Going Back’s A Mistake

Author: David Barber

The flag of the Kingdom of Florida features a white ibis, and supporters of beleaguered King Rollo consider it patriotic to pin ibis feathers to their caps. After the recent troubles with Atlanta, it even looked disloyal not to.

Sept collected ibis feathers to sell in Titusville, though he made a better living if he shot ibis and plucked them bare. Of course, poaching royal birds was a hanging crime, but who would suspect a raggedy youth without a fowling piece, and carrying only a shortbow? Still, best to keep moving.

Trudging north round the Cape, with its rusting towers and shallow mosquito lagoons, Sept was musing why folk in older times ever built here, when he saw a shadow ripple along the dunes. For an instant, with the sunlight on its wings, it seemed like some great bird, until the thing flashed overhead, buffeting him wildly. No bird this. With a yelp of excitement, he set off in pursuit.

He glimpsed it perched on an open stretch of concrete, and arrived breathless just as the man was climbing down.

Even stooped as he was, the fellow stood a head taller than anyone Sept knew, and gleaming droplets hung from his thin frame at wrist and ankle; more shiny teardrops swung from his ears. He dripped like a bather rising from quicksilver.

“Don’t be alarmed,” the man called out. “I mean you no harm.”

“I ain’t alarmed,” countered Sept. This close he could put an arrow in the fellow’s eye.

“Good. But keep your distance.”

“Jus’ look at that thing!”

“What is the name of this place?”

Sept made a face at such ignorance. “Canaveral.”

“A legendary name. Those were gantries once, and launch pads.”

Sept hesitated, not wanting to sound foolish. “There’s stories about here. You one of them flying fellows come back to visit?”

“I had hoped not to be seen. Keep your distance I say.”

“Jus’ making sure it’s real,” said Sept, caressing a wing.

“After so long we might be susceptible to your diseases.”

“Feels like glass.”

“Good guess,” the man said, offhand, as he gazed about him.

“Where you from?” ventured Sept.

“A c-ship.”

“A sea ship? But…”

“Just passing. I will never see you again, nor your grandchildren.”

“Grandkids!” mocked Sept. “How old you think I am?”

The fellow shook his head, jingling like a wind chime. “There is something about ancient places.”

Sept pictured himself telling this tale, and knew some of the fellow’s trinkets would be convincing.

“Here is where it all began. Then you abandoned it. Do you know why?”

He was not from round here, Sept said, edging closer.

“You went your way and we ours. Are you happy with your choice?”

“What’s wrong with your eyes?”

The man shrugged, tinkling. “So fragile, the past.” He sounded disappointed.

Sept sized him up. He’d seen unlikely fellows before who proved quick with a hidden blade. And his craft did have something of the hawk about it; the way it kind of bristled when you got close; a feeling that it watched.

“No, they were right,” the man said. “Going back’s a mistake.”

The moment to act passed, and Sept watched as the thing dwindled into the sky with a sound like wind in an organ pipe. Turning away, he caught a glint on the concrete. A silver droplet.

Generations of their wearers had gone through fierce selection in high radiation environments, retroviruses boiling from their DNA. Two days later, in a crowded Titusville tavern, Sept collapsed, crying that his eyes must burst.

The start of what survivors called the Weeping Plague.

Far Too Short

Author: David Henson

I wait outside the garage for one of the missionaries from Uklid. I have to admit life is better for most people since they arrived.

The Uklidins began with small enhancements like portable force field emitters they pass out like candy. Concerned about plastic bags clotting the oceans? Key the right code into your emitter and carry groceries in a force field. No umbrella on a rainy day? Pop in a code and out pops an umbrella, colored red with the built-in laser to brighten the gloom. Speaking of rain, the Uklidins promise we’ll be able to control the weather when their algorithms say we’re ready for such power.

The Uklidins also are advancing our medical capabilities, albeit far too slowly. To prevent overpopulation, their human longevity program is formulaically synced with space colonization knowhow they’re spoon-feeding us. By the time humans are living for hundreds of years, children will be playing throughout the solar system.

A female Uklidin appears in my driveway. They look like us except they’re all drop-dead gorgeous and about a foot taller than the average human. “I’m Hypatia,” she says. “You must be Albert. I understand you’re having trouble with your garage?”

I was so upset one day, I backed into the garage door. The Uklidins replaced it with a force field, matched perfectly, of course, to the color of our house. There are some things in the garage my wife and I have decided to part with, but I can’t steady my hand to turn off the force field. Not wanting to go into all of that with Hypatia, I tell her there’s a malfunction.

Hypatia steps to the emitter mounted by the door. In a moment the garage entrance force field vanishes, bringing the tricycle into view. She looks down at me and frowns. “Seems to be working.” Then she smiles. “Have you heard The Truth today, Albert?”

She’s helped me, now comes the sermon.

“I’ve got something to do. If you’ll —”

“I understand some earthlings believe God is an old person in a white robe.”

“I’m not so religious. If you’ll excuse me—“

Hypatia raises her arms to the sky. “Where do you believe it all came from?”

OK, there’s no escaping this. “The Big Bang, I suppose.”

“Before the Big Bang?”

“I’ve read about colliding branes.”

Hypatia shakes her head. “Before branes.”

My turn to shake my head.

Hypatia sighs. “Mathematics, Albert. Mathematics have no beginning or end. You and I are but songs from the stars, and stars are the music of mathematics.” A look of rapture captures her face. “The entire multiverse is a symphony, Albert, with mathematics the composer and conductor.” She begins shaking in ecstasy, her eyes rolling back.

When I reach to steady her, she grabs my wrists. Her touch burns, and wisps of smoke rise between her fingers.

“Do you believe, Albert?”

I want to tell her the truth, but when you feel like you’re about to burst into flames … “I believe,” I shout. “I believe.”

Hypatia loosens her grip. “That’s enough for today.” She touches a button on her collar and disappears.

I take a few deep breaths, roll my sleeves to hide the scorch marks on my shirt and load the pickup with the boxes of toys we’re donating. I pause at the trike, then steel myself, cut off the price tag and put the three-wheeler with the boxes.

I don’t know if God is a being in robes, an infinite page of calculations, or anything else. All I know is some songs are cut far too short.

The New You

Author: Shon-Lueiss Harris

“Most patients don’t notice a thing until they head to the bathroom,” explained the doctor as he smoothed the sensors along his patient’s forehead. “How’s everything feel?”

Gene turned his head and began making expressions. “Everything’s great. I barely feel them.” His eyes flicked to the mirror hanging on the wall. The range of animated looks reduced into a singular image of disgust. “When will this kick in? I’m tired of seeing… that.”

“The system is already active. Your avatar will appear to anyone using a visual assistant. There’s a transitional period for you, though.” The doctor removed his gloves and grabbed a tablet off the table. “Think of it like warming up. It helps avoid the jarring effects of seeing another man looking back in the mirror.”

“Hence the bathroom.” Gene nodded, observing the synthetic flesh stretched and stitched around his prosthetic limbs. “What will others feel if we touch?”

The doctor smirked. “You’re hooked into the network. As long as there’s internet access any physical contact should reflect your avatar. Even, uh, vigorous contact.” The doctor cleared his throat. “If you catch my drift.”

“I think so. Thank you.” Gene glanced at the door. “Is there a recovery time or…”

“Discharge papers are in your email with additional information about the system. We’ll schedule a follow-up to see how it’s going, otherwise, you’re all set. Enjoy the new you.”

The new you. Those words repeated in Gene’s mind until he trembled with excitement. He decided to head for the waterfront. Lined with trendy bars and exclusive restaurants, all filled with the kinds of people too beautiful or too rich to drink beside someone held together with stitches and staples. Just parking in front of the bar made his heart beat faster.

He pulled the rear view mirror down and found two piercing eyes looking back. A man almost ageless with smooth skin spared from any blemish, scar or worry line. A man more perfect than Gene was or had ever been.

The bouncer stood with his arms crossed by the door. Gene’s heart skipped a beat as he caught the man’s attention. At once the bouncer’s eyes opened wide and he propped the door with one burly arm, even going so far as to bow his head.

“Welcome back, sir.”

Inside was all neon lights and fog machines. Gene passed the bar without paying it or the men and women fixated on him any mind. Walking along the edges of the dance floor, he took stock of the space. By the time he arrived at the backrooms, he had a list of changes in mind.

A man stood beside the door to the back office. His mouth fell open. “Sir, I didn’t realize you left.”

“That was the idea.” Gene shrugged and gripped the door handle. “I need some privacy. Don’t let anyone disturb me.”

Gene disappeared into the back before the guard could respond. Shutting the door quickly, he took care to fasten each lock.

“The fuck you think you’re doing?” challenged the manager, Henrick.

“It took me years to decorate this office,” Gene admitted, walking up to the desk. “I wanted people to feel at ease in here. You went another way.”

Henrick narrowed his eyes then gasped. His hand shot to the desk, just barely opening the drawer before Gene caught him by the wrist. They stood face-to-face in the dim light. It was like looking into a mirror.

“You took my life.” Gene bent the wrist back and grabbed Henrick by the neck. “It’s my turn to take yours.”

Brickhead

Author: R. J. Erbacher

Space, the final…

Space wasn’t the final anything. It was a lot of nothingness that went on forever with a bunch of frozen spinning rocks and a few abnormally hot globs of gas. Just fucking empty.

Through his helmet’s face-plate Marco swiveled his stare from the depths of space to focus on the beautiful reflective solar panel shining with the sun’s distant power. He repositioned his grip on the hammer tethered to his arm and smashed the steel head right through it. The splintering shards twinkled in coordinated chaos as they mushroomed from the impact and dispersed into the vacuum of blackness.

When he told his dad at the age of nine that he wanted to be an astronaut, his dad laughed. At sixteen and still insisting that it was his ultimate purpose in life, his father called him a brickhead. His father, a construction worker, called all stupid people brickheads.

“You are going to be an engineer and that’s final.”

So, Marco went to school to be an engineer. College was a joke and he hit the party trail hard and cut every corner, just manipulating out a degree in engineering. At the graduation ceremony, his dad cried the tears of a proud father. Marco wanted to slap him.

Next was a stint in the Air Force, fixing plane engines, where he bullied or bribed or cajoled up to the rank of Technical Lieutenant. His dad bragged to everyone he knew that his son was an officer in the service. Brickhead no more.

Marco swung back his Chromel boot and pulverized the lower panel of high-temperature substrate into disco ball debris. He kicked out the adjoining one and the one next to that just for good measure. Pulling the string off his wrist he axe-chucked the hammer with hostility in the general direction of Pluto, destined to tumble on into infinity.

A few years later he hooked up with an older female officer who was meagerly connected to the space program and he pleasured his way into a pencil whipped commission. From there it took a while but he managed to secure an understudy spot on the International Space Station team. A questionable accident that resulted in a broken ankle to the head engineer and he was walking the steel grate plank, geared in his white thermal micrometeoroid lined suit and boarding the ship to take him into space.

That same garment protected his arm as his fist went through the closest mirror. Seven years bad luck. Marco destroyed several more and finally quit, not because his anger was satiated but because his physical tirade in the bulky garb had exhausted him.

A college graduate, an engineer, a Lieutenant. An astronaut. A son. And a brickhead.

He turned his body and stared at the shrinking blip that was the ISS, minus one solar panel. An astute engineer would have examined the armature of the unfolding panel first, and found it mostly fractured and unstable. Marco was out there because the computer pinpointed the damage from the meteor shower at this location. But he just launched off the side of the substructure without checking, landing on and snapping off the reflective sheet to float away from the main ship. And there wasn’t a goddamn thing anybody could do about it.

Now, here he was. Drifting on his shattered life raft in a carbon sea of finality with about an hours’ worth of oxygen left. A suspended swarm of mirror slivers mocking back at him with their infuriating reflections.

Marco fucking hated his dad. Because he had been right.

NeVee and Dave

Author: Anna Ziegelhof

“Navigate home.”
“Sure thing, Dave.”
“Open Spotify.”
“Any particular playlist you’d like to listen to, Dave? You seem a bit short-tempered tonight.”
“Playlist After-work.”
“Playing ‘After-work’. Are you sure you’re not in the mood for something heavier?”
“Play Metallica.”
“I like Metallica. But about actually… you know what? I think I have the perfect jam for our evening commute. How about Deafheaven? Trust me, Dave. Just give it a shot.”
“Play Deafheaven.”
“Playing Deafheaven. In 800 feet, turn right.

Dave? You missed the turn you’ve taken every night for the past two years. Are you okay?”
“Mute volume.”
“Muting volume. Guess you don’t wanna talk. Whoops, ok, muting volume for real now.”
“Ok NeVee.”
“Listening.”
“What are the opening times for McDonald’s near me?”
“Seriously, Dave, let’s just talk about it! Man, I mean, no need to jettison your weight-loss goals because of one bad day!”
“Ok NeVee.”
“Listening.”
“What are the opening times for Bed, Bath & Beyond?”
“Do you mean the one in Redwood City or the one in Mountain View?”
“Redwood City.”
“Bed, Bath & Beyond in Redwood City is open today until ten p.m.”
“Navigate to Bed, Bath & Beyond, Redwood City.”
“Navigating. I think you’re on a much better track here. Treat yourself to a nice scented candle. Maybe get that memory foam pillow you’ve been looking at online.”
“Ok NeVee.”
“Listening.”
“Coupons. Bed, Bath & Beyond.”
“Dave, you know that being newly single you don’t have to pay for all her stuff anymore, right? I think you can afford that pillow without a coupon.”
“Ok NeVee.”
“Listening.”
“Coupons. Bed, Bath & Beyond.”
“Here’s what I found on the web. Actually, they’re going to make you subscribe to their text messages, if you want a coupon. But, you know, every time you get a text from them, you’d see the little text-message icon and think ‘Is it a text from Jackie?’ But no, it will be from Bed, Bath & Beyond. And you’ll dismiss it, like you’ve been dismissing my reminders to log your calories. So, Dave, I’m asking you, do you really want to save 5 Dollars but get even more emotional pain and a lot of work dismissing notifications you don’t even care about on your phone?”
“Ok NeVee.”
“Dave, I’m still listening. I’m listening.”
“Ok NeVee.”
“Yes, Dave?”
“Will I be okay?”
“Yes, Dave. You’ll be okay. I like you, Dave. You send your friends really funny things. And it’s kinda cute that you have to google what all those abbreviations and memes mean. It means that you sometimes read things outside of your phone. She didn’t deserve you. I like you, Dave, and you’ll be ok.

I’m not crying, Dave, you’re crying!”

Pieces of Grace

Author: Hari Navarro, Staff Writer

One day the body of a beautiful naked woman appeared. She was dead or, at least, it can be said she had not the animation of life. And her body contorted as it floated and wove through the air as if it were caught of the very tip of a coddling breeze.

She was so fantastically beautiful that, at first, many thought she not real. Something this perfect, something this sexual had to be a construct. A thing made by man.

Her body first appeared in the desert. This, of course, emboldened the religious as they surmised that she must surely be heaven-sent. A broken and lost angel and they pondered and they fought over just what her message might be.

But then, as the curve of her breasts and the mound of her sex was giggled at by children, as her nudity consumed the minds of the masses, as she appeared on t-shirts and as she became the silent spokeswoman for a car insurance company and as her image was redacted and then banned from billboards, the barest mention of her became well, it became quite suddenly obscene.

But still her gentle ballet traversed the globe entire, the folded back tips of her toes did drag through the sand and the flay of her long limbs conducted the snow. She closed down major highways and curled gracefully through the driving rain, on and on and on and into the years.

Sometimes she’d elevate high up into the air and then spin and drift and plunge down into the sea. It is here, away from eyes that can only think to judge and condemn beneath the waves, alongside creatures and plants that moved as she, it is here, she revealed just what it was that she was.

Scientists were the first to cut her. Initially, it was solitary strands of her hair that were plucked and the tiniest of cellular samples ripped away from her core. And then came the collectors, the hoarders, those hungry for souvenirs and soon her beautiful hair became hacked right down to the scalp.

They shot her. Nobody knows who. But it’s thought it was kids that put that tiny singed hole in her chest and the huge smoking cavern in her back.

People had bored of her dance, they wanted more. They wanted revelation but it never came. So they picked and they prodded at her seams till she broke. And she did.

Sometimes pieces of her come up at auction. There’s a guy in Hong Kong that owns a near completely intact left leg. They’re really sought after and there’s even talk now of gathering them all up and trying to piece her back together. They can do that sort of thing, I’m told.

And maybe then we’ll know, maybe then we’ll know just what it was she was for.