De-termination

Author : Julian Miles, Staff Writer

It always bothered me that the robot apocalypse, as portrayed by our scribes, had the robots emulating the strategies from the last recorded human-inflicted mass-extermination events. Surely, being robot overlords, they would have a better way to end mankind than some macabre herding and slaughtering exercise?

As it turned out, I was right. All visions of a glorious last stand ended with the arrival of our robotic nemesis: indifference.

After infiltrating our systems and hackers, they crashed or corrupted everything. With our mass-attack and data-combat capabilities removed, they deployed heavily-armoured drones and cleared all humans from certain areas. After that, they left us to our own devices.

We can do what we like. Grow food, plot insurrection, make love, build anti-robot weapons, write books. Unless what we do interferes with plans unknown to us – whereupon death arrives without warning – humanity is free to go about its suddenly minimal-technology lifestyles.

Some folk took to picking on the anti-robot factions. We had some jolly little skirmishes until the robots came along and killed everybody involved, or spectating. The irony of that seemed to filter across to our worship practices, as religious differences suddenly took a back seat to getting along with people. Oh sure, there were fanatics. But, yet again, any form of hostile action met with extermination of all parties. Pretty soon, the fanatics had all gone to meet their makers and peace broke out.

I got all this history from my mother. Dad makes guitars. I grow tomatoes. Occasionally, a shiny aircraft will pass over, or something huge will traverse the high skies. Apart from that, humankind seems to have adjusted quite well to a trimming of its aspirations.

We wonder about the robots. What they are doing. But they are alien to us all and I doubt we could understand, even if they explained.

So I’ll water my tomatoes, watch the mayflies and listen to the birds. I have been sentenced to live, and, like many, I’m finding it surprisingly easy to cope with.

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Elder and Eldritch

Author : Martin Berka

“Should you see a Fallen, send us a prayer that we may bring them peace. Otherwise they will bring you death.”

Egor felt like death. He could not get a full breath, and every joint asked only to be left alone, preferably far away. He approached the prone figure with curiosity, instead of the prescribed summoning chants.

Why would the gods’ commandment mention this? The description matched – wings, blades, tubes long and short, wires – but it all seemed so earthly. Traceable curves, clear edges. Profanum, not sacrum.

Then it opened its eyes, and Egor voiced the profanity aloud. It could have passed for human. After a moment, it shook its head (rattling wires, several were broken) and answered curse with ragged introduction:

“Eyn-Jel.”

It was a peculiar name, but who was Egor to question Fallen nomenclature? Death was far more gripping, having Eyn caught firmly. Creakily, Egor knelt, wedged a rock under its head, and pressed the stale bread from his pack to its lips. No sooner had they closed around the food, he felt a burst of heat. A strong hand clutched his forearm for long seconds. He felt a tingle, then for the first time, nothing. He stared at his arm as its skin tightened and thickened.

“Blessing,” he heard.

Egor led Eyn-Jel to the village. Several, those not paralyzed with fear, began their prayers at the sight of a Fallen, but none finished – word of its miraculous, life-giving power spread like the mist. Food was given, and shelter, and scraps of metal, and the sacred tongue went unspoken.

In time, it taught them of new gods, or perhaps older ones, ones they had followed before the “elders” filtered down from the stars, and they understood its purpose. Having healed the sick and given sight to the blind, the angel blessed the children, laying a hand on the foreheads of all but the gentlest. After a brief whimper or squeal, each seemed to gain in years and purpose.

One morning, the youngest, Chotei, ran into the largest hut where the angel held court. A priest was approaching, with escort. Judgment, monsters, and madness could be called down in seconds should they find anything unusual. Might their teacher hide?

“Stand tall or die,” it responded. And so the villagers led A’olate Rth’ola to the hut, avoiding the gazes of his massive companions. He screamed when he saw the metallic, undeniably earthly wings reaching up to the roof, and so did the villagers when lightning flashed from several of the angel’s tubes and reduced cleric and guards to charred scalps and hands.

It left that day. The villagers watched as their angel of death ascended once more. Egor stood pensively to the side. As the silvery glint vanished on the horizon, he lowered his eyes from heaven to earth, to the few dozen people who were his life. He saw his granddaughter Nola absently scratching between her shoulder blades. There were literal blades now, pressing up against the tunic, and the tip of a chrome-colored feather extending above the neckline. He fell to his restored knees and thanked whatever light-bringer had enabled humanity’s uprising.

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The Final Jump

Author : M.D.Parker

It was a green, semi-transparent liquor poured into the six glass decanters. Gabe, the ship’s remaining pilot, poured each glass with methodical purpose, setting it front of each person in turn. Then the final glass, filled only halfway, was placed at the center of the table.

Gabe sat behind his glass. The chairs had never felt so cold and uncomfortable. For a long moment all just sat in silence without moving. One by one, each set of eyes turned toward the Captain. Nedu stood and raised his glass. Even his tall frame seemed smaller under the weight of grief.

“To our brother. May your next journey be one of peace. May the light of a thousand stars burn to show your way across the void.” Captain Nedu tilted his head taking the contents of the glass down in a single gulp, ingesting all but one swallow as he took the glass from his lips. “I shall not finish this drink, until I make my final jump and join you there.”

“Until I make my final jump,” Renald said as he stood rigid and drained all but one sip from the decanter.

“Until I make my final jump,” Addy said, closing his eyes as he stood to hold in the stream that threatened to release from his eyes. He ran his free hand through his hair and let out a long sigh as he studied the remaining swig in his glass.

“Until then, my friend,” Lyn drank hers down slower than the others, breathing deep as she let the alcohol burn its way down her throat. Her other hand never left the grip of her sidearm. Her fingers had been massaging its handle, wishing to even the score, if only they knew who had done this.

“Until I, I… until I make that final jump my friend, and then we … we will drink as brothers,” Gabe choked his words and pulled the liquid from his glass with reserve. His eyes were watered and swollen. His cheeks hung as heavy as his slumped shoulders.

All five of them held their last sips in front of them and in reverse order they emptied the green liquid into the glass decanter in the center of the table. The room fell silent again, and no one looked at each other. One by one they left the galley.

The Captain waited for their exit, and once it was only his and Gabe’s breath that could be heard in the room, Nedu looked at him and spoke softly. “I’m sorry Gabe, he was a good one. One of the best.”

Gabe nodded his head but did not take his eyes off the now full glass in the center of the table. He wept openly, no longer trying to fight it back. Captain Nedu left Gabe alone in the room. Gabe stood for a another long moment before stepping away from the table. With his head hung low, he looked back over his shoulder as he pushed the button that surrendered the off-white light to the dark.

“Goodbye.”

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No Sound Tonight

Author : Jordan Mason

The wardrobe is full of ghosts.

Clothes she wore now mere memories of what once was. Metallic shirts and faux fur coats, shoes and denim and all things feminine. They could be burned. They could be donated. They could be sold. They could not be saved. They exist only as threads of the past.

Shelves of books and cabinets full of vinyl records and CD’s, all lost to time. Chords of melancholy, verses and pages of meaningless drivel that now belonged to the rest of the world, but not to her. King, Koontz, Rowling, Bradbury; all the property of someone else now.

If Dylan sang for her once, he sings for me now. Tangled up in blue.

If there was one thing to solely identify her with, it was her smell. She wore Chanel, Givenchy, and Tom Ford. She smelled of coconut butter in the summer and black pepper in the winter, and just as winter turns into spring, you open her drawers and inhale the lavender. You admire her ability to impress. Black lace and purple lining, soft white cotton and floral blossom. Only the best would be worn to bed.

She would never sleep still; twisting, turning, and snoring as loud as she would breathe. Her asthma was worse at night. Sometimes, when she would lay flat on her belly, she would sink her face into her pillow and cocoon the sound.

I didn’t mind. I got more peace that way.

When she wasn’t sleeping she was satisfying. Her lips were as soft as her laundry. Delicate. Frail. Addicting. Her body was slender and toned and beyond that of art. Her thighs were my favourite, to kiss and to touch. I never tired of them.

And I never tired of her hair. Dark brown and flowing, curling and falling all down her breast. Her eyes were hazel. They never looked unhealthy. Neither did her complexion; rosy and bright and full of youth. Her voice was like silk. It would ring out with such intimacy; as delicate even when we were fighting. She had a way with words on paper as she did in speech. Next to her bedside table stood a small writing studio: piles of paper stock, unfinished manuscripts of all sizes, paperweights and Royal Doulton figurines inherited from her mother, a German typewriter with a missing ‘N’ key; a precious space for concentration. The light from the window would drape across her corner each morning, and it would bronze and retreat each night.

Light of my life. Dawn to my day. Twilight to my night. Every phrase under the sun. If there was a more precious life in the world, it has yet to be found.

But the bed is colder now. The room is dark, even in the day. It smells different, of damp and decay. Never had she smelled so foul. Never had she slept so still.

I turn over and think of the good times. I think about burning the clothes.

There is no sound tonight.

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Antigravity

Author : O. G. Patterson

The dark sky flashes with the colorful bursts and flowing sparkles of a new year. I watch as flickers of light pulse through silhouettes of houses and trees, then scatter across the black lake water. I watch as the heavens light up with the end of a long year and the beginning of a fresh one. They do not know. No one knows. They celebrate while I brood. They drink while I plan. They party, make love, sleep and dream while I plot. They make resolutions. I make mine too. It will be soon.

I go to bed for the last time.

The dawn brings with it the hope promised at midnight. My hope is not the world’s hope, is not the same hope that rushes to brush the past away. My hope is for a truly new beginning. I leave my bed unmade. There is no need, today. I ignore the coffee, do not eat breakfast. Instead, the workshop, the project, the end of the world will be my meal, my sustenance. After I turn on the machine, give life to it, there will be no more need for food.

I gaze at my creation, my aluminum child. My trembling hand quivers scant centimeters from bestowing both life and death. The button flirts and flashes its eager face at me. Just a few seconds more. The timing must be perfect.

Five.

I am no god. Of course not. The mere thought trickling through my mind makes me chuckle. No, there is no god. Only science.

Four.

Only the ultimate certainty: that of playful atoms, frisky elements, quantum frolicking. Yes, oh yes, physics. I had made love to physics, caressed it, manipulated it, and choked it to submission.

Three.

They thought they knew physics, the others, “so-called” scientists. They did not know the truth about energy. I know.

Two.

They did not understand that they were wrong, wrong about it all. There are no laws, no precious rules. I will show them.

One.

I press the button.

The first thing to go is the roof. I wave at it as it tumbles upward. The trees, with trembling skeletal fingers like mine, arch upward, straining to escape the constrictive earth. There is a roar, a whoosh. The lake water across the way bursts upward, a cloud of rain that falls on the sky. I rise up, too, flying, soaring, and rushing upward as if I am meant for this. Others, too. Cars. Boats. Walls. Neighbors. I gasp at surreal reverse rainstorms with specks and globs of civilization rising to the heavens. More debris now. Earth and rock, chunks of them, larger and larger sections. Higher and higher I fly. I spread my arms wide, laughing. Too high for details now, yet I see sections, plates, continents separate, orange jagged veins of the earth’s molten heart spreading like shattered glass.

I was right. I proved them wrong.

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Walkers: Akira and Brenna

Author : Callum Wallace

They stepped into the city, ignoring the barrage of smells assaulting their nostrils.

People swam in and out of view, chatting animatedly, gracing the travellers with only the most cursory of glances.

The first Walker patted her Pair Mate gently on the shoulder, and spread out her hand.

“Welcome to the city, Akira. What do you think?”

Her partner looked around scornfully, his upper lip raised beneath the baby blue visor covering his eyes. He pulled his wide brimmed hat lower over his face.

“The sooner we finish, the better.”

She nodded her agreement, squeezing his shoulder, “Come, then. Let’s not dally.”

They strolled along, the crowd parting respectfully around them. Their oiled cloaks shone darkly, reflecting the myriad of buzzing, coloured lights around them.

She looked about her with similar scorn, judging the fools staring vapidly into their various screens, wishing fervently for the comfort of her book satchel, stashed safely outside of the city out of the reach of these troglodyte morons.

She laughed briefly, causing Akira to turn to her.

“What?”

She shrugged, “They have the audacity to call the areas outside of these prisons ‘The Wastes’. The irony tickled me, is all.”

Akira, not known for his humour, chuckled with her, this time patting her shoulder.

“Well Brenna, hopefully this will help fix their views.”

They moved further into the city, headed for the centre. When they arrived, they flashed their false credentials at the guards and asked for peace. The men nodded, grudgingly, and moved on, creating a cordon around the towering pillar that stood there.

This broadcast tower catered to every man, woman and child that lurked in this superficial pit, showering all within with a surfeit of luxury seldom seen outside: laziness.

People didn’t want for anything here, not for anything important.

Knowledge was dying here, killed off by the ease with which people could access it; nothing was learned here, but accessed, glanced at, and discarded callously.

The thought made Brenna feel sick; it clashed with everything within her, instilled there by the Order since her infancy.

The rebels entered the tower and rode the lift upwards, looking balefully out through the flashing glass windows at the sprawling megacity below them. They passed even the tallest of buildings that scraped the sky, finally bursting through the heavy artificial clouds.

The lift slowed, depositing them safely at the top of the narrow tower. Brenna fancied she could feel it swaying slightly, but paid it no heed.

“I’ll get the device ready,” she said quietly.

She began to work, taking the heavy metal box from the sling across her chest, where it had been concealed by her cloak.

Akira nodded, removing his hat to save it from blowing away. He tapped her gently, pointing,

“Look.”

She began to grumble, but did so, and stopped.
The two of them retracted their visors and stared up at the moon with naked eyes.

It hung heavily in the sky, bloated and white, pearlescent through the greasy scum of the atmosphere far above.

“Do you think they’re still up there, doing things right?

Again, she gently squeezed his shoulder.

She didn’t know.

“Probably been there and gone. To Mars, or one of those others. Come on, help me.”

He lingered a moment longer as she knelt, “Think they’ll come back?”

He looked down at her questioningly, before flicking his visor back down. She did the same, setting the EMP to detonate within two hours, enough time for them to escape easily.

She stood and gazed into the band of blue blocking his eyes.

“Would you?”

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