Flip Out

Author : Jae Miles, Staff Writer

He’s at the door ag-

BANG!

Loud. Never try and creep up on a paranoid woman with pre-menstrual hypervigilance and a pistol. I usually spend three days screaming at random people for doing things so trivial they didn’t know they were doing them – or even what the things were. Today, I’m shooting assassins between stomach cramps. Or overly cautious couriers. Makes no difference. Not now. Too many possibilities to risk compassion.

Like flipping through a book until a shape catches your eye, you choose a different reality. Quicker than a blink, a silent holocaust happens, leaving the world changed. If you don’t really like this one, flip on. You can’t go back. You might be able to resist your sudden memories of a life in the different reality – being the cause gives you a little leeway. But you can’t save anyone else. I tried.

BANG!

I hear our coded knock, then hear his voice: “Don’t be silly, Genniphur, I’m on your side.”

He’s lying. Data streams and life styles, realities and perceptions. Quantum lies entangled with vested interests. It doesn’t take much to ruin a race. Somewhere there’s a me who’s realised their endgame. I’m sure someone outside the reality enclaves has worked it out, somewhen.

BANG!

A body in my hall, a hole in the front door and a tear in my eye. You shouldn’t have sent my mentor to get me. I’m off finding a thousand other versions of me for the truths they’ve seen. I’m lost to you.

BANG!

He’s dying. Data dreams and living death, what you see versus what you’re seen to be. Quantum entanglement makes lies of everything the moment you behold it. It doesn’t take much to win a race. Just change the definition of winning. I’m sure no-one outside the skycastles chose feudalism as a ‘fair society’.

His heels beat a familiar tempo on the floor as he gurgles: “Don’t be naive, Jennifer, no-one’s on your side.”

BANG!

Loud. Never try and leap on a schizoid woman with pre-menstrual paranoia and a broom. I usually spend three days, chain-swallowing pain killers, ignoring my med schedule to do so, and pretending the impressive hallucinations are trivial. So, today, I’m swinging at assassins between stomach cramps. Or whoever they really are. Makes no difference. Not now. I’ve downed too many pills to play at compassion.

This me. This is me. We are me. We know. I know!
What do I know? Are the meds conflicting?
No, we know their endgame: feudalism.
Damn. This one’s bad. Codeine overdose?
I’m lost – to me.
What?

BANG!

That made me jump. The broom’s on the floor.
There’s a body on the floor, too.
Who is he?

The Nascen III Problem

Author : Philip Berry

“Just see what you can do with it Tak, if you’d be so good. No great urgency.” muttered Johnson, Alec Tak’s immediate superior in the Office of Colonies (First Wave). The buff folder landed on Alec’s desk with a slap and lay there like an unclaimed corpse. He opened it, lay the deep-pages out in a line, and spent the rest of the morning swimming through the data, leaping archives, extracting sub-files and learning all there was to know about the Range.

The discovery of countless habitable worlds just two years’ hyper-flight time from Earth had changed history. There were so many, each offering a healthy balance of fertile land and clean sea, with broad temperate zones awash with renewables. A hastily convened Pan-National Partitioning Committee found itself redundant, for there were no arguments. There was no competition. There were worlds enough for everyone. Many problems on the home planet just ceased to exist.

A third of a billion years ago two giant planets of near equal mass had collided. By virtue of their equivalent mass and opposing but similar rotational frequencies, the energy released by the impact was evenly distributed throughout each globe, and resulted in countless daughter planets. These were harnessed by the ancient sun’s mass and strung along an eccentric orbital loop, a priceless necklace of granite. Their barren surfaces grew lush and Earth-like, pristine until the first pioneers arrived.

All it took for a group of travelers to claim one of these exoplanets was a common philosophy, enthusiasm, and the financial means to charter a transport. Thousands, then millions departed for an improved future. This was four thousand years ago.

Alec surfaced from the records for a moment. He was confused. What exactly was the problem that he had been asked to solve?

A previously disregarded deep-page, relating to the central star’s attributes, caught his attention. He dived back in.

The astrophysicists and planetologists were clear from the start; Nascen III was an old sun, and actually quite interesting. An asymptotic-giant-branch star, subject to periodic ‘dredge-ups’, whereby oxygen was created by fission at the core and transported by convection to the surface where it burned, creating an ultra-high energy pulse… in the case of Nascen III every two hundred thousand years. The next pulse was due in three thousand years. No human could survive it.

They knew it at the time. They were told. All the travelers. But it was 7000 years away; why worry. Did they consider their children, or their childrens’ children?

Alec could barely believe this was the problem Johnson wanted him to manage. Where to start? How to start? Engage the civic leaders, the royal houses, the heritable presidents… and initiate relocation planning. Contemplate the massive logistics, agree on an evacuation sequence… imagine the debates. In fact, now Alec thought about it, he would have to commission observatories with the sole purpose of finding a metal-rich asteroid to mine for the materials required to create the largest fleet of transports ever constructed.

Would anyone living now be interested in such a distant apocalypse?

Really?

Alec surfaced and sat back in his chair. Sweat lay on his brow. He squared up the deep-pages, put them back on the folder and pushed it away, under a pile of more urgent matters. There it would stay, until the day of his retirement twenty years later.

And the funny thing was, Johnson never once asked him for an update.

Ravages of Time

Author : Steve Smith, Staff Writer

My eyes were the first to go. They’d been deteriorating since my mid thirties, and after a bacterial infection in my early forties I couldn’t focus on anything anymore.

I had coverage, so I had them replaced.

I remember the change was immediate and incredible; I could see things close to me with incomprehensible fidelity, and see things miles away with striking clarity. I could make out things of interest that I couldn’t easily get to, at least not in any reasonable amount of time.

So I had them replace my legs too.

There was no more forgetting why I was walking towards some far-off things that had caught my eye, I could sprint there in almost no time without even getting winded. I ran everywhere, exploring, it was a new dawn of discovery.

It was on one such exploration that I lost my footing and fell, tumbling in a flailing jumble of limbs across the gravel and glasphalt, breaking both my arms.

It was good that I had coverage.

It would have taken months for my bones to knit, and for the physio to get them strong again. I was in and out in a few days with brand new ones.

From there it seemed like every few months there was something else that needed replacing, or upgrading. No longer having limbs wreaked havoc on my circulation, and while they were replacing my heart it seemed only natural to replace my lungs and digestive system, ‘while we’re in there…’, the doctor had said.

It was covered, so why not?

I’ve got a hundred year warranty on all my parts now, so I figure I’m good for the long haul.

You look familiar, do I know you?

Wife? You’re funny, I’m sure I would remember if I had a wife.

You do remind me of a girl I used to know, back in the day. Prettiest thing I’d ever laid eyes on.

My eyes were the first to go, they’d been deteriorating since my mid thirties…

Ro and Ju Play with Fire

Author : David Henson

Ro and Ju are holding hands on a platform under a busy leviway when a sparrow lands nearby. Ro releases Ju’s hand, draws his DeathRay, and fires. The sparrow glows brightly, then disappears.

“Nice shot,” Ju says. Ro steps back and shoots her in the forehead. She glows briefly before the light dissipates. “Mmmm, I love that tingly feeling. Your turn.” She shoots Ro under his right eye.

He flares momentarily and smiles. “I’ve about got my father talked into coding this baby up to full power so it’s not just a bird and butterfly killer.” He twirls his gun back into its holster just as a woman wearing Bluecone Party colors and another showing Redrods walk past each other, hands twitching by their DeathRays.

Ro glances up. “Here he comes. Same time here tonight?” Ju nods.

The hoverbike glides down. “Hello, Sir,” Ju says. Ro’s father revs his bike’s magneton. Ro hops on, and the two soar to the leviway.

Weaving through traffic, they pass a Bluecone candidate hologram with spray-flamed devil horns. Ro’s techpath implant chirps, and he accepts his father’s thought: Real jerks, whoever did that. A few seconds later they pass a hologram of the Redrod candidate with a flaming tail. Better, Mr. Mio thinks to his son. Ro doesn’t transmit anything back to his father.

***

Ro’s father laser-knifes his steak. “Ro was with that Liette girl again.”

“You know her parents are Redrods.” Ro’s mother stares at him. His techpath implant chirps. He ignores it and goes to his room.

***

Ju is waiting for Ro when he glides his father’s hoverbike to the platform. She secures her mother’s bike with a force field and climbs on behind Ro. They rise to the nearly deserted leviway. When they reach the Bluecone hologram, the horns are barely smoldering. Ro swings close, and Ju retraces them with fresh spray-flame. Then they hit the devil-tailed Redrod hologram and a few others from both parties before returning to the platform. They dismount and embrace. Ro steps back, draws his DeathRay, and playfully shoots Ju between the eyes. She begins to glow, then suddenly gasps and vanishes.

Ro screams. “Ju! What happened?” He chirps her implant. Nothing. He jumps onto the bike and streams home.

***

“You!” Ro shouts at his father. “You knew I liked to shoot her. You coded my DeathRay up to full power without telling me so I’d vaporize her for real. Just ’cause her folks are Redrods.”

“I didn’t,” Ro’s father says.

“You did. Well, I won’t live without her.” Ro activates his tech-kinesis implant, and his father’s DeathRay flies into Ro’s outstretched hand. He fires the weapon into his chest, glows brightly, then disappears — just as Ju bursts into the room.

***

Ro’s mother and father are on their knees, wailing. After several minutes, Mr. Mio turns toward Ju. “What are you doing here? Ro said you were dead. Blamed me.”

“Get out,” Ro’s mother shouts.

“Not yet.” Mr. Mio stands. “Tell me exactly what happened.”

Ju struggles to breathe. “A horrible prank … a joke. I snuck out with my mom’s invisibility cloak. When Ro shot me, I activated it so it’d look like … He took off so fast. I tried to … What have I done?”

Ro’s father approaches Ju. “Filthy Redrods.”

Ju holds out her hand, and Mr. Mio’s DeathRay flies to her. “I can’t live without him.” She fires the weapon into her chest, glows brightly, and, with a final sob, is gone.

Father Son Time

Author : Joseph Lyons

A few years ago I was lucky enough to land a reasonably well paid job. Like most well paid jobs in this system it meant not great work in a not great place. It was a mining facility on an uncomfortably hot but habitable planet. We were encouraged to bring our families, so I did. My wife and I had just had a son so the new start and good money were very welcome. Worker’s housing was a good deal better than we’d had before, an old world looking wood-effect two storey home with its own small plot of land and full mod cons. For a long time I was happy, but my wife was not. It was no surprise when she left me, but it was a surprise when she left our son.

The work had been long shifts on rotating patterns till this point. Now I had to cut back to set hours, have friends babysit, enroll him in nursery and eventually school. My colleagues and friends were incredible throughout the adjustment, very supportive, but no one can really tell you how to raise a young boy by yourself.

I had always been the fun parent; discipline was never my thing. I knew enough to know smacking wasn’t the route to go down so I tried naughty steps, time outs, removal of privileges. He continued to become more unruly until I stumbled across something that worked. Once, as a child I had spilled my cereal on the floor and my mother made me count every single piece back into the bowl. My son dropped his on purpose so the memory kicked in and I set him to counting. It worked very well. Eli was five then, he’s six now. He’d been young enough that I’d had to help him once he reached a certain number. It felt oddly good and rewarding for us to work together, even if he was being punished.

Tonight he’d been avoiding his homework and not turned his console off when I had repeatedly asked him to.

“No, no, NO!” he eventually screamed after I asked for the dozenth time.

“That’s it.” I killed the power myself. He stormed out back. “If you’re going to sulk out there you can count the stars while you’re at it.”

“ONE!” He shouted. “TWO! THREE!”

I sat down and tried to block it out. He’d simmer down eventually.

“FIFTEEN! SIXTEEN!……One, two.”

“Hey, no shortcuts. You keep going till you hit a billion.”

“Seven…eight…nine.”

“Speed it up. Count to a hundred fast and you can come back in.”

“Fifteen, sixteen, seventeen, eighteen.”

“That’s better, keep it up.”

“Dad, they’re going too fast for me to count.”

“What’re you talking about?” I mumbled as I headed out.

“I got to twenty three less but they’re going too fast now.”

“Twenty three less?” My son looked back to the sky and I followed his gaze. “Oh god.” I took a second to make sure I held it together infront of my son. “Wait here.” I headed back inside and came out with a blanket, ice cold lemonade and the last of his chocolate. I poured us both a drink and we laid on our backs.

“I’ll help. You point and I’ll count.” He raised his arm to the darkness as he took a sip of lemonade. “Here.” I moved it up to the left. “We’ll count the ones that are still there. By the time you’ve finished your chocolate that’s going to be the much easier job.”

Deal With It

Author : Jules Jensen

He looked like the most average business man in the world. He even carried a briefcase in one hand. I wondered if he packed away a pitchfork or angel wings or horns or a halo in that thing. These days, no one could tell if they were selling their soul to an angel or a demon.

“I think I’ll pass.” I said.

He blinked. I swear, if I weren’t told from the moment I could walk and talk that these things were a spirit-being of some kind, I’d think he was a computer that just had to force itself to reboot to figure out this problem.

“You’re brother will remain sick, if you do. You don’t want him to die, do you?” The businessman asked. People walking by on the street didn’t even pay any attention to him, or to me. I snorted. As much as it tugged at my heartstrings, I knew that my brother would not want his only big sister to throw my soul away for a bad deal. He’s the one always talking about numbers needing to make sense, after all.

“Twenty years isn’t enough to do everything he wants to do in life, anyway.” I said, to which the businessman frowned. I turned, starting to walk away, but I felt I had to say something else. Did these businessmen make some kind of commission, or were they just dicks? “This deal sucks. I don’t know if your kind have customer service reviews, but I’ll make sure that all my friends will know that you make crap deals.”

I took a single step, and I felt his hand gently on my shoulder. It made me shiver and flinch away, and throw him a dirty look.

“How about forty? Same price.” He said.

Forty? Then, if he was going to die, he’d be forty-nine. He could have gone to college, had fun, found a career, made the best friends in the world. Settle down with the perfect girlfriend. And then he’d die before old age stole away his vitality.

That actually sounded pretty good.

“Forty, and two less lifetimes.” I don’t know why I asked, but he didn’t seem so offended by the counter.

“Deal.” He waved a hand over the paper, and I saw the numbers change. I took the blood-red pen from his other hand and signed the paper, which floated in the air as if it rested on an invisible table.

Four years later.

The funeral ended hours ago. And all that time, I’d been trying to call him. Over and over again, I shouted at the sky, at the ground, because I don’t remember where he said he came from.

Eventually, he came. He looked exactly the same. He even smiled at me.

“You bastard!” I threw the words at him and his smile seemed to only get bigger.

“What?” He had so much nerve.

“You killed him!”

“Honestly, a gas fire is a pretty random event.” He shrugged. Shrugged, like that’s all my brother’s fiery death was worth.

“He was supposed to get forty years!”

“It’s not like I’m going to go out of my way and make sure he lives all those years. If he was going to die some other way all along, then that’s just what happens.”

“Refund. Now.”

“That’s not how it works.” And then his smile changed. And I knew that this was no ordinary demon or angel, this must be the devil himself. “Maybe you should have stuck to the original deal.”

And then he was gone.