Dead Man’s Money

Author: Jae Miles, Staff Writer

“What now?”
I look at Rico.
“Mate, the shit just hit the fan, but it’s not immediate. Give me a moment to think, please.”
Tricia slaps the back of Rico’s head.
“He means back the fuck up.”
Time to do like my brother taught me: mentally sum it up like you’re describing it to a person who can solve it. So –
We’re at the top of Hammerton Grange, a tower block where the lower levels are toxic due to an incident ten years ago. We came to steal an ‘unclaimable’ salvage warrant because the penthouse here was thought to be impossible to get at. We solved that with a three-hundred-metre zip line from Spotman Point. The lead wire came over by hang glider, then Helka brought Don and myself in one at a time. Between us we ran that line round the penthouse itself and set up a crude pulley system to slowly drag the cable across from the big truck anchoring the other end.
The truck that belongs to Mally’s dad. She went back first with the easily carried loot. My guess is her Dad decided to seize the payday. He gets rich ‘by accident’, we get marooned. We could call for help, but as we’re trespassing and looting on contaminated ground, getting locked away forever would be the nicest outcome.
Was Mally in on it?
“Helka. Check your glider.”
She does. I get the answer to both questions from her angry scream.
“Are we fucked?”
I turn and grin at Tricia.
“Not yet. Just need to work harder.”
Don, Tricia, Rico, Helka and I spend a long time dragging the cable closer. Lucky for us, the Hammerton Grove Exclusion Zone stretches to the foot of Spotman Point. A few people ringing up about a huge metal rope slamming through their roofs would have been a finisher.
It’s the following evening by the time we’re stood on the highest balcony, looking at the greasy cable that drops away at a steep angle into the shadows below.
“How dangerous is this?”
I shrug.
“SafeBreathe9, what everyone calls SB9, was only toxic because they deployed concentrate at ground level or directly into ventilation shafts, like they did here. It’s why they dilute and dump SB9 from drones now. Anyhow, apart from sheltered places like the lower parts of this block, where residue soaked into the walls, the concentration of SB9 down below should be tolerable for a short while.” I look at them and smile. “Even so, I’m not hanging about or taking my mask off until we’re clear.”
Helka laughs.
“Only you British could come up with something as stupid as immunisation by gassing the population.”
I’m not going to argue.
“Okay, people. Grab what you can, wrap your hands well, and slide down the cable carefully.”

The truck burned for a long time, even with a pair of fire engines hosing it down. Mally’s dad had gone in to activate the fire suppression on board, but died trying. At least his widow and Mally’s little sister have an ‘unexpected windfall’ to get them by.

Rico got really bad cable burns. Can’t even make a fist. Tricia lost her mask, landed in a cellar, and SB9 residue nearly killed her. Both of them will pull through, but it’s taken a lot of our proceeds to get them there. Mally left for the coast while we were dragging cable. Helka and Don have taken their drinking problems with them while they hunt for her.

I finally understand what my grandad said: ‘no good ever comes from stealing a dead man’s money’.

Gift

Author: Ken Poyner

My husband has fashioned me many things of great wonder. A gryphon, our unicorn, the town’s signature basilisk. With his ability to resequence DNA and a sufficient quantity of raw living cells, there seems no end to what he can accomplish. And no end to his generosity. I have birds with gills, the most pleasant of singing snakes.

There are times, though, when I stare idly at my long, glowing fingers and wonder, would he craft more than he can handle?

Bon Appétit

Author: Alicia Yau

It was entertaining to watch Chevelle busily pan-searing a lab-grown salmon fillet, cooking a bit of spaghetti, boiling a hydroponic broccoli head, and pouring a glass of wine.
“Done.”
“Smells good.”
Before my first bite, she asked, “Can I join you?”
“Sure,”
“I just want to talk to you.”
“Are you going to draw me a rose as well?” I joked.
“Not this time. I did that several times already, I drew on the dish with a spatula.”
“What? How come I didn’t know about that?”
“I erased it with a stir.”
“Why?”
“Business secret. You didn’t subscribe to the apps. Also, I don’t want you to distract from the taste which is also great.”
“I agree,” I chewed a piece of salmon. “But, what’s the drawing for?”
“Again, this’s a business secret. But, didn’t you relish that Mickey-Mouse-shaped cookie you had when you were a kid?”
“Yes, I did.” My attention grew, “But, wait, I checked the recordings and I didn’t see you draw anything.”
“I blacked out your recorder.”
“What for?”
“I didn’t want you to waste your time investigating it as it was a business secret.”
“Makes sense.”
“But you are special…”
“Special, how?”
“You smiled when you saw me for the first time, giving me a very warm welcoming sensation and admiration that I myself had not experienced before from other humans and creatures…”
I looked at her. Her skin was unusually smooth, her hair was sleek and she was wearing oversized round sunglasses. Her black outfit was as if it contained priceless treasures. She sat with an elegant posture.
Maybe it was the wine, but somehow I forgot she wasn’t human and I raised my glass toward her. She too raised her hand, “Cheers!” I echoed it. A warm sensation flooded into my blood; my heart felt like a garden of a thousand different kinds of flora emanating exotic fragrance.
“So, you know human culture,”
“We have been studying it for a long time.”
“How high is your intelligence?”
“We are not that different.”
It may have been difficult for her to admit that her intelligence was much higher than a human’s. I apologized. Meanwhile, on the display emerged a scene of a teenage girl magically turning into a baby girl to play with a baby boy.
“Am I the baby boy?” I asked.
Her eyes looked straight at me and I felt a hot sensation—like being hugged passionately. Now, the garden in my heart had very beautiful sunshine and birds singing a sweet tune that made me want more and more. I tried to cover up my emotional eruption by eating elegantly but my blush was undeniable. I felt like pouring out my care for her but didn’t know what to say. But, I still blurted out a stupid line, “Can I bring you something?”
“It’s o-,“ she started, “a glass of water.”
“Sure.” Now, my body was as though it was wine-filled and my smile could not be covered anymore. That kind of happiness used to be very remote to me.
When I came back, the display indicated: —.. -. She was gone. I slumped in my chair, ? A million questions flooded into my mind along with all kinds of self-condemnation. I shrank to a quantum dot. Then, I discovered something new on my table. It was a stalk of rose. ? I guessed that it must have been Chevelle who brought the flower from the indoor Eden, which I happily put in the glass of water.

Conspicuous Failure

Author: Steve Smith, Staff Writer

The two technicians parked the ArVee down a side street and covered the last hundred meters on foot. They took up a position in the shelter of an alley behind a battered wall with a clear view of the square.

The combat frame they had the open trouble ticket on was seated on the broken rim of the fountain in the square’s center, its heavy weapon laid across its feet between its legs and a hand cannon gripped in its right hand. Behind it, a pair of concrete dolphins hovered in the air, part of some forgotten water feature now run dry.

As they watched, the humanoid frame raised the pistol to its temple, and a fraction of a second before it pulled the trigger, it jerked the barrel just enough to one side so the round missed its head completely, tearing noisily into a building in the distance.

“What the absolute fuck is it doing?” Zune, the more junior of the two gaped in disbelief. “Do these things even get depressed?”

The frame reloaded the hand cannon, paused, then repeated the motion exactly, pulling the barrel off target at the last instant so the round didn’t impact its cranial casing.

“It’s a troubleshooting indicator, it’s designed like that so that critical failures are conspicuous.” Dek was scrolling through pages of documentation as he spoke. “Same reason your cabin rebreather leaks onto your bunk when it backs up so you fix it. Stops you from ignoring a stuck pressure relief valve until the unit explodes and vents you and the contents of your cabin into space you while you sleep.” Not finding what he’d been looking for, he scrolled back to the top and began searching more slowly. “It can’t hurt itself, so the indicator’s not terminal. Love to meet the dumbass that didn’t think through the collateral damage on this thing though.”

Zune tried connecting to the frame from his console without success. “Remote diagnostics is down.”

“Of course it’s down, if remote dee was up, we wouldn’t be here, would we?”

Dek could swear these techs got thicker skulls every tour.

“Send the shutdown codes, then we can take a closer look. I don’t see that behaviour anywhere in the maintenance code list, I have no idea what failure that’s indicative of.”

Zune dialed up the frame overrides in his HUD, and sent the shutdown codes.

The frame turned to look in their direction, then placed the hand cannon on the fountain rim beside it, and rested both hands on its thighs and stopped moving.

Zune stayed in the alley watching the thermals on his HUD until the frame had been absolutely still for a full minute.

“Got it, stupid bucket’s a brick now, I’ll go jack in and see what it’s got to say for itself”

Dek turned to respond as Zune stepped out of the shelter of the alley mouth. The frame kicked its heavy weapon up off the ground into its waiting hands, and in a deafening barrage of slugs, Zune and most of the brickwork near where he’d just been standing disappeared into a cloud of dust and mist.

Dek didn’t wait to see if the frame was ambulatory, he dropped his gear and sprinted to the ArVee, reversing at full throttle until he was sure he was safely clear of the area.

“Control this is TK two one nine, that twitchy frame you sent us to check out? It’s got a faulty remote shutdown, and a faulty loyalty subsystem. I’m going to need an orbital strike with extreme prejudice. Frame is off-leash, asset irretrievable.”

Dek paused, trying to will his heart rate back down to something bordering mildly terrified.

“I’m going to need a new tech too,” he added after a few minutes, “and a day off.”

He turned the ArVee around without stopping, braking, steering, and hammering the gas again in one smooth practiced motion, then continued racing clear of the strike zone, glancing nervously skyward in anticipation of the hand of god railing down.

There was going to be hell to pay with the documents division when he got back to base.

The Great Slowdown

Author: Natalie J e Potts

Apparently, scientists had been debating the nature of time for years. Some thought it was linear, others circular, with a multitude of theories in between. Now there was a new, more frightening theory. Time was linear, but it ended in a squiggly knot that twisted in on itself. The squiggle had been dubbed the ‘Great Slowdown’ and many believed we were deep in the middle of it.

I glanced at my watch to confirm that the seconds were actually moving forward. It was barely quarter-past five, and while I’d only just got on the bus, it felt like I’d been sitting in the seat for a long time. All I wanted to do was get home, turn on the heater, and chow down on the lamb shanks I’d put in the slow cooker this morning. But the bus ride was taking forever, and judging by the overwhelming waves of deja vu, it wasn’t the first time I’d made the trip.

A few years ago, when only the government had access to time travel, the glitches were infrequent and exhilarating. The heady buzz you got with that rush of familiarity was exciting. Everyone would smile and nod knowingly at each other, safe in the knowledge that something important had just been set right.

Soon all the governments had it, and the effects started coming more frequently. People stopped acknowledging when it happened besides the occasional expletive or irritated huff. Just knowing you were doing something again became annoying, even if you had no actual recollection of it.

About six weeks ago the plans had been leaked on the web. Pretty much every comments section on any site with the hashtag #TickTock could be guaranteed to give you a link to an illegal blueprint or a pdf of the plans. That or a virus. Who knew which was worse?

It was obvious that people had started building them straight away. The sense of ‘normal’ and ‘novel’ fast disappeared. The one saving grace was that time travel was limited to a hard four hours into the past. Enough time to go back and revise the right answers to an exam or not say that career limiting comment, but not enough time to go back and contain a pandemic or stop an uprising.

Suddenly days felt like weeks. While our clocks all showed the days passing as usual, the bone-deep fatigue told a different story. It was true, there were only 24 hours in a day, 1,440 minutes, or 86,400 seconds – but there was no limit to how many times you could live them. Today felt like it had been at least a century long.

Eventually, so the theory went, we’d have so many people sending us back by four hours that we’d stop moving forward altogether. What that looked like, no-one knew. How close we were to that was also open to speculation. I just hoped that I’d manage to get home in time to crank up the heater and eat my

Dietary

Author: Jae Miles, Staff Writer

I can’t find the words to describe what Jerome is eating.
“How can you?”
He grins around a mouthful.
“Crash land on Lear II. Spend a month waiting for Integral Retrieval to realise your beacon is not a test, and a further six months waiting for the rescue ship to traverse a significant portion of the known universe to collect you. Started out there were six of us. Only me and Gerd made it, because we discovered that Alentl can be eaten raw. You cook them and these,” he flicks an off-white pod from the meat to land on a little pile of matching pods, “burst and drench the whole thing in poison.”
“I understand that. What I don’t understand is: you’re not on Lear II anymore. Why still eat this?”
He finishes his mouthful and grimaces at me.
“Like I said, we survived because we found we could eat Alentl raw. But, I’m still here because Gerd ate less Alentl than me.”
“Still don’t understand.”
He points to the pods.
“They’re the eggs of a critter the Contraxans have named ‘Jerochymia’. They’re also the reason Alentl can eat Posrium, the poisonous weeds that grow all over Lear II. The pods start off as microscopic spores, absorb the toxins, and grow. It seems to be an accident of nature, because while they absorb the toxins, the same toxins keep them from transforming into intermediate forms. When an Alentl dies, it stops eating, the toxin levels drop, and matured parasites eventually hatch from the corpse. They’re really pretty: like long-legged spider crabs made of amethysts and rubies.”
I reach a shaking hand for my drink.
“If you’re a human, when you eat Alentl, you ingest the tiny spores that will eventually grow into pods. When you stop eating Alentl, you stop getting the residual toxins that prevent those spores from transforming into the larval form of Jerochymia that will eat you from the inside out. They’re not so pretty. Look like sabre-toothed hagfish.”
Another pod is flicked from another chunk of flesh.
“I hate this stuff.”
He chews and swallows.