A Green Apple

Author: Paul Colby

Hirvath led the way down a narrow valley in the highlands of Euclid. As he approached the foot of a cliff, he looked up into the white sky, threaded with bands of purple cirrus. The Archivist trailed him by five or six meters, taking his way more slowly over the chunks of granite.

“Hard to believe these aren’t real,” he grumbled.

“Who says they aren’t?” Hirvath countered.

“Not real like Earth rocks,” Berizad said, treading sideways. “Not like the ones you touched in the old, old days, when you were called Hervey Rule.”

“I knew those rocks with the nerves of my fingers. Same as these. The same way a future generation will know the rocks of Paragaia.”

Hirvath stopped at the edge of a creek bed and waited for his companions to catch up. There were four of them, ranging in age from the Archivist who was part of the first generation born in space, to Volna, recently graduated from the Astral College.

“Is this the place?” Berizad asked, casting a skeptical glance at the towering cliff, barren except for a scattering of lichens clinging to rock ledges.

“Close enough,” Hirvath said. “I only have to take a few more steps before I reach the dissolution zone.”

His words were followed by heavy silence. In the distance, a rock fell from the cliff, and all of them waited in suspense until they heard the muffled report of its landing.

“To my right,” he indicated, extending a finger. “In the hollow formed by those rocks.”

Clearing his throat, the Archivist said, “Our plans, gentlemen … Time for us to go ahead. We might as well begin with Volna.”

The young man reached inside his tunic, took out some sheets of paper, and began unfolding them.

Hirvath stopped him with a sharp shake of his head.

“No, I’ve set it all behind me now. I’m done with all that I once knew, done with the memories of Hervey Rule and Hirvath. I stink of death already.”

The silence deepened again as the elderly man looked at each of his companions in turn. He turned to gaze one last time up the face of the mountain; turning back again, he held out his upturned palms. One after another, the men who had accompanied him placed their palms over his. Then Hirvath stepped into the hollow between the stones, drew his right hand across his midriff, and the man who had once been Hervey Rule disintegrated. The leftover particles streamed through a tube on the invisible wall of the projection compartment, and then only the four companions were left.

“Now?” Volna asked cautiously.

“Yes, you can begin,” Berizad said grimly.

“As the youngest,” he said, “I have less personal experience to draw on, so Hirvath gave me a memory of his own to share with you.”

He began reading what was scrawled on the paper: “ ‘When Earth first disappeared …’ ”

“Wait a minute,” the Archivist said. “Let me see that.”

He took one of the sheets from Volna’s hand and ran his finger along its surface. “It’s like new,” he said. He held up his finger. “Look. The ink isn’t even dry yet.” He held onto the paper a moment longer, reluctant to part with the last remains of his mentor and friend. Then he handed it back to Volna.

The young man again began reading: “ ‘When Earth first disappeared from the viewscreen, I suddenly recalled the time my sister fell from the apple tree, clutching a green apple. This is how it happened …’ ”

Space & Aces

Author: Josh Jennings Wood

So Johnny settled into the diurnal mechanics of this place: the slip of water down the bathroom drain, a little like the roaring strain of boosters heard from inside the cockpit’s vacuum; the music of birds, in and out of earshot as they rode the waves in a similar manner to his one-time travel. The surprises of this place were wondrous, paired so often as they were with ordinary pleasantness.

A son, now—and two daughters who doted on him with an attention he was unfamiliar with. A son with whom he fought, as he had as one, but with whom he made up—another gracious unfamiliarity.

Once, the boy had gotten hold of his dogeared and de rigueur copy of S&A—the virtual textbook of his class—which usually lay unnoticed in the glass cabinet of the living room like the decorative relic it truly was now. The boy had puzzled over its odd marks—the diagrams that did not conform to the logic he had been raised to believe, the slash of diagonals the adult explained as the dry echoes of a distant shore, to satisfy the child’s mind, though Johnny could still them dance.

He marveled at the thinning strands, sprouted hard as an exoskeleton at first. The reflex expressions that had come under his control—felt in his bones, as they say. Further comfortable with every novel custom, his memories drifted less distinct from his mind, until he was able to wonder—that day when he had turned all but empty-handed to watch the clouds ripple unnaturally, though so distinctly no local eye would have known how to classify the anomaly, and heard the whispers of “foolish” and “failure” on the new wind—was it not he who had won after all.

Family Night

Author: Leon Taylor

Despite the sheets of cold rain, Barry hummed a cheery off-Broadway tune as he straightened his loud red tie. “Don’t forget your umbrella,” his wife said.

“Won’t need it. Marty is picking me up.”

“And don’t forget Family Night. Try to come home a little early.”

“Yes, ma’am.” When Ellen turned her back, the stock broker slipped a scrap of paper into the mailbox of the household robot, Stephen. He could have sent email, but a handwritten note seemed compassionate.

“See ya tonight,” Barry said to his wife. He was short and blonde, with thin lips perpetually twisted, as if at life as a perpetual joke. He dashed from the banging front door to the white SUV, newly scrubbed, where the lissome Monica, in a tight new miniskirt, waited at the wheel.

“Free at last,” he said, and kissed her on the mouth.

“Did you tell her?”

“Of course.” Well, he as good as told her. It was all in the note. She would read it, cry, and devote herself to raising their nine-year-old son, Chris. A win-win situation. He kissed Monica hard.

“I made reservations on Southwest for a flight to Reno this afternoon,” she said when she could breathe again.

“Perfect. Say, couldn’t you just pull over for a little while?”
***
Perusing a beginner’s Spanish grammar, Ellen waited five minutes in case Barry returned for a forgotten sandwich. Today was the day; she didn’t want a confrontation. With sweaty pudgy fingers, she brushed back her frowsy auburn hair, already graying, and pulled from the closet a bag crammed with books. It would be her study schedule for her first year of freedom. She was 35, time that she made something of herself. Maybe she’d become a professor of something. Barry could look after Chris: He’d always been a family man. She hurriedly stuck a long typed letter into Stephen’s mailbox, overlooking the scrawled note already there. After double-checking the contents of her bookbag, she lugged it to the front door and the drenched street corner, and hailed a cab.
***
The sun was shining when Chris returned home from the neighborhood school. He looked like his father, except for brighter eyes and a hint of a paunch. “Mom, I passed my algebra test! Where’s my chocolate? Mom?”

“Mom isn’t home yet,” said the robot. The parents had bought it to clean the house—maids cost a pretty penny in Brooklyn—and to amuse Chris with its clown’s face painted in red and white.

“Where is she?”

“I am not programmed to answer that question. Want to play checkers?”

“No.” Stephen always let him win. “Let’s watch TV.”

After The New Flintstones, Chris went to the front door. The lawn glittered with green, freshened by rain, but the sun was setting on the empty street.
“Where’s Dad?”

“I am not programmed to answer that question. Want to play chess?”

“It’s Family Night. I’ll play Dad when he comes home.” Chris set up the chessboard and studied it with his chin in his fist, like his father. He picked out three figures and danced the king and the queen in a circle with their bravest knight, Sir Chris.

After thirty long minutes, he sighed, put the chessboard away, and plopped down into his giant beanbag to watch TV.

Stephen brought him a hot chocolate. As the robot bent over, Chris saw its bulging mailbox. He pulled out the two missives, read them, read them again, and swallowed hard.

“Don’t cry, Chris,” Stephen said, grinning like a clown. “Mom will be home soon. Don’t cry, Chris. Dad will be home….”

I Dream in Kaleidoscopes

Author: S.R Malone

None were allowed to upset the status quo.

This was the point of the neuro-signalling headsets, to stem the tide of those whose thoughts proved too much for society. Were these dangerous folk? No, not always. In fact, they’re your regular Joes: partners, employees, friends, neighbours.

Tristan Jasinski is one such man. He is the loyal, and for a long time, obedient husband of Mara Jasinski. He is no revolutionary. At least, not yet.

The headset buzzed against his forehead every time it registered too much stimulation. Anger, curiosity— the subject conditioned to change their thought process. The higher powers are near untouchable, and our emotions are policed.

When Mara Jasinski landed a last-minute interview for the position Tristan had been coveting, he was supportive. When she was awarded the position, he was disheartened. Upset, he aired his disappointment, his woe at not breaking free of his role in administration. The next day, Mrs Jasinski had her husband fitted for a headset. Now he doesn’t complain.

One rainy morning in March, I run into Tristan at an auto shop downtown. He had brought his wife’s new car in for an alternate paintjob, and was waiting patiently in the draughty foyer. Our meeting was no accident, much as I would have him think it was.

“My name is Liv,” I extend a hand. Liv wasn’t my real name, not even close.
“Tristan,” he smiles. I tell him my car is having two tyres replaced, and he believes me.

Over the next hour, I warm up to telling him about myself. It was well-rehearsed, but with the mechanics in the back, there was no one to doubt my credibility. Tristan certainly didn’t; his headset wouldn’t allow him to question me. I explain who I work for, my employer being the infamous Desiderata.

Desiderata, dubbed ‘humankind’s pessimistress’, is public enemy number one. She stays hidden behind vidnet screens and a masquerade mask, often as a white rabbit in a silk dress and combat boots. We work for her, cleaning the oppressive rot from society. We upset those in power, and those who have a false sense of it. Like Mara Jasinski.

Tristan tells me how he does not dream anymore, that his mind plays a reel of colours at night, like a kaleidoscope. There and then, I pull the switch. The headset slips from around his head, replaced with a powerless lookalike. It would emit an alarm, but I learned from Des how to suppress this. All I ask of Tristan is an invite to his wife’s soiree this Friday, where her colleagues would be in attendance.

Mara Jasinski works at the local television network, under station manager Ezra Madigan. I’d wager they were having an affair behind her subdued husband’s back. They both ridicule Tristan while he stands before them at the party, drinks tray in hand. I told him previously to grin and bear it, for now. His migraines have cleared, a side effect of my removing the device, and he is fully awake.

I sweet-talk Mara, saying I like her revolting post-future art. I have Tristan ask her into the study, where she viciously berates him for wasting her time. I emerge and slip the headset on her; her malachite eyes go wide as she freezes, understanding the gravity of her situation. Her thoughts of fury are met with burning rebukes from the device.

She submits.

Tristan smiles, his first genuine smile in a long time. Desiderata would love to get her talons into the network, and Mrs Jasinski is just the woman for the job.

Made of Glass

Author: Torion Oey

The Future is Now.

Dwight Crosby frowned, narrowing his eyes at the bold text that had appeared on his eyeglasses. Despite his conscious distaste for the clichéd ad, the text enlarged and filled his vision, an automatic process resulting from a preference he unwittingly agreed to in the EULA when big tech rolled out the TechSpecs. He stopped walking down the sidewalk and internally scolded himself while the ad played across his lenses. Convenience was one thing, though there were plenty of drawbacks to having his preferences neurally uploaded to the public Cloud.

The owner of the company who was the innovator that created the TechSpecs appeared and began to silently talk, subtitles appearing at the bottom. Dwight didn’t use earpieces that’d remove the need to read, as he already felt detached enough from the real world. Tiredly, he began to read the corpocratic innovator’s spiel.

Hello, everyone. I am pleased to announce a new project that ensures our survival—and—our prospect to thrive. Thanks to TechSpecs, much of our research has already been collected in the public Cloud. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you—

Dwight tore his glasses off, disgusted. Having his walk to work interrupted was one thing, but learning of yet another way big tech was using his daily life as a means to some end filled him with a silent anger. EULAs, he thought spitefully, then noticed all the way down the sidewalk people were similarly stationary. Their TechSpecs’ darkened lenses signifying they, too, were observing something digital.

He turned in place, all too aware of the lone scuffing noise his shoes made on the concrete. He came to face his dimmed reflection in a plexiglass window, one of hundreds that lined the buildings on each street. Putting a hand over the front of his suit, his reflection doing the same, he breathed in deeply. There’s no reason to get worked up, he thought.

Finally, something moved. He turned. A man wearing a deep blue business suit much like his own was slowly taking off his TechSpecs. The man threw them on the ground and stomped on them repeatedly.

A horrible crash of breaking glass resounded, as if all the upstairs windows along the multileveled plexiglass buildings had shattered.

Terrified, Dwight looked up while crouching and covering his face, though none of the windows were broken. Confused, he looked back down at the man. He lay crumpled and unmoving on the sidewalk. Dwight ran to him. Lenses of others nearby became transparent, reacting to the wearers’ conscious fear at the sound. Dwight knelt and shifted the man onto his back. His eyes were open and staring at nothing.

Frantically, Dwight shoved his TechSpecs back on and urged the network to display medical information while it simultaneously called for emergency medical services. Following the directions on his lenses, he checked for breathing. Then, a pulse. Nothing. He followed the directions for CPR, starting with chest compressions. It was no use. The man was dead.

Standing, he took a step back. A horrible thought occurred to him, and he quickly urged his own TechSpecs to go back to the ad that was playing. The lenses dimmed and the corpocratic innovator reappeared in a blurred unmoving image behind huge text displaying the name of the project that allegedly would ensure the survival of humanity.

LifeLink—a virtual you, virtually you.

Why Did You Run?

Author: Jae Miles, Staff Writer

I’ve been a fool for many things, but she who survived the cyber-conversion with me has always been my only weakness. That was true even before we fought and bled alongside each other for six years. At first, we kept a distance. When we both got our own squads, the need for restraint went too. We quickly came to sharing quarters.
You were always the pragmatic one. I was too much of an optimist, even in the midst of a war that saw planets stripped of their atmospheres and entire armies sacrificed. We swore we’d survive; swore we’d stay loyal – to each other, at least.
Then came Mohgren, and the infamous order to retreat. On the surface, all we knew was that every line to command went dead. They left us to fight and die. Unbeknownst to all bar command, the retreat was sector-wide. The Danshe had managed to get portal ships into place at Lagrange points in eleven systems. Their reinforcements were pouring through in numbers we couldn’t hope to defeat.
“Seven years, Cass. I spent seven years crawling around on Mohgren, more swamp creature than soldier.”
I see a tear start from the corner of an eye.
“For five years after that, I worked my way across human-held space. I tracked down every ship that got away from Mohgren. Every. Single. One. You weren’t rostered on any of them. None of your squad were.”
You nod.
“Two years ago, an old skipper told me he’d seen a Peryton cloak up in the Mohgren system before the fleet withdrew. There were no orders to cloak. Orders were to save power for retreat manoeuvres. Took me a year to find that Peryton. Still had Scalzy in command. Looked like he’d seen a ghost when I sat down opposite him. He told me this crazy story about you getting all het up when the retreat order came. Said you lost it completely, talked the whole squad into deserting. Saved their lives by doing so, because we all know what happened to that fleet when it arrived in the Latullus system.”
You wave for me to sit. Unconsciously graceful as ever.
“He said you just lit out on your own at the first port they hit, never even said goodbye. Nobody had a clue where you went. Took me a while, but I remembered what you’d said about your childhood.”
You tilt your head and smile.
“Madagascar.”
Your voice is hoarser, but still the one I fell for.
“Took me a while to get here, and I’ll not interrupt your new life for long. I just want you to tell me one thing: why?”
I’m waiting for a flood. Of tears, or apologies, maybe both. But there’s no guilt in your eyes. Instead, you hold out a hand, and not towards me.
She comes into the room, lean and barefoot, wearing your old off-duty bodysuit, sleeves rolled up, her wiry hair tied back. I see the circuitry that webs her arms and face, the sensors in the fingertips she extends to you. There’s a smudge of dirt on her button nose. When she turns to look at me, I see the smudge extends along her cheekbone. I recognise it. I get the same when I try to rub my nose while I’m work-
Her eyes are mine. It’s like looking into the eyes of a younger me.
“Sarah, this is your dad.”
There’s no hesitation. She lunges and wraps her arms about me.
“Mum said you’d find us!”
I extend a hand to Cass. No more explanations.