Author: Thomas Andrew Fitzgerald McCarthy
Charday Dee Williams’ entire body froze in mid-step on the sidewalk at the intersection. That thing happened which she’d heard stories about all of her life. All thirty-five of her years had begun to flash before her eyes. Memories collided into one another like exploding icebergs. Beneath everything, tiny green lights shimmered. Zeroes and ones, like console data. A gleam filled her eyes and she had a sense of weightlessness, like something had detached from her.
Without warning, she felt something hard hook her around the throat. There was a merciless yank and a crushing force expelled the air from her chest as she was flung backward.
At the last second, she heard the metallic vibrations, the kinetic explosion and sizzle of exposed electrical wiring and she saw a delivery drone whir by her head, propeller blades hacking at the air, searching for victims, its motor and cargo aflame. The fiery drone deflected off a blue postal pin and cratered hard into the sidewalk.
An old woman was standing over her, leaning on a walking cane and smiling, as if her entire life had been leading to this singular moment of quick-thinking.
“Like my boyfriend says, I may be an old crank, but I can still give a great yank!”
Charday looked up stupidly at her savior.
For months afterward, Charday replayed the incident in her mind over and over again.
Evolutionary psychologists published academic papers claiming that the flash was a biological survival mechanism, the brain’s way of frightening the body into motion. Still, that only made sense if her brain had known that she was in danger. She hadn’t seen the drone until she was nearly lying on the sidewalk.
Charday thought about the flashing lights, the technology hidden beneath everything, like cybernetic circuitry beneath a thin veneer of flesh.
Somehow, it all seemed so obvious.
The flash was a download. All of her memories. Perhaps even her soul. By whatever had been expecting her flame to be extinguished. The where and who didn’t seem to matter. Comptrollers, aliens, a holosuite’s datacore, a video game’s memory banks.
Now she remained, empty inside, like a banana peel after its unripened yellow core had been plucked from it. Charday struggled to motivate herself. Everything seemed like unsaved progress. No matter what she did, it seemed as if it would never matter. What of all that remained unfinished? A family? Philanthropic deeds? That celebrated novel she hadn’t written? What would a record of her be without a Magnum Opus?
Finally, with no other recourse, she began to experiment with her own mortality. After every published novel, each newborn daughter, she would test to see if the universe had taken notice. She drove truckloads of food through warzones. She sabotaged a parachute and then mixed it in with five other backpacks in a game of skydiving Russian Roulette. She drove a motorcycle ninety miles an hour without a helmet through Nova Scotia.
But there were no more flashes.
Finally, she realized that the unknown that she now faced was no different than it had been in the time before the flash.
At one hundred and six years old, three generations of her descendants gathered before her deathbed. Charday’s great-grandson, a minister, remarked, “To believe that your life is unwatched, is to believe that the eyes of God are blind.” Looking back over her life, she marked the flash as the moment that changed her entire life—the jumpstart that she’d needed.
Pulitzer-prize winning novelist and award-winning humanitarian Charday Dee Williams died peacefully in her sleep.
Author: Noah Viti
The twins sat before the checkered board as they always did: Ide was on the right, and Ire on the left. The chamber they played in was silent, but there was a black glass panel adjacent, and they knew that the others were watching.
Neither of the twins bothered to pay that detail any mind. All that mattered was the game before them.
Ide began by pushing a pawn forward; a simple move, but he knew it would be vital to lose that pawn in three turns, so as to cost Ire a bishop on the next. “How long do you suppose we’ll be playing a child’s game?” Ide asked his brother.
Ire mimicked Ide’s movement, but on the far side of the game board; Ide suspected that it was a sort of deception, perhaps to draw in his rook. “How should I know?” Ire responded, never looking up at his twin. “Apparently, they record every move we make. Did you know that?”
Ide grinned and moved a knight; the move would make Ire defend his left side. “I would be more surprised if they didn’t,” he said. “I wonder how well we match our template.”
“That ‘father’ of ours?” Ire’s voice grew coarse at the mention of it. “Do you and I make the same moves? Is your side a mirror of my own?”
Ide shook his head as Ire moved a bishop toward the center of the board to intercept the knight.
Unfazed when Ide moved his rook to take the bishop, Ire said: “Then we are hardly parallels to each other, let alone a perfect copy of some template.”
“So long as you and I differ,” Ide said, watching Ire move a pawn on his left side up two spaces, “you believe we’re imperfect?”
“No,” Ire said sharply. “So long as we differ, one of us must be an imperfect copy. The other… perhaps not. I don’t know for sure.”
The twins then fell silent, and the game went on for a short while. For half of it, Ide’s predictions came true; in sequence, Ire lost a knight, three pawns, and his other bishop, at the cost of both knights, a rook, and two pawns to Ide. Of course, it was always possible that Ire saw just as far ahead as his twin, but such was the thrill of the game.
Who was playing into the other’s trap?
It was only at the very end that Ide had his answer, when he called checkmate, but realized that, in making the final move, Ire had trapped Ide’s king as well.
He only noticed when he and his twin both claimed victory at once.
Ire only grinned at Ide’s confused look. “Why must one of us come out on top?”
As the outside watchers came in to escort the twins to their quarters, Ide smiled at his twin. “That sort of sentimentality isn’t supposed to be a part of our paradigm.”
Ire only said in reply: “That is what makes us imperfect.”
Ide wished that could be so, that they could live as brothers and not rivals, that one mind need not have been greater than the other. But then, such was the point of creating two replicas: one day, one game, one of them would come to dominate the other.
Author: Katlina Sommerberg
Joe has until the automatic build at 12:05 am sharp to submit his feature. It’s a stupid button that does in one click what used to take five, and the UX designers loved it in his presentation last month. It hadn’t been done before because of all the bugs, and the company’s flagship app can’t have even a minor glitch.
He’s up to his eyeballs in code, blue irises flicking from right to left monitor in a state of caffeine-induced hysteria. Dark mode is on, but his raw eyes are weighed down with so much exhaustion, even coffee is useless. His #gamerlife white mug can’t cheer his spirits. Neither can the Funko POP’s LT. Simon “Ghost” Riley.
11:45 pm. Less than fifteen minutes left. His palms, slick with sweat, fumble. But he still types the right commands into his terminal. Five minutes until everything finishes compiling on his local machine and the unit test results spit out, in borderline unreadable text format, in his transparent terminal.
He leans back into his ergonomic chair. Joe sinks one inch into the seat, but he barely notices as his eyeballs are glued to the screen. He sips the coffee, adds a pack of sugar. His legs fold into a misshapen pretzel, squishing down into the blue cushion.
11:50 pm. The build finishes. He tries to sit forward, but he only manages a twitch. His back won’t leave the chair. Grumbling, he determines to never work so hard he forgets to show for three days again, but it’s a lie. He tells himself this at least twice a month.
He pulls the desk. It wiggles, and his chair rockets forward. His knees slam, hitting his keyboard. It flies off and clanks on one of the many desks in the open office.
Joe doesn’t watch it soar through the air or contemplate the pain in his knees. He’s laughing in open-mouth astonishment at the screen. He’s passed all the checkpoints. He can submit this code to the cloud. His feature will be added to the next release.
He reaches for his laptop, but his hands can’t leave the armrests. Tugging harder, he screams when his thumb breaks free, leaving the skin stuck to the metal. He sinks down another inch. When he looks down, his mouth opens wider and his eyes go wide. His pelvis is completely fused with the blue cushion. His legs and torso connect to stiff padding, and his hips are nowhere in sight.
Now he’s shrieking. Wordlessly. Nobody hears, because nobody stays in the office this late on a Wednesday night.
The chair engulfs him, swallows him whole. The blue cushions, vibrant and squishier now, are as pristine as the day the factory shipped them off. Inside, somewhere between the chair’s metal frame and delightfully cozy padding, Joe is still screaming.
12:05 am. His feature builds, and Joe’s code successfully enters the core components of his company’s product line.
Meanwhile, Joe is still screaming, but only inside what remains of his brain. Tomorrow, his manager will discover the miraculous comfy chair mistakenly delivered to Joe instead of himself, and he will swap chairs. Then Joe will really have something to scream about.
Author: Samuel Stapleton
“What do you think it is?” I asked as Clarence stared at the dataset I had collected. By accident. He was stumped, so I went to get Sean to see if she could help.
“I promise it’s worth your time,” I said as I walked into her office.
“If you don’t know what it is then how the hell do you know it’s worth my time?” She retorted from behind her HUD.
“Because Clarence is stumped too,” I answered simply. The hum of electronics disappeared and she stood up slowly from the floor. Her green eyes met mine and I felt that old kick of excitement. I had her attention for the first time in…months.
“Fine, let’s go.” She said as she marched into the hall without me.
We barged back into research operations unceremoniously.
“You figure it out yet?” She asked him flatly. He reluctantly answered,
“Good. What do you have so far?” She asked as he threw the data up on the big screen.
“It’s a region of space within a dead-zone, containing a very unusual set of matter. Nothing within dozens of light-years, but the space itself is incredibly tiny. Smaller in volume than the average asteroid.” He had the computer generate a list as he spoke.
One of all known quarks.
One of all known leptons.
One of all known elements.
One of all known energies.
“All in the same region of space, static,” Clarence added quietly.
For the first time ever, I watched Sean have to take time to think. The answer didn’t just flow out of her like water from hydroponics. This was big.
“Incredible, I suppose I have to believe in a creator now.” She said suddenly.
“What?” Clarence and I echoed each other in confusion.
“Why?” I asked.
“It’s a programmer’s room. Isn’t it? When you create a program world you need somewhere to keep the most basic individual pieces in case something gets corrupted. These are the basic components of the known universe – a few of which we apparently don’t know about. Regardless, they can’t be there by chance because it breaks the laws of the universe. The most likely explanation is that someone put them there. Someone with enough knowledge to know how to manipulate time, space, matter, and energy. This is way beyond us.” She explained to us like we were kindergartners.
Clarence sat in stunned silence. Obviously he understood and agreed but I was still a little lost.
“Like an Easter Egg for the universe?” I clarified.
“No. Easter Eggs are meant to be found. This was meant to stay hidden. It’s storage.”
More silence. Until finally,
“Send the dataset to me, if someone or something did put those there, I’ll find their traces.” She said.
“We find evidence of a being capable of being our universal creator and you think you can track them down like Nancy-fucking-Drew? You’re unbelievable.” Clarence fumed.
“If you think you can do it, be my guest,” Sean demanded.
Clarence turned back to his desk and was silent, but we all knew he’d send her the data. It’s the one trait we all share, insatiable curiosity.
“Thank Liz, this’ll make my week,” Sean said to me with a dazzling smile. I melted into a puddle and muttered a pathetic, “No problem.”
Without another word, she swept from the room.
I found I suddenly didn’t give a shit about what we discovered, I just wanted her to invite me along. Mysteries be damned, why wasn’t I good enough to be her universe?
Author: Jae Miles, Staff Writer
We raise our fists and give a round of hearty ‘hurrahs’ for our intrepid leader. He waves from the engine deck of his Chieftain before clambering up into the turret and taking command position at the top hatch. He brings a loud hailer up.
“My glorious armoured brigade! Today we take the fight to the barbarians of Sherwood! No more shall their primitive ways and crude technology besmirch this green and pleasant land!”
I love him, I do. Professor Lionel Ferrous, Lord of the Iron Lands, Conqueror of Blighty. That last one isn’t quite true yet, but after we’ve suppressed the ruffians in Sherwood, it’s only a quick trundle up north to reduce the Anto-9 forts to rubble. Then mopping up operations and home for tea. After that, we can petition to be allowed a final campaign: dealing with the ne’er-do-wells hiding in the wilds of Sussex.
He points ahead and the roar of our armoured brigade moving off is like a punch in the chest. We lurch forward, taking up positions in the V-shaped formation that has no less than three Chieftain steam tanks as the point of the spear. It never fails to inspire me: the genius of the Professor gave these great war machines a second lease of life, even inventing lighter armour because of the weight of the steam turbine.
There is nothing like charging into battle as part of an armoured brigade. The wind in your hair, the smoke, the noise, the joyous shouts of righteous warriors engaged in redeeming this land from the ignorant and craven.
I see a flash and a cloud of smoke in the forest. Something big enough for me to catch a glimpse of hammers into the lead Chieftain. The explosion that follows knocks the other Chieftains sideways and the shock wave rolls across us like a swinging curtain of hammers. The charge staggers. I catch my breath and pull the cord that unfurls our colours.
“For the Iron Lands!”
My shout catches the ears of a few nearby. They follow my lead. I see Professor Ferrous turn my way and raise his fist in approval. The fire that spouts from his hatch frames that pose, then he disappears in the fireball that consumes his Chieftain.
I lose my helm in the blast. Looking toward the forest, I see two blocky, turretless tanks emerge. One has a gigantic, stubby weapon that looks like some mutant pepper pot. The other is a behemoth, it’s gun barrel like some wand of doom aimed at our suddenly vulnerable ranks.
A cry from the left brings my attention to the harbinger of ruin emerging from the trees at our flank. Some relative of the behemoth, it swings it’s turret to target the remaining Chieftain. In the moment before the end begins, I see the arms emblazoned upon the slate-grey armour: Lord Morrow of Grafton! We’ve been ambushed by an alliance between Sherwood and Sussex!
These, then, are the legendary Morrowtigers. Ancient god-machines of war, released from centuries-long internment in some tunnel in far-off Polska and brought to this once-blessed isle by a man as brilliant as he is evil. There also seems to be truth in the rumours he has rediscovered engines from the Before Times, for these behemoths do not smoke, nor do their motive sources make noise.
With tears pouring down my face, I grab my loud hailer.
“Retreat! Save your souls! Retreat! We cannot face the forces of Sussex!”
Not anytime soon. But I will never forget. Professor Ferrous shall be avenged.
There was a pause in the trial being held in the starship court Serendipity just before the cross-examination began. If the wall behind the Alpha Nebula circuit judge’s chair had not been filled with stars, the room could have been anywhere. Only the judge and lawyers were present; the teenage plaintiff and her mother, the defendant and the witnesses for the prosecution were all isolated in other cabins on the ship, each visible via the feed to the screen on the left wall of the court. The two defence lawyers had switched off their mikes and Shard was running over the case with Hughes, mindful of his role as mentor to the younger man.
– We need to give the impression that we have this in the bag, so take that anxious look off your face.
– But it’s not looking good for the Admiral. We weren’t able to find any link between the defendant and the main witness that would show collusion. Their description of… events… matches to an extent that is alarming for our case.
– Yes, but it will take balls of steel to convict our client. All we have to do is sow doubt as to the moral fibre of the prosecution’s star witness.
Shard stood and moved to stand before the wall of faces. The face of Elena Price expanded and the other faces shrank back into the wall.
– First Officer Price, you claim that you ran away from the Defiant seventeen years ago to, I quote, “escape my father’s control and abuse”?
– You claim that he mentally and physically abused you, and that the abuse became sexual when you were twelve?
– You stowed away on a trading vessel that had docked onto the Defiant, the Jumping Jack?
– And as a fifteen-year-old runaway, you offered yourself to the captain of this vessel as payment for your passage?
– Is this a normal behaviour for a victim of abuse? You claimed to have been paralysed by fear of your father and sexually abused, yet you sold your sexual favours at the age of fifteen to a man twenty years your senior?
– It was desperation, a desire to live. My father had begun choking me when he raped me. I lost consciousness the very last time. I wasn’t selling anything that had not already been taken from me. And it didn’t go quite as you are suggesting.
– Please explain.
– Captain Price refused the form of payment I offered and suggested another. I had successfully circumvented the security of his ship, he wanted to know how I had done it and how to close the loophole.
– Yet you shared a cabin with him from that day, just barely fifteen.
– Affirmative, and we slept in his bunk together. But there was no sex. He would hold me when I had nightmares, but that was all.
– We have statements from former crew members stating that he made it clear that anyone that touched you was out. He was also described as being tactile in front of the crew.
– Affirmative, but his touch was never sexual.
– Is this not the control you claimed to have been escaping?
– No, it was protection and affection. He refused to touch me sexually until I was eighteen, and then only when I initiated it.
– You expect us to believe that a much older man gave you that amount of control?
– Affirmative, he said some things were sacred, not taken but given.
– Sacred? So your father’s reputation as a decorated Admiral is not sacred to you?
– I couldn’t care less about his reputation. I tried to forget him, I did not want him having any power over me, even in my memories. I am only here today because the prosecution tells me he was abusing my half-sister in the same way. All the reports have been read out now and… I can tell you something that is missing from them.
– Please enlighten me.
– Ask my sister to type out what our father would say when he choked us. I will type it too and we will press send when the judge instructs us to.
The words on the screen from both read: “Lo decido yo”.
– It means “I decide what happens” in an old Terran language. He meant, “I decide whether you live or die”.
The case was lost, but Shard found he did not mind too much. Waiting in the hangar to board his craft afterwards, he saw Elena Price talking to a tall, grizzled man that he recognised as Captain Price. Shard watched him reach out his hand and touch her face, and there was reverence and care in his touch.