his head. “Well, he’s off the kick about nothing being real. But otherwise about the same, unfortunately. Where are the kids?”

“Billy will be home a little late today.” Lydia says. “Field trip to the Mesozoic. I —”

“Boo!” Sally yells, suddenly appearing next to her father, then rising to the ceiling.

“Young Lady,” Daniel says sternly, “how many times have I told you? No cloaking in the house. Now come down here. Then switch off that belt, too.”

Sally does as she’s told. “Never get to have any fun,” she mutters to herself.

“As I was saying,” Lydia continues, “I think before we go to Jupiter,” she nods toward the family’s teleportation chamber in the corner of the room, “we should take your father in like we talked about. I think he needs is his memory enhancement chip replaced.”

“I agree. I know older people sometimes tend to live in the past, but not like Dad.” As Daniel speaks, a pot-bellied pig saunters up to him. “How are you, Hamster?” Daniel says, scratching the pig between the eyes.

“Absolutely famished,” Hamster replies.

The Keepers

Author: Hari Navarro, Staff Writer

She makes love to him in the long grass that encircles the base of the old stone lighthouse in a moat of shivering green. His untrained skin too it quivers. Though her hands they grip and caress as her passion it distills and smooths him and the sun it rolls at her back.

He opens his eyes and his teeth bite at each other and muted hues they stream through the dried twigs and spring petals that twist and trap in her hair. His fingers play out and pull in the rocking of her hips and he gets lost in the sweat and he loses her words as she whispers.

“What did you say?”, his words grasp for they know it is vital this thing that he missed.

Smiling, she rolls from his embrace and drifts over the strewn detritus of their clothes and she bolts to the now open door that punches the foot of the tower.

Instantly he follows, he bounds the cling staircase which curls up so narrow that it is hardly but there. No ornate rails protect his ascent as he draws to the acrid sweet scent of their love and the beautiful wisp blur of her form.

His pace does not ease even as he flies missing slab steps that glimpse the dark void which now pulls up from the unseen floor far below. And his arms they pump at his side.

“What did you say?”, he calls out. His words harassing the play of her feet as they dance ever on and up.

Her reply falls but still it hides and a child it weeps from up high.

He flows through the pollen blown blast that stabs through the deep recessed slot of a window and it fingers the mote stew of the void. And the staircase it widens at his feet.

But the man does not notice as he too does not notice the wet leaves that are stuck to the thick glass that offers a soft light to this path he continues to pound.

“I love you with all of my being”, his flotsam words how they warm at her ears. And she smiles and cries for this man that bites at her heels.

This man who now pauses and steadies his hand on the gnarled wrought-iron rail that thankfully appears and for the very first time he looks down and not up. Down to his feet and though they are bloodied and his veins they bulge and snake he is buoyed as he again catches her voice. And a thin warmth it sweeps through the stone and it feels so good at his face.

There are voices, not just hers. Familiar, family that pull his weary carcass and beckon it up from the dark. They are laughing or is that screams that fall as he climbs and his knees crack and they ache.

He stumbles and like that there are no more steps to be had.

Here at the top the flames of the beacon they pinch the sag skin of his face and ancient ice it dances in fluted twists. The fire is orange and crackling white and she lays with hands draped from its centre.

Exhausted he slumps and with his back to the warm touch of the plinth at the base of the pyre and he holds his loves hand as it burns.

“Come with me”, she breathes into the cold night.

And again he follows her whisper.

Down Time

Author: Jae Miles, Staff Writer

The bridge is quiet. After the last escapade, everyone’s resting in some way or other. I do my down time relaxation up here, working through the after-battle reports to assess where we can improve.
“Captain Dulles.”
I look up and back to see Scarven, our Edmari pilgrim, floating serenely in the middle of the observation dome, fronds curling and uncurling with hypnotic grace.
“Yes, Holy Scarven?”
It sculls itself about so the primary eyes can regard me.
“Scarven will do. We are both peer-ranked dignitaries, in our ways.”
I nod.
“Thank you. How can I help?”
It back-paddles to stop its drift toward me.
“I have spent many homeworld-duration years contemplating humanity in all it’s diverse forms. I have come to appreciate the loud art you call music and understand the reasons why you are enamoured of fighting. But, in this moment of quiet contemplation between police aggressions that you call down time, I find myself returning to a human-centric conundrum that has haunted me for a long time. I was wondering if you’d care to share your insights on the topic with me?”
Sounds serious. The holy fronds from Edmari having an entirely scent-based humour, so it can’t be anything light. That little speech indicates a depth of puzzlement I haven’t encountered before.
“I’d be honoured to shed what light I can.”
All twenty fronds snap-curl, then roll out slowly.
“‘Shed light’. What a deliciously apt concept and usage. Thank you.”
I’ve just made a lifelong friend. Edmari ‘collect’ words and phrases. To use an unheard verbalisation that is applicable to the sacred photosynthesis of their archetypes is considered a gift of overwhelming worth.
“Let’s see if I can keep up the good work. What’s your question, Scarven?”
The Edmari becomes still.
“Bakers bake. Cyclists cycle. Millers mill. Why do carpenters not carpent?”
Of all the possible questions that had flashed through my mind, that wasn’t amongst them. I sit up and route a priority query with light encyclopaedic collation through to the nearest datahub. When it resolves, I look up and smile.
“I’m guessing you’ve only travelled on mainstream ships, where English is the trade language. Our diversity also extends to the languages we speak. Earth has had thousands of spoken languages that have evolved or fallen into disuse over the centuries. Your late creators engineered your race as an entirety. Thus, the concept of having more than one language is alien to you. ‘Carpenter’ is a word adopted into English from a language we call ‘French’. If you like, I can request that human linguistic history be added to the exchange program for your race.”
The fronds twist and shake, then Scarven sculls closer.
“More than one language? Could there be more words for ‘happy’ than your English contains?”
I grin. ‘Happy’. Something the Edmari had no word for until they met us. Which is odd, because that is, fundamentally, what all Edmari are. Now, they are fascinated with the concept and its application to their views of life.
“Many, Scarven. I would venture hundreds, if not thousands.”
It performs a cartwheel of joy before sculling off toward its biosphere, voice drifting back to me over the cheerful rustling of its fronds.
“Such great gifts discovered during this ‘down time’ you have. Your race is filled with delicious strangeness. I look forward to many more down times.”
Think I just conceded my down time for a while.

Minimal Rocknroll

Author: Joseph S. Pete

Clive never thought it would come back to haunt him, what he wrote for one of the more widely read zines on the punk scene, even if some disparaged it as “Big Brother’s Little Brother” or a “bullshit preacher of phony authenticity,” even if it were lashed for promoting a uniform sound both gospel and generic.
He contributed reviews decades ago back when he was looking to find outlets for his creativity, maybe become a writer and part of a scene bigger than himself. Clive wanted to drum up as much attention as possible, which he tried to do with throwaway jokes about euthanizing the poor, castrating CEOs, bathing toady congressmen in acid and smacking around Richie the Rich instigators of class warfare until they bled molten gold.
He never paused to think about such half-assed jokes and offhand musings might be received in the future. He never thought about the future at all.
As he understood it, Johnny Rotten was right. There was no future, no future for him.
Only a few decades later, haggard, saggy-eyed and tired all the time, finally realizing why dying young was romanticized, Clive took a long look at himself in the mirror early one morning, when the lack of sleep weighed heavy on his eyelids. He was headed off to direct an augmented reality tour for the City of Chicago, in which virtual reality would allow visitors to fight the Legion of Doom along with third-tier Justice League members, learn about architecture and delve into the depths of Chance the Mayor and Rapper’s discography while strolling around the Loop.
The phone on his dinner table buzzed. Ominously.
He was being let go. Clive had unthinkingly cut off the manager of a Moo & Oink in traffic after encouraging him to hurry up and ring up his groceries, and that neck-bearded mouth-breather had proceeded to dig up his past reviews and forward them to his employer.
Chicago had to maintain a family-friendly facade; that’s how it packed it 110 million international visitors a year, by offending no one, for any reason, ever. The corporation could not stand by the ideas of wanton violence or a revolutionary overthrow of the U.S. government. These tours were supposed to be devoid of any political content and Clive had become a liability, he was a professional and surely he understood.
Clive thought about using the virtual reality tech he used day in and day out to wow the unending stream of tourists to erase any memory of the untoward reviews that so nettled them now, to wipe his record clean. He had worked out a hack while playing around during his downtime and knew the VR could eradicate any recollection of this incident in the human executives’ minds. He could craft and implant alternate memories that would make this all go away.
But if anything, Clive realized, he should blank his own mind, eliminate any trace of selling out, of leading his creativity to such crass commercialism, of forsaking all his youthful ideals as he debased himself to make a buck.
He was once free and pure and radical, but now he just was.
He couldn’t help but to be bitter.
“No one ever read that crap,” he thought. “No one. Hardly anyone at all.”
He fired up his VR projector, maybe for the last time, and thought about what he should do.
A steely determination came over him.
“To hell with it.”

In Which Stan Discovers Frank has Always Wanted a Baby

Author: Katie Venit

It was a clear Tuesday in May at the Eden Garden Center when a new universe commenced between the petunias and marigolds, just left of the snapdragons. Initially the size of a speck, it was easily mistaken for atmospheric sparkle.

Within days, the speck had grown large enough for the owners—former hippies-turned entrepreneurial horticulturalists Stan and Frank Bern-Jones—to notice. Frank was watering the petunias, enjoying the sunlight streaming in through the greenhouse windows and planning the day’s mulching when he discovered himself on his backside, having been repelled by something. Rubbing his derriere, Frank realized he had bounced off an orb the circumference of a quarter, hovering three feet off the ground, incandescing and pulsing like a will-o’-the-wisp. When he tried to grab the orb, it seared his palm with the pattern of the firmament.

Leaning in as close as he dared, Frank discerned gauzy stellar nurseries of billowing gas and stardust, light years across and coalescing rapidly into primordial galaxies amassing along webs of gravity. The universe swelled slightly. Frank closed shop early.

###

By next morning, the wee bairn had laid waste to the petunias. Gamma waves blackened the leaves and crumpled their trumpets as though they had been held over a fire. Stan deadheaded while Frank called their insurance agent.

“Bad news,” Frank hung up the phone. “Our insurance doesn’t cover the birth of a multiverse in the nursery.”

“It covers Acts of God, doesn’t it? What is this if not an Act of God?” Stan shook a handful of dead petunias at Frank, releasing a stale aroma of funeral parlors.

“Not according to the insurance agent. Besides, wouldn’t you say this disproves the existence of God? I mean, if there were a God, and he were truly omnipotent, then this would be a pretty big goof. Sort of like planting kudzu in a terrarium,”

Stan stared at his husband. “You’re talking about divine ontology when our inventory is being destroyed.”

Frank shrugged. “I’m just saying, maybe we should call Father James instead of the insurance agent.”

“Does the insurance cover Hell, Frank? Because that’s where I am, in Hell!” Stan threw down the irradiated petals, which disintegrated in a tawny puff.

Frank held a hand to his mouth, thinking. It was a pose Stan usually found alluring but not at this moment.

“What if,” said Frank, “we move the petunias over with the impatiens.”

“Those are full shade, Frank. It’ll never work!”

“Daylilies, then.”

“Now you’re mixing annuals and perennials!” Stan took a steadying breath and pinched the bridge of his nose. He wasn’t sure what that did, but his father and grandfather had both done it in times of stress. “Obviously we’re not thinking clearly. I’m not worried about the damned petunias. I mean, just look at you.” He cradled Frank’s burnt hand. “We need to destroy this thing. Do you know what universes do? They expand.”

“Destroy it?” Frank pulled his hand away. “Stan, we’re horticulturalists. We’re in the creation business. Cosmology, not eschatology. What if we somehow conceived this universe? What if there are living beings? We can’t just exterminate them like aphids.”

“There’s no life there! Besides, what choice do we have? It’s us or th—”

“Shh, do you hear that?” Frank held up a finger. “Stan, listen.”

Stan leaned in close enough to singe the peach fuzz on his ears.

The tiny universe wailed.