Return From NewWorld

Author: David Henson

Colors are less vibrant, flowers without scent. Water doesn’t feel as wet. All this and more so our simulated world consumes less energy. And data errors slipped through. In NewWorld my toes are webbed — a constant reminder of where I am. Still, life here isn’t bad. But most of us would love to get back to RealWorld despite its flaws.

As I sit at the hover table in the interface chamber, the Council of the Wise — a man, woman, and a third who looks not-quite human — enter and sit at an identical table in RealWorld.

“Mr. Singman, this is Councilwoman Perez and Councilman Wilson,” says the artificial sentient. “I’m Arthur. You’re petitioning this Council for return to reality because you have a story?”

Councilwoman Perez leans forward. “Most living space made available from the recent interstellar colonization initiative is reserved for the Breathing Room Project,” she says. “There will few NewWorld returnees. I don’t believe having a story sufficiently raises your Value Quotient.”

“Not just any story,” I say. “An original story.”

“Mr. Singman,” Councilman Wilson says, “It’s been 300 years since the last original story?”

“I have one.”

“Not credible,” Councilwoman Perez says. “There are no new word sequences left.”

“That’s never been proven,” Arthur says. “Mr. Singman, proceed with your story.”

“No. You have to bring me back to RealWorld if you want to hear it. And you must agree to let me stay no matter what.” I’m glad emotions are dulled in NewWorld or I wouldn’t have the nerve to try this.

The three whisper among themselves. “Mr. Singman,” Arthur says a moment later. “You’ve piqued our curiosity. We’ll bring you here to tell us your story. If we deem it original, can you stay. Wait while we have your body pulled from cryogenic storage and refreshed.”

#

I find myself sitting across from the COW. At the real hover table. In my real body. Brrr. Not fully warmed yet. I resist the urge to take off my shoes and socks and check my toes.

“Proceed,” Arthur says.

I swallow hard and begin, starting years ago when I learned my Value Quotient was insufficient to remain in our overcrowded solar system. I describe how frightened I was when they yanked my consciousness from my body and streamed my mind to NewWorld. I tell them I was relieved when I got there. The place isn’t home, but isn’t horrible. There’s art and music, although the paintings are washed out and the symphony is tinny.

I describe how I learned to play the clarinet, my articulation so-so. I talk about my dog Lilly. She loved to play Magic / Split / Heel, a game we made up. I talk about the time I fractured my tibia when my light board flickered. I reminisce about Jennifer. We might’ve fallen in love, but feelings in NewWorld are too pastel. I admit my irrational fear of birds. I even tell them how I refer to the Council of the Wise as the COW — why hold back? — but mean no disrespect.

I say nothing profound because there’s nothing profound about me. I remind them I promised an original story, not a deep one. And I feel I’ve delivered. My story isn’t merely a sequence of words. It’s a life. My life. Unique. Original.

When I shut up, the three whisper among themselves again. I hold my breath….

When Arthur tells me I can stay, I pull off my shoes and socks and look at my toes. Then I walk to a window. Big sun. We must be on earth. Not home, but close enough.

I Tell You Lies While You Sleep

Author: Jae Miles, Staff Writer

Not for you, but for me.
“Emily, Uncle Karl, and the twins. All together in that great big truck of his. They’ll be laughing and we’ll laugh too.”
Laughter. You’re my only source of that, but I’m not the only cause of it for you. Watching your delight at things I dread, like the mutaflys that flutter by looking so pretty you can almost forget they’re hunting for fresh blood. A swarm can suck a small human dry in the time it takes her brother to run up two flights of stairs, find the insect spray and get back too late to use it except in petty revenge.
“Karl will have one of his flame throwers and he’ll make the garden safe again.”
You love the garden, all the waving leaves and those pointy-edged flowers in the pond. They’re very pretty. Hypnotic. Even a big man can’t resist being lulled off guard and pulled down by whatever waves those pointy-edged flowers.
“The twins will have new dresses and shoes to show off, and ribbons from the market for your hair.”
They’d called to say they were coming to do just that when the last round of mutanukes whistled down, most exploding close enough to the ground to set the tops of the tallest buildings on fire. The luckiest got caught in those fires and died. Everything else was enveloped in a cloud of biological horrors. It caused various maladies, but foaming lung, hypercancer, and explosive dysentery were the most common ways to die.
“We’ll go down to the basement and drink the last of grandpa’s wine, then we can all hop right into that truck and get away from here.”
That’s where I was, down in the basement, all masked up against the dust and mould, cataloguing poor Grandpa Roget’s wine so we could sell it off. I should have been out back, mowing the lawn, snatching glances at you in your flowery shorts and halter top. As usual, you only wore one gardening glove and I’d guess you were singing off-key while you pruned the roses.
“Everyone will be far out of town before evening and we can watch the sunset together.”
The mutanuke that went off high overhead was likely a misfire. I heard the noise and I swear I heard you scream. I scrambled out through the coal chute, leaving the hatch open so we could get inside quicker.
Outside the murk had started to settle. I saw you and the ladder on the ground. You’d either breathed in a little or fallen off the ladder in haste. I dragged you into the basement, closed the top and bottom hatches, then used a lot of the wine to wash us both off. Stinking of fermented, sun-kissed berries, I patched your head wound before carrying you up through the screens at the entrance to the basement.
“There’s beer and ham and cheese, sweetheart. Won’t you come and join us?”
“Join who where, Gareth?”
I look down and see a child’s innocent recognition shining in adult eyes. I was overjoyed when you first came round, convinced you’d get better. Now I curse myself for the selfishness of dragging you inside. Any second now, you’ll smile and I’ll fall in love with what remains of you all over again. I can’t grieve for the family we lost while you laugh as you draw rainbows across the wallpaper. I can’t grieve for you, because darkness waits for me there.
All I can do is tell you lies while you are sleeping, so I can be true when you wake.

Hope in a Bottle

Author: Isaiah Stott

The ship drifted through the starry sky. Its engines long cold. The walls on the inside of the ship had been stripped, cables and mechanical parts littered the halls. The emergency lights on the floor flickered, as somewhere in the ship another generator failed.
A synthesized voice echoed through the ship. “You haven’t started your daily tasks yet. Are you feeling well Ensign? Shall I play the video again?”
All the operational screens showed a beautiful young woman. “Hi, honey. I imagine you are busy right now, So I decided to leave this message for when you have a bit of free time. Addie was asking about you again today. I keep telling her that her daddy is off on an adventure saving people from pirates and thieves.” A gleeful squeal rings out off-camera and Addie runs past the camera in an onesie holding a toy. “She really loves the gifts you sent her from the outer colonies. I know we talked about this, but I think once your contract is up you should transfer into the private sector.” She sighed and leaned back in her chair. “We miss you and hope you can make it home soon. We will be waiting.” She signed off with a smile.
“I know, I know. I’m almost home, Sam. I’m almost home.” The Ensigns voice thin and weary. His footsteps heavy and methodical as he moved around the ship.
“Ensign, another generator has failed, we are down to 32% power. Restoring the generator may not be possible this time. I had to turn off some auxiliary functions. Currently, life support, heating, water purification, nutrient reclamation, and the distress signal are functioning at maximum capacity. Should another generator fail, I will have to begin cutting those off.”
“How many days until we are in Federation Space?”
“28 days, 13 hours, 12 minutes, and 58 seconds. Be sure to do your daily exercise as well, you need to keep in top physical form.”
“Generator first don’t you think? If it is fixable, I’d like to get that up and running as soon as possible.”
“Good call, Ensign. I feel it has been a while since your last psych eval. How are you feeling today?”
Ensign picked up his toolbox and made his way through the skeletal remain of the ship. He could still see the bridge no matter where he was. “Did you remember today is Addie’s birthday? I hope she has made some friends. She won’t want a cake, she’ll want . . . a pie. Yeah, a blueberry pie. Sam will wake up early to make her one. It won’t turn out well at first, she was never very good at baking.”
He groaned quietly as he bent down to look at the generator. “She won’t give up though. She will keep trying until she gets it right. She will probably drop it off and have lunch with Addie.”
“Ensign, that does not answer my question.”
He looks up from the generator his beard rough but kept short, he runs his hand through his salt and peppered hair. More salt than pepper these days. His eyes gleaming. “Hopeful, I’m feeling hopeful.”

Ava: Before and After

Author: Ananya Bhatt

I heard the bell. It was time for science class. I took a computer chip out of my brain and put in my science class one. By the time I got to class, the information was downloaded. I was ready for my test.

My name is Ava Johnson. I am 14 years old, and because of my accident, I have aced every single test for almost the past year. When I was 13 years old, I got into an accident and almost died. My parents were given two choices- to save me by putting a robot/computer brain into me or let me die. They picked putting a computer in as my brain.

Later that day, we played basketball. Kate, the girl in front of me, was running about 6 miles per hour and dribbling the basketball every 0.62 seconds. But, she was getting close, and not slowing down. If I moved over, stole the ball at the exact time, and ran, I could score easily! When Kate came, I stole the ball and ran. As I was running, I calculated exactly when to jump and at what speed so that I could get high enough to dunk the ball. And I did it! “Let’s go! I made it!” I said. When I looked back though, I saw Kate on the ground. I thought, “Well, obviously if you were running at that speed and didn’t slow down, then tried to pivot, you were going to roll your ankle. Didn’t everybody know that?”
Kate looked like she was crying, but I had no idea how she felt because I didn’t remember crying. Her mom and friends came down from the bleachers and hugged her.

As I walked out, I saw another girl crying. I walked up to her. She sniffled, “My cousin died of cancer!” “Well, at least 10 to 16 million people die from cancer a year so the chances of your cousin living were pretty slim,” I said. But, this just made the girl cry even more. I really wondered what I had done wrong.

That night, I went to sleep. I saw a younger version of myself who looked about 9 to 10 years old. I had gone out with my mom to get ice cream. As we walked back to the car, I dropped my ice cream. I started crying, but it wasn’t just because of the ice cream. My mom and I would spend time together by going out for ice cream. However, we couldn’t afford it all the time, so when we got it, it was a treat. As I was crying, my mom came over and gave me a big hug and a kiss on the cheek. Her hug made me feel warm inside. As she let go of me, I was already feeling better.

When I woke up, I knew right away that eating ice cream was not good for you and could cause colds. I also knew that hugs and kisses were one of the best ways to spread germs. I knew it was a dream, but unlike most dreams, it didn’t go away. It stayed. It felt so real. It was like this had actually happened to me. But, the thing was, I had seemed so much happier and full of life. Back then, I had felt happier. I had been able to feel. After the accident, everyone told me I was very lucky to be alive. In a lot of ways, I could do a lot more than I could before, but, is this life truly better than before?

Written on the Walls of a Building

Author: Michael Anthony Dioguardi

Important information for all Galpasorean invaders!

It is imperative that you read this entire message before invading this human-occupied quadrant. Following the initial provocation that concluded with the deaths and consequent consumption of more than half of the Earth’s animal population, there has been new information released regarding the trends of the human race.

Please continue to the adjacent wall, as that information will be disseminated after these declarations of paramount importance are read and understood in full. It is unorthodox to be reading this message written on the walls of this building, but be sure to continue moving forward, and most importantly, don’t stop reading!

The humans now know that Galpasoreans are capable of decoding human language and writing. After witnessing the full-scale assault and devouring the United Nations’ representatives, it is evident that the preliminary objectives set forth by Galpasorean leadership have deceived the public. Your objectives were never peace nor prosperity; you came to dominate. Earth became your sandbox, and humans—your toys. How predictable of human nature, for us to open our doors to the invaders standing on our footsteps.

Is this message boring you? Just wait! Walk past this next wall and you’ll receive all the information you need to know—faster than a bullet! But don’t look away! There are still more declarations to be made!

I had a family. I had a husband, three kids, a dog, and a cat. I watched you take them and shove them into your cages floating high above our atmosphere. God can only tell what you did with their poor souls—yes God! Are you familiar? I don’t think you’ve grasped the concept of religion yet; it’s uniquely human. He’ll have his vengeance though—just you wait!

It’s almost time to share the information regarding the recent developments in human activity and behavior. Please continue reading, as this will be relayed momentarily! Gather your comrades and squeeze together! This message might be washed away by dawn!

Humans are curious creatures, aren’t they? Solitary, but organized in communities, and naive yet so cunning! I know you’ve scoured our history and are aware that we began in caves. We dwelled in the dark, exiting only when necessary, in search for food, water and knowledge, and sometimes, for other reasons…

You’ve made it to the final wall!

Amid your domination, you must realize that we—just like you, can wait in the shadows…

You must continue reading! It is very important that you realize…

That as you finish this sentence…

we are taking aim …

right…

now.

Play Dirty

Author: Michael Anthony Dioguardi

The last man on earth to beat a cyborg on the track? That would be Galen Ryan, of course. To this day I don’t remember why he did it, or rather, what point he was trying to prove; he wasn’t any good, at least in the professional sense. He had only won five times during his professional running career. From the time he started racing his own flesh-and-blood, until the time he took his last steps—literally (he lost his damn legs) against those souped-up bucket-of-bolts, he was a lane one, or lane six starter at best. He went out too slow and had too much pride. With that goofy mustache and bulky build; he looked more like a wrestler.
But that fifth win—there won’t be anything like that, ever again. It definitely started the great ‘conversion,’ or ‘purge,’ depending on who you ask.
Play dirty! That just wasn’t in the cyborgs’ wheel-house. When you’re built on efficiency, it’s tough to pull off something that’s considered ‘illogical.’ But Galen did it anyway—thoroughly embarrassed the suckers too.
We were in Vegas. The cybies loved the dryness and the sun beating down; any moisture would rot them to the core. Galen was the only person entered in the 1,500 that didn’t have a chunk of metal replacing his limbs. And it was a damn-talented field: National champions with robotic legs, decision-enhancing chips implanted in their cerebellums, robotic spines—the list goes on.
The media pounced on Galen. The Vegas odds screamed against him. But he had an ace in the hole. He visited Myron Partridge Stadium the night before the race, broke into the ruined pump house, and tinkered with the pipes. In the locker room the day of, he shared that tidbit with me, telling me to bet big on him winning. I sensed he was up to something but went along with it anyway—put what I had on a first-place win for Galen Ryan, much to the bewilderment of the odds bots.
The stadium roared when he stepped on the line. Thousands of folks were here to witness, what they expected to be, the nail in the coffin for humans in athletics. The gun went off and the cyborgs lurched off the line. Galen did his usual trailing game but seemed unusually comfortable sitting in last place. I shook my head and turned away. My money was gone and Galen was toast—that stubborn pride.
As if from God himself, rain spurted up from the ground. Galen turned on the sprinklers, somehow still installed beneath the turf. The runners sparked and collapsed, and the crowd—mostly cyborgs—panicked and stormed the field.
At some point in the chaos, Galen got his legs blown clean off. Cauterized! Right above the knees.
Galen’s career was over, his final bout ending with a ‘W,’ by default. And the cyborgs learned how to play dirty. Considering I was the only one to bet against the cybies, I purchased myself the best protection dome a homeowner could buy with the winnings. Galen became public enemy no. 1, but I made sure he got a piece of the pie. He lives comfortably, just with two fewer legs.
They watch us every day though. I’m just counting down the days until they finally learn to commit to their new-found logic and play dirty. That day is yet to come. And Galen Ryan is still alive—for now. There are a lot of shadows gathered outside my dome. They’ve been listening.
Better grab the hose again!