The Velvet Invasion

Author: David Henson

I motion toward the two interns. “You can all come in now.” Unpronounceable frowns at me. “I mean, both of you,” I say. The three enter my office.

The two students leave after I give them their assignments. “You need to be more careful,” Unpronounceable says.

“They just think I’m an absent-minded professor. They’ve no idea you’re shadowing me. For all I know, other Triplorians are studying them, too.” I search Unpronounceable’s face for a clue as to whether I’m right, but he learned well from observing one of my poker nights.

Unpronounceable appears as a human to me, but no one else can see him. At first, I thought I was losing my mind. So did everyone I told about him. The more he reveals about what he’s doing on earth, and the more I try to warn people, the crazier they think I am. You’d think someone else who’s being shadowed would come forward and support me.

“I’d like to go to a laundromat this evening,” Unpronounceable says.

“What on earth for … pardon the pun.” I chuckle.

“I want to go to the laundromat because it’s part of the human experience. I don’t want to stick out like a dirty shirt the first time on my own. Pardon the pun.” He chuckles.

“You could ask someone there for help. It’s a good way to meet people.”

Unpronounceable strides to the bookcase in my office and pulls out a volume by Ray Bradbury. “I read this last night while you were sleeping, which, I must say, is a waste of time I’m not looking forward to. This fellow was prescient.” He slides the book back. “I’ll let you in on a secret,” he says. “There are only two of us here. My wife and I.”

Unpronounceable already had explained that he’d learned much about human behavior from remote research and, when he finished studying me first hand, he’d take on a human identity. “Given your mission,” I say, “I assumed there were countless other Triplorians here. There’s just two of you?” I raise my eyebrows and turn my palms upward.

“Two per world is all we can spare. We have billions of planets to populate after all. And we’re a patient people. My wife and I will have a large family, fertile and virile. Our DNA, as you call it, is quite dominant so after many generations, when I’m long dead and buried, everyone on earth will be predominantly Triplorian. Understand?” He raises his eyebrows and turns his palms upward.

“You’re being optimistic. I’m afraid we might destroy the place first.” I squeeze my lips together and shake my head.

“Our simulations suggest you folks will turn things around. This could be a lovely place one day. Eventually, with our help, Triploearth can be a paradise.” He squeezes his lips together and shakes his head.

“Uh … That’s for something bad, not … oh, never mind.”

One morning I wake up, and Unpronounceable is gone. Has he moved on to the next phase of his mission? Have new simulations caused it to be abandoned? Or was it all my imagination?

A couple months later, I’m about to place an order in my favorite cafe when the fellow beside me asks for two peppermint chocolate mochas. He gives his name — Adam — and says “My wife and I love these.” Then he squeezes his lips together and shakes his head.

Adam? That inappropriate gesture? Could it be? I watch as he turns toward a table behind us. “Betty, honey,” he says “I forgot my wallet. Can you come pay?”

To Cull the Infinite Field of Dreams

Author: Alfred C. Airone

I awoke in completely unfamiliar surroundings, not remembering having gone to sleep.

There was someone else in the bed with me. I turned and saw her: cropped copper-red hair, perfect face, lips slightly parted, still asleep. I recognized her immediately: Rho Rondella, the fictional owner and captain of the equally fictional interstellar spacecraft Furious.

It worked, I thought, and into my silent jubilation there came a sound: the noise of all the scornful criticisms of my theories crashing to the floor like broken glassware. I had traveled to the future – a future that I had made real. A future that had previously existed only in a science-fiction novel I had read and re-read many times. A future I had created by hard science and uncertain devices coupled with ten thousand acts of choosing. A future plucked from among the Hydra-headed Potential, the not yet real.

I let her sleep. We were obviously already well acquainted.

Snowdrop

Author: Ruby Zehnder

“We can’t afford a flex pet,” she replied sharply.
Ben said nothing. He knew she was right, but it didn’t matter. This wasn’t about money.
“I’d love for Addie to have an emotional support pet, but–” she stopped speaking and wept. Ben took his young wife in his arms and comforted her. When she finished crying, she gave in. He was right. This wasn’t about money. This was about their dying child.
Ben retrieved the crate from his car and set the box on the floor. He carried Addie into the room and laid her next to it. She curled up in a fetal position, oblivious to the box.
The flex pet made a scratching noise.
“Look, Addie,” Ben gently coaxed. She slowly opened her eyes, and they gleamed with happiness at the sight of her father. Ben opened the box. A clump of fur rolled across the floor and snuggled up to Addie.
The child smiled. She clutched a handful of its soft pink fur, sucked her thumb, and fell asleep.
***
The flex pet chattered as it skimmed across the water’s surface on its tail. Then, it dived underwater and re-emerged, spouting water like a whale. The girls howled with delight when it got them wet.
Their mother sat silently, watching the two.
“Okay, girls, it’s bedtime–,” she announced firmly.
“No, mommy. We want to play,” the two begged.
Their pet fish came to the water’s surface. It blinked its big blue eyes, protected by goggles that looked like magnifying glasses.
“C’mon, girls. Bath time is over,” their mother insisted.
The girls hugged each other, refusing to leave their fun.
Then the fish let out a big fart that bubbled to the water’s surface.
“Eeeew,” the girls complained as they jumped out of the tub into their mother’s towel.
***
Addie threw the flex pet at her father and hit him squarely. She shrieked with delight when he fell over. The flex pet had transformed itself into a stuffed blue elephant, which Addie could swing by its trunk like a club. When he didn’t move, Addie approached him carefully to see if he was hurt. Immediately, he grabbed her and growled loudly while tickling her.
Her older sister joined in the fun and jumped on her dad. Addie’s mother watched the trio quietly, wondering how they could be having fun. Addie was dying. She was only three years old and —
***
“Happy Birthday to you–” the group sang out of tune. There were four candles on the cake, and the sickly child just recovering from another chemo treatment looked on listlessly.
Addie stroked the bright yellow fur of her flex pet’s head. Its’ tail swished back and forth, keeping time to the music like a metronome.
Addie named her flex pet, Snowdrop. She hoped that she would flex into Snowdrop one day because flex pets could change their form and never get sick.

***
Addie’s mother sat quietly in the dark, unable to process the death of her child. Snowdrop settled on her lap and began purring.
“Addie was taken unfairly,” she complained while stroking the cat’s head.
“Jennifer, Addie may be gone, but we will never forget her,” the pet replied and continued its soothing purring.
Jennifer was shocked when Snowdrop spoke. She had always assumed that Snowdrop was designed to provide emotional support for Addie. It had never occurred to her until that moment– that Snowdrop was her flex pet too.

The Last Repairman

Author: Majoki

The last repairman sat in his cramped booth at the nano-mall. He hadn’t had a customer in months. Around him shoppers scurried with their latest purchases micro-manufactured in neighboring stores. The last repairman looked at his hands which should’ve been rougher and dirtier. He shook his head to clear his mind which should’ve been much more focused and engaged. He was here to help and no one needed him.

To pass the time he juggled a few too-shiny tools. Then he noticed a pair of eyes fixed upon his and he dropped the tools in clackering surprise. Rising just above the level of his low countertop was a hungry look, a young face intent upon his own.

“Hullo,” said the last repairman.

“Watcha doing?” asked a child with eager green eyes.

“Passing time,” he answered.

“What for?”

“Until I’m needed.”

“When’ll that be?”

The last repairman shrugged at the child. “Can’t say. I think this world’s too broke to know it needs fixing.”

The child with green eyes nodded. Then nodded again. “You can help me.”

“That so,” the repairman leaned forward. His brow crinkled like a warm blanket.

The child nodded again. “I’d like to fix things.”

“What kind of things?”

“Everything.”

“Everything?” The last repairman whistled and almost smiled. “That’s a tall order. Specially in this world. There’s so many things we’ve left undone. Such a backlog. We don’t fix our old problems; we just create newer and newer ones.”

He looked over the child to the teaming mass of shoppers, store bags full, dreams vacant. “I’m the last of my kind, I think. Probably no help to your generation.”

The child followed the repairman’s gaze. “You can help. That’s easy to see.”

“How you figure?”

“You’ve got the tool.”

The repairman glanced around his little shop. “The tool? Well, I got these here tools. What are you wanting to fix?”

“Everything.”

“Okay. But where do you want to start?”

The child raised finely formed hands to his eager green eyes and with a swift ratcheting motion unscrewed them and set them on the countertop. “I’d like to see with more empathy.”

The last repairman on earth stared into the eager green glow of the precision-crafted orbs at his fingertips. Worlds of possibility. He smiled, then gritted his teeth and rubbed his hands. He finally had work to do.

“We’ll have this done in a jiffy,” he softly told the waiting child as he reached far back into his mind for the Tool.

“Go Then”

Author: Michael Edwards

The Introduction.

“He who knows, does not speak. He who speaks, does not know.”
— Lao Tzu

As for me, it may sound rather grand, but I am called a seventh degree master of The Mountain Pathway tai chi system: movement, mantra, and meditation. Since I cannot live forever, I have encoded some of the secret teachings from my path in this story. Therefore, I may now speak to you, and yet remain silent. So that you may know. Yes, even now.

The Story.

Go then and leave the city. City of the fathers, they call it: those who knew the name of salvation.

Go then and pass out through the gates, white in the sun, where the old men gather together. They, greeting you, calling you by name.

Or no. Set out so early only the guard can greet you. His breath smoking. Rising like incense.

Go then unto the hills—fragrant with dawn—and find there—what? You look upon the peak, highest, and it speaks to you: “whatever you seek.” Is it gold? Veining the flesh of the Earth? Go then.

Let your foot be bruised, purple, upon the backs of stones. Let your fingers be cut open, red, upon the spines of rocks.

Climbing, you will find—if nothing else—inclination dragging you down.

And then, standing, the sun in your forehead (like a surmise), you will find a shadow standing behind you.

And now, the sun straight-up overhead (like an inspiration, perhaps), the vista will reveal to you a valley, mazy with silver. Rivulets of water, shining in the sun. “That,” you think, “is life.”

And overbrimming with greenery. “And that, hope.”

And yet. And yet haunted by shadows.

“But what is that, now?” Beyond this valley, on the rim of the world, it seems—yet another peak.

There it stands: Lone. Majestic. Crowned with snow. The ribs of it, massy, like the laterals of a pyramid, ascending to glory.

Each angle of it, a shade of blue. A change of mood. A facet of mind.

Soft now. Powdery. Or pastel. — Now energetic. Electric. Or even grandiose. — Mystical. Glacial. Robin’s egg. Or midnight. Yet ever and always—some increment of color blue.

Across the distance, the mountain shimmers in the sunlight. Giving way, giving way, this side and that, before the waves of heat in air, it seems less real, somehow, than the emptiness all about it.

Is this then—a mirage? A trick of the light? Sent to deceive the eye? “No,” you think. “And yes.”

And it will speak to you: “This.”

Maurice

Author: Salvatore Difalco

Maintenance received a call from one of the bio-labs to come and replace a panel of flickering fluorescent lights. They were upsetting the mouse. “The mouse?” I asked Jerry, the shift boss. I’d only been working at the Polytechnic Institute for two weeks and barely knew my way around its brutalist, labyrinthine layout, let alone familiarized myself with its machinations. One thing was certain, they’d spared no concrete—if not architectural cruelty—constructing the joint.

Jerry chuckled. “They’ve got a special mouse up in bio-lab 14,” he said. “Something like an uber-maus. Roided up, I’d guess. This Dr. Ashbery from Stanford runs things. I hear he’s a bit of a mad scientist. But I don’t ask too many questions, you know.” He touched his temple as though a brilliancy sprang to mind. “Hey,” he said, “why don’t you go up to bio-lab 14, replace those lights—and you can meet the mouse yourself?”

His tone disquieted me for some reason. “What’s so special about the mouse?” I asked.

“Nothing as far as I could tell with the naked eye,” Jerry said. “But something’s up with it.”

I went to the utility room and grabbed foldable stepladder and a box of fluorescent lamps. I made my way up to bio-lab 14—on the seventh floor somehow—and a gaunt man in a white coat behind a blinking console buzzed open the reinforced steel door. A light panel in the middle of the lab was on the fritz. The man in the white coat approached me.

“I’m Dr. Ashbery,” he said. “How long will this take? The mouse is in distress, as am I.”

“It’ll be just a jiffy,” I said, glancing at the cage housing the mouse as I unfolded my stepladder.

The little gray mouse in the cage appeared normal, except it kept staring at me. I mean, its moist black eyes locked on to me the moment I stepped into the lab and had not looked away. Its forepaws even grasped the cage wire like the tiny hands of a Lilliputian prisoner. No matter where I stood, and even as I mounted the stepladder, I could still feel those beady black eyes peering at me.

I completed the task, restoring normal luminescence, and presumably saving the mouse from further distress or an epileptic seizure. The mouse continued peering at me, though it had stopped clutching the cage wire and lightened the pitiful vibe.

“Does he have a name?” I asked.

Dr. Ashbery nodded. “He answers to Maurice.”

“Looks like Maurice wants to say something.”

Dr. Ashbery smiled. “He does. He does want to communicate. He’s aching to to so. But we’ve yet to figure out a way. Of course he lacks a voice box—and his physiology also militates against any available sign language. We’ve tried alphabet boxes and pointing charts and so on. In vain. Perhaps he can learn to tap a keyboard. That’s where the breakthrough will occur, I believe.”

What was he talking about here? Mickey Mouse goes to college? To my simple ears, it sounded like some freak-Frankenstein show. My confusion—indeed, alarm—must have been etched on my face.

“You see,” Dr. Ashbery explained, “since he was a fetus, Maurice has been enriched with human neural and cerebral organoids.”

He what? This was all above my pay grade and perhaps more than my nervous system could endure. “So you think …”

“That he has consciousness?” Dr. Ashbery sighed. “I believe so, yes.”

I shakily folded up my stepladder and glanced at Maurice again. He winked at me.