Trick of the Mind

Author: Chris Bullard

Damn, now I’ve forgotten what I was saying, but it’ll come to me, eventually.

Well, when you get to be my age, I suppose you have to expect the occasional “senior moment.” I thank God that my mind can still operate at a reasonable level of efficiency after eight decades of neurological wear and tear.

I’m afraid that I’ve lost track of time. We’ve been so busy here that I hadn’t even noticed that it’s gotten dark outside. What time is it? One a.m.? My God, we’ve worked through dinner. No wonder I feel so hungry. Well, as they say, time flies when you’re doing serious work.

And would you be so good to run me a glass of water? I seem to be parched. Oh, look, there’s a glass here already. Anticipated my thirst, Peterson, eh? Well, if you didn’t pour it, who did?

Anyway, I think that my years of intimacy with the ways of the human brain more than makes up for any slowdown in my mental functions. I doubt that any of the younger research fellows would understand how my prior work has lead me almost inexorably to the creation of this machine for the suppression of the sensory stimulus that create memories in humans.

I’ve taken off the tops of skulls and seen inside, Peterson. I’ve stimulated the brains of test subjects with electrical shocks and recorded the effects. I’ve tracked many of what we call “tricks of the mind” to their sources in the cortex. I’m not just a theorist the way so many of our younger colleagues are.

Have you ever experienced déjà vu, Peterson? Yes, I thought so. You see, both of us have had the sensation. It’s surprisingly common. Just now, for example, as we’ve been talking, I had the impression that I’ve already told you all this.

I’ve never believed that déjà vu is just a form of mild temporal lobe epilepsy I know that the current theory is that the phenomena is simply an anomaly in which an epileptic shock causes an enhanced perception of some current event that the memory records as entirely new and singular.

My theory is 180 degrees away from what everyone else believes. What I’ve found in my research is that déjà vu is not the creation of a false memory, but, rather, it is the suppression of a real memory. When the real memory disappears, the feeling of déjà vu is what’s left. I may be an old man, Peterson, but I still can approach a problem in a new and innovative way.

This machine that we’re testing today is the culmination of a lifetime of practice and study. Think of it, Peterson, this machine will allow me to suppress the formation of a particular memory in a test subject and to demonstrate that the suppression results in the phenomena that we call “déjà vu.”

Oh, Peterson, now that I’ve had a chance to think for a few minutes, what I was probably trying to remember to tell you earlier was that I removed the shielding from our sensory stimulus array, so we can’t turn the machine on until we’ve replaced the protective material.

Careful, Peterson, I wouldn’t risk connecting those wires to the memory suppression unit until we’ve replaced the safety shielding. A single electrical impulse might…

Damn, now I’ve forgotten what I was saying.

Losing Patience

Author: Soramimi Hanarejima

After breakfast, I put on my smartglasses and launch Unfray. Even though lunch with her is still hours away, I need to get ready, need to gird my psyche. When the app opens, I’m met with an announcement that it’s going the subscription service route. Like so many of its ilk. While this isn’t too surprising, the news is still disappointing. Even more so when I see the price. It’s expensive, too expensive for me to keep using Unfray as a means of preemptively mitigating my frustration with her increasingly spiky demeanor, and I immediately know this means I’ll have ghost her. Because there’s no way I’m going to tell her that I can’t stand to be around her without Unfray. She’d no doubt interpret that as meaning she isn’t worth $129.99 a month. But the only way I can be an Unfray “member” is by giving up my monthly deep tissue massage, which is a self-care necessity these days.

In fact, there’s nothing I could reasonably forfeit in order to continue using Unfray for the sake of being friends—more like frenemies, what with her constantly cantankerous criticism of my life choices never not jangling me. Given my financially constrained circumstances, she’d be out-prioritized in any comparison. Rent, groceries, utilities, therapy, books, etc. all handily best her. Except maybe my 3 monthly trips to the movie theater—those eagerly anticipated evenings of escapism—but cutting them out of my life wouldn’t save nearly enough money to cover the Unfray subscription.

Sure, I could use some pay-to-own composure app, but those only suppress impatience—a short-term solution that can make situations worse if they aren’t dealt with properly. Unfray’s patented brain-stimulation algorithms actually increase the capacity to be patient, building tolerance for annoyances by eliciting a tuned combo of empathy and big-picture thinking. That makes it the only truly viable option for situations like mine, and well aware of that, Unfray’s parent company is charging what the market will bear—a price which I can’t.

So I’ll have to avoid her, unless I get a raise or she becomes less abrasive—both of which are unlikely to happen in the near future. But for now, with all of Unfray’s features still available to me, I can make it cheerily through lunch.

Clean Slate

Author: E.L. Rose

There are certain affordances that come with knowing your death can never be permanent. With every new reincarnation, you become a little wiser. The slate never gets wiped completely clean; you’re like a palimpsest of every life you’ve lived before, an old soul being rewritten indefinitely until every fragment of the past becomes only the faintest trace of old ink that never fades.

Eventually, though, all those old shadows start to blur together, until some days you wake up with the barest hint of a memory that doesn’t belong to you. Some days feel crystal clear; others are a shifting, dizzying mass of shapes and colors. On the worst days, you look in the mirror and see five, ten, a hundred different versions of yourself, all stretched out and warping from one to the next. Eventually, the soul deteriorates. Time and identity meld into a thick miasma.

It’s easy to die on those hazy days—to give in to the ceaseless swirling blur of identity and lack-of-identity until you wake again with the blissful unawareness of an infant. On the clear days, when you are certain that you are you and have never been nor wanted to be anyone else, the drop from the cliff’s edge starts to feel permanent. The rocks and waves below, the distant sky growing further and further away, plummeting almost in slow motion, you can’t help but think to yourself, No, not here, not now. Not this life. Please, anything but this—

And then, nothing. For the briefest of instances, everything is dark and quiet, a level of dark and quiet from before light and sound were created. But there is always the next life, kicking and screaming and clawing its way free. A pinprick of light. Your first breath. The sound of your own cries railing against the injustice of losing a life you’ve already nearly forgotten. An almost-clean slate, and dust that never settles.

You’re hungry. You’re cold. You wonder where your mother has gone. She’s holding you; she says she’s right here. You cry anyway.

The Review

Author: Alastair Millar

Heeeeeeey starfolks, it’s me, the Galaxian Gourmet, back to bring you the lowdown on another extraterrestrial eatery!

This week, we’re on Marchioness Prime, checking out the famous Black Hole Brasserie, this is an episode you DON’T want to miss!

Before we get into that, don’t forget to check out our sponsors, who make the show possible! Terran Spaceways are one of the oldest and most reliable warpriding companies out there – trust them to get you there in time for dinner! Hey, they got ME here, didn’t they?

Now the first thing you’ll notice about the Brasserie is the holosigns: big, garish and, frankly, a little bit old-fashioned now laser displays are in. But that’s just part of the charm, yes? And they’re all written in all five major galactic scripts, which is a detail a lot of chow parlours forget!

The aesthetic continues inside, where nothing’s really the latest trend. But that adds to the ambience, and says ‘hey, these folks have been here a while, they must know what they’re doing’, right?

Well, in theory. Look, a place boasting “food from a hundred planets” in big glowy letters sure sounds great, but don’t let the sales pitch fool you – they don’t tell you that that most of those planets don’t have ecologies that match yours. Sure, Numinous Clouds get PLENTY of social media for their amazing colours and the souvenir nanoware they’re served in, but unless you’re a gas giant dweller you won’t be able to do anything except gaze at them (yeah, yeah, some people have tried snorting the vapour, but look, they all ended up with artificial lungs and no nasal linings, okay? To me, that’s a lot of effort for lunch).

And Malakisian butterspread’s been going viral lately, too, but do you know you’re not supposed to consume it at all? It’s meant to be absorbed through your SKIN, people! Stop displaying your ignorance by asking for cutlery!

So shoutout to all my omnivorous fans on Cetus Major – you guys are the best! – but the result is that wherever you’re from, your biologically-appropriate menu here is probably going to be a LOT shorter than you expect. And it’s not always clear what’s going to suit you. I think they could do a lot better than this, because while it’s fun to play “how do we even eat this?!”, it can get pretty pricey, pretty fast.

That said, the Terran dishes I tried were really, really good; it’s all authentic, non-fusion style here, so if you actually DO know what you’re ordering, you should be okay. But experimenting’s going to be tough. You can’t even ask for staff for advice, because they’re not as old-timey as all that: all the ordering’s done through holoterminals, and the servers probably don’t speak your language. And may not have mouths anyway.

So is it worth coming here? If you want to be able to tell your friends that you splashed out at one of the most famous restaurants this side of the central cluster, then sure! It’s definitely an experience. But overall I gotta say that unfortunately, this place is a bit overrated, especially given the prices. The Gourmet’s verdict? Three stars and a brown dwarf.

Remember, we came here with Terran Spaceways, use the code GG10 for a 10% discount on your tickets! That’s enough for an extra starter!

And if you liked this, don’t forget to follow us on all the major pangalactic social media sites, and join us next week when we visit Bargiss IV and the infamous Wormhole Buffet! Till then, happy eating!

Seeker at the Galaxy’s Edge

Author: Hillary Lyon

“Hey, citizen!” A voice rasped from the shadowed alleyway. Bhodi glanced at the man but kept walking.

“I said, hail citizen!” Bhodi stopped to look in the man’s direction. “Yeah, you,” the man rasped, waving Bhodi over.

He approached the old man, assuming he wanted to sell him a contraband gadget. Grinning, the old man opened his trench coat, revealing a pharma chest plate covered in tiny pockets.

This guy’s a walking drug store, Bhodi noted. He’d dealt with this sort before, usually ending up feeling ripped off and disappointed, but sometimes…

“You’re a seeker,” The old man stated. “I can tell just by looking.” Before Bhodi could answer, the old man continued. “Got just the thing for somebody like you.” He withdrew a small metal capsule from the center pocket of his breast plate. He held it up.

“This’ll let you see God!” The old man’s eyes shone with fervor. “You can’t imagine this amazing experience!”

“Country of origin?” Bhodi asked.

“Country?” The old guy laughed. “No country! This is off-world. Comes from the edge of the galaxy!”

“Sure it does.” Bhodi’d heard such claims before.

“Safe, too!” The old dealer assured. “Missionaries swear it’s fit for human consumption!”

“Missionaries?” Bhodi balked. “I’m not looking to convert.”

“Don’t have to convert to see God!” He wiggled his fingers in Bhodi’s face.

Bhodi chewed his lower lip. “How much?”

* * *

Sitting on his narrow bed, Bhodi placed the capsule on his tongue. He leaned over to the water teat protruding from the wall, latched on and took a deep drink. The capsule went down smoothly.

Bhodi laid down and closed his eyes. I wonder how long before this kicks in, he fretted. I wonder if—

This is more like it! He tumbled slowly down through a star spangled darkness, gently landing on a soft purple flatland. Light emanated from somewhere, but he couldn’t locate the source. He held his arms out, laughing. His voice carried, echoing in the distance.

Bhodi became aware of a monolithic shadow moving overhead, devouring the light as it approached. As he looked up, undulating tentacles floated down, encircling him. They enveloped him and squeezed, making it hard for him to breathe. As panic set in, he was lifted up and brought close to the massive face from which the tentacles radiated.

A thin tentacle wormed its way into Bhodi’s right ear, wriggling as it fingered his mind, before exiting through his left ear. “You…” a voice devoid of language boomed.

“…are NOT one of mine.”

* * *

Bhodi’s consciousness landed back in his body with a leaden thump. Covered in sweat, he sat up shaking and hosting the most stupefying headache imaginable. He struggled to pull on his boots before stumbling out of his pod and out into the street. Like a drunk he careened down the sidewalk, unable to shake the dizziness swaddling his mind.

“Salutations, citizen!” Bhodi heard the old dealer call out. He lurched towards the voice coming from the dimly lit alley. There, in the drizzling gloom, stood the old man.

“You!” Bhodi growled, ignoring the thread of blood trickling from both his ears. With herculean effort, he grabbed the man by his trench coat’s lapels and shoved him against the alley’s graffiti-splattered brick wall. “You promised me an amazing experience!”

The old man replied with a knowing, crooked smile. He gently removed Bhodi’s trembling hands from his coat.

“You said I’d see God!”

“That I did,” the old man said, squinting coldly at Bhodi. “I just didn’t say whose.”

Look Like Us

Author: Julian Miles, Staff Writer

The sirens start to wail behind us. I hate this bit.
“Time to do one!”
Adey swings his backpack onto his shoulders as he starts running, dodging the spotlight of a hunting drones as he goes. Must be nice, being that fit.
“Auntie Jin?”
I look down at Little Em. Ten years old and too serious.
“Go with him, little ‘un. He’s a tool, but right now he’s the getaway gear you need. Tell your mum I’ll be along for a chat and a cuppa tomorrow night.”
If I survive.
After giving me a fierce hug, she takes off. Just look at her go. All angles and speed.
Looking about, I spot a chunky old 4×4 sticking out from under a wind-blown tarp. It’s right up next to a battered container. Almost made for me, and I’m not going to ignore with whatever’s on my side tonight.
Hang on, it’s locked! What bastard game is this? Nothing for it but to scoot myself under. Fresh shattered glass will register with the drone-mounted ambience scanners. I thought artificial intelligence was meant to make our lives easier, not make them better at oppressing us.
Here I am again, stuck at the arse end of nowhere, hiding under a car. Plus ça change, as grandmama would’ve said with a little laugh. I wonder if she ever got to France?
Make it back. That’s the trick, isn’t it? I’ve done too many of these supply raids. I’m long overdue to not return.
Footsteps! Bloody Domestic Army patrols. The bastards just can’t leave us be. Most of them used to be our neighbours. Problem is, too many of them still are.
“What the fuck are we doing out here, Vardy?”
“Procedure says areas tangential to the alarm site have to be swept by a patrol after the drones. So here we are. It’s bollocks, but has to be done. Obey orders or go join the riff raff. Mind you, some nights I think that might be a better choice.”
The reply sounds angrier than I’d expect.
“You worry me sometimes, old man. It’s wall-to-wall ubiscum out in the ‘burbs. I know, I walk past them every day. Only a few like me do real work. All the whining and cheating got the freeloaders where they deserve to be: outside the New Era Mandate.”
Vardy coughs, then chuckles.
“Like the One England Initiative wasn’t enough. We should have stopped you lot back in ’28 before the lying bastards got in properly. All our protesting about national service and we still missed the fact that for a lot of conscripts, it gave them the identity they craved, a gang they wanted to be part of, and permission to pick on all the people they didn’t like. It also gave your neo-fascist government a pool of bigots from which they could build a new Schutzstaffel.”
“You’re talking treason.”
“No, I’m talking history. This is treason.”
That was a gunshot!
There’s a wheezing laugh.
“You know, of all the things I expected tonight, finding you hiding under a truck again wasn’t one of them. Still leaving distinctive tracks in the dirt, I see.”
Wait… Vardy? No way!
“Five years back. You let me and Em go.”
He crouches down and peers under the truck. Damn he’s old. Got fire in his eyes, though.
“That’s the one. How’s your tall friend?”
“Her ankle didn’t heal straight.”
“That’s a shame. Can I give you a lift?”
“What?”
“They’re about to bust me for helping people like you, so I’m leaving. You’re hiding under my getaway vehicle.”
Oh.
“Go on, then.”