Little Plastic Baggie

Author : Dan Whitley

“What is this?” Marc demanded, shaking a little plastic baggie in front of his son’s face. “This better not be what I think it is.”

“What, it’s not like you didn’t do that sort of thing when you were my age,” Ralph shot back. “Besides, they’re not even mine, they’re Jake’s.”

Marc scoffed. “’They’re Jake’s,’” he mimicked. “That little shit’s been nothing but trouble since you met him.”

“Don’t talk about my friends that way!”

“You might as well forget about him anyway, son, you’re leaving for OMU in six weeks as it is.”

“Y’know maybe I don’t want to go to Mars, Dad,” Ralph said, his voice picking up into a yell. “Maybe I’d rather do nothing with my life, you ever think about that?”

“I didn’t serve 14 years in the Federation just so my son could be a junkie and a welfare leech!”

“Just watch me!” Ralph grabbed the baggie out of his dad’s hand and started to shake it himself. “Blah blah ’14 years,’ like I haven’t heard that one before.”

Marc wrenched the baggie away from Ralph, shouting, “Oh no you don’t!” and shoving Ralph away. “You’re going to shape up, mister. And you’re going to college. And that’s final!”

“Yeah, ok,” Ralph mocked, folding his arms defiantly. Marc finally boiled over and took a swing at Ralph, who ducked under it with ease. Ralph could move faster than Marc could ever hope to.

Marc started to storm out of the room. “Don’t think this is the end of this!”

Ralph was already dialing down, queuing up some music. “Whatever, old man.” The lights in his eyes dimmed and Ralph’s whole body went halfway limp.

“He’s really gonna get it later,” Marc said, as much to himself as to his wife Terry, who’d been standing just behind him in Ralph’s room during the whole argument. He dropped the baggie onto the dinner table in disgust and fell into a chair.

“Marc,” Terry said, standing across from her husband, trying to remain collected, “you really shouldn’t be so hard on the boy. One way or another, he’s gonna leave the house soon, and you’re gonna regret this rift you’ve created between the two of you.”

“I shouldn’t have to do this in the first place,” Marc said, still quite livid. “But no, you had to insist on adopting a synth, didn’t you? With all their damn electronic, self-repairing parts, because you couldn’t deal with a normal child and all their normal injuries. Now this happens This-”

Terry laid one right across Marc’s face and stormed out of the kitchen, her face contorted in hurt anger. Marc turned away, did not watch her go. His eye caught the baggie on the table and his rage flashed once more. He swore under his breath, snatched up the bag of little magnets and dashed them against the wall.

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Yes, I Am

Author : Per Wiger

He used knock-knock jokes like cadence calls, keeping one foot moving ahead of the other as the two of us, road-worn travelers shuffled passed Victory station on the old blue line.

“Knock-knock,” his words cut through air choked with the detritus of disuse as he danced ahead of me on what had once been the deadly third rail, just to prove that he could.

“Who’s there?” my voice was phlegmy and distant in my own ears, toneless and mechanical, but it was a voice and that’s more than most people could still claim, these days.

“Banana.” it was this one again, he must be getting tired.

“Banana who?” left foot step, right foot step, wince as the thin spot on the soul of my boot strikes something in the dark, left foot step.

“Knock-knock,” we’re almost there, I didn’t need him anymore, not really, I was behind him and covered by darkness. There was only one way to shut him up, but I had done worse…

“Who’s there?” I have some honor left, he’s helped me this far, and that’s not nothing.

“Banana,” the tunnel is an old one, like all those that are still usable, brick arches weathered the blasts better than cheap steel beams, but it’s not as old as the joke feels now and much more beautiful.

“Banana who?” the rail map I’d passed so many times on the walls played itself forward in my head; Victory station, Denmark station, Providence, then a sprint through the lights still powered by some ancient back up generator to the mouth of the orange line, then Patriot, Loyalty, and out at Triumph station. If my information was good there was a club there, called the Kellar. I haven’t sung since the bombs dropped, not for an audience at least, but I dropped that stubborn five pounds…

“Knock-knock,” God let it be over.

“Who’s there?” The orange line was much newer, and commensurately more difficult to navigate, but it was still safer than trying the surface. Cooler too, in more ways than one.

“Banana,” we did see light for the first time in I don’t know how long and I can’t complain about that.

“Banana who?” Close now, up the stairs, two at a time despite our fatigue. Enter the lobby guns drawn, cover each other like we’ve gotten so used to doing, one more flight of stairs, one more arch.

“Knock-knock,” a hundred feet from our goal, if my information is right, and I damn near killed him anyway. I took a deep breath instead.

“Who’s there?”

“Orange,” He was grinning like a mad-man, the mousy man, boy really, I’d picked up outside of Chicago. For the first time I noticed the fever behind his ever-present grin, and the fear.

“Orange who?”

“Orange you glad I didn’t say banana?” Even he lacked the gall to laugh. We opened the doors as one.

The flickering neon sign across the road was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen, the lights in the security windows a close second, and I rushed across the street only to find myself alone, I turned back to see him standing in the mouth of the train station, tears streaming down his face.

“What’s your name?” He called to me.

“Sally,” I replied with a wink, and, devil be damned, I continued, “Sally Bowles.”

“Still making jokes,” I heard him murmur, as he turned away, and slipped back into the tunnels.


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Paying Dress-Up

Author : Evan Kayne

“Look, this is ridiculous. I didn’t profit from making and then wearing my Mikey Moose costume for Halloween last year. I went to a party then after we went out to a bar. I wasn’t saying I was the real Mikey. It was just me.” Del Rogers pointed back at himself.

“Mr. Rogers, as the letter discussed, due to changes made recently to International Copyright and Trademark laws, we control all images of Mikey Moose…” Daniel Pullam, the lawyer for Nisdey Studios, clicked on his e-tablet. An electronic image of a letter appeared in mid-air between the two men. The letter expanded to twice its size and the relevant paragraphs became highlighted, copied themselves and drifted down to the table in front of Del, like two leaves.

“As you see, the law covers ALL images. Had you purchased one of the official Mikey Moose Nisdey Studios costumes, you would be covered. Had your costume been constructed in such a way as to indicate it was a parody, you would be exempted.” Daniel tapped on his tablet and a 3D video display of Del dressed as Mikey Moose appeared on the table and started dancing.

“Your costume,” Daniel spoke as the dancing Mikey evaporated back into the tablet, “-was an exceptional imitation of the real costume actors wear at Mikey-World. And therefore subject to copyright infringement and all penalties therein.”

Del was quiet as he stared down at the tabletop, like a chastened child. Finally, he spoke: “Now what? Are you going to sue me for all I’ve got?”

At this Daniel put on a smile he hoped was sincere but not too creepy. “Mr. Rogers, when dealing with individuals, Nisdey Studios and Mikey-World Incorporated prefer to be…flexible.” Daniel reached down below the table and pulled up a large suitcase. He placed it on the table, opened it, and pulled out a costume that looked remarkably like a cartoon fish mixed with the body of a businessman. He hoped the folks in the Costuming department were accurate in guessing Del’s body shape and height.

“Now, as Halloween is coming up this year, then Christmas after that, you’ve no doubt heard about our new upcoming family film, ‘The Incredible Mr. Fish…’”


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Author : Jonas David

Private Connor had been to brothels plenty of times on leave, but he’d never bothered to talk to any of the units before. Usually you gave the clerk your account, selected your model, got your rocks off and left. Done deal. But somehow this one had got in his head, and if he was paying he figured he’d get his curiosity satisfied along with his other urges.

“So, did you like it?” He said as he pulled on his pants, sweat cooling on his brow.

“Of course, couldn’t you tell?” She brushed curled brunette hair away from her pale breasts.

“Yeah, but aren’t you, uhh, programmed that way?”

“I’m programmed to enjoy making you happy.”

“Well, what if I enjoy smacking you around?”

“Oh, but I know you don’t.” She cooed with a wink. It was true; his mind cringed at the thought of hitting her.

“But some guys must like it.” Connor persisted. “What then?”

“Well then I have to hide my pleasure. They like to see fear in my eyes, so I show it. But I just love seeing them so happy, so turned on.” She let out a sigh. “That look in their eyes as they knock me about is just so cute!” She knew just how to say it, he realized, to make him not worry for her. Even now, after he had finished his business, she had his feelings in mind.

“Leave with me.” He blurted. “Come travel with me, just us.”

“Oh honey, I can’t”

“Why?” He couldn’t hide his disappointment.

“Oh no, sweety, don’t take it personally. I’m just not programmed to be with one man.”

Hours later as his ship launched from the station, he wondered still. How did she know that was just the right thing to say?

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Author : Andrew Bale

Survey Ship Aldrin drifted softly through space, main jets silent while the steering and attitude thrusters pushed it gently through a seemingly empty patch of space. Weeks spent surveying an assigned sector rimward of Epsilon Eridani had come down to this. The extended antennas and magnetic plates that made the Aldrin look like a cosmic hedgehog steadfastly ignored the few specks of matter in the interstellar medium, instead measuring the local permittivity and permeability. They had followed the gradient away from the star, hunting for that elusive and otherwise invisible spot where the two tensors assumed three-dimensional minima.

Survey Pilot Jack Nguyen ran one more material proximity scan before turning the gain on his controls down to their minimum setting. So adjusted, he would be able to maneuver the ship as delicately as a neurosurgeon’s scalpel, but would be unable to quickly move the ship if some bit of unseen space debris tried to turn them into scrap. He kept on gently juking and turning the ship until his co-pilot and sensor operator finally gave him the thumbs up. He pulled the ship ten meters “up”, let the ship go deadstick, and hit the intercom.

“Howie – we’re here. Load Fred.”

Below, Survey Assistant 2nd Class Howard Green hoisted a heavily sedated pig through a miniature airlock into the survey pod, cursing again the guidance counselor who had failed to mention animal husbandry as being part of the job description. Placed, secured, connected to life support, and wired in every way imaginable, Fred the pig slept on as Howie closed and dogged the pod and airlock doors.

“All right Cap, he’s in.”

Jack glanced momentarily towards the sensor operator.

“Kat, she’s all yours. Find us a good one.”

“Yes sir!”

Survey Scientist Katya Chang turned away from her commander and occasional lover (space being essentially dull, and he possessing the highly attractive trait of not smelling like pig), and activated the controls that focused six terahertz lasers onto the previously identified point of space. After twenty minutes, her sensors begin to flicker with uncertainty.

“We’ve got something. Let’s see what.”

She cut the beams, opened the bay door, and pushed the pig-filled survey pod towards the focus on the robotic arm. As the pod neared the spot the arm released it, and it drifted onwards, connected only by the sensor tether, until it began to blur and fade away.

“We might… well that’s… ew. Retracting.”

The tether reeled back in, drawing the slowly reappearing pod back towards the arm and the ship. Kat turned to Jack.

“Cataloging universe … 5619,uninhabitable. Mu and epsilon at 0.85 and 0.13 relative, other constants still calculating. No masses nearby, but a lot of gas. The background radiation is strange – I think it’s electrogravitic here.”

“How’d Fred do?”

“Well, he woke up on schedule, right as he went through. He oinked and squealed for about two minutes, then apparently gained the power of speech and started spouting some gibberish about trolls. You ever hear of that happening before?”

“No, but I know Howie reads out loud down there. That might be worth something on its own. Weird. I’m guessing he died after that?”

“Yep, pretty messily. Got hot in there at the end.”

“Howie, do you have the pod? And how many pigs do we have left?”

“Yes sir, I’ve got it. Three more pigs if you want to keep looking.”

“Great. Try to clean up the pod, I’ll find us a new vector.”

“Yes sir.”

“Howie, are you eating something?”

“No sir.”

“Any good?”

“Yes sir.”

“All right, save me some bacon.”

“Yes sir.”


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Aether ex Machina

Author : Michael Iverson

He was still seizing when the light hit his eyes. His head was pounding as he squeezed them shut, but it still tore into him, bright as the sun. His body was convulsing and his arms were trembling as he tried to hold onto himself. He wanted to lift his hands up and shield his eyes, but he was afraid he’d lose his grip and fall off into nothing. All he could see was white, impossible white, the light taking over his entire body, creeping into his soul. His headache faded, the shaking stopped, and he opened his eyes.

Walter was at a dinner party. He was naked. “Do you want some clothes?” An older gentleman with large eyebrows placed his hand on his shoulder. “You don’t have to wear anything, but most people prefer it.” The man smiled.

“This is just like life,” Walter said. He looked around at all the people talking, laughing, and dressed for all occasions.

“It’s a little better, I think.” The old man breathed deeply. “Heaven. Like life, but slightly better. How about those clothes?”

Walter followed him to the closet, and accepted the faded jeans with a nod. He put them on and found them just a little big. “Thank you. What’s your name?”

The old man held out a hand, which Walter accepted. “Frank Cohen, it’s a pleasure. Yourself?”

“Walter,” he said.

“So how’d it happen, son?”

Walter looked back at the old man.

“I hope you don’t mind me asking. Some newcomers can be sensitive about it, but after you’ve been here a while it’s just like talking about the weather.”

Walter glanced around. It was a beautiful house, with a light sage carpet and eggshell walls. There were probably fifty people here. He turned back to Frank. “It’s complicated. It took years.”

Frank frowned and nodded his head. “Cancer, my boy? It got my wife, Cherry, too. A few years after me. You’ll meet Cherry, she’s around here somewhere.”

Walter nodded, and Frank went on. “I had a heart attack in the garage, about a week after Erin’s graduation. Erin’s my granddaughter, of course. Must have been ten years ago, now. Maybe longer. A lot of us lose track.”

Walter glanced at the clock and smiled. “I can understand that. How long have I been here?”

Frank raised his eyebrows. “Five minutes, probably. Not much longer.” He laughed, “You’ve got a long time ahead of you. Would you like to meet Cherry?”

“I’d love to meet Cherry, Frank, but I think it’s going to have to wait until later.”

“Of course, my boy. Just wait right there, I’ll grab you a beer.”

Walter looked at the clock. “No, Frank. I’m sorry. It’s just about five minutes. I’ll be back here later. I’ll look for you.”

The ground erupted into light and collapsed beneath him. He hugged his knees to his chest and shut his eyes. The pounding in his head returned, he felt it throbbing against his eyes. He thought about Frank, and then he was sitting down.

He was in the laboratory. His assistant was holding his wrist, counting his pulse. He took a deep breath and smiled at her. She cleared her throat. “Walter? You were out for five minutes. Did it work? How was it?”

He let his head fall back against the machine. “It worked. Just how we imagined it.” He thought for a moment. “Maybe a little better.”

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