Up in the Dirt

Author: Jae Miles, Staff Writer

Dawn is like a neon tube: a strip of too-bright light. Above it are the clouds that hang across the city all the time, below are the outer walls. From this far inside, the watch towers and turrets look like the bits that soldiers hid behind in castles.
Castle? If so, City Central is the big fort in the middle where the royalty live. Around it are the homes of the rich people. Beyond that are the services that make sure the rich or royal never have to do dirty jobs. Around that are the places where the people who do the dirty jobs live.
Beyond that? It’s a big place, filled with hydroponic farms, scrapyards, shanty towns, and us.
I shake my head and pick up where I left off.
“Not that we’re any different. Don’t have clothes for different times of day, don’t have much choice in the shops, don’t get to eat out often. Apart from that, if you scrub me and stick me in a fancy suit, you wouldn’t know the difference. That’s until you try to have a conversation. It’s not like we have much common ground.”
There’s a giggle from my right.
“Torin, stop worrying.”
I look down at the vision sprawled in the filth next to me.
“That dress cost more than my old man could make in five years.”
She smiles and rolls onto her tummy.
“Not really. Only vanity and greed make it expensive.”
A flitcar drops to hover a metre or so off the roof edge.
“Rebecca de Vure Marigny! Come here!”
She sits up and winks at me, then turns her head and shouts at the noisy machine.
“Roberto, I will not. Mother said I was free to go where I wanted for Centenary Night. Here is it.”
“Leave that tarted-up rough! He’ll just roll you and run!”
She looks at me, eyes wild, but there’s something there that’s ours.
Turning back, she points at me.
“He made it all the way to the Botanical Gardens Free Fair with nothing but a good suit and an attitude. Could you find your way downstairs without a valet? Are you even alone in there?”
“That’s beside the point! Charles Harringdon was asking after you!”
“He wears bedsheets and smells like damp dog.”
“He’s a good catch!”
“Then you have him!”
Her dismissive wave stops midway.
“You fancy my rooftop Romeo too, don’t you?”
“Of course not.”
I lean toward her: “He’s an impressive flyer, but not my thing otherwise.”
A wet kiss lands on the tip of my nose.
“I’d missed that.”
She stands up and points at the flitcar with both hands.
“Barbara de Vure Marigny, you can’t have this man. Have Roberto instead!”
The privacy screen drops and I see a younger version of Rebecca grinning at us from the control seat. Behind her is a darkly handsome young man. His menacing glare is marred by the intense blush that’s spreading across his cheeks.
Rebecca makes an intricate hand gesture toward Roberto, who recoils like he’s been punched. The girl, who I presume is Barbara, is laughing as she replies.
“Dirty cow, enjoy your mucky morning. I’m going to take this fool away and help him with the obvious problem he’s had ever since he saw you lying on that roof.”
The flitcar dives out of view. Rebecca turns to face me.
“Speaking of ‘problems’… Hope you fancy helping me with mine as much as I fancy helping you with yours.”
I chuckle.
“Didn’t come up here to roll in the dirt on my own.”

Your Requiem is Complete

Author: Michael Anthony Dioguardi

The pianist pounded on the ivory keys and produced such sound that dust trickled from the ceiling. The shadows of his hands collided with the flicker of candle light, orchestrating a waltz of chiaroscuro. The trills and follies manipulated each other into exotic patterns. The pianist’s pupils reflected the rattle of seasoned appendages in their abode. Sweat crept down his face and dried on his neck.

He ran up the pentatonic, skipping the eights and fifths. His right hand pressed full octave chords as his left hurdled over it; stepping on the black keys as if they were hot coals. His hands and mind raged in a vicious tug-of-war for control over the concerto. His chair bellowed as his arms swung and whipped around the pages of his manuscript. Papers wallowed from the stand and floated to the floor but the pianist was uninterrupted. Notes hung in the air like mist. He lifted his eyes to the ceiling and gazed into the void of his own creation.

And then he felt it — the vibrations in his ears. His lobes pulsed with blood flow. Saliva avalanched over his bottom teeth.

This vibration — this sound, it was alien.

There was a competing force, not of his creation. The pianist confronted the sound of another. He recognized the melodies and the unmatchable style. The unknown force propelled the pianist’s hands back towards him. His vision blurred and the chair beneath him disappeared. The details of his workplace dullened into azure hues striated by fleeting measures, now incarnate. The pianist found himself in the most obscure chamber. The rival force filled the deteriorating space with haunting sonatas. The piano’s notes lingered fresh in his view. Their figures elongated and revealed their innards. Lines pirouetted into complex shapes and exploded before his eyes. The rival conductor engaged the pianist, chiding him into terror. The rival’s face, obfuscated by the arrangement, contoured a familiar image. The pianist extended his hands towards the face, but the ceiling’s imperfections returned to view. The music faded and his hands returned to him.

The pianist observed his corner in silence. He collected the papers from the floor and placed them atop the stand. The pianist shivered past his lips, “Thank you, Amadeus.”

He caressed the keys once more, their surfaces still burning, “Your Requiem is complete.”

Almost Forever

Author: Shannon O’Connor

I got the chip in my head so I could go faster and discover things nobody else knows, but I’m not supposed to tell anyone because my enemies could use the facts against me. I have to travel to search for new ideas to steal from scientists to find out the secret of eternal youth.
The implants won’t make us healthy. They can make our brains rapid and calculate information, but health comes from another seed. I am going to travel to the Eastern countries because they have hidden labs where they experiment on humans; we are not allowed to do such work in the West. I am from the West, and I have always lived here, but the world is becoming one, though laws still differ everywhere.
I had an Aunt Bettina who had a pacemaker, and when she went through airport security, she had to tell them she had a machine that helped her heart beat correctly, and she was forced to do an all-body scan to be allowed on a plane. She didn’t want them to think she had a gun or a bomb secreted in her body. She was an old lady. She didn’t travel much. But when she went to Florida, her medical secret had to be revealed. She died eventually, as everyone does.
The implant I have in my brain is made of plastic and metal, and nobody told me if it would set off an alarm at the airport. I don’t want to tell the security detail that I have a chip in my head because it’s top-secret, and I don’t know how I’ll get through. I have to go to the East on my mission. I focus to try to figure out my problem.
Nobody can discover my mission. They can’t know. I work for an agency, and if the boss told them I exposed my assignment, they would murder me.
I think of my Aunt Bettina and how delicate she was when she was old. Since she had a pacemaker, she couldn’t drink wine, and she could move her arms above her head. She could go line dancing, but not the wild dancing she did when she was young. It’s difficult to be old. That’s why I’m doing this. Because I don’t want people to wither and die, and burden society.
I think aging is a curse. I think people who live to be elderly are destined to suffer.
The idea comes to me when I am putting together a table for my entertainment system. I can tell the airport security I have a screw in my head. I could tell them I had surgery and it’s there to keep the procedure in place. I don’t think the guards know much about neurosurgery, so my ruse should work.
I wait in line for my plane to the East. I have my passport and boarding pass in hand. A sign that says, “People with pacemakers, ICDs, and other implantable devices, wait to the left.”
I go in the shorter line to the left.
“I had brain surgery, and I have a screw in my head,” I say.
“A screw?” the woman says.
“Yes, it keeps me together.”
“Okay.” She shrugs.
She scans my body. She finds the metal in my head.
I take my luggage and go to the correct gate.
I am helping unearth the path for humans to thrive. Almost forever.

Super Mysterious

Author: Guy Preston

We were at Evan’s house when he asked me if I wanted an old record player. I told him I didn’t. He picked it up and made for the door.
‘Where are you taking it?’ I asked.
‘To the curb,’ he replied.
‘Why?’
‘It will disappear,’ he said.
He walked out and put it down. When I was leaving I noticed the record player was gone.
A few days later I went back to Evan’s house. On the lawn in front of the house, my skin prickled. There was a spectre of a machine in the place the record player had been: the ghost of a turntable.
When we were inside I asked Evan, ‘Have you done that before?’
‘Done what?’ he asked.
‘The thing with the record player,’ I said.
‘All the time.’
‘Does it always disappear?’ I asked.
‘Yes,’ he paused. ‘Why?’
‘Don’t you think it’s weird?’ I asked, ‘That it just disappears?’
‘No,’ he said, ‘this neighbourhood has a lot of foot traffic.’
I was silent for a while.
‘Is it always good stuff?’ I asked.
‘I think so, I mean, it’s good to me. Couches and stuff,’ Evan said. ‘I put an old shower curtain out there once and that disappeared.’
‘I would never take an old shower curtain,’ I said.
‘One man’s trash,’ said Evan.
‘Some trash is just trash,’ I replied.
One week later I came back with an old bedside table I had been keeping under my house. I put it on the curb and I made Evan sit with me and watch. When we were sure it was not evaporating, we left to paint figurines in the study. Thirty minutes later I checked and it was gone.
‘So fast!’ I said.
That same day we started taking real chaff to the curb. An orange, some lace, a cardboard box: after a while they all disappeared. Finally, Evan found an old shoe covered in mud and dust.
‘Here is something that absolutely no person would take,’ we thought. It was not a particularly nice shoe, and it was more dirt than shoe.
We tied a piece of string to the shoe and put it on the curb. Inside the house, we closed the front door and sat on the floor. After twenty minutes there was nothing, another ten, still nothing, and then, after an hour of dozing and talking about our lives, zip, and the string was ripped out of our hands. We opened the door and saw no sneaker, and what little remained of the string lay next to the curb, leading toward Evan’s house.
‘Okay,’ I said. We went back into the house and tied a rope around my waist. ‘Wish me luck,’ I said. I went and stood on the curb. I waited.

Interstellar Astronaut

Author: Katlina Sommerberg

Kye rolled an unlit joint between her fingers. Miserably pining for a long-gone sky in the middle of Golden Gate Park, she couldn’t relax with tomorrow looming on the horizon. Next morning, she’d wake up to the same monotonous life. The world turned without noticing the presence of ants. Without noticing humans, either.

Kye shivered, staring up at the empty night sky. Wind ripped through her scarf, racing over her skin. Past the neon laser shows, the pine trees swayed. Their tops twinkled blue, back to green, then hazy navy. Huh, she hadn’t seen a rave with lights on the trees before.

Years ago, stars hung in tree branches like Christmas ornaments; she loved to pour over old pictures, searching through her mother’s camping trips to glimpse the cosmos.

Now nothing came through the light pollution. Not the stars. Not comets. Not even satellites. Not even at the highest mountain. The only way to look above now rested in NASA’s hands, but those hands rotted away.

How could space travel find funding, when everyday people never tilted their chin up; instead they stared blankly at whatever thirty-year-old technology masqueraded as trendy. When had humanity fallen out of love with space?
Kye never did, and for what? To stare up at the black sky, surrounded by empty cans and single-use plastics? Every step on the trail crunched one underfoot.

She stared at her joint against a backdrop of fluorescent lasers flickering in tune with bass heavy enough to vibrate the brain. The one night she wanted to brood coincided with the largest outdoor rave on the planet. The air stank of flavored vaporizers layered over human sweat. Even standing well away from the various stadiums, the wind still carried the stink.

Especially when a gaggle of ravers passed by, their voices turned up to maximum volume. They dressed according to the unwritten rules of rave culture, slathered in neon and showing off chrome-painted wearables shimmering under the fireworks. A choice few wore LED implants under their skin, shifting hue and intensity in time with the beat. Piquant weed smoke rolled off them, a punch to the nose only a designer strand could throw.
“What the hell,” Kye grumbled to herself, thumbing her lighter. The flame folded in the wind like grass, missing the joint and singing her skin.

Four tries later, and she took a hit.

The wind kicked up, this time it rose to a roar drowning out all sound. Even the biggest stereos couldn’t compete, and the black boxes crashed to the ground in defeat. The people scattered, running back to their cars and away from the dangerously swaying trees.

One oak crashed down to Kye’s right, so close a leaf cut her face. But she didn’t turn to see it. Disbelieving, she watched a giant ship shimmer like a mirage right before her. When it landed, the joint in her hand burned down to her fingers.

Kye snapped out of the daze.

“Take me with you!” she screamed, sprinting towards the blinking saucer. Stumbling, her hand grazed the shimmering metal, but nothing pressed back against her flesh.

She fell through the wall, into a dark vat of boiling water. Rainbows swirled in her eyes, and fuzzy figures blurred into the hues. “Take me with you,” she pleaded again, the air bubbling out of her mouth, and incomprehensible to the aliens.

Kye died in there, but not before the ship shot back into the depths of space. She was humanity’s only interstellar astronaut.

Adrift

Author: Debra Cazalet

That’ll be you out there floating free in the crush of space, the sea of stars
between thought and the heaviness of absence

when all here spins, insentient and weightless
objects collected by Pater_on, the one who commissioned
your thoughts, who allowed your limited self-learning, who died
as mortals die. Another Cy:Bod would have tilted it’s head in the way of logic and said, ‘a human would have cried. Tears are fascinating aren’t they?’ And you, you would tilt your head in perfect symmetry and say Fascinating as if tasting the word for the first time because you

would

be tasting the word for the first time, with no receptors for the flavour but
in any case you are alone so you’ll not be tilting your head
you’ll only scoop up the lifeless Pater_on who kept his collection of artefacts
in this churning-clump-of-cosmic-clutter and

be watching his ejected limbs look strangely rubbery, colliding, flailing, bouncing through the gaps in the expansive array of detritus
not knowing how fascinated your imaginary Cy-Bod companion
might
have been

instead you’ll wander the ship for days, weeks, years not knowing so many other things, like
your raison d’être or the meaning of it all

instead you’ll check the list and check the list and check the list and

smile each time as you were programmed to do and walk the ship
and walk the ship and
look through viewing portals at the great infinite
and walk the ship, and walk, and walk and sometimes
be anchored and drifting outside to patch the ailing vessel and
the thing is, you’ll not stop talking because you were programmed
to talk and words come whether Pater_on is there or dead and crushed by space, so you’ll recite the list as you look upon it, verbally announcing the presence of each item
of each manoeuvre performed
of each object that presents itself to your field of vision

you’ll say, ‘hatch B ahead, walking through hatch B, to my left; viewing portal, stopping; checking view’ and

you’ll be ceaseless and faithful. The cosmos holding you as
you recite the list, recite the list and
^glitch^
and ^glitch^ the list

‘checking,’ you’ll say in modulating tones ‘item catalogue reference such-and-such’

‘automaton torso, sixteenth century
walking to display cabinet, corresponding artefact sighted, no visible signs of additional disrepair’

and one day, you’ll continue with ‘next item on my list’

as somehow it’s stopped being his and you’ll continue down the list in this way, alone and smiling-by-command-string until the last object
which bears the label
Melancholia

archived in your memory will be

words

ferreting blindly as baby kittens to the teat, the words – love and betrayal, freedom and loss

you’ll smile that inorganic smile watching the globe of swirling translucent liquid form the undeniable limbs of Woman – as she does – though you won’t use the pronoun as Pater_on did and you won’t know how this little fragment of living glass came to be in your collection, for somehow it has stopped being his and
has become yours

along with the list and the ship and
the diminishing view of the once-blue planet and
knowledge of what is to come
of what is to
to come
knowledge
of
[]

[] and

you’ll never know this but if you were that other imaginary Cy-Bod, you’d smile with no prompt while delicately, inquisitively freeing Melancholia from her case