Author: Jae Miles, Staff Writer
Vapour coils along the bough, drifting away in little skeins of dissipating light. Tobias grins. Luminous breath: sure sign of irrevocable infection.
“How do you feel, my son?”
He looks up at the white rectangle glowing at the throat of the padre’s power armour.
“I’m fine, father. Some kind of feel-good side effect, I guess. Never felt better, to be honest.”
Spinal segments click as the helmed head nods.
“You’ve indicated you’ll not be wanting last rites?”
He waves his hand at the swamp about them: “Seems pointless, father. This far from Bethlehem, feeling this good, I’ve got to be closer to rapture than any man has ever been.” He grins as he finishes, taking the blasphemous sting from the words.
“You’ve been a righteous sinner, that much I’ll grant you, Tobias Ghent. Had more than an even share of prayers offered for your deeds.”
Tobias sits up, trailing luminous exhalations from both nostrils.
“Nothing that hasn’t been done by many others in service of the Great Crusade, father. Now, if you’ll excuse me, the urge to move is setting in.”
“Go with God, Trooper Ghent. May you find peace within his Grace before long.”
He swings down from the fallen tree and lands up to his calves in the pale amber waters of Naknarden Swamp – named after the first trooper to disappear into it. For some, the restless phase can last a long time. Sufferers are permitted to wander off as confinement produces a madness that has been deemed ‘unholy’. Therefore, the afflicted must surely be allowed to go forth, trusting unto God for their salvation.
He walks and smiles as the water deepens and the night stirs about him. The silence that surrounds the outpost being aberration, not norm.
God. He’s fought in his name and seen miracles occur on many battlefields. But the times he felt closest to his Lord was in the deep dark between the citadels of Heaven, as the vessel rested and recharged before daring the byways of purgatory once again. He could stand at a viewport, watching the endless night pass inexorably by, and feel the spine-tingling touch of divine attention.
He walks on as the night deepens about him, feeling unseen life surge past his legs. Nothing attacks. Moonrise finds him further afield than any who have ventured out upon this swamp-girdled planet. Great trees reminiscent of willows line his path, the firemoths amidst their hanging branches providing sufficient light for him to make his way.
Beyond the trees he strides out into what looks like a partially submerged meadow, long grasses waving above the waters that cover the ground. He coughs. The luminous breath is ruddy, his chest feels tight. With a smile, he looks about and chooses a circle of clear water amidst the verdant expanse.
Taking a knee, he bows his head.
“I am what I have become in willing service for those who will never know my name. To quiet waters He hath led me, to these still pastures, that I may seek no more.”
The next cough leaves him shaking in a cloud of ruby mist. The one after that sprays blood into the waters. He kneels and looks up. Stars he cannot name wheel drunkenly above as a fourth cough emits pure white vapour and a feeling of peace rushes through him so violently he knows what’s next.
The grasses nod to the languid echoes of a tide against a far-off shore. A soft breeze ruffles dark hair as moonlight sets a ring of silver about the body that used to house Tobias Ghent.
Author: Mark Joseph Kevlock
How much is enough? When is it time… for the end?
She’s just a reporter. This is just an interview.
I knew the world, of course, before there were any such things.
My name is Hanois Brutale. I’m immortal.
“I feel like… a passive god. I have observed the human race throughout a great deal of its lifespan. Yet I did not create it. And I have done little to affect it.”
“But don’t you have thousands — tens of thousands — of descendants living today? Walking the Earth with your blood inside of them?”
I answer in the affirmative, but say no more upon the subject. If, eventually, there is more of me in the world than anyone else, who is to say that the future will be better off? I gave up the role of tyrant long ago. Telling individuals what to do is tiresome. Telling entire nations is exhausting.
My immortality came as an accident. That is what I now believe. The world, via this reporter, can believe whatever it wants. Science fiction. Mutation. Divine intervention. When you have forever to entertain yourself, all possibilities can be made to exist eventually.
In other words, everything that can happen, does.
“I have lived every life I could. There are no more options.”
“That’s… inconceivable,” she says.
So I tell her about a dozen of them. Briefly.
I don’t tell her that I’m her father.
Someday, if I keep going, I’ll be everyone’s father.
No one ever inherits my immortality, though.
“A parent watches a child die. This is a tragedy. Multiply it by a dozen, this is madness. By a million, this is meaningless. So has all human suffering become to me.”
She comprehends the emotional logic of my statement, but that is all. No one forgives a heart grown cold for any reason.
Finally, we come around to the key point of my confessions. The will to live.
“What makes you, after thousands of years, ready to die?”
She has it backwards, of course.
“Death is no decision, child. Life is the decision. We live because we will ourselves to live. We die only when we stop making this decision.”
“Are you bored, then, with life?”
“Let’s just say I’ve grown insatiably curious with another subject.”
“What comes after.”
“Something you’ve never been able to find out.”
“This is true.”
“How much longer have you decided to live?”
“No more than a millennium or two.”
She asks more questions, but they are all irrelevant. I have no proof she is my daughter, except that I have learned to recognize myself in others. It is nothing I can explain. I simply know.
She thanks me and departs my castle. I think about existence. So short for them; seemingly eternal for me. Yet I am still human. So I can still weep, when the mood strikes.
Author: Rollin T. Gentry
Despite what Detective Bouchard still believes, I did not kill Cassandra Gibbons. I didn’t kill her two years ago, and I sure as hell didn’t kill her again this morning.
Cassandra was a physicist and a postdoctoral renegade who was obsessed with all things quantum. Schrodinger’s cat required no imagination, she’d say. Live cat or dead cat. What about vanished cat? What about a mutated cat with one eye that looked like a small pumpkin and a paw that squirmed like a millipede? What about that cat!
Her paper, “The Topology of Unknowable Surfaces,” branded her forever as fringe. “Every box-like volume might contain nothing or anything at any time T,” she wrote. “A microwave, a refrigerator, a trash can with a lid, the trunk of every car. Nothing or anything.”
That’s why, while I was shocked to find a body in the trunk of my car this morning, I wasn’t surprised that it was her body. Even before I peeled back the tarp, I knew who it was. One shot through the heart. No decay. She was killed recently. My only thought was that if Detective Bouchard paid me one of his monthly visits today, I’d be screwed.
I didn’t waste any time theorizing about the two-year gap, because Cassandra’s experiments to “turn Schrodinger’s cat up to eleven” had these kinds of side effects. Whenever something truly bizarre would happen, she would laugh and refer to herself as the girl who accidentally broke the Multiverse. But in the end, I guess she forgot that her laboratory was just a box inside a larger box. I was there the night she vanished. That, plus the fact we’d been dating, was why the cops wanted to pin her murder on me.
So, I sent an email to my boss, claiming a stomach bug, grabbed a shovel from the toolshed, and hopped in the car. I knew just the place. My grandparents had a cabin that they’d all but deserted. It was surrounded by acres of forest. I took a dirt road to a random clearing, closed my eyes, pointed with the shovel, and walked to a random spot. I sunk the shovel into the dirt and hit something.
It didn’t feel like rock or roots. I kept digging until I revealed a body wrapped in a tarp. This couldn’t be happening, I told myself. How? I held my breath and looked under the plastic. It was Cassandra. Quite decayed, possibly two years worth, but her. On her chest was a mini-cassette recorder. I picked it up and pressed play.
“If you’re listening to this,” my own voice said, “you must be wondering what’s going on. Forget the bodies for a second. There is something you need to know. Cassandra wasn’t the only one affected that night two years ago. You disappeared from that world as well and have been traveling ever since. You probably never noticed. The transfer usually happens in your sleep.
“The good news is that the best minds in the Multiverse are working on the problem. The bad news is that until they repair the damage Cassandra did, there will be more bodies, there will be more police detectives, and there will be less real estate for unmarked graves.
“And one more thing. If you come across a Cassandra that’s still alive, do your best to keep her that way. Those “best minds” I mentioned have more than a few questions for her.”
The tape hissed to static and clicked off.
I took a deep breath, exhaled loudly, and reached for the shovel.
Author: John McLaughlin
Pillars of flame smothered the Trac’s windows as it descended swiftly through outer atmosphere. The craft’s accommodations were quite decadent: cushioned seats, masseuses, and gleaming trays of food and liquor crowded to the edges of the heat-blasted view screen. In the main concourse, passengers mingled and drank, occasionally glancing out at the massive carbon chainlinks pulling them to the surface.
Yuma turned to his son with an upheld hand. “Shiro, watch a trick.” He pumped his bionic-assisted grip twice, taking pleasure in the child’s wide-eyed amazement. The gloved hand rotated palms-up and revealed a paper crane, cradled by fingers of titanium spindle.
“Again! Again!” the boy cried.
A nearby man had noticed the scene and rose from his seat.
“Hello, little traveler,” he began, stooped over the boy, “what brings you through these parts?”
Yuma smiled in return. “Just taking my son along on some university business.”
“Ah, an academic!” He extended a hand. “The name is Kor-tel.”
“It looks like you’re packing some serious hardware,” Yuma said, nodding towards his black weapon sack.
The man’s smile widened. “Oh, the native stock can be quite dangerous, even capable of some primitive tool use. Although I’m sure you’re already familiar.” He pulled a flask from an inside pocket and took a swig. “They have a natural talent for slinging projectiles.”
“Well, I don’t expect any surprises,” Yuma said, lifting his son onto the seat beside him, “just a boring research trip. And what’s your business here?”
“Me? I intend to track a buck, an alpha male.” Kor-tel pantomimed raising a rifle with his right arm, eagerly taking aim down invisible crosshairs and activating the trigger with his free hand. “A good challenge for a man my age.”
Yuma whistled, impressed. “A private leisure license! It must have set you back. But personally, I’d pass on the hunt.”
Kor-tel was preparing to mount a defense when their discussion was tabled by an approaching servant.
“Would you gentlemen like anything else before we dock at the surface?” Her voice was friendly enough but an octave higher than standard due to vocal mods.
Kor-tel raised a hand. “No thank you, dear. I’ll need my full wits about me soon.” Yuma also declined.
The woman bowed slightly. “Very well.”
As the ragged surface rose to greet them, passengers began milling back to their seats to collect luggage. Yuma had forgotten the incredible speed of the Carbon-Trac system–only a few hours drive down from orbit. It was an expensive trip for a private citizen, but of course, the university had covered his costs. One of the many perks of the scientific life.
“Professor, I bid you farewell,” Kor-tel chimed, swinging his sack over a shoulder. “Next time surface-side, you must visit my quarters. And bring the little one too.” He winked goodbye to Shiro.
“That would be lovely.”
Yuma retrieved his own bag and stood the boy beside himself on the landing platform, hand held tight. “Ready, Shi?”
They stepped off the iron grate and set foot on Earth. The docking crater’s pulverized gravel crunched pleasantly under his boot as Yuma turned his gaze skyward. Those grey clouds of fallout had thinned noticeably since his last trip; a hopeful sign for the native H. sapiens he had spent his career studying. Shiro tugged on the fabric stretched taut across his father’s thigh.
“Is this where the bad thing happened?” he asked, his eyes moist little orbs.
Yuma knelt and cupped his gloves gently around the boy’s shoulders.
“Yes. We make mistakes, but then we fix them. It’s only human.”
The silence in my ears woke me. I lay there, ocean rocking the docked boat, and mentally rewind to the beginning of the album. I couldn’t think of anything else to listen to. This is the only one of Isakov’s albums that are still preserved, and, of course, music’s much too expensive to create these days. For some reason, stories (especially those with notes attached), cost more than pictures. Hundreds of years ago, people would say a picture was worth a thousand words, but nowadays, it’s a word which is worth… at current market prices, 67 abstract pictures.
I couldn’t think of anything to do with my time. I was aware that I would be forced to vacate the cruise ship within a few hours and I decided to leave rather than experience boredom. The porter, on duty even before the first hint of molten gold had begun its relentless assault on the obsidian sky, was tipped a full half-portrait, the suggested fee for a Level 4 Assistance in The Handbook of Non-Arbitrary Numbers. As I turned away, I saw him consume the pill almost immediately. Poor fool. He couldn’t have been older than 15, too young to develop a resistance, too young to control himself, too young to learn not to enjoy the sensation that rolled his eyes back into his head and made him want to break the deathly silence with a song.
On my way home, I began to grow more agitated, more shaken than usual at the ecstasy on the boy’s face. I shivered in the cold night air, not from the below-freezing temperatures in C4802, but from the view into the clear night sky. The stars were back for the first time in living memory.
The Handbook of Non-Arbitrary Numbers says the stars were the number one cause of the creative-type suicidal epidemic of the 23rd century, causing 67,891 deaths in 2287 alone.
My neck began to ache as I stared at the one thing that still made people believe a God could exist. I told myself I was only questioning my sudden ability to see them. Perhaps the fog machines meant to keep the suicides in check had malfunctioned, I said, pretending I couldn’t feel the tears or taste the salt. What a mystery, my wandering soliloquy continued, beginning to stumble. I’d never know.
I’ll never know because as soon as I reached home, I withdrew my entire life savings – just over one abstract, and ingested it immediately in a rare moment of passion. As I write this, I can already feel it taking effect, the unique flash of inspiration – words bubbling forth as my blood follows suit.
The Handbook of Non-Arbitrary Numbers says I have 119 minutes left to live, based on the time of ingestion and the severity of the overdose. I’ve already wasted too long writing this. I must begin my work. My life will end like a star – in a bright flash of glory that spreads through the cosmos, blue fire scorching worlds light-years away.
In my mind’s eye, I can already see a bemused police chief unlocking my door to discover the reason for my absence. He is walking, cautiously, through each room. Now, he has found my body, but before he radios it in, something on the wall catches his eye. My supernova. He takes a step back and a breath in, staring at my magnum opus, the camera in his eye already spreading it across the worlds.
And it will be beautiful.
Author: Rick Tobin
Deuteronomy 28:41 Thou shalt beget sons and daughters, but thou shalt not enjoy them; for they shall go into captivity.
Just a toe. That’s all. Just her pointed phalanx appears. No more, at first. She plays me like a fly cast trout. She can’t be real, but I’m pulled in, helpless and gasping.
San Francisco rents: ninety square feet for a grand a month for one bed and a bath. Neighbor’s sneezes scatter roaches we deny on Balboa Street, but we all have them. They like fog. My lease didn’t warn me about my microscopic closet facing north. Her light came under the uneven door frame that first night, eroding my rest. I’ve slept with eyes open all my life. No one knows why. When light flares underneath, there’s no relief…as if she would allow it.
First, I was sure Nevada had fried my brains from Burning Man festivities. I took three tabs one night. Stars ate my soul. I wandered out from camp, alone. Next day deputies found me walking naked outside the park with killer sunburns, mumbling, half-mad and dehydrated. Dad got me out of the Winnemucca Mental Health Center’s holding tank for crazies or I’d still be there. Sometimes flashbacks eat my lunch. Not now. I’d take those instead of every closet cursing me since Balboa. She’s real and she has me.
My mistake, calling Sherm—trusted, faithful and gay friend. Not like my other gay contacts. We were close since grade school, even though I’m straight. Sherm was iconic. Nobody liked him, not in San Fran. A total monk—even though he would tap at me occasionally to verify which bench I was still warming. Didn’t matter. We shared all our fears, hopes, doubts and dreams. Doesn’t happen often enough in a life, but he was my go to. I had to tell him about her and what happened every night after I moved into that dump. He laughed until I convinced him to stay over, just once. He took it the wrong way and jumped at it, thinking ‘the closet’ was my code word for coming out, but then he got caught in her net. He was just as mesmerized by her shining skin and glowing face. Shockingly, she took us both, without our permission, until we were whimpering husks curled up in my tiny Murphy bed.
Sherm left before I woke. He refused calls and wouldn’t answer email or doorbells. I wasn’t sure what he thought I’d done; maybe drugged him for an escort. Anyway, for the first time in fifteen years, I lost my confidant.
Then, two weeks later, I get a call at work. He’s shaky like I’ve never heard. I empathize because I’m also enervated. Still, he apologizes and then asks forgiveness. I ask why. All he says is that two of them are in his closet. He can’t take it anymore. So that’s it. My cry for help contaminated him. A week later, cops found his corpse in the Bay. I tried to make police inquiries, but they still treat homosexuals like yesterday’s trash. To them, another dead one is a blessing.
Sherm’s price was my fault. I’ve moved six times—left the Coast to hide in Iowa. No dice. Three of them now exit closets nightly demanding servicing. I’m a mere shell of a man. Whatever happened in that desert sealed my fate. Somewhere in the cosmos, I may be worshiped as a pater gentis, but here I’m a lost soul who will soon pass in my sleep from unknown causes.