Paraffin

Author: Ian Hill

Affin slipped and slid over the lumpy white slopes. Her hair hung clotted with curdy chunks, and irritating crescents of tallow lingered under her fingernails; most of her skin was hidden under smeared wax; her clothes were heavy with clinging runoff. After so much climbing and stumbling, she finally rested and looked back at her sister, who was struggling over greasy wavelets of semi-hardened suet a few meters away.
“They must have used a lot of candles, huh?” Affin called, perching on a rounded knob and crossing her legs.
Pari, one arm outstretched for balance, clambered over a molded timber that had been caught in the sluggish seep years ago. Her long hair swayed heavily in front of her face, and when she tossed it back the weight nearly jerked her over. She was like an all-white specter navigating a surreal, flowing landscape with layers and bumps and licks and flows, all oozed and clodded and whimsical like the congealed ice cream slopes of a child’s dream.
Affin winced as she carved stinging wax from under her nails. “With all the nighttime studying they were doing, you’d think they would have invented a less wasteful light source.”
Pari heaved herself onto a wind-scraped shelf of tallow and ground her eye sockets clean with her wrists. Blinking, she peered down the oily heights they had scaled. The landslide of wax swept lower and lower, like a river of thickened milk, before spilling out and spreading into the foggy fields from whence she and her sister had come.
“Welp,” Affin jumped up and turned her attention forward, up the remainder of the steep, caked-over incline. “Better be going, huh?”
“A minute,” Pari croaked. The inside of her mouth was white, and she winced at the soapy taste.
Affin looked at her pitiful sister and sighed. The former was excited to reach that looming, pinnacled tower whose southern flank vomited molten spillage and whose northern flank blew off equal quantities of handwritten papers. What wonders she would find on those sheets—the recorded thoughts and discoveries of a community of lofty thinkers who, as the waxen wasteland attested, spent so long shut up in their high, windowless chamber, considering, writing. She could see the gray turret now, rising solemnly over its mounded heaps of grossly discharged wax. No warm light came from the coagulate-rimmed vent.
“What’s this?” Pari asked.
Affin turned at her sister’s voice and found her holding a half-charred scrap of parchment in sticky fingers. Affin’s eyes widened and she rushed over.
“Could it be from the tower?” Pari wondered.
Affin snatched the paper and greedily held it up. It was globbed with wax, and, curiously, much of it had burnt away, but she could still make out one passage. She read, “No great breakthroughs have transpired since the mishap. It seems the boys are disheartened. ‘Tis a shame what happened—a mean, crippling shame. We fritter away most of our time at the northern chute, inhaling the crisp fumes of a million million burnt pages. Ah, what cruelty. To think so much and never realize the fool’s game we played until, as was inevitable, one of our candles fell from a table and rolled the wrong way. A single little flame in the wrong place, and poof, our efforts but ashes. A true shame.”
Pari looked at her sister, aghast.
Affin stood still for a while, crumpling and uncrumpling the scrap in her hands. Her expression was unreadable. Then, with a slow exhale, she opened her eyes and smiled. “Oh well. The air in there was probably funny anyway.” She helped her sister up. “Let’s go home.”

Plenty

Author: Hari Navarro, Staff Writer

The old Queen sits on the eve of her twentieth birthday and speaks to her yellow-eyed daughter and their legs they drip from the edge of the huge deck where once aircraft lurched and fell up and into a sky of the deepest floss-streaked blue.

The bow beneath them rises and gently falls as the ancient carrier nudges an uneasy swath through the flotsam tide. It too once a myriad of blues though now a multicolored plastic cloth that spreads the oceans entire.

An unfettered sun cooks from above and releases from the waves a taint that piques the heavy air with a sooty black film that fills the deep grooves in their lips.

“You know there was once a time that the ocean air it tasted of salt”, muses the old Queen.

“Salt? How strange”, says the Princess as one of her eyes involuntarily weeps and absently she fingers the fluid cyst at her chin.

“In the time when the earth it didn’t shimmer in acid and people they infested the land. They who lived until their skin shrivelled and their eyes dimmed and memories fell away from their minds. Mortality their most horrific of demons”

“They were a selfish lot, the old ones. Weren’t they mother”

“They were weak”, the Queen’s words more sighed than spoken. But it is not resignation nor is it pity that labours the breath in her words, it is the cancers that sit atop cancers that now throttle and squeeze at her lungs.

The world is beautiful. There’s no need to conserve, no need for didactic calls to defend species where now there are none to save. This beautiful spinning grey speck. This realm of caustic perfection where the last of us wallow in the glorious mess that was cast.

“Our ancestors they killed it. They poisoned the past”

“You think this beauty is poison? Is it our fault they couldn’t stomach the toxins they begged to be sold? The earth was not dying and it didn’t need to be saved. It was changing”, says the Queen to her daughter and heir.

This perfect family it had suckled the very last pearlescent drip that the worlds old sagging breast had to offer. They won because they evolved, they won because they adapted and all others they fell.

This final bastion, a society breed from a single bloodline. A dynasty who had once encased the world with cosmetics and pouts and skin on demand and a television show about nothing. Breeding with nothing but themselves how they radiate and rejoice at their luck. For this world, it is theirs and theirs alone. And alone in the world are they.

Somewhere below deck a timer trips and a mist of pulverized bone and blood showers down on weeping crops whilst sizzling above a plain it furls out to the horizon. This a pylon forest of jagged rust steel strung in barbed wire upon which lush plastic leaves they are skewered.

A black lagoon lays at its center. A sump oil dredge that forms a thick beautiful skin in the haze as splay-legged polypropylene creatures sip from the fizz of its edge.

“They wanted to live forever. Such waste”, says the tired and soon to be no longer Queen.

“But how did their garden grow? How did they feed?”, the young Princess frowns into her words. “Mother, tomorrow when we feast on your flesh I will not waste one slice, I promise. I swear to you this”

And the Queen she smiles and looks back over her shoulder and drinks in this her land of plenty.

On the Way Home

Author: Jae Miles, Staff Writer

The cube of recycled plastic is labelled ‘Egg Mayonnaise’ and filled with a yellow paste. I don’t know what ‘Mayonnaise’ is, but egg’s one of the healthy stuffs listed on the Daily Reader’s ‘Top 20 Stuffs to Eat’.
Always liked the Reader; it doesn’t use long words and the articles always carry the Ministry of Information’s ‘Short is Good’ mark.
I try a bit while I wait. Sort of fizzy and sweet but a little bit gritty to stop it being boring. Good stuff, just like the Reader says.
I check the instruction label. Drat. Says you can’t dollop it into your mug-of-hot. It’s a red circle warn-off, too. This is the real deal. Mix it with hot stuffs and it could kill you.
“You want Cee or Tea?”
Her skin shines and her hair’s wet. Running a vending machine is hot work. But, it’s good money, and you’re paid to exercise. The treadmill she’s on keeps the machine eco-friendly as well as pushing any extra to the grid. She gets food credits for that, on top of the new pound-an-hour fair wage deal that Mug o’Hot are right to be proud of.
Clever idea, steady work and regular exercise at the same time. I have to spend a couple of hours a day on the public gym cross trainer to top up my food credits. Imagine being able to do it while you work!
“Cee, please.” I hand her my mug and wave my ID bracer over the POSpad.
She thanks me for reusing my mug and triple taps the terminal to make sure the system gives me a ‘Reuser’ discount.
Filling the mug, she nods toward my bracer.
“Fabio?”
That she thinks it could be the real thing is either good patter or my clothes are giving off the right image. Normally I’d take the nicety and pass by. But, I like the way her eyes sparkle, and lies at a start will never lead to a good end.
“I wish. Government issue set in my own tooling. Trying to start a sideline.”
Every non-elite needs a sideline: making coin or barter from handmade stuff is the only way to add a little luxury to your life.
She smiles at me. Egad. There’s only her and the rest of the world doesn’t matter.
“That’s real good. I could hang some in here. Get ‘em seen, maybe make some coin?”
“If it won’t make trouble for you.”
She gives a little shake of her head: “They say I’ve got to draw people in to make my quota. Friend who got me this job says to meet it but not go ten percent over, or they up the quota. So, a cut of a sideline would be good.” She looks straight at me: “Means you’ll come by more often, too.”
I can almost hear grandpa laughing. He always said this moment would come and laughed even harder when I said it never would and I didn’t see why it could matter.
“Why don’t we natter about details and things after you finish?”
She smiles at me again and I must find more ways to keep her doing that.
“Sounds good. I’m Valerie.”
I grin: “I’m Nick.”
The man behind me in the queue butts in: “I’m going to miss my train. You two lovebirds done?”
I feel myself blush and see Valerie colouring up. We’re both giggling as I step out of his way.
She mouths at me: “Three hours.”
I’ll skip the gym, make it up tomorrow.
Valerie.
Think I’ll qualify for ‘Regular Reuser’ very soon.

A Little Revolution

Author: Ken Carlson

“It’s not that complicated,” said Captain Briggs, “my ship has been called to an outpost that we should reach in two hours’ time.”
“Sounds simple enough,” replied his wife, Anita, beautiful in the simple, yet elegant way most people are not. Seated across from him, she had the knack of looking dynamite without making a fuss. That ability touches the people around you and makes many of them maddeningly envious. Tony Briggs pretended to be reading his duty roster for the next week but was really looking at her. They both knew that which added to his aggravation.
“The outpost contains a mining colony and a fairly large prison, with some of the most violent thugs from this part of the galaxy,” he continued.
“And many non-violent criminals as well, yes?” Anita replied.
“I was hoping this could be a pleasant conversation,” said the captain, “one where we talk about us and not this other unpleasantness.”
“We don’t have to talk at all,” she said, “if that’s easier.”
As all relationships involve varying levels of strategy to maintain stability, Captain Briggs was sure he could handle this little talk with his wife. They could speak briefly, ask about the kids. He would feel better. He could get on with this unpleasantness on Jesef 4.
“I mean,” she continued, “this talk is only a distraction, right, so you don’t have to think about what you’re about to do.”
“We all have our orders,” he replied, “but this isn’t about us.”
“Isn’t it?”
“No.”
“Then why did you call? You’re about to obliterate thousands of people from the sky because an admiral said you should. Obviously there’s no other option than to do it, yes? Unless, you wanted to know what I thought. You always did before.”
There was a knock at the door to his quarters. Captain Briggs sighed and paused his conversation. His wife faded from view.
First Officer Lang entered. Briggs wasn’t fond of his recently appointed second-in-command. Young officers that move up the chain too quickly on account of powerful relatives rarely have respect for the lives and deaths their decisions involve. Plus Lang was their political officer, which made him a weasel.
“Captain,” said Lang, “was I interrupting? I thought I heard someone.”
“It’s none of your concern,” Briggs said. “Status report?”
“The crew is ready. The course is plotted. Torpedos loaded.”
“Because firing from orbit is easier than sending a squad to stop an uprising?”
“It’s not our decision, sir. Prison riots need to be handled with an iron fist.”
“And obliteration is tidy, right Lang? No need to concern yourself with guards, non-comms, or nearby civilians? Just blast away!”
“Captain, we have our orders…”
“That is all. Dismissed.”
Lang warily left the captain’s quarters. Briggs returned to his desk and poured another drink; Anita reappeared.
“Well, that was pleasant,” she said.
“I don’t have any choice,” he said.
“You could refuse. You’re not a butcher, Anthony. You don’t wear it well.”
“I’ve received orders. It would be hard to make waves at this point. I could lose my command. There are probably dozens of armed prisoners involved now.”
“And if you send ground troops to rout them out a few will die. Probably better to just take the path that kills more civilians and makes your life easier. Or did you need your dead wife to point that out.”
Briggs hurls his glass at Anita. It passes through her flickering image.
“Computer,” he said. “End sequence.” Anita disappeared. He buttoned his uniform jacket and headed to the bridge.

Divine Mass

Author: Ian Hill

Marble mulch crunched underfoot as the priest struggled to remain upright. There was such a weight on his shoulders, on his head, on his heart. The velvet folds of his robe pressed painfully into his body like cutting belts, and the brass icons that dangled from his throat and cuffs hung as leaden weights, their tiny chains taut. Bent-backed and eyes fluttering, the priest stared down at his right hand where a white glove was slowly sliding off, seemingly of its own accord. It finally fell as if it were made of thick canvas instead of satin.
With a hardening of resolve, the priest forced himself to take in a deep, sucking breath and swing his head back up. This done, he stared across the white wastes, the endless desolation of marble, ivory, and alabaster gravel. Jagged shards of stained glass glinted in the sourceless light that pervaded the bright sprawl, and he descried a few distant scarps and juts that couldn’t yet be identified. The priest pointed himself toward one such outcropping and set off.
It felt as if he were wading through thick, black oil. Every step was a war; the raising of the leg took such tremendous effort, and to let it fall (as one would normally do) meant a crunch and surge of pain, like a gush of steel needles. It got to the point where the priest had to use both hands to ease each step down, and even then the contact of soft-soled foot to compacted pebbles felt like stomping against barbs. It wasn’t long before his old, wrinkly face was lined with tears—tears which flowed freely, since his lids were tugged low.
At length, the bewildered priest made it to the first thing in the landscape that wasn’t just more flat, broken-up aggregate. He couldn’t raise his head at the moment, so he settled with merely lifting his eyes and glaring across his hanging brow. He had reached a spire—a half-sunken, tilted tower of splendid marble, doubtless a holy construct. Most of its exposed height was intact, but the two extremes were bizarrely warped: the tip of the spire loomed dull and smashed, and the base was all distorted and shot through with fractures. Its lowest bricks were being ground into more of that sparkling mulch.
The priest laboriously stumbled around the spire, and he found a man lying on the other side. He was a poor sight, stretched over a block like a discarded cloak. He had been there long, and his whole body was somewhat flattened and squashed. His chest was shallow, his head—forced back onto the top of the block—was deformed and fused there. The man was a part of the environment, now.
“What is this place, wretch?” the priest murmured not unkindly.
The man’s right eyelid twitched and peeled open to reveal a flat, unseeing disc. “Ah, father; it’s you.”
The priest was disturbed. “We’ve not met, I think.”
“I’ve met many like you,” the man coughed with some trouble. “You’ve been nabbed by the Cultivator.”
“The what?”
“The thief who swallows cathedrals and monasteries and churches and spits them here.”
The priest sagged, wanting to protest but not equal to the task. “To what end?” he eventually managed.
The man smiled an abhorrent, disfigured smile. “Heaven’s expanding, father. You’ve done well; many saved, oh so many.” He chuckled with a croaking rattle. “Watch now.”
There was a sound like a thousand worlds splitting, and a distant cloud opened. Another cathedral vomited forth and descended in a glittering shower, bound to be crushed and shaped into something new.

Happy Birthday Girl

Author: Elle B Sullivan

“Morning”
“Goodmorning to you too,” I say smiling and turning around to push my back against your chest as you wrap your arms around me.
“How did you sleep?”
“I think well – all things considering.”
“Hmmm,” you grumble, nuzzling your lips into the bare skin of my neck, leaving kisses in your wake. “What can I make you for breakfast today?”
“Let’s – just lay here a little while longer.” I close my eyes and reach up to touch your cheek, not wanting to let this moment pass.
“Are you sure?”
“Yeah. Just for a few minutes.”
“My pleasure.” You hold me even tighter and I can feel my breathing begin to match yours.
Where had the time gone?
Was yesterday truly the last day of my thirties?
“Was that truly the best night of your life?” You whisper, tracing your fingers up the length of my arm.
“More than you can imagine.” I smile, surprised he recalled me saying that as we both fell asleep.
“How long has it been since your last visit.”
“It has been a few weeks,” I answer, feeling my smile faltering.
“Don’t be upset my darling, you can spend as many nights with me as you want.”
“I know.” I do know.
“And it will always be just like this one.”
“I know.” I hear the light beep, signaling the alarm’s countdown. “Just a minute left of this one though.”
“How would you like to spend our last minute here together?”
“I’d like to just hear you tell me about your day,” I say softly, doing all I can to not let the panic rise in my voice. “What will you be working on today?”
“Well.. let’s see. I am going to go into the office, order you flowers, and book a dinner reservation at our favorite place.” You say, pushing the hair out of my face.
“I meant what are you going to do at work today?”
“Probably nothing important, maybe I’ll count it as one of those ‘mental health days’ I rarely use.”
Another beep – ten seconds left.
“Darling?”
“Yes, birthday girl?”
“Never forget that I love you.”
“I will never forg-”
– END OF SIMULATION –
– END OF SIMULATION –
– PLEASE REMOVE THE HEADSET AND PROCEED TO THE FRONT DESK –
I sit up, removing the headset and rub my eyes. Around me are rows and rows of reclined chairs, just like mine – all the occupants wearing headsets like the one I just removed. I stand, stretching, and walk back to the front desk passing visitors crying, laughing, and smiling while they still remain in their places, headsets on, oblivious to my exit.
“Have a good time today?” The attendant asks as I set my headset on the counter. “See anything you had missed before?”
“No nothing I could use for her testimony, unfortunately.” I pull out my badge for her to scan, “I will probably come back next week and check again though – just to be sure I didn’t miss anything.”
She smiles at me, handing back my badge and some paperwork to sign.
“What was your name again?” I ask, signing my name and date with a flourish.
“Cynthia. And you’re Nathan, correct?”
“Yeah feel free to call me Nate, all my friends do.”
“Well – Nate, enjoy the rest of your day. Hopefully I will see you next time?”
“I hope so too. Which days do you come in?”
“Just the weekends!”
“Wonderful, see you later.” I turn, putting my sunglasses on as I exit – mentally noting to come back on Monday.