Traffic Barriers

Author : David S. Golding

If seen from above, the highways appeared to be carved in symmetrical patterns. Beneath, the trails of people on foot were more spontaneous, clustered here around a cheap water spigot, there around a bus lot. Footpaths led tiny ways through the forests and swamps.

The market sprawled between the concrete pillars like a web. Buyers scouted for cheap grains and fruit from far-off places. Scales tipped, measuring scraps of palladium for beef and a diamond-studded chainsaw chain for gallons of purified water. The people came from far, mostly, and they searched the manufactured goods that had been salvaged from landfills or had made it down to the market after years of use.

One woman searched the market for something else. She was a journalist, and she wore a dark blue sweater with pockets. She walked slowly amidst the children’s toys at her feet, searching for any signs that the rumor was true, that people had found a way up the great pillars despite the police line, and that they sold things up there, things like weapons and data that had been dredged up from beneath a structure of gigantic proportions.

She did not really register the wheelbarrows of circuitry or the sellers of herbal medicine who stepped off one bus and onto another. She could not stop squinting up at the aging highways that concealed the vehicles they carried near the sky. She tried to envision a daring escape artist scaling those totemic constructs, a sack of loot dangling off a hip by a cord.

Part of the columns were lit yellow, the other part remaining black, the way the sun hits the moon. But if someone had climbed up there, or even if they had built a concealed scaffolding of bamboo and balsa, then at some point they’d have to repel out onto the side of the traffic barriers, in the shade of the trees that line the elevated avenues. Those outlaw vendors would have to grip the rope and stand up there horizontally between the people below, who would watch the distant silhouettes from behind tarps and piles of onions, and the people above, who sailed by reflecting gleams of sunlight, silent but many times quicker than a horse.

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IXAT

Author : Rick Tobin

“Good Lord, where am I?” Taylor Smith, astronaut extraordinaire, sat nude, baffled and embarrassed on the plush back seat of a vehicle flying through unknown star fields. He could see all about the craft through the wrap around windows.

His nakedness terrified him as he stared at the alien in the driver’s seat in front of him, handling a steering wheel above a dashboard of flashing lights and clustered dials. The alien’s purple flesh hung loosely over its two faces that rotated on a single pedestal. There was a single eye in each countenance. Only gibberish and squeaking emitted from folds of the driver’s facial tissue. The blabbering was followed by a yellow square flashing on the ceiling between the front and back seats. A pleasant female voice emanated a translation.

“You aren’t somewhere, Taylor Smith, you are sometime.” The creature’s globular head rotated freely as its chartreuse pads twisted the steering to and fro, directing the small capsule away from passing space debris and planetoids. “I haven’t had one like you before.”

Smith pounded at the walls, searching for an escape, then stopped, remembering he had no suit to protect him from space. “Am I dead? Who are you?”

“We don’t have names. Just do the work. No, you are worse than dead. You are in timelessness—another lost one who crossed a rift between parallels. I simply ferry you back, when I can, to your right timefullness. So stupid. So many species that don’t understand but venture out in space anyway.”

“This is a mistake. Where are my clothes…my suit? I was leading a mission to Mars from Earth. I want out of here!” Smith tried to strike out but couldn’t, so he focused his attention on covering his privates.

“This time is your mirror…so close…yet we do not see each other. The creators made so many mistakes. One wonders why they create with such errors, but then I would not have purpose. Never heard of Mars or Earth. I just depend on my panel with hopes you are a brief fare, and I don’t have to spend forever waiting for you to age and die back there, stinking up the cabin. Happens sometimes if a specific rift disappears.”

Smith’s nausea beckoned his last meal to join his throat. He held back. Dying in space was always a possibility, but not like this. The yellow light on the ceiling illuminated and the voice continued. “So lucky for you. Here we are. You’ll be in place soon.”

A swirling tornado of blue and purple lights twisted around them as the pilot skillfully pointed a pathway through the matrix of neutrino flux. “Out you go…”

“Commander, where were you? In a moment you flashed and disappeared. Are you okay?” Lieutenant Bailey shook the Commander’s shoulder to get his attention.

“Off me, idiot! Put a space buoy out behind us and put it on all-channel alerts to avoid that area.” Smith looked down; assuring himself he was no longer naked and not dead.

“But why, sir, when there was no debris and…”

“Just do it. Do it now…before we get too far away…no one else needs to trip through the looking glass.”

Commander Smith rushed from the bridge to the isolation of his quarters to make sure this was his world and his time. He stopped to gaze in a mirror in the hallway of his compartment. For a moment he saw the fading image of the spinning heads of his travel guide. Smith collapsed on his bed, in shock, pondering a career change.

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“Immortality”

Author : Faris Naimi

“Is that what you call a life?” The woman was shouting at him. She was wearing a black dress, like she was going to a funeral. She was beautiful, but her face was contorted with so much anger that you wouldn’t expect it to be able to fit into such a small, delicate lady.

“That is pathetic! No! You are pathetic! You’re just going to leave me here? Does all of this mean that little to you?” She spread her arms out to her sides, as if she was surrounded by countless people whom he would miss, but she was alone in the empty park. Standing on the grass, her expression changed from one of anger to one of sorrow. He thought that he saw tears in her eyes before, but now there was no questioning it. She was crying. Her eye makeup was running and now she was pleading with him. “Please don’t go! I don’t want to see you go! We’ll never be able to do any of the things that we used to! I’ll never get to kiss you, or hold your hand, or even see you!”

He wanted to tell her otherwise. He wanted to argue his side of everything. But he couldn’t. He couldn’t move. He couldn’t talk. He knew what she looked like but he couldn’t see her. His heart would be breaking, if he had one. He’d feel a gaping hole in his chest, if he had one.

She clearly had nothing more to say to him. She ran away from her. Running. Something else that he couldn’t do.

He woke up with a shock. It was just a nightmare. He might have cried, if he could have. His optic sensors displayed to him his usual surroundings. The familiar dark room. He sat on the wall, on top of the highest shelf. He was soaked in the preservation fluid as his disembodied brain floated in the glass canister. Sometimes he wondered whether or not eternal “life” was worth it.

 

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A Human Dream

Author : Cody Brooks

“I tried! I tried!”

The man called out.
No one answered.
All sound was an empty wind buffeting over crumbled rocks. A tree stood before him, grey and leafless, its bark peeling from the wind.
The blood of the tree had withered and dried; now it was gone.

The man held his head in his wide hands. He could feel every bone, and his palms filled his sunken cheeks; his skin sagged in atrophy. In a tattered cloth covered in dirt and dust he rested on his knees, wanting to cry but holding back.
He looked up to the tree. Big from what he had ever seen, it was 4 feet tall, curving outward from the base. Its trunk was twisted; long, thin branches reached out, shaking on the wind. The man followed the branches with his eyes, the straight lengths, the knots and bends, the splits into smaller branches.

“I am truly the last now.”

He moved his eyes to look to the horizon in front of him; an expanse of dust and eroded hills. Once tall mountains, they had fallen and the corpses deteriorated into nothing. He turned, slowly, paying attention to his lower spine, and leaned his head over.
He looked behind him: same.
He turned back, lifting his eyes to the tree once more.

All is ruin… I am the last… And yet, if I am, there is nothing left but to dream a human dream.

A slanted hole had been dug under the tree to just below the meager roots, about two feet wide. The man took time to move his body into a crawl. He slumped, moved his arms in front of him, and slowly placed his knuckles on the ground. He rolled down his left side and gravity took him quickly. He let out a dry yelp, coughed, and shuffled toward the hole.

Not yet, don’t do it yet…

The man came to the opening and moved his legs in, his belly sliding on the dust, pushing with his hands and his forearms. His body moved down, down, and far enough into it that only his head remained above ground.
It took a few minutes of breathing; he turned over to face upward. Roots from the tree dangled onto his abdomen and chest. He reached for a thin root and swirled a finger around it to grab hold.

He turned his eyes to the red sky, the grey tree standing above; the last thing standing.

Now, now I can…

As he looked into the depths of the bark, a tear welled out of his eye and rolled down his cheek, leaving a clean trail where dust had caked. A tear came from his other eye. His hand shook for a few moments, holding as tightly as he could to the root of the monolith. The shaking stopped.

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Strawberry Fields Forever

Author : Rick Tobin

“I wonder about the strawberry jelly, Gran Papa.” Madeleine’s brother Corso kicked at her feet beneath the sterile stainless steel table but instead struck a metal leg. He groaned softly as to hide his actions from the family figurehead. His black shock of hair, growing on just his left side, poked about as he jerked his head, glaring at his inquisitive sister. He wondered if this would be another moment when her prodding about the luxury of their life would further endanger their status in the House of Sulus.

“My dear, red-haired wunderkind, what is it this time? The texture of the fruit or why it is sweet when the fruit we raise on this vast space station is so bitter, or even without flavor? What is it now? Are not the wonders of your surroundings enough?” Chancellor Kaleb, patriarch of the Sulus Dynasty, leaned toward his beloved grandchild. His bushy eyebrows and throws of white hair were a spectacle of grandeur in the Empire, though the centuries of aging revealed themselves in the crevasses meandering through his high checks and noble, square chin. Madeleine was the rare being aboard the gigantic vessel who dared look deep into his massive black eyes.

“No, Gran Papa. Every day I behold the glorious royal sea above us, circling the rim of our majestic castle, knowing it protects us from the dangers of space. I see our floating forests and grassy knolls in the midlands, all above the roasting fire of the hybrid fusion engine—our sun…not theirs, out there, as we circle safety behind the protection of Jupiter.” She pointed to the outer hull stretching tens of miles above. “It is the source of this delicacy in front of us I ponder about, that we spread upon our fresh pastries each morning. Is it true that only the old Earth can make such a thing? I hear the people left there are our slaves merely to make this delight.”

A frown rolled across the Chancellor’s forehead. Corso drew back. His parents had warned them both that this visit could mean their propulsion upward in society, or a sentence to one of the prison colonies. Kaleb leaned back in his regal, high-backed chair. “No question about the outside Empire is out of order, but you have heard only partial truths. You must have been sneaking near the worker’s quarters. You shouldn’t. They know how to serve, but little more. In truth, the remains of Earth are the only place in the system where we have been able to raise strawberries. All other attempts have failed in one way or another. You know how bitter our apples and cherries are, no matter our care. Those who survived the destruction remained on Earth to tend these most valuable commodities. They cannot be seen as slaves, for without our trade, and the desire for this fruit, they would starve on that devastated rock. This delight is their gift for the beloved in the Empire, and they survive by our grace, nothing more.”

“But didn’t we come from Earth, originally? Aren’t we part of them?” Corso gasped, as did the Chancellor.

“Never, my little fury, ever speak of that again, or even suggest it.” His harsh tones shocked Madeleine into a withdrawn silence, unlike her nature. She continued with their breakfast quietly, carefully choosing not to ask about the Martian meat pies.

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Multitasking

Author : J.A. Prentice

Lily was halfway through a dissection when she got the first call, faintly buzzing in her skull. With a sigh, she blinked her eyes and was standing in the oak hall of an old mansion, under the shadow of an old moose head. She looked down at her fingers, seeing the slight haziness that was always the mark of a holographic avatar.

“Doctor Greene?” a distinguished elderly man in an elegant suit asked.

“That’s me,” Lily said. “Pleased to talk to you at last, Professor Hawke.”

With a thought, she returned her attention to her lab, applying the laser scalpel to the creature’s leftmost tentacle, carefully moving layer by layer and making precise mental logs of her observations.

“Your paper was an interesting read,” Hawke said and Lily returned her attention to him.

“I’m glad you thought so.” She noted two glowing, spherical organs– possibly natural anti-gravity generators. “Xenobiology is my passion.”

“The position is open to you if you should want it.”

Lily’s heart leapt. “Really? You don’t–”

Her words were cut off by a surge of pain. She cried out, her hologram flickering out without the mental focus it needed to remain solid.

Looking down, she saw that she’d cut off three fingers with the scalpel. She rolled her eyes as she felt the nanites begin their work in repairing the damaged tissues.

Rule One of dissections, she thought. Keep your mind on your work.

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