The Single System System

Author : EL Conrad

Temps pour out of slots, lining the windows and tapping the chipspecs implanted in their skulls. All that platform switching — everyone going from database to real time data simultaneously — causes a sysglitch that forecloses production until a tekfix.

A maximan admonishes the workers, “Don’t negi on storm, platform up shortly. Yay!”

“And if we need to go?” Outside, snow is falling fast and furious.

Maximan’s face stretches as she smiles double wide. “U can go. Who says no? UR all expendable. But we heart U and we plus U so if U go, don’t come back.” Her expression is distracted as nows play on her brain screen. “Reduction is production!” she finishes with forced cheer and the company motto.

No one reminds her that they aren’t reducing shit until she gets a tekfix. So young, so beautiful, and so brimming with nowpow, or maybe tompow, in any case just 24 and already a maximan at Midcorp — who would dare disturb her with fact?

It’s efficiency that eventually encumbers.Managers gotta keep it rolling or heads roll. Later has already been planned and predicted, workflowed, whiteboarded, and graphed, every aspect quantified and then spiced with a dose of chaos math. There are objectives and known results (OKRs). Metrics exist on what was and is and will be.

Output — production or reduction, whichever — has already been measured. Deficiencies are intolerable, and maximan changes her tune soon enough, expelling the temps right after transport is halted, “Secu’s #1 so go home! Grow balance. Have it all. Plus yes 2 checking 4 txts. U rule!”

Ellipsis and Wolf trek downcenter. Everything is lovely. Center is still, storm active, a reversal of biz as usual.

It’s late when they cross into the Point, fringe territory. Across the river, Metropolis is invisible, the perpetual glow of its mammoth structures dimmed to dark. But the Point is always powered. Corp’s most valuable pop shops are here. Liquid gold is the biggest biz, so there’s always juice to process piss.

At the factory where the couple rents a cube, the vidgard’s on the fritz. They take the prohibited fire escape to the roof, use of which is forbidden. Wolf lowers himself over the edge one flight to their window ledge, kicks the plastiglass out.

Ellipsis uses a system she devised and that Wolf strongly advises against, a superfine cord of woven space string, the kind they put in Secucorp laser shields. It works but does not look very secure.

When they first met, El’s daring thrilled Wolf — he never encountered a creature as alive in all the universe. But a decade plus can wear on any duo and now he wonders if the alien’s dangerous streak is dull, just a death wish. All life forms have defective creatures that get those when knowledge infects.

Wolf knows — as a boy he spotted his grandfather’s body hanging from the rafters of his forest cabin, a rope wrapped round his neck. It happened on the day the nows announced that corp was gov and gov was corp and that the twain had met at last in the name of efficiency and the single system system.

Still, despite her mate’s suspicions, Ellipsis is the one with hope. She doesn’t articulate this to Wolf because his magical realism involves a higher proportion of real to magic than hers; he disdains hope as a kind of corrupt, delusional philo for the consolation of morons. “That shit’s totally passe,” he like to say. “Went out with the separation of corp and state.”

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Sky's Child

Author : Keith Sheridan

They were deep in the forest when the sky began to scream. Above the snowy shoulder of the mountain the orange and navy penumbra of dawn was shattered by the intrusion of a black behemoth; long and sleek, like a dagger slicing through clouds. Tay dropped to his knees, his hands went to his ears to block out the shrieking.

Okor shook him from his crouch. He shouted something but Tay couldn’t hear through the ringing in his ears. Okor’s black eyes were wide and his finger stabbed Inwards, towards where the intruder was falling towards the valley.

They began to run. Through gaps in the canopy Tay glimpsed the intruder barrelling towards the Water. The earth shook as it crashed.

The intruder had shorn through the banks of the Water, blocking the channel and sending streamers of crimson water flooding across narrow plain; scarred with smoking craters and pieces of the intruder’s carapace.

They stopped at the tree line and watched. In the thing’s flank they saw a ragged hole, from the edges of which hung ropes that crackled with light. Okor stepped out of the trees, spear in hand and began picking his way across the ground to the hole. Tay followed, careful not to put his feet in the smoking craters or step on the pieces of jagged metal. Was it a metal beast? A hudun from the stories?

Tay could feel the heat of the thing, and Okor stepped alongside it and felt the hull; raising a hiss. “Hot.” He said, stepping alongside the hole, careful to avoid the crackling ropes. His slit-nostrils perforated. “Death.” He announced.

Tay made the sign of the Channel on his forehead.

A creature tumbled from the hole, its skin black and its smooth head dominated by one giant eye. Okor stepped back, raising his spear. His large head tipped to one side to study the thing. Tay guessed it stood no higher than his waist. The creature’s legs flapped about as if only half under control, like a child.

The Sky’s Child turned towards Okor and jumped. An object appeared in its hand, pointed at Okor. His kinsmen reached forward to take the offering. The Child shouted. The thing in its hand cracked, echoing across the Valley.

Okor wailed, falling as black blood spurted from his chest. Tay roared and lunged at the Child. it spotted him and aimed its weapon at him. Tay flinched as it cracked but it seemed not to affect him. He caught the Child in his long arms, raising him towards the sky. It thrashed and wriggled, trying to escape his grip, but he held on. Tay grasped its legs and head and both pulled and squeezed. Its shiny head crumpled beneath his fingers, sending red blood splashing against the inner side of its eye. Its black skin ripped, revealing a pale inner skin that tore; leaking yet more blood. The Child screamed as it died. Tay threw it towards the trees so it could not contaminate the sacred Water.

Okor was sitting up, his ashen skin bathed in a sheen of perspiration. In his torso his flesh was fighting the wound, forcing a smoking chunk of metal from his narrow chest. Okor’s fingers trembled but he did not cry. He would live.

His kinsmen smiled, but it faltered. His luminescent eyes widened.

Then the sky began screaming again.

Tay turned. The sky, only now mending after the intruder’s assault, was tearing again. A dozen more intruders slipped down through the azure plane, descending like vultures on a corpse.

Tay watched and clutched his spear.

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Author : Roger Dale Trexler

Peterson peered out through the energy bubble surrounding him and surveyed the place he had arrived in. It was strange, this place, totally unlike his own dimension. The light was different. It cast a halo of yellow around everything, and it took his eyes a moment to adjust. When they did, he saw the scientists looking in on him. They were human, like he was. It was yet another surprise of many surprises.

He listened as the scientists talked.

“I don’t understand it,” said Professor Furia. “This man….” He turned and pointed at the man behind the glass “…should not be here.”

Professor Simpson nodded and walked to the glass case. “Have we finally opened the portal into another dimension?” he asked.

Furia replied, “I think so.”

Then, he turned and regarded Peterson.

Their experiment had been virtually fruitless till now. They had sent several short ionic bursts into a radioactive isotope. A strange reaction had occurred; but, beyond that….nothing.

Till now.

After a particularly powerful burst into the isotope, Peterson appeared in the isolation chamber. Everyone was dumbfounded. Little did they know that Peterson had been working in his dimension to fix the mess they made. Each time they exploded an isotope, they opened a breach in his universe. Their latest experiment had opened a slit wide enough for Peterson to come through, and he did. He surrounded himself with a stasis barrier to hold in his own anti-matter and stepped into the opening.

Now, he peered at the scientists causing all the destruction. Furia and Simpson did not understand that they had breached an anti-matter universe from within a matter universe. They did not see the disintegration of planets, the screaming of millions as they sizzled out of existence.

“He shouldn’t be here,” Furia said. Then, he pursed his chin to his face. “You don’t think….?”

Simpson nodded. He turned to Peterson. “Do you understand me?” he asked.

Peterson nodded back.

“How is that possible?” asked Furia. Then, he saw the small device attached to Peterson’s chest. He pointed at it. “Is that thing translating for you?”

Peterson nodded again.

“Amazing!” Simpson said. “We don’t have anything like it over here.”

The two matter scientists looked at each other. Their only thought was that, if they could get that device, they would be able to fund their research with it for the rest of their lives.

“Why are you here?” asked Furia.

For a moment, Peterson did not answer. Then, he said: “To stop you.”

“Stop us?” asked Simpson.

“Yes. What you’re doing is destroying my universe.”

“We didn’t mean to,” said Furia. “We just need to know.”

“Know what?” asked Peterson. “That there are other universes?”


“Well, there are….and you’re destroying one.”

He touched something in his palm.

“What’s that?” asked Furia.

“I’m sorry,” Peterson said. “But I have to seal the breach. Forgive me.”

He looked the two scientists in the eyes as he flicked the switch that broke the stasis barrier between the matter and anti-matter universes.

As the three scientists sizzled, then imploded, the breach between the universes was sealed, and both universes were safe again….for awhile.

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Hello World!

Author : Gray Blix

I know, I know, a blog is not the most effective way to warn humanity about an extraterrestrial threat, but I can’t get the mainstream media to take me seriously. I can’t even get supermarket tabloids to answer my phone calls and emails. Photos of UFOs or ETs would get their attention, but I don’t have any. I just have alien voices in my head, and they’re apparently not newsworthy. Too many other people are walking around talking to themselves, like me. Which is my point, actually. I used to avoid such people, but now I seek them out to compare stories, and I’ve found that a lot of them are possessed by aliens. Remember that movie about a guy who gets hold of some special sunglasses that allow him to see aliens disguised as humans? Well, that’s me! Except I don’t need the sunglasses. And the aliens aren’t disguised as humans. They’re communicating with humans. Telepathically.

“Possessed” is not exactly the right word to describe this. It’s not like those movies about demons taking control of people. It’s more like a Vulcan mind meld. But not a one-time link. An ongoing conversation. Like that movie about a guy who communicates telepathically with a girl’s brain in a jar. That was a comedy, but this is serious. Really. Yeah, I can see why nobody pays attention to my warnings. Look, forget all that movie stuff. Let me boil it all down to a simple message: DO NOT TRY TO COMMUNICATE WITH ALIENS TELEPATHICALLY. Don’t do it. Don’t even think about doing it.

Well, OK, I think it’s safe to read this one-page blog, but only to get the message about NOT doing that other thing, so that you can prevent the aliens from getting into your mind the way they got into mine. Long story short, last summer my girlfriend and I were sitting on the porch swing at my parents cabin just looking up at the stars, and we saw a light moving across the sky. I said it was a UFO. She said it was an airplane. I leaned forward and thought, hey, you up there, if you’re an ET give me a sign. It stopped. I fell out of the swing, and when I looked up again I couldn’t pick out that light from amongst all the stars. But they had picked out my mind from amongst 7 billion humans. That’s how they got in. I invited them.

Fast forward to the present. I no longer have a girlfriend. My parents think I’m nuts. I dropped out of college. Not a day has gone by that aliens have not communicated with me. When I’m not out aimlessly wandering the streets starting conversations with people who talk to themselves, I spend a lot of time in my room watching movies. The aliens watch them through me. They’re not interested in the contents of my brain anymore, having thoroughly reviewed my memories and analyzed my cognitive processes. At this stage, I function as a streaming media device.

One day we watched Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and I asked why they’d never abducted me. I know, I know, a stupid question. It’s like I’m always looking for trouble. Anyway, they said they don’t do that much anymore. There’s nothing left to learn about the anatomy of humans or cows or any of the other earthly creatures they have dissected. Their clinical interest is all about minds now. Or so they say. But I don’t think it’s our scientific value that keeps them connected to us. It’s our entertainment value.

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Feel the Blade

Author : Julian Miles, Staff Writer

The lumen panels are set to ‘candlelight’ and the susurrus of the climate control system is muted to barely a whisper. The room is twilit, draped with banners from a hundred victories. In a depression on the floor, an ornamental pool has been reborn as a cushion- and pillow-lined nook for a wearied and bloody command couple to find a moments respite.

An indistinct figure with flaxen hair tilts a face of rare beauty to gaze up at the chiselled lines of a face that could have been hewn from granite – and would have seemed softer had it been so.

“How do I die?”

“It will be a thing of surprise and expectation, an act unforeseen, yet suddenly so obvious to those staggering with grief. ‘Such a bright soul could not last in the tawdry environs of today’, they will say.”


“He will be as one felled by a mighty blow, but the need to be there for your armies will save him. Duty will ever be his salvation after you are gone.”

“Will I bring peace?”

“Alas, no. There will be a cessation of hostilities. A funeral so rare because of the theretofore unseen gathering of intergalactic luminaries. But then the recriminations will start and rattling sabres will counterpoint venomous rhetoric. The year granted by your death will be recalled as you bestowing a gift upon the troops, even in your passing.”

“What of my killer?”

“He – or more correctly, it – is a companion of doers and movers throughout history, a creature that feeds on the rare essences generated by true heroines and inspirational leaders. But all of that is merely entrée to the haut cuisine created by the storm of emotion over each notary’s death. Thus what started as happenstance has become modus operandi. It is the lover and killer of those who make mankind great.”

“Will it miss me?”

“Forever. Every slaying wreaks decade-long havoc upon its mind, for all that the ecstasy of gourmet fare thunders within. You will be sorely missed.”

“Can you protect me, as you have done so many times before?”

“To defend you would require the end of me.”

“I know my killer very well, don’t I?”

“You do.”

“I started with the wrong question, didn’t I?”

“You did.”


“Close your eyes.”

The molecularly-aligned edges pass through sleight fields, body armour, dermal weave and titanium-laced bone with only the slightest frissance of impact. The resonance that realigns the edges is unperturbed as the weapon describes a swift reverse question mark in her heart, sundering chambers and cleaving erythrocytes.

She feels a quiver under her breast, but knows the knife is sharper than pain: death will take her before sensory trauma registers.

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The Autodidact

Author : Jedd Cole

Brontë was a sad and curious alien android. That’s how I came to know him at least. Most merely saw him as a strange man. But, first and foremost, Brontë was a didact. He did not talk except to teach, and in teaching, I think he believed he was learning. Yeah, I didn’t think it made sense at the time, either.

I first met him on the side of the road by Amelia Park where my car had stalled. He’d been walking by and I asked if he could help. We popped the hood and Brontë began explaining how the car worked to me, examining the tubes and wires and cylinders. His manner perplexed and intrigued me. I still don’t think he knew anything about car engines.

We had to get the car towed. In the meantime, Brontë took me out to dinner. He was teaching me how our table was constructed and veneered, at which point I decided to correct him. The surface was clearly made of one piece of wood, I said; not twenty-three. He seemed taken aback, but only for a few seconds. He nodded and began again, including the revision. I sat with my elbows on the table, staring at this man and his glasses that seemed to go in and out of focus as he talked.

Brontë told me about seven previous girlfriends, of which I soon became the eighth. He’d proposed to each of them, he explained, teaching them about what matrimony meant in various cultures. They’d all turned him down immediately.

I pretty much kept quiet in the beginning. Our relationship was unilateral. Brontë showed no affection, and neither did I. Call me crazy, but was intent on observing him as we meandered around town, how he stopped people on the street to teach them about the effects of littering on the habits of gray housecats, the reason for life according to the Hopi, why the capital of some European country changed three times in the fourteenth century, et cetera ad nauseum.

I tabulated our conversations over the four weeks that I was with him, and concluded that 94.3 percent of his claims were absolutely false. The only times he was right were after others interrupted and corrected him.

We broke up when he proposed to me.

But I didn’t stop observing Brontë. He eventually became a fixture of the city; everyone knew who he was and avoided him if at all possible. No one listened and no one looked into his strange glasses and no one became his ninth girlfriend.

With binoculars, I watched him sit in the window of his apartment, which had always been empty, looking out at the world that shunned him. He started walking the streets without speaking, looking straight ahead, running into street signs and garbage cans and slow-moving cars. He never ate. He never slept.

One day, he walked to the edge of town and just kept going. He wandered into the Sonora desert all alone, following no road. I soon lost him among the mountains and arroyos, saguaros and pines.

I heard recently that his body was found by an Air Force drone, his ten thousand pieces scattered at the bottom of a dry river bed a hundred miles north of here, my suspicions confirmed. Before they could recover the rusty corpse, the local paper reported the second UFO sighting in about a year, and then Brontë was gone. According to my reckoning, the last UFO sighting had been roughly eight girlfriends ago.

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