If You Love Someone

Author : Steve Smith, Staff Writer

Judy knelt on the pavement, struggling to process the confusion of the moment, the familiar form on the ground before her, the woven mass of tubing and wires snaking off into a sea of blinking lights and chirping boxes.

She was kneeling beside a man lying supine on the asphalt, his eyes unfocused and staring towards the stars. A dark grey blanket had been laid across his torso from one shoulder to the opposite hip, wide tape of an even darker grey securing it both to his uniform and the ground beneath him. Her eyes traveled across her husband’s still form, from the trickle of blood striping his cheek to the point beneath the grey fabric where he became unfathomably thin. There were dark marks forming on the grey where the fluids they were pumping into him were defying all attempts to keep them from seeping out again.

Farther up the street a white jet of flame sent molten alloy and smoke streaking into the night as a crew began cutting open what must have been the assailants vehicle. A long length of track sprawled abandoned on the pavement where it had been jettisoned in mid flight, followed by the deep rift the ATV’s unshod wheels had torn in the ground before being turned almost sideways and forced to a stop. Smoke billowed from the fatal wound a rocketeer had scored in its armor.

A hand clasped at hers, snapping her attention back to the man on the ground, his eyes suddenly focused and riveting. It was the voice of another officer though that broke the silence.

‘Ma’am, we’ve got tissues in the tank already, clone’s pretty much 80% complete, but we need you to authorize the transfer.’ The uniformed figure crouched down in front of her, but she wouldn’t unlock her gaze from her husbands. ‘Ma’am – we’ve only got a few minutes to move here, it took a while to get you here, and he’s in worse shape than last time.’ He paused, shifting his weight from one foot to the other. ‘Ma’am – the unit’s all ready and if we don’t get the transfer done now, we’re going to lose him, and if he dies, we can’t bring him back.’ The voice was quiet for a long moment before he spoke again, trying too hard to sound optimistic and failing. ‘Hell, he’s gone through this half a dozen times already, he could probably do the procedure himself if he wasn’t so banged up.’

Judy looked up at the anxious face of the man fidgeting beside her, then around at the scene. A medivac vehicle hovered a few meters away, just on the other side of a circle of light being cast by a clutter of hastily deployed equipment, all of it straining to keep her husband alive. Again. She knew exactly how this would go, the months it would take to grow the last of him, the physiotherapy he’d need to learn how to use a newly grown body he’d only been able to keep intact for a year this time. The memory lapses, the bits of him that wouldn’t come through, and the haunting nightmares of all of these accumulated moments of finality.

‘We’ve been here too many times before. You don’t get him back this time.’ Her husband clenched his eyes shut as she spoke, tears joining the other fluids streaking his face, his hand squeezing hers.

‘Ma’am – I’ve got orders from the Chief, we don’t have time..’ She cut him off abruptly. ‘Last I checked Sergeant, the Chief wasn’t wearing his ring, so you can tell him we’re done. You can call our Union rep if you want to argue, but in the meantime, turn him off. Turn all of this shit off, and leave us alone.’

A weary hand gradually cooled in hers, and she as she looked into his eyes, she saw a peace there she hadn’t seen in a long, long time. She had no choice but to let him die tonight. She knew neither of them could survive him ever being killed again.

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Wired

Author : J.R.Blackwell, Staff Writer

“Does it hurt?” asked Tom

Dana brushed her fingers against her straight black bangs. “More than ever.”

“Mine too. You’re lucky you don’t have them on your face.” Tom motioned to the blue, red and brown lines that twisted on his cheeks like veins under pressure.

“I do have them though, look closer.” Dana leaned across the table and Tom saw faint traces of blue under her pale skin. Tom’s eyes followed the veins down her cheeks to her small breasts, tucked in her black silk dress.

He wanted to touch her, but he kept his hands twisting on his lap. “Not too bad.”

“Every bit as bad as yours Tom. I’m a professional makeup artist.” She shrugged. “Well, I used to be. This is my full time job now. This illness.”

“Yeah.” Tom sipped his frappachino. He liked cool things on his skin; they did numb him a little, make it harder to feel those snaking veins. “So, why did you shut down the forums?”

Dana played with her red beaded bracelet. “I didn’t. My hosting service gave me the boot. Password denied. I called them, and they said they had no record of ever getting payment from me. I tried to buy the domain name again but they won’t sell to me. Nobody will. I’ve been shut out.” She shrugged. “I got freaked out, and then you called me.”

Tom called Dana two days ago. He was worried she might have died or committed suicide. He wouldn’t have blamed her for suicide. Dana’s forum was the only place where he could find anything about the strange lesions on his body that wouldn’t heal, the veins getting huge under his skin and the fibers that poked out of his wounds. “I wanted to make sure you were okay.”

“What do doctors tell you about all this?”

“I never saw a doctor. It was just too weird.”

“I went to eight doctors, two of them wouldn’t even look me in the face when they told me to get out of their office. One doctor saw me, but once he saw the fibers, he was on the phone to security in seconds.”

Tom curled his hands around the cold drink. “So that’s it, they just shoved you out?”

“One doctor took a look at my neck and gave me sleeping pills. Lots of sleeping pills.”

Tom looked at the floor of the tiny coffee shop. “Shit.”

“Yeah.” She peeled back the palm-sized bandage on her neck. Three brown, blue and red veins poked out of her skin, tapering like shaved wires. “They’ve gotten worse.” She replaced the bandage, wincing as she pressed on the tape. “Will you show me yours?”

“Well, they’re on my leg, my upper leg. My inner thigh.”

“Really? Lets go to the bathroom then.” She pointed to the one room unisex bathroom.

“Together?”

“Yes, together. What, are you afraid what other people will think? Afraid people will think you’re doing me in the bathroom.”

“I’d be happy to do you in the bathroom.” Tom shook his head. “I guess I don’t have anything to be proud about.” Tom felt eyes on him, but he followed Dana into the bathroom, and surprised himself. He really didn’t care. The bathroom was painted with a mural of dogs in ballet costumes, holding umbrellas in a park. Tom dropped his pants.

Dana stared. “They’re just like mine.” she knelt on the tiled floor.

“Hey, it’s kind of filthy down there Dana.”

“Does it matter? I’m sick anyway.”

“I guess not.”

“You don’t wear a bandage?”

“No. The bandage always feels too tight, even pants feel like I’m salting a cold sore.”

She put pale fingers on his thigh. They were cold. “These fibers look just like mine, blue, red, brown.” She pulled back her own bandage. “Tom, why do you think no one will acknowledge what’s happening to us?”

“I don’t know, but if I have to feel like there are bugs under my skin for too much longer, I’ll kill myself.”

“I hope you don’t kill yourself. I like you Tom.”

Tom scratched his chest. “If we didn’t both have this crap, you wouldn’t have ever looked at me twice.”

“Why do you think that?”

“I’m a nerd, and you’re a punk.”

“Punks love nerds. We are nerds, if you think about it. Just with a different sense of fashion. Besides, I think you’re thighs are tight.”

“You done looking?”

“No.” She looked up at him, her lipstick bright as paint. “Do you think we should put the wires together?”

“The fibers?”

“Whatever, you think we should put them together?”

“What do you think is going on Dana? You know something I don’t?”

“Would you try?”

“What if something happens?”

“You were telling me about killing yourself a minute ago. If something happens, if we both die, then we die. It’s not like anyone cares.”

“You’re right. No one cares. Not even me. Do it then.” Dana peeled back the bandage on her neck and scooted closer to his legs. “Hey Dana?”

“Yes Tom?”

“You really think nerds are cute?”

Dana touched her neck to his leg. “Yes Tom.” she said, but the voice was in his head.

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Sedition

Author : Don McCoy

“I don’t think you ought to post that one, Sam,” Liana said over Sam’s shoulder, looking at the monitor, “they’re really cracking down on hate speech.”

“I told you not to use that term with me,” Sam said, tensing, “an opposing viewpoint is not “˜hate speech,'” he made air-quotes. “Anyhow, what happened to the First Amendment? Their gracious deal was to allow us the same Constitutional rights once they took over.”

“They didn’t take over,'” Liana said, making her own air-quotes. “We needed to stop abusing our superpower might, to join the global community instead a alienating it—and that globalization includes understanding that the proliferation of certain philosophical ideas only causes unrest. At best it’s irresponsibility; at worst, sedition. Come on, you’ve read the literature.”

“Literature? Try propaganda. Let’s not have this argument again Liana. Please,” he was quiet for a moment. And still. Then he laughed and shook his head, “I’m posting an article about the new requirement that we get government permission to have a child. What’s seditious about that?”

“Resources aren’t as plentiful as they once were,” Liana said, “they just want to make sure each zone can support its citizenry. It beats famine and poverty.” She rubbed his shoulder.

“Yeah, each zone…let me ask you this,” he half-turned in his chair, “if this country wasn’t forced to export the lion’s share of her agricultural and industrial production to support the world, would we have to worry about any of that?”

“We’d still be fat, complacent, greedy, and wasteful,” Liana said, “I’m proud that our society has finally matured to the level the rest of the world did decades ago.”

“I don’t want to discuss this anymore,” Sam said, “if you aren’t part of the solution, you’re part of the problem. My own wife is one of the “˜masses’ that were lulled into letting this happen.”

“Actually, people like you opened the door for them,” she said, “without your attitude of entitlement America would never have come to this. We wouldn’t have needed the international community to set us right. We needed leadership”they provided it.”

“We needed leadership?” Sam asked. “President Mouchard rolled over on us. For the simple price of a permanent ambassadorship more than 300 years of sovereignty were burned to the ground with the stroke of a stylus. And with them freedom. Not just America’s freedom, but the last vestiges of freedom left on the planet. We were the last bastion of liberty.”

“Well, the people obviously approved it.” Liana said.

“How do you know?” he asked, “the “˜literature?'”

“OK, then how did it happen?”

“Maybe we did get complacent. Just not your kind of complacency,” Sam said, “A dozen years ago someone got sensitive and agreed that the size of our military was antagonistic, so we sawed it off to quell the fears of the world,” Sam said, “five-years ago we signed the International Small Arms Pact and disarmed our population. How could we stop them once they bribed the president?”

“They didn’t need to bribe him,” she said, “it was time we left the Wild West, time we left behind the daily killings in the streets.”

“There are still daily killings, now they’re just committed by the security service.” Sam jumped up and ran to the window as a huge diesel engine rumbled outside. He saw dust settle around the white armored personnel carrier as the boots of a small army pounded up the stairs to the den.

“I’m sorry you feel that way, Sam,” Liana said, “I tried to make you see reason. They only gave me so long to make you see reason”

Sam didn’t look surprised as the blue-helmeted United Nations security force kicked in the door.

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The Bottom Line

Author : J.S. Kachelries

Kram Vidda occupied one of the twelve holographic cubes in the Executive Conference Room of the Planetary Reclamation Corporation. He would be the presenter in the meeting to discuss the possibility of salvaging Sol-3. The images of ten board members, transmitted via hyperspace relays from distant Sectors, sat patiently waiting for the Chairman to appear. When the Chairman, known only as Hapal, came into focus, the meeting began.

Vidda bowed his head respectively toward the Chairman. “Hapal, it’s good to view you again, as well as the other prestigious members of the Board. I know you are all very busy, so I’ll get right to the point. Sol-3 is probably the worst case of planetary self destruction that I have ever seen. Most of our previous projects involved salvaging planets destroyed by simple, mutual nuclear annihilation.” He smiled slightly as he delivered his favorite axiom. “After all, it’s the extinction method of choice for ‘intelligent’ species that have chosen to remove their genome from the evolutionary mainstream of the universe.”

As holographic pie charts appeared and slowly rotated in the center of the room, Vidda continued his presentation. “But the inhabitants of Sol-3 pulled out all stops. As nearly as our engineers can reconstruct, they started through the wormhole of self-destruction the usual way. Petty disputes between various political and economic factions prevented them from forming a consensus world government. The more powerful countries exploited the available resources without any thought of the consequences. They consumed their non-renewable carbon-based fuels recklessly, released copious amounts of green house gasses, destroyed their ozone layer, and they poisoned their air and water. The inevitable tactical nuclear devices were detonated, which escalated into a global holocaust. That’s usually where they exit and we enter. But somehow, the species was hardy enough to survive thermo-nuclear war, and they continued the conflict even as they had one foot in the disintegration chamber and the other on a tutber leaf. They created and then released biological weapons that attacked their own species. But, that wasn’t good enough, so they exterminated all animal life, followed by the destruction of all plant life. They also released some kind of silicon-based nano-mites that are still reorganizing the molecular integrity of the inorganic infrastructure of the planet. It’s a real mess. They actually developed a…”

Hapal, who was seriously doubting that Vidda was ‘getting right to the point’ interrupted. “The bottom line, Mr. Vidda. Can we reclaim the planet profitably, or not?”

“Sir, we will need 1748 atmospheric purifiers, 815 ozone regenerators, 2122 radiation neutralizers, over 5000 anti-toxin synthesizers, a full sub-space sterilization field, more than 14000…”

“Mr. Vidda, will you please focus. Profitability?”

Vidda was somewhat taken aback by Hapal’s directness. “Ah…well…Yes, sir. Four sextillion decknars after five years. Then 25% growth each year for the next…”

“That’s enough, Mr. Vidda. Start transporting the equipment, and begin the damned reclamation project while our genome is still on the ‘evolutionary mainstream of the universe.’ Meeting adjourned.” Unceremoniously, Hapal’s hologram abruptly vanished.

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The Black Maria

Author : Rae Walker

Dawn scrambled over the alley’s chain link fence, the ching ching ching of her climb ringing as loud as the siren had upon her escape.

Yes Dawn had killed the child; but how was she to know he was among the rubble? If it hadn’t been her then someone else would have brought the boy down; it was inevitable. Where had his Sitter been? What child was without one?

No matter now -the boy was dead- by her machinery and so by her hand. Dawn shuddered. The Black Maria had been waiting as She waited for every man, woman and child who dared deviate from the unyielding word of law. Unbiased. Without compassion or understanding of circumstance. Dawn was damned.

Joy rippled through the beast as She had come to life; activated to hunt down, try and judge the child-murderer. With gentle feet She had climbed over apartment dormitories, not making the slightest mark. That would be vandalism and so was forbidden. Long after the sun had set, when the stars shined with more than enough light She had spotted Dawn and galloped at her with hydraulic joints pumping, Her belly open to snare the deviant. In the belly of the Black Maria, Dawn would have been interrogated, tried, and found guilty. In Her belly she would have been executed, incinerated, ashy smoke rising from between the Black Maria’s shoulder blades and billowing into the night air. But Dawn had dashed into traffic, stumbling between vehicles and taking the chance of being sucked into an engine. The Black Maria had not followed; it was against the law to cross without permission, and so She waited. Her body rippled again as one more charge was brought against the child-murderer and She watched for the pedestrian crossing to light white. Two men huddled below Her drew away with hunted expressions but there was no law against fear -She ignored them.

Dawn toppled over the fence, scuffing her shoulder, tearing through her red wool sweater. She dared not go to friends, family, or they too would be charged. With assisting the deviant. With anything. There was always something. Dawn was alone as she dragged herself to her feet and forced them to run again, though her chest felt like bursting. No one had ever fought the Black Maria and won, let alone a diabetic construction worker.

The night’s silence and city-noises were drowned by the Black Maria’s siren, sounding like laughing, clapping hands. Clah hah hah claa claa clah hah hah. People in units above drew their blinds and bolted their doors. She was close. The siren blared, wearing on Her quarry’s nerve until she made a mistake and was trapped in that steel belly.

Dawn sobbed, her hand gripping the slow bleeding wound on her shoulder. With glistening eyes, Dawn limped onward, the hope having left her step. She wished she had killed the boy with her own hands, had slit his throat and watched him bleed. She wished she could have had that luxury.

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What is a Soul?

Author : Hope Evey

He put pen to paper, but it was just a mechanical act. The feel of the pen in his hand, the flow of ink onto the page, the crinkle of turned pages, none of these caused even a ruffle to his new, positronic brain. He was aware of all the sensations, of course. They just didn’t mean anything.

One stroke was enough to convince him that nothing could be worse than having another. Modern medicine could do many things, but couldn’t guarantee he’d completely recover from another stroke. Ages of therapy after the first stroke, physical and psychological, and he regained most of his manual dexterity, and most of his memory. The two days immediately preceding his stroke remained a blank, so he chose the very best positronic brain available, and a matching robotic body. Upload to a positronic brain had risks, of course, but he preferred them to risking his mind in an aging body.

The greatest risk, of course, was the transferal itself. He wouldn’t be copying his mind to the positronic brain – he would be transferring it. The process that encoded his mind onto the positronic matrix would, neuron by neuron, destroy his physical brain. If the transfer failed, he would be dead. He considered that better than to live with a brain that could break without warning. He wasn’t worried about the shock of suddenly finding himself in a mechanical body. His body only served to maintain his mind, and move it around. A mechanical body would do the job just as well, if not better.

He got back to writing as soon as possible after the upload. He’d only finished four of the eight books in his series when he had his first stroke. Thank God he’d taken lots of notes during the days he couldn’t remember. He was able to reconstruct the plot twist he’d been developing before the stroke wiped his mind. Some said the fifth book was the best of the series. He didn’t realize he constructed it completely from the notes he’d made while still biological. The sixth book sold even better. He used his pre-upload notes, expanding upon them by using the most popular parts of the previous four.

His writing grew in popularity. He could keep writing forever at this point. He knew writing was important, but he could no longer remember why.

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