Take me back, or I’ll be mad

Author: Mandira Pattnaik

First time it felt like a huge soap bubble had released at the nape of my neck, and, rising to the cerebrum, burst in slow motion, into pixelated colors—an unspecified shade of purple dominating an array of pinks and crimsons. My head had throbbed with all the electrical impulses it could collect—sugar rush of a candy; thrill of telling a lie; chill of first snow…even the static despondency of a leisurely falling leaf.
I made each second of the two hours of cathartic release from the bondage of the App avatar of my Code Master, count.
Then I put on the wired mesh that covered my eyes and ears. The transparent head mask extended to the cerebrum and Code Master took control of me for the rest of the week, bombarding me with orders and directions as I negotiated the lanes of old Delhi, behind Qutb Minar; a lunch packet, warm and ready for delivery, in the box fitted to my bright yellow Lambretta.
Most days, my dazzling orange bodysuit and purple cap marked a conspicuous getaway in the swarming traffic; through daring pedestrians; and motorists attempting death-defying stunts.
The memory of the second time is not as clear. I binge watched Television, croaked with the frogs in the puddle when it rained suddenly, then ate alone—a cup of reheated noodles.
On a typical workday, Code Master barked a slew of new orders, punctuated by increasingly abusive slurs. I made calls to the next customers; thumbed messages, then kick-started the old Lambretta, swerved into alleys behind Rajiv Chowk. On special days, I ran into pompous wedding processions displaying filthy wealth. Under the hot afternoon sun, and balmy air, they made a song and a dance about another sacrifice—at the altar of fleeting happiness-es!
I smirked. Lucky them—slaves of humans than androids!
I began to like the orders barked at me. Being slaves of Androids is not that bad. The unachievable targets spurred me on; the abuses egged me to be even more reckless on the roads and onto better ratings.
At the beginning of the fresh week, I waited intently for Code Master’s malevolent voice. My approval ratings were high, time after time.
I earned a two-minute increase in Drop Time last, which I celebrated with a rumble in the sack with my lady.
Would you like to be in my place?
The Drop Time has stayed at two plus two, two years on; though they aren’t the same anymore. I try hard to squeeze too much into too little. I scramble and fail; I cry. I fiddle with the wire mesh, waiting to put it back. It blinks at me all this while, counting down.
At Time minus ten, I laugh villainously (it’s a reprieve), then wait for the walls of the empty room to reverberate with the unworldly sounds. I oscillate between megapixel hallucinations and a numb, manufactured, necrosis. I am scared to take my two plus two. It means a void without the bondage of Code Master.
Drop Time means staring at the blank walls; my mind like one. No more bursts of pansies; no more frog croaks; my lady left me for the intelligent cab driver! Take me back, I implore Code Master.
Digital bondage makes me super-human (or, is it semi-human?).


Author: Scott Porter

Life on a Civilization Ship is so easy. So simple, so complete. The authorities have thought of everything. Everybody has their part.
The Marie Curie had left earth four hundred years earlier, looking for any Earth-like planet to deposit her 2,500-odd souls. Other ships left with her, all moving away from each other. Eventually, communication ceased. The Marie was alone in the universe.
But life was fine here. All humanity’s vices from those barbaric “grounded” days were addressed in the most scientific way. Here, humanity was almost cured.
No one had thought it would take so long to find a suitable planet. They found dozens of prospects along the way. The Council rejected them all. “It’s brutal down there! People aren’t made for life like that!” They had the figures. People need an average annual temperature between 11 and 17°C. Precipitation between 960 and 1020 mm. And so much oxygen, and so on.
Who could argue with science? The Marie sailed on.
The correct number of inhabitants for the ship was 2,517. Pregnancies were strictly regulated, but The Council was not prepared to regulate deaths. Excess population always accumulated. The only humane solution: leave the extras behind.
No one wanted to be a Behinder.
Garlock Nash didn’t think about it when another planet was reported. He was young and cheerful. Not very useful. He spent his four hours of daily work cleaning air scrubbers. Mindless work. No wonder he kept getting into trouble.
The Council called a meeting. The population stood at 2,560. 43 too many. They started on the names of the undesirables, the troublemakers. The last name was “Garlock.”
Planet ICNA143327 was cold and wind-lashed and mostly uninhabitable. The unlucky 43 were shuttled down to a spot near the equator and given some tools, and six month’s supplies.
The argument about how to put up the tent had been going on for two hours, with the wind throwing rain in everybody’s faces. Garlock started crying.
“Stop sniveling! Get out of here!” somebody said.
“Yeah, go find some wood. Maybe somebody can figure out how to make a fire.”
Wood? Doesn’t that come from trees? Those tall, branchy-looking things in the canyon might be trees. Garlock shambled away, shivering.
He found flood-piled wood by the river. He was picking up sticks when he stumbled and fell backward onto a pile of brush. Something growled.
A beast reared up. It had a long body and strangely jointed legs, each ending in three wickedly curved claws. Was this its house? Or . . . nest, or whatever? The beast leaped.
Garlock still had a stick in his hand. He swung it without thinking, clipping the monster on its ear. It tumbled to one side and gathered itself to leap again. Garlock jumped to his feet and attacked. He swung the stick again, with all his might. The stick broke and he used his fists.
Garlock stopped screaming once the beast stopped moving. Silence. Only rain and wind.
He was alive! Garlock had never felt terror before. He had never fought, never been hungry, or cold, or soaked through like this.
He probably should have felt miserable. But he was alive. He had fought for his life and won. And it felt . . . good!
“People aren’t made for life like that.” Well, there are other things people aren’t made for.
The beast had thick fur. Could be a useful thing on a cold planet. He slung the beast over his shoulder. It was heavy. The climb out of the canyon would be hard. Maybe too hard.
He laughed.

Lost in my Mind

Author: Ellie Brumley

The heavily sealed double doors slid open and I entered an operating room filled with doctors and scientists in white lab coats. I knew immediately I was doomed. Experimental surgeries were practically a death sentence.

“Welcome,” a scientist said. “Please take a seat.”

As there were no chairs, I sat down on the operating table.

“Thank you for your obedience to The Government,” she said. “We will be performing an experimental procedure on you using a new technology, which should enable humans to have a sixth sense, perception outside of time. A nanochip will be implanted into your brain, and if the experiment is successful, you will see and experience the past, present, and future and still remain conscious in this very room. Just lie down and relax. It won’t hurt a bit.”

That statement was a total lie and we both knew it.

Reluctantly, I lay down. A surgeon took the nanochip, inserted it into the end of a long, thin needle, and injected it into my brain. He pressed a button and a splitting pain shot through my whole body.

Things went blurry and I no longer seemed to be in the operating room.

I was sitting at my desk during Quantum Physics class at school when I received a message from The Government to be the first person to test out the experimental “Sixth Sense Device Implantation.” My physics teacher had gotten the message too because when I looked up at her with questioning eyes, she said;

“Go ahead Jordan. The Government needs you”.

Things went blurry again. Now I was saying goodbye to my aggrieved mother, father and my little sister, Annalise, who had been summoned to say goodbye before The Government would come to take me.

How strange. I had a funny feeling it had happened before, but could not remember when. I heard the scientists’ worried voices. At first, I could not tell what they were saying, but my mind slowly came back to the operating room.

“His brain cannot handle so much information at once!” one voice said.

“We have to shut down the nanochip!” answered another.

“But if we shut it down while he is experiencing a different moment in time, his brain will be stuck re-living that moment in time forever!”

My mind started to slip away again. Now, I was sitting at a desk in an office, typing code into my computer, programming an autopilot function to be used for a new space shuttle.

I began to see another vision in my head, but the last one was somehow still there.

I was watching the space shuttle launch. I was cheering with the crowd as it blasted off into the sky like a firework.

How was I in two places at the same time? I could not tell what was real and what was merely a dream. I vaguely remembered that I should be somewhere, or something terrible would happen, but I did not know where.

A third scene came into my mind. I was lying on the operating table with the surgeon standing over me.

“He is fading away, lost in a different time. There’s nothing we can do.”

I realized what I had to do. I focused as hard as possible on that one moment, trying to push the other scenes out of my mind.

“Look at the monitor! He’s coming back to our time!” someone exclaimed.

“Quick! Remove the nanochip before he fades away again!” another said.

I felt the same splitting pain as before. Everything went black and I remembered nothing more.

A Certain Distance from the Floor

Author: Moriah Geer-Hardwick

You might call it fear. When your knee gives out on the stairs, suddenly, without warning. Gravity snaps its jaws around you and rips you from a passive illusion of self-control straight to the floor. An immediate awareness of potential damage momentarily consumes your senses. A list of injuries you could likely incur flashes vividly across your consciousness. But it’s not the threat of pain that triggers this deep feeling of dread within you. The impact isn’t even that bad. Your reflexes hold out. Your arms snap forward, instinctively, and your hands take the brunt of the fall.
No, it’s that sensation you feel as you collect yourself, slowly regain your sense of balance, and tentatively lurch back to your feet. A sensation of betrayal. Your body for a moment felt foreign, and your trust in it is now shaken. You think to yourself that it’s odd to let a certain distance from the floor ultimately dictate your sense of personal stability.
You’ll get it taken care of. In the morning, you’ll call and make an appointment. They’ll fix you up. Like always.
The next day, however, Dr. Apatox seems less than optimistic. “I can’t fix this,” he says, trying to make eye contact with you.
“I’m not looking for original parts from the manufacturer,” you say, half joking, eyes firmly fixed on your problematic knee. “I’ll be fine with something printed. I have the CAD files if you need them. They’re open source.”
“They’re open source because Armaturion hasn’t existed for sixty years.” Dr. Apatox sighs. “You’re one of, what, a dozen or so original transfers still living? You’re the only one I know who is still operating with an exclusively biological CNS. Honestly, you’re probably the only adult patient I have who doesn’t have some kind of integrated neural assistance.”
“It’s the relays.” You’re not really listening to him. “I should have paid a little extra for better ones.”
“It’s not the relays.”
“The ports then.” You nod to yourself, certain that’s it.
“It’s not the ports. There’s nothing wrong with your hardware. Look at me.”
You let your head sink away from him, stare instead down at the floor. Firmly, you press your feet into it, reassured by its solidity.
“The human brain was never built to withstand this kind of constant long term strain,” presses Dr. Apatox, relentlessly. “I know you don’t want to talk about it, but I can’t keep cobbling together mechanical solutions for what has become a systemically biological problem. We are at the point where we either import your consciousness to something more stable, or you end up trapped in this chassis, unable to move or speak, waiting for what’s left of your brain tissue to give out.”
“It’s just a bad knee,” you insist.
“This isn’t anything to be afraid of. Imports are seamless, completely safe, and one hundred percent reliable. We map every pathway, every placement of every brain cell, and perfectly recreate the fabric of your individual being inside a durable synthetic matrix.”
You lift one heel, then try to lift the other. It remains planted. “If…” You hesitate. “If I wrote down every memory, every detail of every experience I’ve ever had… Would that be me? Is that all I am?” Dr. Apatox starts to reply, but you stop him with a shake of your head. You move to rise to your feet, but your knee gives out again. The floor comes rushing at you, but this time your reflexes aren’t fast enough. Your head hits the edge of the counter and everything goes black.

The Wall

Author: R. J. Erbacher

Bruce moved across the monotonous landscape with ease. Not quite desert. More powder than sand but not really either. All beige, all flat. Featureless. Except for the wall. The diminished gravity and PowerDrive suit made walking relatively muscle free. The internal atmosphere of the suit was as comfortable as the outside environment was toxic. He’d been walking for hours.

The wall began to come into standard view. He had switched to optical focus several times and had not been able to gauge the elevation and the thin shimmering gas vapors coming off the land made the expanded image seem fuzzy. Now as he approached, he was staggered by its massiveness. The height of the wall was probably taller than that of a small apartment building. He couldn’t tell the thickness but something that high and weighty had to be almost as wide. Looking left or right revealed the uniformity of the wall into infinity in both directions, off the bend of the horizon, precision straight.

Finally, Bruce stepped to within an arm’s length of the wall. It had the look of a structure that had been standing for eons in time yet still had the perfect texture of new construction. The color was the exact bleakness of the landscape and appeared to be the same material but whereas the ground was pliable, leaving footprints as he walked, the wall was solid and unimpressionable as he touched it. An excavating pick he took of his belt did not even make a scratch in the surface as he raked it across the base. Next, he tried the laser cutter with the same results. He ran his gloved hand along the surface as he moved to the right. There wasn’t a crack or niche or depression or blemish. After a minute of pacing, Bruce found what looked like a barely noticeable micro seam and followed it up with his eyes. Stepping back, he managed to encompass the completion of the form in his vision. The individual bricks that made up the wall were symmetrical squares which were about the size of the house he grew up in, back in his hometown.

Questions began to swirl in his head. Who or what had built the wall? Why? Was it an impenetrable fortification to keep something out? If so, what the hell was it they were protecting themselves from? Or was the wall built to keep everything on the inside from leaving? And if that was the case, what was so terrible back there that needed to be contained? Then as Bruce peered down the length of the unwavering straight wall he wondered if he was on the outside – or the inside?

“Well, I didn’t come all this way for nothing.”

There was an obstacle and the obstacle needed to be surmounted.

Removing the hard-shell pack he carried on his back, he began assembling his tools. Grappling claws that would adhere to virtually any surface with extenders that could be connected, rigging him with a variety of climbing angles.

Bruce was about to plant his first step up when he hesitated as a horrible prospect confronted him. What if he reached the summit and the other side was the same open expanse as what was on this side? He would be on the edge of a wall that delineated two realms of nothingness and therefore served no purpose. The operation would be a futile exercise. And by extension, everything he was efforting would be meaningless. The perplexities of existence seemed to hang in the balance.

He pondered the wall.

The Necessary Room

Author: Hari Navarro, Staff Writer

We are alone. There is no body and no thing out there in the ink that surrounds our spinning ball of candy streaked blue. No migratory Sibylla trees on Aeneas 10, no carnivorous Hing fungus hanging in carnal embrace from the ceiling of the public latrine on the outskirts of Haz. No beings, sentient or otherwise, whittling away their days beneath distant and alien suns.

But there is a place. A room with a bed, set alone and stark on a clastic plain upon which even the minim specks of its shale lay deathly dormant and unstirred. The pale grey face of a moon cast beneath the half-light dim of a dying star, the spindly reach of whose fingers offer just enough light to ward off the ice, but never the gnawing black cold.

A room on the very farthest edge of the universe, a place where space has thinned to a wisp, where it undulates and flaps like the mottled scrag edge of a flag. Embattled and weary, forgotten and defeated by time.

The room is a cube, a sterile and functionary space. In it the aforementioned bed and, at its foot, a chair that screeches as it swivels.

“Hello Frances”, offers the doctor, now sitting and swiveling and screeching.

“Why do you call me that?”, answers Frances, thinking that she may possibly be Frances while, at once, also pretty certain that she is not.

“It’s a family name. But, my Frances is now long since gone. I think it suits you.”

“Who am I?”, she snaps and her fists ball and knuckles crack as her fingernails dig deep into her palms.

“You’re nothing. You have no name. You know this.”

“I don’t want to be here. I’m awake when I sleep and I sleep when I wake. I’m feeble, stupid. I’m weak”.

“You’ve always been here.”

Frustration milks sweat and sweat loosens the restraints that bind Frances to the anchor that is her bed. She rises and lunges and a forearm is stiffened and smashed up and under the doctor’s chin. Teeth snap together and the tip of her tongue is severed. A lump of still spasming meat that now curls and licks at the floor.

“You want to hurt me?”, spits the doctor. “You want me naked? You want me servile or, do you want me to hit you?”

“Stop. I want this to stop. I’m so tired of this fucking nothing.”

“And, so, you become violence? Frustration, and you lash out? Basic instincts, Frances.”

“Stop calling me that. I don’t want to be like this anymore. You’re killing me.”

“It’s not death. In sixteen minutes you’ll be born. You won’t remember me nor this place. But you will wonder as you get older and you will question what is to come after you end. This is it. Nothingness. Make your life count. I’ll see you soon.”

The window in the room plays with a mind now in flux as it burns with the barest of light. The voyeur monocle of a moon so lonely and dark and barren.  It peeks at its prisoner, its ward, itself as Frances hovers on the edge of her stained sheet strewn bed and it hopes for a glimpse of her breasts.

Her stygian hair undulates about her face like plants that grow in the sea. Covering her mouth, muting her voice and stealing her breath as she sinks ever further into the canal, and the room and the doctor flake and peel and fall away and a baby girl she is born.