Break In

Author: David K Scholes

“What was the cause of death?” I asked.

“Well,” replied the bot medical examiner, “they may both have died from sheer fright. Both of them experienced a huge increase in heart rate and blood pressure before their automatic personal protection systems infused them, too late, with blood pressure meds.”

I scratched my head wondering what in this large but mundane studio could have scared them so.

“Everything is smashed up,” I was thinking out loud “but some of this equipment suggests a virtual reality extreme experience. Maybe simulated alien combat or something more perverse.”

“I don’t think so,” offered the bot. I used a dreamcorder on them. The latest models can extract recent dreams hours after brain death or even full physical death.”

I shuddered at the thought. I had once briefly experimented with dreamcorders. To have your dreams recorded and then played back in 3D as if they were real life occurrences was bad enough but the thought of extracting recent dreams from a dead person revolted me.

“According to the dreamcorder visuals of both deceased,” the bot continued “they experienced the same nightmare. Above 10 on the sleep Richter scale. A nightmare that would never be included in any public movie and would be enough to kill most people.

My mind made the leap.

“It’s a repository,” I said with a degree of certainty. “An illegal dream repository.”
“Is there any other kind?” asked the bot “two dreamcorders back to back are a repository and illegal.”

I looked around at the damaged equipment; it was easy to see how I had mistaken it for an extreme virtual reality experience studio. Some of the equipment would be similar.

“There are no dreamcorders here,” I pointed out.
“Oh nothing so crude,” replied the med examiner “this material was extracted from many different dreamcorders.” The bot showed me something I’d never seen before and had not noticed among the debris. A small iridescent crystal. “This is a new form of dream storage – thousands of dreams in this small crystal.”

We called in the dream tech experts to give the place a full going over. While they were doing so the reluctant owner and his formidable escort came in on the hyper loop.

“We recovered a lot of dreams here and I do mean a lot,” said the human dream tech expert much later. “In fact hundreds of millions of dreams.”

“It’s not just any old dream repository then,” I exclaimed realizing we were on to something unprecedented. Later under some coercion, the repository owner admitted this was the principal dream repository for supply to clients who used the dark web. Getting their thrills vicariously by choosing from innocent and unknowing people’s dreams.

The two unfortunate dead people may or may not have known what was here. Perhaps they were just thrill seekers and suspected this place had something to offer them. In the end something more than they had bargained for.

I thought that was the end of it but a few days later my off-sider pulled me aside. They’ve been able to catalogue many of the dreams, actually trace them to particular people. “Yes,” I said, “so what!”
“Several of them close to 9 on the sleep Richter scale were actually yours. Some pretty weird stuff!”

“Oh!” was all I could manage. Though I was angry at the total loss of privacy.

“Don’t worry,” he replied we’ve deleted them from the evidence. “To save you any embarrassment!”

Somehow I felt like a criminal but it was my dreams that had been stolen.

The Pre-Tech

Author: J.P. Quinn

Parker flipped on her monitor. She’d definitely heard it this time, there was no mistaking it. It sounded as if someone was in here with her.

Cycling through the closed-circuit, she searched the facility, but still couldn’t see anything. This was getting ridiculous now. Leaning back in her chair, Parker removed her cap and scratched at her head. She knew she was alone, all the instrumentation confirmed it. She was always alone. That was how her deal worked. She shipped out forty-eight hours in advance of the main crew to prep the equipment and carry out any minor repairs. Then, after a quick handover, she’d be off to the next site to do it all again. That was the life of a pre-technician, and it was a life that she enjoyed.

Putting her cap back on, Parker sat forward and clacked in a command into the keyboard. Tape cabinets whirred into life as the Dartmouth mainframe processed her request. She’d run the calculation before, a test for CO2, but she wanted reassurance. The result was the same, the levels consistent with one crewmember undertaking moderate physical activity. She ran atmospherics too, checking the external temperature, but there’d been little fluctuation in latent heat for the past thirty-nine hours, and nowhere near enough to stress the exo-structure.

So what the hell was she hearing? Parker looked down at the day-sheet beside her. She considered adding a notation, but what would she write? She’d gone so far as to lift her pen when the coolant claxon burst back into life. That was the third hose since she’d been here. Reaching up, she toggled the alarm, and set off to patch the leak. There were three hours left on her mission clock, three hours till the others arrived, three hours till they could plug their own damn leaks, but until then, she was on clean-up duty.

The blown hose was in the service corridor, the coolant spraying out from a loose push-fit connection. The pressure had got too high again. Knocking back the valve, she refastened the knuckle, unraveled a wad of paper toweling, and began to blot up the mess. She got most of it pretty quick, then lit her UV lamp to check for any she’d missed.

Parker jumped as a set of footprints materialized before her. They were small, like a child’s, a heal and five little toes glowing blue in the UV. She shone her lamp down the corridor. The footprints continued, disappearing round the corner toward the airlock.

Parker thought to shout something, but found she had no voice. They must be old, she reasoned, just echoes of the last crew. Kneeling down, she touched one, just to be sure. It was wet.

Then it came again.

The giggle.

A cold sweat broke out on the back of Parker’s neck. It was a little girl’s giggle. Surging back to her feet, the pre-tech ran along the gantry, twisting around the corner just as the inner airlock door slid open. There was no one there.

Moving inside, Parker checked the control panel. It had been a manual activation.

‘Who’s there?’ she screamed, thumbing the intercom.

Behind her, amber warning lamps trundled into motion. Parker sprinted for the exit but didn’t make it, her balled fists slamming into the door as it slid shut.

Parker screamed again, banging at the viewport as the pressure began to drop.

A giggle crackled over the intercom.

Parker beat her fists all the more, but it didn’t make any difference, and soon the giggle faded to silence as the last of the atmosphere vented.

A Time To Cast Away Stones

Author: Janet Shell Anderson

Enormous sound, heard and felt; goes right through me; my bones feel it. Shock. The sky over the Potomac cracks; the sound streaking overhead moving from East to West as if heaven’ll fall into two pale, white pieces. One breath. Two. I’m not afraid.

Birds lift into the air like one animal, whole flocks. The river, sulky, milky, murky, icy, grumbles to itself, as a doomsday sunset pink spreads at the bottom of dark clouds, reflects on chunks of river ice.

I shouldn’t be here where I could be picked up, shot. He’s listed us all as traitors, everyone who did not stand and applaud him. Drones filmed us just standing there, staring at him, while huge missiles on trucks went by. A parade. Pennsylvania Avenue cracked in two places from the weight of the rockets and their carriers; the crowd stood cold, sullen.

I hear sirens, red shrieks of sound, see planes coming fast over the ice-crusted river, fifty feet above the current, fighters, really moving. They light up afterburners.

My great grandfather Nils, an engineer back in the twentieth century, designed a bomb shelter in the White House when Truman was President. Is it still there?

“He’s done it now,” a man swears. “Sonofabitch. He’s done it now.”

Not safe comments. The Tidal Basin looks grey, smoky, the famous Japanese cherry trees, wet and black, bent with ice. A lot of them have been burned because they’re not American trees. Swastikas score many trunks. There’s another tremendous sound but different from the ones in the sky. The ground shakes. Has something hit the White House?

“What was that?” a very young woman, really still a girl, shivering near the trees, whispers. She has dark hair, dark eyes, looks foreign. That’s not good these days. My hair’s bleached white as snow. Safer.

I’m Jamtish.

What’s that? Arctic people. Pretty scary. A while back near Lapland, my cousins, the Bixos, dealt with NewNazis, Germans who came to conquer, made it illegal to mention the Holocaust. Built a big structure, marched around requiring obedience. It didn’t last. There was not a stone left of the Nazi fortress. Not one stone. Some black jackets in the snow. An arm.

Wolves were blamed.

“Aren’t you afraid?” the young woman asks.

I see a big gush of flame across the river reflected in the chunks of ice that rock slowly as the tide runs out. The Potomac’s a tidal river.

“No.”

I used to think all rivers had tides.

The Jamts left not a stone behind.

The Invasion

Author: Alzo David-West

What Ozzie did most with his virtual reality game The Invasion was not the playing but the observing.

His parents had recently moved to the big city, and they put him in a new school and a physical fitness club there. However, he was not a gregarious type, and he made no real friends. So frequently, after school or the club, once he finished an olive loaf and lacy Swiss sandwich with a glass of pulpy orange juice, he connected himself to the game.

He would sign in on noncombatant mode, often in the point of view of a tree, a stone, or a bird. The game-world setting was an abundant panorama of weaving coniferous forests and still wetlands under a bright neutron-blue sky. Sometimes everything almost felt real, especially the four-dimensionally simulated wind and the green smell of the branching pines.

All the same, every time, the placid serenity would be abruptly interrupted by the glassy screams of flying saucers, exploding particle beams, and roving units of ragged woodland guerrillas and snipers waging hit-and-run strikes with archaic general-purpose machine guns, fighting desperately against the technologically superior battalions from beyond the celestial sphere.

It was a terrible, mesmerizing, awesome scene that Ozzie took in quietly, speechlessly, and seriously.

He was going through his observation routine when his mother, who usually did not bother him, suddenly grabbed his shoulders and shook him in a frenzy, saying she was extremely tired and needed help emptying the heavy shopping bags she had lugged up twelve flights of stairs because the two apartment elevators were under repair.

“Noooo!” Ozzie shouted. “My POV!”

He saw himself in the middle of a guerrilla ambush. The men and women mercilessly fired their machine guns at a dreary menagerie of straggling creatures that resembled something between sea worms and centipedes. Ozzie felt the four-dimensional simulation of the searing rounds of armor-piercing bullets, as if they were truly rending and destroying the muscles and the bones of his arms and body, and he quickly disconnected himself from the game.

* * *

The guerrilla unit was surveying the area where it had attacked and slaughtered the surviving reconnaissance crew of the flying saucer the snipers had shot down. The soil was sodden with pale yellow blood turning blue, and the ground was a mess of shattered extremities, pieces of life-support suits, and indeterminable entrails. One of the guerrillas, a fair gaunt man with scraggly black facial hair, appeared confused.

“What’s wrong, Gonzolo?” the swarthy guerrilla commander asked.

“I saw a kid, an ocher-complexioned kid.”

“I saw him, too.”

“He couldn’t have been more than eleven or twelve. We killed him.”

“I realize that, Gonzolo. He just ran in.”

“Yeah. He did. … The way he looked, though.”

“How’s that?”

“We’ve been fighting and starving in these hinterlands for six years now, but the kid, he looked totally healthy.”

“He probably came from a stocked-up cottage out there our units haven’t found yet,” the commander said. The two men peered upon the untouched sections of evergreen trees, crystal lakes, and forested islands in the distance before them.

“Yeah,” Gonzolo said, “maybe from one of those islands.”

But there was no more time for the battle-wary men to muse. The guerrillas needed to move, regroup, and rearm. Screams of more flying saucers were fast approaching, and particle beam bombardments were burning through the woods and the glades. Bounding deer fled the fire and the fumes, and somewhere, a wolf howled in rage.

Seven Point Six Two Millimetres

Author: Hari Navarro, Staff Writer

“This is not who we are”, I mutter as I watch the images cycle over and over on the screen. We are a haven and we love and hold close the freedom and liberty that we’ve cultured here on our tiny beautiful moon. Our special speck of clean green, out on the farthest tip of a bitter and cruel blood-streaked cosmic sea.

We’ve no time for such violences. We play in the surf and we play in the snow, the envy of all those who visit our lush and fertile shores.

My son was a magical child. Really. He had the power to pull down words and render them apart and, then, mix and shape their elements into things. Tangible, tactile, real things.

“I was called into the big chief man’s office today. I have to give it to him, he’s done well. Not sitting and sucking from the system like so many others who filter on down from his swamp, and I totally forgot the projected figures for the next quarter. So, I say, your wife has a nice figure, they used to write rhyming couplets about that flavour of ass. Your kind really pack the junk in the trunk. Am I not wrong? Oh, how we laughed!”, I’d said, more than once, many long years ago.

My son, as a baby barely able to stand, formed from my words countless lengths of cylindrical metal. Pellets that dribbled down his chin and amassed in great piles at his feet.

“Real men don’t put colour in their hair and a man who castrates his penis is not a woman. You cannot re-write that which is written in stone, the sacred tomes that set us apart from the animals – marriage is between a man and a woman”, and again I casually shared my vast knowledge as we sat at the table and ate.

My son, as a young child, he hollowed out the cylinders. Drilling the tip of his tiny fingernail into their base with the keenness of a chisel spiralling away wood at a lathe.

“They’re lazy. The city ones definitely but the rock apes that come in from the country, stuttering and forcing us to assimilate their dead language, it’s on a respirator for fuck’s sake. You want to talk to me then do so in my fucking language, am I right? Tell me I’m wrong. If we find sickness, we vaccinate against it. Their beliefs are a disease. We need to vaccinate ourselves against that. Radicalisation is here, we imported it. We are told to tolerate and embrace the good ones, for they are the majority. But how do we differentiate? Will they whisper their good intentions through the slits in their shrouds? Or must we just await for their cleavers to fall?”

My son, as a teenager, he tapered the ends of the tubes with the suck of his lips and he formed lead pointed tips for their ends, as yet again he plucked their weight from my words.

“They’re coming and their wave will drown all that you love. They will pollute your freedoms.”

Today, as an adult, my son needed only his own words as he ground their bitter dark taint with a mortar and pestle and he filled each of the cylinders to its brim.

My beautiful son, flickering in blue on my screen as he spat at them vitriol and he spat at them bullets and the dead, they stacked as they fled.

“The real cause of this bloodshed is not the sick killer but rather the immigration program, which allow fanatics to migrate to our world in the first place”, said the man with the microphone on the screen, swallowing his spit as he, too, savoured the taste of his words.

This is who we are.

Fooled

Author: Jae Miles, Staff Writer

Another flight of stairs disappears into the shadows above. If this were an old movie, I’d casually rest my hand against a spotless wall while pausing to see if my pursuers have given up. If not, I would spring lightly upwards as if the previous thirty flights didn’t matter.
As it is, I keep a tight grip on the creaking rail while the dry heaves pass and the quivering in my thighs subsides. The baying pack of blood-crazed schoolgirls have paused to tear the sleeping transient I hurdled limb from limb, so I can allow myself a moment. Not that I have a second wind to recoup, but the illusion is nice.
“Hideo, this is no time for hanging about!”
I straighten slowly while mentally putting together a reply without swear words: “Are you going to continue stating the obvious, or do you have useful information?”
“You sound angry.”
I do believe she’s genuinely surprised.
“You told me ‘two or three’. There are more than twenty. All are stage four or worse.”
“If I’d said twenty-six stage fives, you’d have told me to do one. So I lied.”
Chikusho. I’ve been had.
“Am I actually here to rescue Shonji Kurasawira? Is she even part of this infected pack?”
“You’re helping her rescue by leading the pack away from the nest at Matsue College. A specialist suppression unit is currently engaged in cleansing the nest, having retrieved Miz Kurasawira and one other stage two.”
“I’m curious. How would me using my usual pack killing methods not have helped?”
“We couldn’t be sure the pack would leave their lesser members behind.”
“I see. I guess the rendezvous I’m desperately heading for is pointless, because everyone’s at Matsue College?”
“Yes.”
At least she’s not trying to apologise. That would be really annoying.
“Why did you shout at me if there’s nothing for me to lead this lot into?”
“There are a few residents left in that block. Getting them torn to bits would be bad for our image.”
Whoopee. I’m a sacrificial PR exercise.
“Lita, self-sacrifice is usually decided on by the one about to do it.”
“Don’t be picky. You’re doing a good deed.”
The baying gets louder.
“If I get out of this, I’ll drop a little something off for you all to share.”
She laughs: “Can we pick which body part?”
Kuso. The contempt in her voice reveals much.
My legs seem to weigh a ton apiece, but I have anger to drive me through the pain. After two flights, my vision is swimming, but my body is moving like always. It won’t last, and the next stages are crawling and blackout. Better do something significant.
I enter the next floor and see possible salvation. As the pack arrives at the foot of the stairs, I stick my head out. The baying increases. I turn and sprint down the corridor, kicking up trash in my wake. The picture window at the end is already cracked. I shoot it six times before hitting it flat out. Smashing through, I arc away from the building.
The pack follows seconds later: a slower, heavier mass of frenzied death that tumbles into the gap between tower block and the smaller office block next door. One makes it to the office block roof where I’m lying. I shoot it as it teeters on the edge. It topples backwards.
Laughing in relief and crying in pain, I roll over. Delivering a grenade to Lita can wait until I have two working legs. For now, I think I’ll drag myself off in search of medical attention.