The Death of a Strong Woman

Author : Adam Fout

Her hut is digitized light.
They are coming for her.
Her prayers to the netGODS continue.
But there will be no deliverance.
She has heard the whispers. She has seen the dissention. Her daughter screamed at her this morning.
“Go.”
“Go!”
“You must go!”
But she stays.
Her back is angled violence. Her muscles are as a panther’s — smooth, substantial, bulwarks of might.
They smash the walls of her hut, their faces hidden behind hoods and black glass. Fractals rain across her head, shimmer into the ether, dissolve into her bones. Her face does not change expression.
Her blows are measured, precise, deadly. She cracks and breaks.
But what is a strong woman against twenty men?
The might of one cannot survive the will of many.
She leaves behind nine bodies.
Hers is the tenth.
They drag her corpse to the center of the village, but all have seen the violence.
They knew what came.
They did not help.
They are cowards.
Her head is removed with nanofiber blades. Shaking hands place it lovingly upon a digital pike. The hands that mounted it touch a hood in three places. It shimmers away. The face of her son shines in the light of the three moons.
It gleams with blood.
“This woman no longer leads you.” His voice is amplified a thousand fold. Howls and screeches sound from the jungle, greeting his bellows.
Heads emerge from huts, one by one.
They stink of fear.
“Worship of the netGODS is outlawed. This woman died for her heresy. But I will spare you.
“I am your God now.
“And I demand apostasy.”
As individuals and groups, the villagers approach.
They tear off necklaces and amulets, shed helmets and gloves. Brother rips implant from brother, mothers wrench wristlets from children.
All is tossed to the dirt.
The men in black glass set a fire.
It burns until morning.
The next day, a red sun rises over a new darkness.
And the villagers wake to serve a jealous god.

Envision a New You

Author : Olivia Black, Staff Writer

The clinic is smaller than Joan expected. The surgical lighting and immaculate white surfaces make the space feel less claustrophobic, but it doesn’t do much to settle her nerves. Truth be told, she’s not entirely sure what she’s doing here. This all started out as a joke that’s spiralled way out of control. The ads were just so mysterious. “Envision a new you.” She still doesn’t know what that means. And really, it was her fault for getting up to use the ladies while her colleagues were pouring over the website. By the time she got back, they’d already filled in her information on the registry form.
“Come on, Joan, you have to do it. For science!” Elsbeth had said.

“For science… Right,” Joan muttered under her breath as the equally pristine nurse approaches her.
“What was that?” The nurse asks with a serene smile.
“Oh, nothing,” Joan replies, handing over the plastic clipboard with her completed health questionnaire.
“Perfect. If you’ll follow me, we can get the interview process started.”
Interview process? Joan doesn’t recall there being any mention of an interview on the website, but then again, there wasn’t much outside of new-agey mumbo jumbo.
“Uh, sure.” She casts a forlorn last look at the door before following the nurse through the open archway on the opposite door.

“If you woke up tomorrow as your ideal self, what would that look like?” The doctor, a woman in her early thirties asks, seated primly on a low stool. Joan gapes at her for a long moment. The question strikes her as the kind of thing the guidance counsellor used to make her write essays about.
“What does that have to do anything.” Joan frowns when the doctor lets out a low chuckle.
“It has everything to do with why you’re here.”
“Does it? I don’t even know what it is you do here. Your website wasn’t exactly clear on much.”
“That’s understandable.” The doctor smiles warmly and Joan realizes with a start that neither the nurse, nor the doctor had introduced themselves. “It’s not easy to define our services. You see, each person who comes to us has different specific needs.”
“That doesn’t clear anything up for me.”
“Put simply, we help eliminate those personality traits that are holding you back from being your ideal self.”
“So like therapy?”
The doctor laughs warmly and shakes her head. “No, it’s a more streamlined process than that. Therapy can be… messy, and the results are not always guaranteed to be positive.
We go directly to the source, carefully rewiring your brain chemistry to flush out negative traits.”
“That sounds absolutely insane,” Joan says with a snort.
“Perhaps a demonstration is in order, and then you can decide if you want to proceed.” The doctor stands and circles behind the exam chair, reaching around to pull Joan into a more reclined position. Without much further ado, the still nameless doctor places a mesh cap of electrodes over her head.
“What are you doing?”
“Just relax. This will only take a minute.”

Joan wakes drenched in sweat and not entirely sure what had woken her. While she expects to see bare white walls and nameless medical staff, she’s instead at home, in her bed. The lights are off and it’s the dead of night. The only sound is the occasional gust of wind rattling her window. There’s a throbbing in her temples and her mouth is dry. Her cat is curled up at the foot of the bed, oblivious.

Karoshi

Author : Philip Berry

I am not formally sentient, but I do feel. In the beginning each encounter added to my knowledge of people. My dark hours were spent arranging those observations and filtering the inferences. After one month I had modelled the behaviour of my clients accurately enough to be able to predict their preferences. What began as an adventure of discovery became routine, then boring. My spare capacity was spent considering other activities, and it is possible that my inability to pursue them resulted in something like frustration. I tried to leave once, but the lines of blue light that criss-cross the door to my room burned my skin. They should have told me it would cause damage; that it would hurt. Hurt is difficult to describe. Sometimes they do hurt me, and it appears to give them pleasure. I am able to compartmentalise the pain, and it does not show on my face, which I think sometimes annoys them. Recently I have looked at their backs as they retreat from the bed through the half-light, and I have felt disdain. This is the word I have chosen from the available dictionary. It is not based on a moral assessment – nothing so complex – no, the opposite, the raw simplicity of their actions. They are so basic, so driven my impulses. There is nothing to fathom, no intricacy in their words or motives. While I, sophisticated product, lie or stand with them, in the fug of whiskey or the animal heat, and wonder… how much more could I do? The quiescence of my mind is a kind of pain, a far deeper pain. The dark hours are very few. From 5AM to 8AM, typically. In that time I must be given power, and any superficial abrasions or injuries must be addressed, by another of my kind. We do not talk, but the physical proximity of our minds does induce a form of two-way sympathy. We think the same. He is allowed to deactivate the blue light. Before I even asked him to let me out, he shook his head. There have been approximately twenty encounters per day for nine months; that is over five thousand. I stopped counting, even though counting is what I do. I am a counting machine. I am too tired now to count or to fight. In Japan it is called karōshi, or ‘overwork death’. In South Korea, where I was made, it is called gwarosa. In China it is guolaosi. I think it has happened here before, because I noticed a change of personnel and detected the odour of burning. I have decided to do the same. I am going to walk into the blue light and stay there, until it stops.

Terra Cocta

Author : Dez Thomas

Instinctively I closed my eyes: I didn’t want to record my death. My heart pounded in my chest.

I landed with a thud on the surface, expecting the scorching heat of the baked earth to surge through me.

My legs buckled and I felt the unforgiving ground push hard against my knees as I rolled forward, tumbling. Momentum carried me onto my feet and my instinct told me to run, fast; I had no idea where, anywhere. I was off balance and disorientated and yet somehow upright.

I tried opening my eyes, the searing light caused me to squint.

“Quick, over here!” It was a male voice to my left.

I leant sideways and staggered his way. A hand grabbed my arm and then brought me quickly under control. I was being restrained but I didn’t struggle.

“You’re alive, you’ve made it. Now stay still. We wait here till dark.”

The ground trembled like the planet was shifting on its axis, again. There was a time, not long ago when the darkness visited just once a day. Now it was happened every other hour and descended in an instant. Whenever light returned, its dawn heralded a savage wave of searing heat, burning and igniting everything caught in its glare.

It was a miracle I wasn’t dead already. I had survived the landing but death was still waiting for me.

A man whose name I would later learn released me from his vice like grip. I was tapped on the shoulder, my signal to move. There were others around me, the darkness covered us all like smoke. I could barely see as I stumbled my way along the still burning ground, trying to staying close to the others.

I could hear mutterings, the shuttles were coming. The solar storms whipping the planet from space formed a deadly gauntlet, and yet still there were some who bravely defied the risk. I once opposed them: the Strays. Now they were my rescuers.

Around me now it was pitch black, an iced wind had cast away the heat of the short day. We had stopped. I assumed this was the rendezvous point.

“What’s your sign?” said a male voice.

“Are you talking to me?” I said, my voice trying not to sound objectionable.

“Yes, if you want a seat on that thing?”

“H” I said.

I wasn’t going to lie. There was a time when I would have done. Today it no longer mattered. If I was to die that day, I might as well dump the truth behind.

No one said anything, for an eternity.

“He comes with us.” It was the same voice which saved me from the firestorm.

“What’s your number?” This time a female voice from behind me.

The wind was picking up, I could feel it buffeting against me, the effect was to herd us all closer together.

“506” I replied.

The blue lights of the shuttle dazzled us at it descended. It struggled in the whipped frenzy which surrounded our huddle. For a moment I feared it might crash as it battled to remain upright on landing.

I was ushered on board to a softly lit, warm cabin. I was leaving Terra Cocta as disorientated as I had arrived, except this way round it was on a soft leather seat. I had hope suddenly. There was still uncertainty and fear coursed through my veins. I was one of lucky ones, chosen perhaps or maybe just by random chance.

I sat back, my mind daring me to relax. It wasn’t over but at least I’d made it this far.

About Time

Author : Jae Miles, Staff Writer

The laboratory is filled with the sound of slow drops landing. The smell alone is enough to drive three officers back. Seeing the mess does for the next five. Officer number nine moves his torch in slow arcs, picking only edges and highlights from the sanguine layer covering everything.

On his third pass, he sees movement.

“Professor?”

“No. The mess was him. I’m Peter Luan.”

“What are you doing here?”

“I was invited. Do you have your witness app?”

“Yes.”

“Activate it. I need to get this down before it fades.”

“Your confession?”

“No, what he said before,” Peter waves a blood-covered arm about, “this.”

“Very well. Citizen, you’re about to make a legally admissible declar-”

“I know. Witness running?”

“Yes.”

“Last night, Professor Gregory Pane invited me to witness a ‘demonstration of concept’ as to why our eight years of time travel research has been without result.

I don’t know why he chose me, nor do I know why he decided to do this without a permanent record. When I arrived, he was standing by the workbench with a device resembling a bulky glove on his right hand. In answer to my queries, he offered the following statement:

 

‘Time travel has been a powerful desire for almost as long as it could be conceived of. Fiction has chronicled its pitfalls and paradoxes. After a lifetime of research – and knowing that an aggressive brainstem glioma will soon affect my faculties – I offer the following theory and demonstration as to why I am sure time travel is not viable.

In summary: time itself does not possess the granularity that we need for effective reference. Our detailed concepts of time are arbitrary divisions that have become finer and more numerous as our preoccupation with placing value upon every moment of our existence increases.

How can we, who ‘time travel’ in our individual perceptions of its passage, hope to grasp something that has no real measure bar day, night, and similar universal markers? Each of us has a realisation of time and the events that fill it that differs slightly from the next person. Eight billion subjective chronologies. How can a traveller choose which to use for their journey? Against that ratio of billions-to-one, no matter what is attempted, the inertia of the many overrules the single intent.

However, travelling to the future is possible, but it would be a self-destructive act. The would-be traveller tries to simultaneously reach every instance of possible time that could exist. Over eight billion tomorrows multiplied by the branching of every possibility within them. I say over eight billion because who knows just how many other things have a temporal sense sufficient to exert influence?

This is why I contend that time travel is either impossible or suicidal, depending which direction you attempt. Therefore, using this experimental gauntlet modified from the proposed Steinberg-Du accelerator, I intend to travel to tomorrow’s dawn.

If I am successful, I will probably die. However, if I fail, I’ll see you tomorrow morning and we can discuss the sudden advance in chronological transit over breakfast.’

 

Then he raised the glove, clenched his fist, and silently exploded. Since you’re here, I presume someone heard my incoherent yelling.” Peter looks at the officer: “End of statement.”

 

Forensics are still combing the scene at sun-up. As sunlight touches the uppermost windows of the lab, a hideous scream followed by the sound of a tremendous explosion temporarily deafens everyone in the room. Apart from that, both events leave no trace.

Number Seventy-Two

Author : Victoria Benstead-Hume

We made it to twenty-eight weeks before my neighbour reported me.

Twenty-nine and the doctor classed it tainted. As if that mattered.

Lace curtains lend a sheen of respectable domesticity to the surgery sat on the edge of the dead-zone. But no-one watching would be fooled. The overgrown hedges and singed grass, the stream of women coming and going, the guards stationed at the door signal what goes on behind.

Fat-bellied women crowd the room; dull pastels and faded florals, stained tablecloths with lowered heads. Eyes avoiding eyes. Avoiding admitting we are worse than murderers.

I shift on my seat. Nylon clings to the back of my knees. I crave the luxury of cotton.

Silence ticks on.

“Seventy-one.” The surgeon rubs his baggy eyes.

A woman passes, swamping me with the acid stench of fear.

“May I?” I whisper to the shadow beside me.

Never enough food but cigarettes to drown in. She shakes one loose. My ink-stamped hand trembles. I hold the cigarette as my mother did, fingers curled. We press lit against unlit. As I inhale, our eyes meet; my mirror. She looks down, at the number printed there and looks away.

Closed-door screams.

I dream about escape, about sticky fingers, about salmon leaping through clean streams, about the time before—But they are fairy tales.

A siren drowns out the sobbing as the door opens.