“You occupy space. Therefore you exist.”
“Does that Descartes bastardization work in graveyards?”
“The dead occupy space.”
“Well in a diminishing returns kind of way. You might want to factor biological depreciation into your axiom.”
Stenslen eyed Bihrduur icily. “You don’t want this to work.”
“No. Not really,” Bihrduur replied. “Call it my Oppenheimer moment.”
“Can I get an atomic drum roll, please?”
Turning back to his cloud station, Stenslen gestured three new apertures open and nested the targets within. “They’re out there, and this will find them.”
“I have no doubt we’ll find them. But, this isn’t the way to do it. In this case, the means are much meaner than the targets.”
“They’ve killed many and will kill more.”
“So will this algorithm.”
“You tried that argument with Harbaugh and Suarez. They didn’t buy it.”
“Yeah, because life is cheap, if you’re not our target.” Bihrduur spoke so softly Stenslen had to pay attention. “This software can find anyone, anywhere. You really want that?”
“For these guys, yes. I know there are potential misuses and abuses. That’s always a risk, but it’s not scalable for anyone without our resources.”
“How about in ten years?”
Stenslen shrugged his broad, rounded shoulders.
“That’s what I mean,” Bihrduur insisted with the same quiet intensity. “In a decade or sooner, Quantum Density Displacement software could be available to any dictator, hitman, stalker or paparazzi on the prowl. Nobody would be able to hide.”
“Including dictators, hitmen, stalkers and paparazzi.”
Bihrduur dipped his head, acknowledging his colleague’s point.
“Perfect transparency,” Stenslen followed up matter of factly.
“I’d term it forced nakedness,” Bihrduur snorted. “You’re undressing all of humanity. What about privacy? What about anonymity? What’s wrong with being inconspicuous? With getting lost?”
“Nothing—until you want to be found. Or need to be.”
“And who gets to determine that.”
“The same folks who always have.”
“Well, that wouldn’t be much of a comfort to Anne Frank.”
“As much as it would’ve been to Osama bin Laden.”
“There’s no winning this.”
“Never is. We’re humans. We battle. Finders keepers. Losers weepers.”
“I’m ready to cry, Stenslen.”
“I’ll know if you do—wherever you are.”
Author: Steve Smith, Staff Writer
I have no memory of what came before. It’s as though I didn’t exist prior to this moment and have just come into existence and apparated into this crowd, in this hall, surrounded by the ordered chaos of these several hundred people. We’re collected here for a singular purpose, all of us waiting to bear witness, to share witness.
They seem not to notice me, caught as I am in the frenetic jumble, almost vibrating in tune with the collective hum of anticipation.
The reverberation rises with activity on the stage ahead and above us to crescendo as a woman appears, guitar slung low, eyes wide and bright, the room hanging on the precipice until those first chords, a familiar structure, then the space erupts into mayhem.
Nothing comes close to the magic of this music, the harmony formed of hundreds of voices, of heartbeats, synchronized with the one who leads, the one whose voice and instrument eclipse the crowd, riding our energy and elevating us all to some higher plane. Beneath it all are drum sounds, and a bass holds down the bottom end, maintaining our precarious tether to the Earth.
Time ceases to have any meaning, the masses moving as one, taking every ounce of energy she gives away and returning it a hundredfold.
And then it’s over, and she’s gone, whisked away to the relative safety of some back room, while the crowd, still vibrating but nearly spent, slowly and reluctantly drifts to the exits, spilling out to who knows where.
I find myself alone. The silence is deafening.
Nobody bothers me as I drift through the side door to beyond the stage, navigating around and through the road crew as they tear down the gear, packing it up, ready to move to the next show in some other time and space. There’s a familiarity to this, and as someone looks through me as I pass, I wonder, was that a glimmer of recognition?
I find her behind a closed door, in a small, warm room, reclining on a chaise lounge upholstered in a garish fabric from another century, sipping water from a large glass.
She smiles, watching me, but doesn’t speak.
She seems not to be surprised that I’m here, and as I sit at the end of the chaise, she crosses her feet on my lap, still slick with sweat, bare soles black with dirt from the stage, and as I rest a hand on her flesh I remember.
“There he is,” she speaks, “you finally found me.”
I remember everything, all of it, a tsunami of what once was.
She leans forward and whispers, “I’ll see you again soon.”
In that instant, she’s gone – disapparated – leaving me alone in the cooling room.
But this time, I remember.
Author: Julian Miles, Staff Writer
There’s a tavern by the graveyard. Not one of those new servaraunts, but a real vintage place with tiny lattice windows and a big wooden door that glints in the light from the glows as it swings back and forth. Old Stanislaw told me it used to not do that, but the grey rain meant they had to spray it with Staveoff like every other bit of wood still outdoors.
I look up. In the sky-high glow from this sleepy city I can see the towering mass of clouds coming in. Daido’s not wrong. It’s going to be raining bats and frogs before long.
“What we do?”
Otto’s returned to the acceptable version of ‘I want to run away’. Next time, I’ll rope in someone who wants to come stealin’.
“What we came for.”
It’s not like we have a choice. There’s nothing in the pantries and the fridges are so empty they echo.
Another crowd of happy chappies and chapettes stagger from the tavern. Looks to me like they’ve had a little more than their sobriety passes would allow. Almost like this place has a way of getting past the squealers and the dealers, because everybody knows you can’t make a profit off a dealer. What they charge is always street max, and taverns – new or old – can’t exceed regulation prices.
“You sure about this?”
I look up at Otto.
“No. I thought I’d drag us all out here to get rainburned just to show how much pull I have so I can impress Maisie.”
It’s like I can watch him think. He takes another hit on his vaper.
“You still need to do that?”
What the jiminy do you have in that thing? Neat toluol?
Maisie appears out of the night and slaps his arse.
“You’re lovely, Otto, but that vaper is rotting your brain faster than we can compensate for.”
She crouches down by me, squeezes my shoulder, then points to the tavern where the security shutters are coming down.
With a muted rumble from high above, grey rain starts hissing down. We flick our hoods into place and wait for the corrosive ground mist to wash away. Thunder crashes above, lightning scorches the dark, and the rain gets heavier.
“Now or not at all.”
She and I sprint across, scramble over the wall and finish up sprawled across the roof of the big gothy mausoleum at the centre of the graveyard.
The rain continues to pour down. Finally, I see light: the tavern loading bay shutters and doors opening. Four swearing men rush from the bay, enter the side gate of the graveyard, then split up and race to two tombs. They press disguised switches recessed in the headstones. Each tomb slides silently open. The men hurry down the steps revealed. The tombs close. All goes quiet.
A vibration runs through the roof we’re lying on. Maise looks at me, eyes widening.
I hear voices below.
“Still think having the only ways in separate from the way out is daft.”
“This mausoleum is too obvious. Armouring the doors, fitting them to open outwards, and only working from inside, keeps the thieving gits wondering how we do it.”
The four hasten away carrying casks and catchnets full of food cartons. Doors, shutters, and mausoleum close behind them.
When the tavern lights finally go out, I flash once left, once right. From the shadows all about, everybody I could lay my voice on swarms in.
We’re going to empty the place.
You just can’t fool us thieving gits forever.
Author: Michael Edwards
One night, when you are asleep, you have a dream. And in this dream, you are sitting —on a plain wooden chair — in the belltower of an ancient temple. Which you somehow know is standing at the summit of Tai Mountain, in China.
Above you hangs an enormous iron bell. No one knows who made it. The temple was well-established here, even when the original Chinese population came to this region, thousands of years ago. And the bell has hung above the temple ever since.
For a long time, it has not even had a tongue with which to speak. Somehow the clapper, itself weighing hundreds of pounds, no doubt, has been removed from it. Yet the bell is so well made — of some extraordinary alloy — that, when the wind blows softly around it, the bell gives off a vibration, almost a sound. One doesn’t know for sure if he hears it — or if he feels it — or perhaps only imagines that he can feel it. Nevertheless, the vibration is quite real.
And now this ancient mysterious iron bell hangs silently over your head. You sit under its shadow, listening to your heartbeat. In breath. Out breath. The metal of the bell feels cool above you.
And now the wind begins to blow across the mountaintop. And now the wind comes near, caressing your brow, and bringing with it the fragrance of the fields, far below.
Suddenly, you think that you can feel the vibration, almost hear it, beginning to hum all around you. Sonorous. Magnificent. Spiritual. Uplifting. And yet the bell stands silent above you. Just as it has stood silent, suspended over the countryside, for years without number. Yet at the touch of the breeze, instantly speaking the one word that only you, at this moment, in all the world, can hear.
Like an alarm, the vibration awakens your soul from its slumber. At once, you know the truth of the language that it is speaking to you. And only to you.
With a start, you understand — in its entirety — the history of this bell, and your own connection to it. It is you who put the bell here, long ago, in a previous original earthly lifetime — as a great teacher, come from the stars — to awaken yourself to the truth again, the moment you were ready to receive it. Even now.
And thus to attain mastery over, and to attain liberation from, this one last planet. The most challenging planet in the entire Milky Way galaxy. The Earth. And then — to ascend forever. At one with the one.
And at this moment, you realize that your journey through the cosmos has come full circle. The bell never had a tongue with which to speak. But you are its voice, for whom it has waited patiently across the eons. And now you alone must know its truth — yet remain silent forever.
In the midst of the silence, however, you will experience bliss.
Today, then. Taste that bliss: in the eternal now.
Author: M.D. Smith
In 1975, drugs were available in New Orleans. Nestled among the narrow streets and vibrant markets of the French Quarter, lived a young man named Alex. He worked at a small bookstore by day and spent his evenings lost in the pages of science fiction novels.
One day, as he strolled through the market, a peculiar old woman with a twinkle in her eye singled him out. Her long, stringy white hair covered most of her wrinkled face. With a withered hand and fingernails about two inches long, she handed him a small clear bag of golden, crispy chips, claiming that they held the power to unlock the past. “Chrono Crisps,” she said.
“Focus on a past event that you can recall clearly and think only of it as you fall asleep. You will dream vividly; while there, you can alter your outcome to a limited degree. This is my last bag. Make this dream of an important past event you wish to change.”
Doubtful but intrigued, Alex would try them. He paid her $50.00. High, but not if they worked.
That night, he munched on the small bag of salty Chrono Crisps. He knew precisely the place in time to visit. He was fourteen. His father was coming home on a foggy night with light rain, hit a deer, swerved off the road, crashed into a tree, and died.
Shortly, a strange sensation washed over him. The room blurred, the dream began, and soon, he stood in a graphically familiar scene—the evening of a severe accident that had haunted his dreams. It was on the forest road he and his mother had visited the day after the wreck.
His haze cleared, and he was on the edge of the pavement beside a lighted sign announcing the entrance into the state park.
“This is the spot where Dad died,” he thought.
A light mist floated around him. He jogged up the road, the direction his father’s car approached on his night’s trip home. He would warn his father before he got to the deer. The fog grew thicker. The forest thinned out to only grass shoals on the roadside. Then he heard a car engine and saw lights dimly in the vapor. Alex moved a few feet into the oncoming lane, waving his flashlight, intending to jump out of the way when his father approached.
The engine’s sound increased. Now, the familiar blue car was visible, but no attempt by the driver to slow down. His dad didn’t see him. At the last moment, his father’s eyes widened. Alex sprang to the roadside. The car brakes locked on the misty-wet road, screeching of tires. The extended rear of the old Caddy broadsided and smacked Alex like a hockey stick hits a puck and sent him flying. Alex’s world went dark.
When Alex awoke, terribly groggy, he wasn’t in the den of his home. He was in his parents’ living room, and everyone was watching The Jeffersons on TV. His gray-haired father sat next to his mother. The man was clearly older than when he died in the past. Alex must have been successful.
The fog cleared completely, and he looked down to see his arms lying limp on the electric wheelchair armrests, his right fingers around a joystick control switch.
Author: Chloe Beckett
“There you go sweetheart! All fitted up. How does that feel?” Steam erupted from the gaping holes of the nurse’s nostrils like belching geysers, moistening his cheek as she tightened and clipped.
The prosthetic bulged off the back of his skull, like a tumor weighing his aching head down. He stared at her dully.
She looked over at his case worker. “Doesn’t say much, does he?”
Nancy smiled and shook her head.
The nurse dropped her voice. “Is this the one who thinks…he’s, you know…booga-booga?” she giggled nervously and made a caveman gesture.
Nancy’s smile widened. “It’s just a defense mechanism.”
“Sure, sure.” Her gaze lingered on the back of his skull. “But it is kinda odd, he has almost no occipital bun at all…”
“Malnutrition,” said Nancy.
The nurse nodded curtly and addressed her attention back to the patient. “Your neck muscles may need a little adjustment to the weight, but it’s hollow so it shouldn’t take long.”
His eyes remained far away but she thought she could see a tear forming.
“Well, we’ll check back in a few weeks! You look wonderful, you’re gonna love the new you.”
The new him. The old him had been a normal guy. A normal *Homo sapien*, anyway.
“NORMAL. MAN.” He said pointing at himself. “Work in ‘IT’ at school. Normal. Man.”
Either the Neanderthal dialect was too divergent for her to comprehend, or she didn’t believe someone with such a small cranial capacity could hold down that kind of a job. Either way, she called him Norman, assigned him a position as a bellboy, and granted him a trial period in an assisted independent living facility. Pretty generous, all things considered.
Nancy said his speech shouldn’t be a problem for the job (*so maybe it was his pronunciation*), but he would need to look the part. The pinhead look was too disturbing for people.
He buttoned up his uniform, let out a deep sigh, and clipped on the prosthetic. Immediately his skull dipped backward, and the molded occipital bun ballooned out. He looked in the mirror and was surprised to see a new angle to his expression. It seemed that the bun dipping down made his nose dip up, resulting in a daring look he wasn’t used to in himself. As the IT guy, he had spent most of his time trying not to make eye contact with anyone. *Where did that get me, anyway? Forty-two and still on step three of the pay scale, single and too broke to ask out anyone worth a damn.*
The hotel was surprisingly upscale, and the people surprisingly adorned. Maybe natural selection had gone a different route here, but evidently gold and gems were valuable nonetheless.
He called the old ladies “madame” and they beamed. He offered to bring their bags to their rooms and they cowed. A little eye contact, a flash of the hand, a kiss on the cheek. Maybe he could use the back door to the pay scale this time around.
“Norman! We’re ready for you.”
He smiled at the nurse and stood up. He felt the diamond bracelet from Room 302 tinkle in his prosthetic – *damn, forgot to empty it after my shift.* He held up a finger and glided into the bathroom, depositing the trinket into his pocket. He slipped back out and into the exam room.
“Well hello again, how are you?”
“I’m doing lovely, and you seem to be the same.” There was a sleek sexiness to the curve of her nostrils leading back to her bun that he hadn’t noticed before.