Author : Jedd Cole
There are a million people in this city, and none of them speak the same language. They are passing through to distant parts, nodding their heads to the immigration officers and their berets. They are carrying their passports in the numb fingers of their right hands. They are dragging their bags across the sterile floor with their left hands. They are sagging under the weight of bags on their shoulders and broken backs.
It is cold on the platform. Outer space tends to make everything cold. It’s the perfect condition for the fever.
There are a million venders in this city, one for every man, woman, child. They use their machines, machines with lips and beautiful faces and smooth skin to speak honeyed things to these little polyglots. It is not coercion–everyone accedes to vendors’ programs. Come earn a living working for [mining conglomerate] on Mars. Realize the [“career goal” entry from mandatory survey] you’ve always dreamed of at [mining conglomerate] in the Tau Asteroid Station. Visit your [“closest deceased relative” entry from mandatory survey] in the holographic gardens on Titan. The machines love these people and kiss them in careful ways.
There is only one answer. It’s the social pathogen, the Yes Fever. And it’s catching. There are a million slaves in this station-city, headed for parts unknown that they think they know because the machines have told them all about it–the successes awaiting their eager labor in the side of unassuming red rocks–the opportunities for visiting masked holograms of dead relatives during lunch break before returning to the off-planet call center–the chance to make it big working for a new man every night, their faces bidding on you in a dark room downstairs.
It’s got to be a fever–it’s cold on this platform, but they’re all sweating.
There are a million seats on the ships at the edge of this city. They are empty and full and boarding but never unloading. There are a million one-way tickets being given to the nodding infirmed, headed to distant parts and new lives just like this one. They’ll never lose the fever, though. They say it’s terminal.
Author : Deirdre Coles
The key is, you never take anything from really rich people. They’re paranoid, and they often have their own kinds of security. It’s much better, usually, to aim lower.
Jackson had gotten four decent cameras from the wedding of anxious, pregnant young bride and a sullen groom on Friday evening. With all the booze and bonhomie in the hotel ballroom, nobody was keeping a close eye on their stuff.
As he walked past another reception room, a flash of peacock blue caught his eye, a woman twirling around in a long glittering dress, and he stepped inside.
The room made him nervous right away. He didn’t look toward the woman in blue. In a long-practiced maneuver, he scooped up a serving tray, brought it over to the nearest table, and picked up a few empty glasses, a couple of plates, and a camera, with a napkin draped over it.
Back at his apartment, he decided not to sell this one right away. The camera was really beautiful. It was a very pale iridescent yellow, with intricate sculpted buttons with no words.
He experimented with it a bit, and figured out how to take a picture of the two sugar maples across the street outside his window.
But when he looked at his photo, the trees were scorched and ringed with litter. The pavement was cracked and buckled, the buildings in ruins., with broken glass everywhere.
Jackson was starting to get a bad feeling. He took a deep breath and took another picture, this one at an angle of the street corner. On the camera’s screen, the building on the corner was gone, with only one partial wall remaining.
Nobody like Jackson survived for long by being stubborn, or ignoring their instincts, so he didn’t waste much time arguing with himself. He walked down the street to a playground and took a picture of a toddler in the sandbox. Never a good idea to take a picture of a kid, but Jackson was in no mood to be careful. He heard an exclamation behind him and walked swiftly away.
As soon as he got around the corner he took a closer look. The chubby toddler with her Viking-blond hair had become a gaunt, sunburned preteen. So, not much time, then.
Jackson sighed as he turned the camera around and took a picture of his own face. He thought he’d expected the bare, grinning skull looking back at him, but it came as a shock all the same.
He walked slowly back to his apartment. The first thing to do, he thought, was to get far away from all the big cities. And the camera might help him figure out where.
Back in the hotel, a creature who now looked not at all like a woman in peacock blue frowned at her companion.
“I thought you said the human would get rid of it, if it foretold his death?”
The other creature shifted uneasily. “It seems they may have changed since my last visit. Or maybe this one is different than most.”
“Perhaps we should prepare for a longer visit, then. It seems we have a great deal more to learn.”
Author : Clint Wilson, Staff Writer
I have successfully synchronized myself with this system’s most evolved planet. As my physical form materializes in the nitrogen rich atmosphere I zero in on an artificially constructed dwelling. It is full of crude technology. Visual/audio and communication devices abound, along with appliances for both preserving and cooking organic food. Then there is basic waste removal plumbing and quasi-advanced temperature control. Overall these beings appear to be verging on the modern ways that I am used to and are probably on their way to interstellar integration.
There is one being home. Surprisingly my intelligence meter sends back a very low-end scan. I have seen their technology. I know that my scanner is missing something. As I appear in a common area the being spies me and launches into a tirade of unintelligible shouts and taunts. I immediately send out soothing, calming messages via telepathy. The quadruped responds quickly and ceases its verbal barrage. It obediently sits back on its haunches and seemingly awaits further communication.
Typically I can communicate quickly with just about any intelligent or quasi-intelligent species but with this one it takes a while. At first I think it is telling me that it has been enslaved here, but then I determine that it is actually quite satisfied with its living arrangement. “Tell me more,” I say in mind speak, as I continue to try and ascertain how this being manipulates all of the complicated devices in its home without opposable thumbs.
Meanwhile, the Johnsons enjoy their day at the beach, secure in the thought that their faithful mutt, Brutus, is safely guarding their home.
Author : Jae Miles, Staff Writer
It took me twenty years. I mortgaged everything I had, including family, friends and the love of my life. But G-Nano was worth it. A revolutionary method where leading-edge technology would restore the Earth’s damaged biosphere as a side effect of improving everyone’s lives. The adaptability of the code allowed scalability that ran from going one-on-one with disease organisms to cleaning the plastic islands at the ocean gyres. I submitted the patent request along with the gigabytes of proving data, then waited for the calls to start.
After a month, there was only one: “Professor David Adams? This is James Rufford of the Ministry of Defence. A car will be outside your block in two hours. It will bring you to discuss your patent application.”
The driver was courteous, as was everyone I met on the way to the nicely-appointed office where James Rufford waited. He looked up as I came in, his wall screens displaying the highlights of my work.
“Professor Adams. Firstly, may I compliment you on the genius of your work. Secondly, may I apologise for the fact that it is about to be classified beyond public scrutiny forever.”
I just stood there, my mouth hanging open. He gestured me to a chair.
“You cannot be serious.”
He smiled: “I am. Let me show you why.” The wall screen showed a grainy, scanned photograph of a group of bearded, top-hatted gentlemen standing next to a wooden frame that supported a tall, naked being with hourglass-shaped openings where its eyes should be.
“In 1754, a Dakerda scout crashed in the Lake District. While computers were unknown to the gentlemen of the time, the mechanicals salvaged from the wreckage were revelations to them. What the only survivor told them before he died was an epiphany. The Dakerda were looking for a new planet as theirs was ruined. Earth fitted the bill: clean with a primitive civilisation. At that time, the gentlemen involved rightly concluded that we could not withstand the Dakerda. So they came up with plan.”
I raised my hand. “The Industrial Revolution. Mechanisation to evolve the technologies we needed.”
He shook his head: “Nearly right. They decided to make Earth unappealing.”
I slammed my fist down on the table: “Surely it is time for that policy to be reversed. We have the technology now.”
“In 1947, another Dakerda scout came down in Roswell. Analysis of that vessel against what little remained of the 1754 wreck showed technological advances on par or exceeding our progress. Their computers took us thirty years to crack.”
Rufford looked at me: “The Dakerda remain so far beyond us that it is doubtful we would even slow their invasion of Earth down.”
I just stared at him. The implications were horrific.
“Professor Adams, we cannot ‘clean up’ Earth. The moment we succeed, the Dakerda will invade and wipe out humanity. We must keep the pollution while we work on expanding into space. Our only defence is to become a star faring race so we can flee. Of course, if we fail, the polluted Earth will eventually spell our doom anyway.”
Twenty years. I mulled over what he had told me to work out why I had been brought in. With a smile, I extended my hand: “How can I help?”
He looked relieved: “Your designs bear similarities to the architecture of some Dakerda systems. We’d like you to discover how they work.”
“I would be delighted.”
Author : Jay Knioum, Featured Writer
I’m wearing your hand from my neck.
I spent a week drying it out, preserving it, taking care that the tattoo was still visible. Once I was convinced that it didn’t stink, I threaded the zip-tie through the wrist, hung it over my head and tucked it inside my jacket. Good thing, because I don’t think this group I hooked up with would understand. Some of them still have their husbands, wives, kids, moms or dads out there. They still hope. They can still look at the moon and think to themselves, maybe you’re looking at the same moon right now. They can stay warm with that thought as they drift off to sleep.
All I know is, if you’re looking at the moon, you aren’t thinking a damn thing. Not even of me.
I take it out now and then, when it’s my turn on watch. Everyone else is asleep, or trying to be. I take out your hand and look at that tattoo. I did it for you, while I was learning the trade. It looks like shit, but you loved it.
WANT. You had me tattoo that on your left hand, in that spidery writing that I used to use back then.
Somewhere, you’re out there. Maybe you’re dead. Maybe you’re shuffling around under this same moonlight. On the hand you’ve got left, I’d written IGNORANCE into your skin. Same spidery letters. It looked like shit, but you always kissed me and told me it was better than any ring.
Eventually, I put your hand away and someone relieves me. So it goes. Dark, sunrise, sunset, dark. Moonlight.
Sometimes I think I feel your hand move, feel it cup my boob like you’d do sometimes. I’d remember those mornings when you’d be making breakfast, but I wanted something else.
But it’s just a dead thing. Somewhere out there, you’re a dead thing. This hand around my neck is a dead thing. I fall asleep hoping that I’ll find you crushed under a car somewhere, or against all odds, with your stump in a sling, surrounded by people like the people that surround me.
That’s when I remember how I found your hand. It hadn’t been cut off. Hadn’t been torn off. It had been bitten off. Anyone who gets bit, they turn. I’ve seen it. I know that’s what happened to you.
That’s when my hope turns to ash, but it’s still there. I hope, someday, we’ll see each other again. I’ll see your stump, and I’ll see IGNORANCE on your other hand.
Then I can finish this. We can both rest then.
Til death do us part.
Author : R. Daniel Lester
The call came out of the clear blue. From the suburbs, beyond the gates. A woman, speaking in a whisper, said, I’ve heard you help. Can you help?
He said, No guarantees.
She said, Get my daughter before she really hurts herself. Corner of Peco and Ash.
He knew what that meant: GIFbaby. Another party girl walking on the wild side. He got the details: height, description, etc. He played it professional. He had two terms. One: no crossing. He had border fear. And any day without a body scan and a cavity search was a good day in his books. Two: an envelope of cold, hard currency at the exchange.
The caller agreed. She said, Please hurry.
The main place to score in the city was a 10-block radius of burned out buildings and half-demolished skyscrapers. Zone Zero, where the worst of the bombing and rioting had taken place. Once the glossy hub of glass and concrete, now a maze of rebar and rubble.
GIF was street slang for the latest designer drug to be plunged through the ruined veins of the city. Other names: Loop, Loopy, Stucky, Same Ol’. A common side effect being repeated actions in its user, a brain on replay. The trip you were on depended at what timecode in the movie you were starring in that your brain hit stop, hit rewind, hit play, hit repeat. Good trip: blissed out magic carpet ride. Bad trip: nanobot nightmare.
He went to Peco. He followed it to Ash. Rough territory. The anti-tech gangs roamed the streets. Lately, they named themselves after old movie stars. They were both nostalgic and vicious. He got a pass. He was local. He was a certified no-chipper.
He walked across the open-air plaza of a 50-storey with half the floors it used to have. He saw a GIFhead in a beg-for-change loop. He saw a GIFhead with no teeth and one milky cataract eye. He saw citizens cut a wide path around a girl in a shiny dress and high heels. He saw her roll an ankle. He saw the girl fall down stairs. He saw the girl on autopilot. She stood. She limped back up the stairs. She fell. She was loop-fucked. He got closer. Her palms and knees were raw, scraped. She didn’t feel it yet. She was GIFfing hard.
When she hit the bottom stair, he grabbed her. Her body wanted to move. Needed to. He didn’t let her go. She went, Wha? Her eyes were all pupil. She dribbled spit and blood. There was a tooth on her jacket, stuck to the lapel.
He escorted her to the gates. She limped barefoot. She sobered up as they walked. He snagged an empty pill bottle from an abandoned corner store and dropped her tooth inside. She rattled the tooth around in the bottle. She handed over the rest of her stash.
He said, You’re lucky. If the Dead Astaire’s had found you first.
She nodded. She said, My mom?
He said, Yes.
She said, Shit.
The woman waited on the other side of the gates while a burly member of the family’s personal security/kill team traded her daughter for the envelope. The mercenary was teched out–ocular rig, smart armor, reflex enhancers–and looked at him like he was nothing. Like he was a chimp behind zoo bars scratching his balls.
He traded the GIF for a baggie of pure Columbian. At home, he hand ground the coffee beans. He boiled water. He sipped slow. He savoured. The taste, a rare thing, knocked him out at the knees.