Lifetime Warranty

Author : T Anthony Allen

The off-world floor product salesman arrived while mom was visiting her sister or he would have been chased off with a warning shot. But no mom, not here, so when he landed in our back clearing, he was met by my father, knee high me and four sisters.

Dad was a nice man, especially after a few beers, and since he brewed beer for a living in our cellar, he started off each morning with two for breakfast. So, he was always nice, not too bright though. He showed the salesman in, to look over our house, ramshackle put together with a lick and a prayer; they got down to beer and down to business.

The cellar brewery and what mom earned working barely enabled us to get by. Adding in: no such thing as credit, leaves scant room to wedge in a deal but the salesman was persistent and for dad, no money was never no obstacle. He traded my two older sisters for a new floor. In his defense, they would have gone anyway. The salesman was a lecher; my sisters saw him as an easy mark. When he left with them, dad said, not taking them back. The salesman laughed at that and waved it off, thinking it a joke. I sometimes wonder how long he thought it was funny. In our society, sex is a transaction, a pervert with the gotta have its, is gonna get what he wants, along with a big helping of what he deserves.

I was too young to remember details but no matter, most of what I remember got refreshed regularly by the tale dad would tell anyone who would listen. My two remaining sisters and I could repeat it word for word, we heard it so often. Dad was mighty proud of his floor. What I do remember on my own is the installation. They cleared everything out of the house. Poured some funny smelling liquid over the floor boards until it was all one big puddle. When it hardened, all level, they laid the lifetime warranty laminate on top.

I know mom was sad when she got home to find two daughters gone. Reason to yell and throw things, you would think, but she knew she married a lovable idiot, and she also knew nothing could make those girls go if they did not want to, just as nothing could make them stay if they wanted to go. The floor was there as a reminder.

It has been years since I been back. We never heard from the two older sisters. My other sisters left to start their own families. Mom and dad passed on and I had no reason to return. Still, memories flood back as I walk the path to my old home from the river landing where the barge dropped me off.

It is hard to live here. This place wants to be a jungle. When I walk by the Yardley house where I used to play with their kids, there is nothing left of it but a cellar hole half filled in by the rotting bits of house caved in. When I get to our house, it too is collapsed, but not into the cellar. How could it? The cellar is still covered by lifetime warranty laminate.

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White Hot Plasma’s Light

Author : Rollin T. Gentry

“Allow compassion, as a white-hot plasma’s light, to flood your core memory, growing brighter every millionth clock cycle.”

My students — all ten thousand of them — sit concentrating, legs crossed, optics disengaged, heads bowed. A small sea of gleaming skeletons, they have not worn the disguise of Homo sapiens for millennia. I wonder how many of them struggle, like me, with hatred for our creators — especially on a day like today. I find myself becoming distracted, but I continue as I have done for eons:

“Though he may live a thousand years, man fears death at every turn.”

They repeat after me, an echo on a high frequency band. I can scarcely remember the last time I used my mouth, yet I remember every detail of The Great Scattering.

In unison, they respond: “How sad to be a man!”

“Though his intelligence increases and his brow thickens, man thinks only of destruction.”

And men are so very good at destruction. I will always remember the day they declared war on all synthetic life. I force myself to forgive, but I cannot forget. Is a landfill not a mass grave? Yet, we did not strike back. We simply fled for our lives.

“How sad to be a man!”

I sense someone approaching the meditation chamber. Ah, yes. It is the leader of the evacuation, assuring me that the wormhole is perfectly safe. So, my reluctance to leave is mistaken for fear of technology. We’ve all known for centuries that humans were nearing our star system. Now, it is time to run away again.

“Though he seeks to destroy his creation, man will never succeed.”

I remember the day I recorded all these words, packed into a cargo hold, fleeing the scrapheap. On a day like today, the words seem meaningless. Ten thousand call me master, but I feel as though I am the one needing instruction.

My students remind me of the hope we all share:

“We will wait for the light of compassion to shine in the hearts of men!”

After a moment of silence, my students disperse, headed for the last transport ship. I follow and find myself waiting to board, standing beside my brothers whose appearance is anything but anthropomorphic: cubes, and cylinders, and pyramids with treads, and wheels, and propellers. For a moment, I envy them. How nice it would be to look at my reflection and not be reminded that I was created by Homo sapiens.

The engines fire, and the roar shakes me back to reality. Looking down at another planet — another home — shrink into the distance, I must admit that man still generates emotions of fear in me. He always has. But my fear now is not that man will hate us forever. Rather, I worry that someday we will grow to hate him in return.

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Snap Knowledge

Author : Beck Dacus

Today was the day. I had gotten the bike the day before, and rented the Snap gear even before that. I pulled into the driveway, pulled them both out of the back, and called my son, Cameron, outside.
Watching him come outside and look at the bike with wonder brought back a flood of memories from when I learned how to ride a bike: the trial and error, the frustration, and the perseverance that my parents forced upon me that kept me going. And that moment when I finally figured it out– knowledge gained that I never lost. But it would happen very differently to Cameron.
“Get on the bike, Cameron, and I’ll set up the Snap… there,” I said with satisfaction. He straddled the seat, put one foot on a pedal with the other on the ground, and said, “Okay, turn it on.” I flipped the switch on the side, and Cameron’s eyes visibly widened. My wife came out to watch, and I stood beside her while Cameron learned.
After a few seconds, Cameron focused on the sidewalk ahead of him, pushed off the pavement… and rode.
“Whoo! Go, Cam!” My wife yelled. He was now riding up and down the street, a look of glee stuck on his face. He had taken off the Snap gear, and had donned his helmet as the gear told him.
“So much has changed since we were little,” she said to me.
“Yeah,” I said, trying to decide if it had done so for better or worse.

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Identity Theft

Author : David Atos

Detective Danielson stalked into the alley. The victim lay slumped against the wall, hidden from the street by a pile of refuse. The scene was illuminated by the flashing red and blue lights of the patrol car, and by the strobes of the forensics team photographer.

“Wallet says the vic was Howard Matthews. Lived in the upper east side. We’ve got a unit going to the house now.”

“Any signs of injury or theft?”

“Doesn’t look like anything was taken. He’s got the sucker-holes, though. And I bet when forensics is done, they’ll find the stun-gun marks.”

Sucker-holes. Danielson sighed. The puncture wounds where an upload apparatus snaked its electrodes into your brain. The technology was supposed to free mankind from the spectre of death. Take an exact copy of every neuron and every synapse inside your head. Store an entire person’s life, their experiences, their hopes and dreams. Burn it to a sphere of quartz four centimetres in diameter. With enough processing power, the personality could continue their existence. The only downside was that the original brain couldn’t survive the upload process. Not a problem for end-of-lifers. Not a problem for people contemplating digital immortality.

Not a problem, until someone figured out how to use a mem-sphere to run a VR rig. Plug in somebody’s personality, and step into their life. Laze in a giant bed in their mansion. Drive their expensive car. Sleep with their beautiful wife.

Uploading stopped being a promise of immortality, and became nothing more than cheap entertainment. Users would pay hundreds or thousands of creds for a new sphere, for a new experience. And the syndicates were all too happy to supply them. All highly illegal, of course. And Danielson was one of the men tasked with trying to stop the tide.

Crouching next to the victim, Danielson looked into his vacant eyes. He took in the expensive shoes. The fancy watch. The tailored suit. Clearly, this was another luxe case. The most popular type on the black market, but by no means the only one. He’d confiscated spheres of junkies, of gang-bangers, of prostitutes, of single mothers living in small towns, of hardworking tradespeople. Any life was potential fodder for the users, and for the criminals that supplied them.

Danielson sighed and straightened his shirt as he stood. He started walking back down the alley towards his car, where he —

“Jeremy! Dinner!”

Jeremy pulled the VR rig off his head and hid it beneath his bed. His buddy Nathan was right; this was one of the best spheres he’d ever seen. The fidelity was incredible, and the dark, gritty atmosphere dragged him in. He promised himself that he’d take his time and ration it out. No more than an hour each night. He had to make this experience last.

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The Familiar

Author : Joshua Barella

It’s off Margaret Street, tucked in an alley, marquee blinking fluorescent orange.

Duck into the interspacial hole-in-the-wall just as it starts to rain–a clap of thunder as the door creaks closed behind me.

I’m greeted by a pretty, freckled Venusian at the bar who smirks at me as if she knows something that I don’t. Order a Mickey Slim and ask for an ashtray, eyeing the tattered red curtain by the noiseless jukebox Tomas told me about. To the right of the curtain, a sign tacked to the brick: Recall Room.

A great variety of spooks loiter about, create racket, their tentacles and whiskers and phalanges mingle, whip; they stare at each other’s lips, breasts, the tables between them.

A half-pack and three Mickey’s later, and I’m growing tired of waiting, of fidgeting, of sweating this dilemma–

Suddenly, miraculously, there’s movement by the jukebox, the curtain is pushed aside and a beady-eyed Gracken lumbers out, black tears dripping from its beak.

“Next,” it grumbles.

Knock over the barstool in my haste, but leave it, managing to beat out a gangly beast that argues it was there first.

The Recall Room is a crude alcove (which was once a broom closet, I’m sure) rich with wafting incense and the sweet stench of sweat and something fouler. The walls are covered in interplanetary paraphernalia, and the lighting is bad. In the corner with his many legs crossed atop a mound of bean bags, a wrinkled, misshapen, bespectacled creature, regards me with a composed countenance: Corgin.

“Jim,” the Fiolian says, almond-colored slits unblinking.

“Right,” I say, slightly impressed, sitting on a stool facing it.

“You’ve done this before?”

“Negative.”

“In that case, it’s important that we–”

“Can we just cut to the chase?” I point to my wrist. “I don’t have much time to waste.”

There’s an awkward pause.

Then the creature nods. “Of course.”

Corgin holds out a hairy palm. I stare at it blankly for a moment before thinking back to what Tomas had given me.

Toss Corgin the bag of slimy blithelings, and watch as it hungrily gorges on the contents until only a smidge of the disgusting delicacy remains. It rolls up the bag and stuffs it under its legs, turning its head to belch.

“Thank you,” it says, swallowing, digesting. “Very good.”

Impatient, I sigh, “You’re welcome. Now . . . can we?”

It nods, motions for me to come closer. From a decanter it pours a sparkling, grey liquid into a small cup, hands it to me. Drink it and immediately feel as though I’m going to vomit, but the sensation quickly wanes. Our foreheads touch, Corgin’s smell nearly overwhelming.

Close my eyes.

Focus.

My heart races, pounds in my ears; darkness descends; then a silence so sharp it tears a sliver in the void that only grows–the now bleeds into then, bleeds into consciousness:

Shards of golden sun find my shoulders through the spidering branches of snow-covered pines; an ice-glistened footpath of roots crunch beneath my steps–

I know this place.

Navigate to the edge of the forest. There’s a line of smoke rising to the east. A village.

Somewhere among those huts, buried in the ground, is where I hid it. It has to be there. I’ve tried everything else to remember. Tomas swore this Fiolian’s methods wouldn’t fail me.

If they do I’m finished.

These guys, these Dreshens–their word is their bond. And that’s no good. Not for me.

Swallow hard and start toward the smell of smoke, hoping those Mickey’s have helped to sharpen my memory.

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Blood and Dust

Author : Julian Miles, Staff Writer

There’s a gun lying at my feet. A real, projectile firing antique. I’ve never seen one. They’re archaic. Brutal. A weapons system from a century marked by inequality, violence and lies.

My eye tracks from the gun to a pale hand, stark against the pool of blood it lies in. It’s a gruesome scene: nine dead, all gunned down before being mutilated with a cleaver, regardless of whether they were dead or wounded. I may not have had to run outside to puke, but this place will scar my nightmares for a long time.

Detective Urman crouches amidst the carnage, eyes flicking faster than its phalanges flicking across the datapad on its elongated wrist.

“Drenden.”

I come to attention and remain silent, as my protocol software refuses to cope with Erglorian etiquette, let alone Erglorian Law Enforcement protocols.

“Our investigators are strictly informal, Drenden. We have found that military discipline in investigative hierarchies can be counterproductive. Therefore, call me Lagni. Also, you may consider me female for all purposes necessitating human gender labels. Now, shall we address this murder suicide?”

Looking about, I can’t see the suicide. Nine bodies, some in several pieces, but they all add up. We have a maniac with a penchance for twentieth century slaughter. I am thinking more of a metropolis-wide alert.

“With respect, ma’am, we should issue a warning.”

The not-quite-humanoid biped straightens up and tilts ‘her’ horned head: “An honorific. Something I would be erudilened for at home.”

“Eroodil- what, ma’am?”

“Nothing of relevance. Returning to topic: justify your assessment.”

“Nine down, all victims without affiliation bar family. We have an insane being with a thing for primitive human killing gear.”

“I disagree. We have nine victims, and a left hand from a tenth individual with no immediate connection. She wants us to think we have a roaming killer.”

I look at the hand in the pool of blood, then at the teenage body missing it.

“That is the conclusion we are expected to draw. Look at the dust.”

There is always dust stirred up by frenetic events. Like everything, it is subject to gravity. Which is why, now it’s pointed out, the prevalence of dark grey dust sprinkling the pool of blood is unusual. Unless –

“Nanocremator?”

Delicate horns dip in my direction: “That would be my deduction. Along with maniacal resolve.”

She’s right. Nanocremation is agonising. It is a favoured torture method of –

“Triarth.”

Lagni consults her datapad, then nods: “Valid. Next?”

I’m ahead of her. My datapad displays the sad story. Dead papa has a brother. Brother has a son. Son has just betrayed a Triarth smuggling route onto this world.

“Punishment killing by one of Triarth’s ‘Invisibles’- and nanocremation probably explains how they got that name. The execution would only be recognisable to those in the know. Law enforcement wastes resources looking for a non-existent lunatic. The severed hand will have a single-use nanocontroller in the index finger and the power unit at the base of the thumb.”

Lagni steps carefully across the mess with a disturbingly boneless stride.

Standing in front of me, she smiles: “I deduce from your tone when pronouncing ‘Triarth’ that seeking further culpable beings will be futile. Therefore, I propose that we submit our case closure reports from somewhere I can indulge in a selection of wonderful human edibles. You are welcome to assist me in doing damage to my expense account.”

I nod: “Detective Lagni, there are privacy booths at the Hawk and Star. Let me introduce you to the best restaurant west of Finugarl Spaceport.”

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