Ignorance was Bliss

Author: Samuel Stapleton

My brain was working faster than my eyes as I took in the flood of information through my augment hud at my desk. I quickly began realizing that whoever this person was, they were completely serious. I spent maybe twenty minutes having meltdown after complete meltdown, and then I shut everything off. In a blur, I grabbed my huddy (hoodie w/ a hud), my mobile, plus a burner backup, and auto-piloted my way to the nearest public transit site.

I like to think of myself as a reporter, but reporters are long gone. AI’s write the stories and make the feeds now – hell even most of the editors and anchors are AI’s. It’s still a human world mind you, we’re just pulling way less of our own weight now-a-days. My job title is ‘On-Site Media Filter and Information Technician’. Has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it? Not like it matters now though, this mystery enigma just went and blew my life to smithereens.

Rick and I haven’t had contact in a while, maybe I need to head to South Africa? Or could I possibly stay with Jordy for a few weeks if she’s still in Bangladesh? Shit. I powered my hud back on, cloaked my vpni5, and started comparing ticket prices.

Then I started piecing it all together. Or at least I tried.
A crazy whack-job sat at home for 12 years…12 years…and together with AI and an immense knowledge of economics, programming, and computing power. They spent all that time and all those resources writing and testing numerous algorithms that studied how to see dark money through public data.
And then one day it fucking worked.

It wasn’t quite the ‘key’ to the internet but there’s no way anybody could have designed cybersecurity for a machine that just got really practiced at guessing about what happened privately based on what happened publicly.

I was starting to understand why they had been talking with me. I worked for the second-largest media company on the planet, one that is arguably ‘least corrupt’ of the four majors. Also, I was a total nobody. All the way down at the bottom. I’d been slogging for almost six years now as a tech with no movement in sight. But maybe they knew I just couldn’t sit on this story and do nothing. It was literally going to change everything, forever.

If they were smart, they would dump this all on me – and then hide. And they’d better hide damn well, damn long.

Sixty of the world’s wealthiest families, over four thousand prominent politicians, dozens of celebrities, millionaires…their wealth and money – all their money – laid naked at my feet. At anyone’s feet really. And the program just kept updating. Thousands of times a second. It didn’t give you access to the money – but it showed you every penny, and what it was doing.

Wire transfers. Account transfers. Payments. Compounding Interest. Stocks. Bonds. Credits. Debts. Donations. Hell, even PayPal and Zelle. Amazon. Prime. Netflix. Darkweb. Dark money. Porn. Weapons. People. Bribes. Cargo. Manifests.

It all just kept lumping up into a huge pile of truth.

I have to get this out. I have to. But how? How?

My phone buzzed. I glanced at the message. My bank?

Transfer received. $5,000,000 USD @ 5:04pm.
Note: This should be enough to buy you an hour of uninterruptible stream time. Tell them.

I threw up into a sewer drain and disappeared into the subway.

You’re Back

Author: David B Anderson

“And so you’re back from outer space.” She pulled him into her arms and hugged him tightly. Her former boyfriend smiled but didn’t say a word.
“I knew you would return. People said you were crazy. Flying in a new spacecraft on a discount ticket is akin to robbing Peter to pay Paul. Low-costs and space tourism don’t go together. Hopefully, they’ll always double-check the spaceship as they did on this first launch.”
She took his hand and kissed it. Then led him from the doorway into her apartment and slammed the door behind them. She clicked on the stereo and searched for his favorite song. The musical beat filled the room. They danced over to the sofa. She fell on the middle cushion.
He set his helmet on the coffee table and sat next to her.
“Now we can rest at home. No more training. Until the promo agency drags us out across the globe to talk shows and make orbital voyages seem fun and easy to sell tickets. Their agents will arrange every aspect of our junkets even assign the same three questions to the countless interviews.”
She waved her hands out in front of them imagining a platform. “You step onto the stage in your bright flight suit. The audience erupts into applause. You’re an astronaut! Your face beams as you describe the one thing you’ve waited years to do.”
He held her close and grinned from ear to ear.
“I can see you now. The show emcee cheers with the crowd and raised the question everyone wants to ask, ‘How did weightlessness feel?’”
He laughed at the obvious query.
She continued, “You’ll reply, ‘That was the best six minutes of my life including sex. One floats inside the little cabin. It’s so relaxing I forgot the training and drifted.’”
He squeezed her hand gently.
She said, “After the laughter dies down, the second inquiry comes: Were you scared when the rockets blasted?”
He grinned as he remembered the experience.
She answered for him. “The beginning was identical to earthly airline trips. After two hours, it became boring. Then the ship separated with a jerk, and the motors fired. Through the suit, they roared and squashed me into the back of my fancy seat with forces stronger than any elevator or car. Just as I got used to it, it was over and the view was marvelous. Shimmering blue.”
He stretched his legs and yawned.
“The host bends close with a serious expression for the last question. ‘Would you do it again?’”
He lowered his head in deep thought.
“I know your answer. You’ll grin broadly and confess, ‘You bet. In a minute given the money.’”
He nodded and stroked her face.
She gazed into his eyes. “I hope they compensate you well for all that talking! That’ll be the most you’ve ever spoken to a stranger since we met. Does spaceflight turn everyman into a friendly and uninhibited person?”
She caressed his cheek with her hand and smiled at the roughness of his five-o’clock shadow.
He snored lightly as he slept like a baby.

The Lamarckian Preservation

Author: Timothy Goss

We are sitting awaiting the bus. It’s hot and we sweat beneath the binary dance of our stars stripping great swaths of burning energy from their brethren. The Bus Station is busier than usual, more and more use its cool shaded concrete floors and walls to bed down upon or against, belongings stuffed into clothes and bags. I step over two bloodied torsos, snoring and spitting in their hooch filled sleep. Some are always left behind.

The clock on the tower sounds noon by barely moving the air around it. Since the end of the last century, it’s been impossible to discern seasons. The planet has relinquished everything we need, nourishment, warmth, resources, a place to call home again, but still, it holds back. There’s no doubt we was lucky to find such an accommodating being, but now it’s hospitality wanes.

The bus arrives, stinking in the heat. Thirty of us drive out of town. We’re appreciative of the cool air-conditioned interior, like lounging in a cool bath or pool. The great red and yellow eyes of the sky spiral unceasingly, forever tearing at the others cornea, corona. These great glowing orbs are the life of this system without which nothing would be possible.

The Great UmpUS took us from our sterile origin and paved the way to the stars. It was only through this unique vision that we were able to discover our true path as species and colonise our second home, and then on to our third and fourth and fifth – ad infinitum. Our leaders drape themselves in the regal Orange robes cut from the Great UmpUS itself, and it’s kin. The orange skin belies the power and clarity of our leaders since the first was derived from the Great UmpUS itself.

We pass Moloch Lake, shiny in sterility. It was once full of creatures, over flowing as the environment dictated. Few of the submerged Things had natural predators until we took possession. The old show continues as images of the great strides we have taken in possessing this selfish planet are played out on the screens provided for our entertainment and enlightenment. Excited talk of taming it’s self-seeking nature and tasting its delicious bounty fills the bus. As we’ve done before so we shall do again, using all its resources no matter the planetary resistance. This is survival and as our Leaders, tell us, “…IT IS THE ONLY WAY.” For they make the decisions citizens cannot.

We pass through sheets of white light, seams of vibrant colour, riding the waves to brighten the mind and stimulate senses. I notice the hands and forearms of the traveler next to me like flinty rocks, a consequence of infestation, jagged and scarring, something like this egocentric orb. But they are not alone, the condition affects seventy percent of us now.

We are taken to the broader lands where the iron fields reflect heat and light. Today it is our turn to reach the top. For every emigration the chosen are the first to launch, it’s a lottery and we’re all entered.
The Klein cannon awaits its steerage. It smells like something old and rotten, or is that the stench of this rotting place?

The fuse is lit as we chant our way back to the stars and our new home… “We are the First. We are the FIRST.” The Great UmpUs would be so proud.

The Ticket – Species 85,679,421

Author: Thomas Fitzgerald McCarthy

Exo-zoologist Dr. Khadga Bhandari died clutching the datapad containing her final Special Analysis, surrounded by dozens of mourning colleagues. It was only in the final weeks of her one-hundred and twenty-four-year existence that she had completed her life-long search. Dr. Amori Patel, Bhandari’s closest friend and lover, read the final entry in her personal journal as her body was lowered into the salty red clay of Dehydra’s third moon.
“This is my final summary of the newly discovered species on Torbeuluc, which I have named Opusius, for it is the Magnum Opus of my life’s work.
The Opusius are quirky creatures that traverse both land and water. Their soft, sponge-like bodies contain hollow cavities which they use to store food and other items. Strictly herbivores, their diet consists mostly of the cinnamon-flavored roots of Benno shrubs. They make their homes in pools of mercury that form near the ammonia springs in the subtropical Gariad Peninsula, the fumes of which keep predators at a distance.
They are tripodal organisms with deep black skin and four double-jointed arms. Bright yellow stripes race down their long, hooked limbs. Their disproportionately large heads are exoskeletal, maintaining a bony husk that shields their cerebrum from calamity. Their faces are long and perforated, with a single sheathed eye. When the wind passes through the creatures’ hollow jaws, their bones will hum softly, like flutes.
The Opusius have lifespans of roughly two-hundred years. When dealt a fatal injury, reproductive spores eject from their heads like a million little escape pods. The indigenous humanoid population gathers up the spores as tokens of good fortune.
They possess a rudimentary intelligence and even a sense of empathy. On one occasion, I witnessed an Opusius nurse a fallen Fedemore Bat back to health and even sing to it.
One particular aspect of their biology fascinates me.
Once upon a time on Earth, lobsters were kept in water tanks for consumption. Starving lobsters would often prey on one another. Sometimes, when cornered, a lobster would amputate one of its own claws for the others to consume, in order to avoid being torn apart.
The Opusius have a similar survival mechanism. I discovered a fleshy pouch beneath their bellies that detaches itself when they are being pursued by predators, serving as a rather effective diversion. These pouches are formed by a complex delta of fibers that siphon off five percent of the food that the creature consumes. Yet, the stored nutrients in these pouches cannot be accessed as a source of energy until Opusius reaches an advanced age, when they are no longer able to outpace the predators near their feeding grounds, effectively making them biological social security accounts.
An absolutely magnificent evolutionary adaptation.
In its late years, the creature’s body will bloat and stretch by a factor of three-hundred percent, and its limbs will become stiffen into a bony, non-decomposing material. Eerily cognizant of its own biological clock, the creature will emerge from its mercurial home in the final, dusky hours of its life. After scouring for an area rich in insect and animal life, it will spread its misshapen limbs, hinging nearby rocks and plants together, and with its final breath, open all of the massive cavities of its body to the outside world.
Thus, it transforms itself into a fossilized corral reef.
Dear God,
Of all the thousands of species I have documented across a hundred worlds, this is the one that I wish to be reincarnated as, should You choose to grant me such a noble existence.”

A Different Kind of Sleep Experiment

Author: Elizabeth Hoyle

“What is this?” A pill rests in a plastic cup.
“It’s something to make you sleep. We have all the nodes attached so we can monitor your brain waves and your vitals throughout the night. Once we have tonight’s data, we can start a more personalized course of action.” The doctor’s smile is infectious. “I want you to take that and dream of what an extraordinary help you are by being the first to participate in this new sleep study.”
“All I’m doing is getting a good night’s sleep.”
“Sleep is incredibly important. You’ll hopefully prove an example for many more to follow. I will do my best for them, as I am for you.”
The doctor leaves the room. I knock back the pill with a sip of ginger ale. The lights go out. My back aches, so I roll onto my stomach. My eyelids get heavy. The doctor’s so young to be doing something this advanced, I think. Then again young people are so much more advanced. Sleep takes me.
When I wake up, the doctor is staring up at me, wide-eyed and open-mouthed. That’s funny. I should be below him. And my back no longer aches. What’s going on?
“I’ve done it! Can you hear me?”
Movement over his shoulder catches my eye. His assistant, who told me all about his uncle’s trip to my home state of Alaska as he attached the nodes, moves my body onto a gurney.
“What’s happened to me?” My voice has changed.
“The pill I gave you wasn’t just for sleep. It held a unique machine that scanned your brain to allow me to codify your consciousness. You are now the first person to exist outside your body!”
My mind races with all I could say but all that comes out is “This is not what I signed up for!”
His laugh is a harsh bark. “Hasn’t our species been saying that since the beginning of time?”
He types for a few moments then turns to go.
“What’s going to happen to me?”
“You’ll see.”
And I do see. I am not the only one he wants to digitize. Poor soul after poor soul is lured into the lab. He mutes me so I can’t talk. There’s no way I can warn them. I probably look like an open program spouting streams of text. I try to worm my way out of the computer or at least into the other programs he works on. I can sense them, as though they were boxes on the edges of my peripheral vision. But it’s no use.
Others join me gradually over time. Our number runs into the thousands. Every time a new subject comes in, we unleash a hurricane of anguish. The doctor keeps us muted all the time. We speculate among ourselves as to why he’s done this but we never get the chance to ask.
Finally, one day, he hits the unmute button. He hands have grown knobby and spotted with age. “I’d like to posit a question to you all,” he says when all the fuss of our collected rage dies down.
“What’s the most efficient way to kill a lot of people?”
If we had bodies, I expect we’d be exchanging wary glances.
“The answer is quite simple.” He types and we know a new program has been opened.
“You make them believe you’re acting in their best interest.”
He clicks once. The program starts working, silencing our voices, one by one. He watches and listens, basking in the success of his experiment.

Nature’s Candy

Author: Hari Navarro, Staff Writer

Hook stemmed wild blackberry reaches up to pull me down into the barely visible ghost footprint of her home. It has been years since I’ve stood here. Years since we did what we did and cackled and spat as we did it.

If I’m honest, the hint memory of our dirty deeds still aches at my cheeks. It wasn’t funny. I know that but, sometimes, even the foulest of things overwhelm and bring to us a sickly after-taste of joy.

If we are to be honest.

I stand in this now long empty place on this ruined and long forgotten avenue behind the great factory and I remember her porch and her door. I remember Halloween…

I recall how she decorated her tiny cottage with the most insanely ghoulish horrors. Again, I dampen my smile. All year long she would toil to craft the replicas that she’d sit in the old rocker on her pouch. One year it was Freddy and the next it was Jason but the most grotesque was when the skinned corpse of Mylène Jampanoï from Pascal Laugier’s ancient classic Martyrs sat and dripped on display. The dear old thing, ever the literal.

“Hello, Miss Grunes”, she does not look at me but I feel the peel of her gaze.


“I know who you are, child.”

“… so happy you agreed to see me. I’ve travelled a very long way. I want to tell you I’m sorry. I know I’m not obliged to but something about how it all ended stayed with me. We were children, Miss Grunes. Just kids, though I know that’s no sort of excuse”, I cough into the ball of my fist.

“You are wrong. Youth is a satchel that must be filled with wrong doings. These are the things that define you. The things that conduct you into becoming your true self.”

“You do not show your age on your flesh but you do in your words. I expected you to be more… worn, or something.”

“Oh, I’m worn, child. I’m all but worn right through. But your coming here today has certainly perked me up.”

“We only visited on Halloween. Though, we knew that you had no one. That you existed in your little world all alone. That the company had put you out to pasture, as it were. Did you know we were your tormentors? As we gobbled down your home-made treats. Nature’s candy, right? The graffiti was cruel. You’d served this community so well and so long. But killing your cats was evil. We knew that you had connected with them. We saw how you petted and cared for them when no one else would. Did you love them? Do you even love?”

“I think about them often. But, in the end, they were but cats. Meaningless creatures to make you feel wanted when you are not.”

“We reduced your house to cinder. I’m dying, Miss Grunes. I’m sorry. I really am…”

“All your little friends are dead. Not one came to me as you have now. So, thank you for that. Funny, isn’t it? How just because something is natural does not mean it cannot bite. Just look at this beautiful tasty bramble as it gnaws at your heels. You need not worry, for in the end I am nothing. Just an outdated service synthetic. I have no feelings. I cannot love nor shake uncontrollably from loss as you can. The cancer, does it hurt? Dear sweet child, are you not just so very impressed with the slow, slow drip of my revenge?”