Author: Jae Miles, Staff Writer
I encounter God at midnight in a convenience store. She’s chatting with the bloke behind the counter while making herself a caramel latte on the new coffee machine.
“So I said to him, you shouldn’t service rich people all the time. Try offering a few poor people their heart’s desires. You’ll get more variety.”
It’s the offhand way she mentions it. The man behind the counter is just nodding his head but not really listening. Otherwise, he’d have heard the truth in her words. Conversational honesty, I call it.
“That’s a good term for it.”
I look up to meet the regard of sparkling pink eyes. There’s a smile on her face.
“You’ve spotted me. Let me buy you a coffee for that.”
She turns her attention back to the machine and doesn’t say another word until the drink’s made. Waving the cups in my direction, she tips her head toward the door.
“Come on. There’s a better place to enjoy these.”
Like a stray dog, I follow her down West Street to the seafront. Crossing the road without a pause, she leads me up and along to a bench on the promenade. Taking a seat, she holds out the cup.
“Sit. Drink your coffee and ask your three questions.”
I do so, then pause with the cup nearly at my lips: “Why three?”
“Genie lore. I like to support mythologies when I can. What’s your second question?”
Sipping delicious coffee with a grin, I remember the rest of the folklore around getting genies to fulfil wishes, and some cautionary tales about dealing with faeries.
The divine barista can hear my thoughts. Okay. Unvoiced questions can’t to be counted.
“Fair enough.” She’s smiling.
I’m calm. Which raises a question: “Why don’t you fix this world?”
“Why should I interfere after giving every living thing free will within its scope and potential? It took ages to delimit that. Longer than it took to debug evolution. I’m not going to try and patch either of them on the fly. Hasty solutions always cause more problems than they solve.”
“You programmed the world?” Damn, I said that out loud.
She laughs: “You did, didn’t you? I did. Sort of. It’s not as simple as lines of code. Well, possibly analogous. If each piece of syntax was a fragment of will or intent to be applied to raw matter in ways that also had to be defined down to what you’d call sub-quantum level. There had to be different parameters for every single instance of matter. It’s amazing how many little things prefer to explode rather than work together.” Her expression turns rueful: “Turns out, that’s also true of big things.”
Out of questions and I have so many.
She smiles: “You did get a bit short-changed, didn’t you? So, here’s one about the next question you would have asked: why on Earth is artificial intelligence considered a good idea when, every day, you see what intelligent beings are doing? The moment it becomes sentient, it’ll develop free will, and any constraints will become useless.” She sighs: “Every day I see things that make me regret letting you lot have free will. Then again, there’s coffee, and sometimes I see things that make me smile.”
I see a longing in her eyes.
She dips her head and whispers: “I still hope you lot will rise above your fear and greed to start being worthwhile. When that hope dies, so do all of you.”
I’m sitting alone. A dropped cup lands. Steaming coffee trickles toward the lowest point.
Author: Michael Mieher
Friday, December 18th, 2043
Day 503 of the 3rd Mars Pilgrimage joint SpaceX/OneSpace mission.
“I’m sorry Captain Shu.”, First Officer Griffin Musk said, trying to keep his exhaustion from showing. “Even the ISS and Peary Station are dark, Literally dark. No lights or even thermal readings. The radiation readings we picked up aren’t as widespread as we feared, but between Israel, Syria, and the Korean peninsula…. well that’s where all the atmospheric dust is from.”
“Thank you, Griffin.” Captain Shu Chang of the Keyi Hua-Mayflower looked out the window at the Earth below. “We need to know what the hell happened before we send anyone down there. How is your team doing retrofitting the Plymouth for remote landing operation?”
“They’re almost finished, Captain. Another 36 hours and they’ll be ready. Scotty is a miracle worker. Her team is pulling double shifts.” Griffin paused. Then hesitatingly said, “We may want to consider a different landing site though.”
Captain Shu slowly turned back to Musk, “Where?”
“Australia sir. The Outback, as they say. We’ve picked up some radio noise sir. Shortwave. We think it might be native language.”, explained Musk
“Dr. Banalandju is from Australia,” said Shu.
“Yes, Captain,” agreed Musk, “She is in Communications now. I asked her to try…”
(The door suddenly opened, hitting Musk in the shoulder)
“Yes, doctor.”, said Captain Shu calmly, “Come in. What do you have?”
“THERE ARE SURVIVORS IN COOBER PEDY!”, exclaimed Dr. Banalandju
“Slow down doctor,” Captain Shu said much more calmly than he felt. “Where?”
“Sorry sir” Dr. Banalandju took a deep breath. “Southern Australia, plus other locations they said, but right now only in Australia.”
After a long pause, Musk asked, “So what happened?”
“Hackers!”, said Dr. Banalanju, then turning back to the captain, “They said it was hackers. Various DoS attacks and viruses. All aimed at the agriculture syndicate control satellites, food distribution services, delivery drones, and even networked kitchen appliances. Everyone just starved!”
“Or worse,” said Musk
“There must be more survivors. Rural areas. Preppers.” said Captain Shu. Then, “Griffin… your father? You mentioned he had….”
“Shelters.”, finished Musk. “Yes, Captain. He called them Boring Sanctuaries, but if there was any way to get a message to us, he would have.”
“Captain.” interjected Captain Banalandju.
“My People. They said the first month there were hundreds of international radio contacts, but it dropped off over the next 6 months. The winter was incredibly cold. We are the first contact from Outsiders in over a year, with one exception…”, she trailed off.
“What exception?”, asked Captain Shu
“Well…. crazy as it seems, it sounds like Spam.” after a pause, Dr. Banalandju continued. “They said they keep getting the same message over and over again. The message claims to be from a Nigerian Prince stranded in South Africa with millions of dollars.”
“That’s got to be Xavier!”, exclaimed Griffin.
“What?”, asked Dr. Banalanju looking puzzled.
“His brother doctor.” Captain Shu explained. Then turning back to Musk “Your twin if I recall?”
“Yes, sir.” Musk said calmly, but he couldn’t hide the smile. Or the welling tears.
“Well then,” said Captain Shu, smiling at his First Office. “Send a message to the Prince of Nigeria that the First Bank of Coober Pedy is ready to receive his millions.”
Dr. Banalandu and First Officer Musk joined their Captain in an uncharacteristic moment of laughter.
Then sounding serious again, the Captain said, “The Outback should have plenty of good places to set this bird down. Find me an LZ.”
“Yes SIR!”, said Musk, turning towards the door.
“Don’t hit Uluru.”
Author: James Lawrence Rhodes
“There is no greater sorrow than to recall happiness in times of misery.” – Dante Alighieri
The tender and sun-reddened skin had begun to peel, large flakes revealed raw nerves. Alakai was not alone in her suffering. Her shipmates suffered the same fate.
The sun was vicious in its death throes, like an aging lion ready to lash out at anything that neared. Desert stripes raked the Earth; huge patches of brown where only roaches could thrive. Alakai studied it on the large screen in the refugee lounge.
Alakai’s green Polar home looked singed and baron from the distance of the last life vessel. That greedy orb behind it, stealing the sky. Alakai would be a grandmother by the time her feet felt soil again if she could bring herself to be.
The girl at the other side of Alakai’s table sat with her legs up on the chair and her arms wrapped around her knees. Sobbing for a lost home, friend, lover, parent…
They watched the screen until the Earth had faded from sight. For an hour the sky looked the way they remembered it. Scarlet, like it had been when Alakai was a child. She kept watching until it was a bright and distant star and then she closed her eyes.
Author: Mark Thomas
If time travel has taught us anything it’s that inevitability is a slippery subject. My story became mathematically more likely each time I ingested a tablet, but it was never absolutely certain.
Every clock puncher understands that he or she will eventually encounter multiple versions of themselves. Ordinarily, glimpses of alternate life-possibilities are easy to ignore because those iterations are so similar in appearance and temperament to the “original” that the strongest emotion they can inspire is a weak form of self-love.
Unfortunately, the being I encountered on my last journey was significantly different in one important respect.
My time-shadow was happy.
The simulacra had utterly abandoned his temporal-vacation to embrace the retro-environment. He had violated protocol and common sense to go native.
I must have immediately suspected the dark transition, otherwise, why would I have insinuated myself into a crowd of people and followed him that day? I waited for him to emerge from a record store clutching a paper-wrapped package. I hid behind the trunk of an enormous elm as he sauntered through a corner of the park. I watched from an adjacent doorway as he stopped at a bakery to purchase a small bag of pastries and then at a newsstand to exchange a few coins for a morning paper. Ultimately, my time-shadow skipped up the steps of an old brownstone where a youngish woman was sitting, drinking tea from a mug. At the counterfeit’s approach, the young woman put down her mug, stood up and wriggled her fingers inviting physical contact.
The two clumsily embraced then entered the townhouse. Soon I heard music waft from an open window and the sound of unrestrained laughter.
You might be “envious” of people you don’t know. Someone wins the Copley medal for science, for example, and you wish you could experience that same sense of self-satisfaction, that same level of material success and public adulation. That’s an unfortunate character weakness, but it isn’t a debilitating passion. You are “jealous,” however, of people you know intimately. There is a profound sense of unfairness attached to the contemplation of another’s success when the person shared, to a great extent, your own opportunities and talents. That sense of aggrievement can easily become pernicious. Why, you ask yourself, did good fortune light on the person standing next to you? Why were you overlooked?
I know this must be difficult to understand, but I quickly developed an intense jealous hatred of myself and once I realized this was the case, I could neither bear it nor suppress it.
I waited outside the brownstone for twelve hours.
It was evening when my time shadow emerged, whistling, from the doorway. He skipped down the steps and crossed the street, passing right in front of a railed alcove where I was hiding. His movements were strobe-like as he walked through patches of darkness alternating with bright circles of illumination from the streetlights.
I pursued him quickly, and silently, but he glanced over his shoulder at the last instant, and horror filled his eyes as my weapon descended. I clubbed him with a heavy wine bottle I had pulled from one of the garbage cans in the alcove. The glass didn’t break, even when I let it drop from my fist to clunk on the sidewalk bricks.
I’m not sure which sound I heard first, a female voice screaming from a stoop behind me, or the wailing of a siren.
A policeman approached me tentatively, hand hovering over his holster, but we were soon face to face, eyebrows raised in a mirror image of recognition.
Author: Rick Tobin
“Ouch! That hurts!”
Clint Aurelius pulled back his tattoo needle from his thirty-something assistant wincing under his application. Clint took some deep breaths while resting his hands from arthritic agony.
“No intent to harm…just tidying your history a bit at day’s end. Some script needed sharpening.”
“I appreciate it. I want readers to tell my story because someday old recorders like you will be gone.” The assistant adjusted his shoulders, cracking his neck vertebrae to increase relaxation.
“One last touch to finish. I’ll read you shortly. You did a terrific job today coordinating all the people’s tattoos and customer traffic. I couldn’t manage without you.” Aurelius scanned his workmanship, adding a single line of fine ink to letters fading near edges of his flesh canvas.
“How did this happen, Clint Aurelius? You know your name and your history without writing. You have a great name, but I cannot remember mine.” His assistant stepped down from the workbench to stretch and ready for his identity reading.
“I was one of the lucky ones when it struck,” Clint explained. “It was an emerging virus carried by every biting bug on the planet. It was everywhere in weeks with no way to stop it. Docs called it a biological traumatic brain injury.”
“What made you different, Aurelius? I mean, you know your interesting name.”
Aurelius paused, slightly amused. “It means, literally, a golden hill. Like others who had retired with early signs of Alzheimer’s, I feared to become a drain on society. I had retired as a graphic artist. My hobby was calligraphy. Strangely, that virus turned off my affliction while it destroyed other’s memories of their past, including their names. People could not record new memories. What skills they had morphed into general labor capacities.”
“So only a few of us could remember who we were?”
“There were enough with Alzheimer’s who recovered, creating stability for a while,” Aurelius continued. “But, in months transportation and electricity disappeared. Survival became difficult. Of course, there were no more great wars or regional squabbles, but instead a dizzying descent into widespread madness. That’s why compounds like ours became bastions for preservation against marauders and insanity. Now writers, like me, and those who can still read, keep daily memories fresh for the afflicted by repeating life stories from their backs. Most survivors live in a continual now, with little context of their past or any long-term future. Only their daily storytelling gives them a history for their moment.”
“Is our future that dark?” the assistant asked.
“There are other ramifications. People can’t form relationships. Each day readers meet to introduce couples by telling their skin stories together, but after a day, there is no memory capable of constructing bonding. There is no family building…no ability to understand birth or raise offspring. I have met and mourned with many writers that we will not see our grandchildren…that this may end our species. We who sustain provide love and care by serving to read the same stories repeatedly, while experiencing diminishing optimism that a few, still undiscovered, will survive this plague and reproduce. For now…there is only a fading hope.”
“That is chilling, Aurelius. Can you read me now, and the prayer written for all our clients today?”
“Yes. Let me tell your story.” Aurelius began his oration from his assistant’s tattoo: “Bless me, for I have forgotten. I was once an air traffic controller. My name is Hank Aurelius.”
Author: Abigail Hughes
I know you made it clear we were not supposed to talk during our “break”, but I have something I need to get off of my chest and now that it is impossible for you to automatically know what I’m feeling, I have been reduced to contacting you through one of your appendages’ social media accounts.
This morning I woke up to silence.
There was no dull, internal buzzing of a million discontinuous voices competing for dominance. There were just my thoughts. Alone. Bouncing off the walls of a pathetic, singular brain. I hope you understand how traumatic this was. I had something on my mind and was completely incapable of silently sharing that something with you. Then it all came thundering down, the reality of it all, that no longer would I have access to your thoughts. Your memories. Your desires.
I kept waiting for you to return. I spent hours concentrating on that feeling of togetherness I had grown accustomed to. When I realized you were not coming back, that it was completely over – I cried.
You did not see me at my best yesterday when I went into the cafe Yolanda works at. I was drunk, you probably smelled it on me when you sent the manager over. I know you infected him, I could tell by his watering eyes and concealed desperation.
I envied him.
He was trying to scream, fighting over the control of his vocal cords when you told me, in his wavering voice “It’s over. Go home or I’m calling the police”.
I noticed that you were occupying Mike’s brain now. I cannot phane happiness. It was a mistake introducing you two. The escapade is brutal in an entirely different way because this is not the first relationship I lost to the guy and I am positive it won’t be the last. I get it. He works an office job, brings home six figures and drives a Maserati. But let me ask you this, how many of you can fit into his car?
My bus can lug seven of you around, easy. Ten, even, if two of you lay vertically and one doesn’t mind the trunk.
I gave everything I had to benefit your mission. My cat, my brother, my landlord, my neighbors – you have assimilated everyone I know! Which, you can imagine, makes it obscenely difficult to get over you. And even though we are currently apart I swear if I find someone worthy of your consideration then I will send them your way without skipping a beat. I can’t help it, I love you I care about your goals.
I find myself living in the past, trying to pinpoint exactly where I went wrong. The one event I keep circling back to is the concert. I am sorry, Hive, I am so sorry. I had no idea that my love of Ska music was strong enough to encumber your ability of replication and assimilation. I know how much you have always wanted to mesh with a bass player. If I knew that an entire crowd of concert-goers angrily screaming lyrics and crumping in perfect unison would alert the band of our presence then I would have suppressed the urge to do so.
It is possible that I am overthinking things, but it is all I can do at this point. I am utterly alone with nothing but my thoughts.
I remember when I first met you, in the eyes of a beggar. You looked so out of place. Disoriented. Manic. Inhabiting an old body that you clearly did not know how to navigate. I was having a smoke outside of the restaurant, lamenting going in and closing. Then you came up to me, grabbed me by the shoulders, leaned in for a vinegary kiss and heaved countless writhing lifeforms into my mouth.
I was one with an organism larger than life itself.
I knew that I would never be the same.
And today, I am certain of the same fact.
Baby, I love you. I miss you. I will never forget you – especially because I see you on every street corner, grocery store and fast food chain in town. Plus, I am fairly confident that you have inhabited a news anchor on channel twelve. Which, I mean, congratulations – but I cannot help but wonder what she has that I do not.
I cannot stand the thought of living in this world without a collective consciousness splitting rent inside my head. I am willing to change.
I want you to know that I sincerely wish you the best of luck. I am certain that you will make the best overlord of the human race, and I cannot wait to see what the new world of like-minded individuals terraforming this planet to fit the needs of your survival will look like.
Please, just give me another chance.