by Roi R. Czechvala | Dec 12, 2011 | Story |
Author : Roi R. Czechvala, Staff Writer
Thirty seven people packed into the conference room. The table sat twenty four. The rest stood along the walls. They didn’t care. The excitement in the room was nearly palpable. Low murmurs circulated throughout the cramped space. Occasionally a nervous laugh burst forth. The air, while not festive, was hopeful.
As if darkness had suddenly fallen, the room was plunged into silence. A small rotund man entered carrying a sheaf of papers. He was immaculately dressed in a slate grey three piece suit. Not a hair was out of place on his peculiar egg shaped head and his carefully groomed mustache accented an otherwise non descript face.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” he began in a strong confident voice; a voice that did not match the otherwise innocuous appearance, “I suppose you know why we are all here.” A round of nervous laughter met this casual remark. “The decision has been extremely difficult. All of you are highly qualified. In fact all of you are, with very minor exceptions of course, equals in intelligence, temperament and background. Any one of you would be an excellent, nay, a perfect candidate for the job.”
The gathered applicants looked from side to side. From a field of well over five thousand prospective aspirants, they had, through exhaustive mental as well as physical trials been whittled down to the thirty seven assembled here.
“The challenge is daunting. Living in what amounts to a tin can orbiting 22,000 miles above the equator, alone, for eighteen months is certainly not for the faint of heart. Of course there are rewards.” This time the room launched into overt laughter at the barely disguised allusion to the twelve million dollar pay check awaiting at the end of the solitary sojourn.
“What it comes down to, that is, the only thing differentiating you, is a simple matter of weight. As you know it costs roughly one hundred thousand dollars to launch one pound. Thusly, out of this group the lightest and most qualified physically will be awarded the position.” A few corpulent individuals shifted nervously and stared in guilty, gluttonous sloth at their overstuffed shoes. “Not only weight, but manual dexterity have been factored in to our decision.”
A raucous “BOOYAH” erupted off to one side of the speaker. A small man dramatically ripped off his prosthetic legs and proceeded to do a handstand on the armrests of his motorized wheel chair.
“Pack it up and head home suckers, the job’s mine,” he yelled from his inverted position. Settling himself back in the chair, he continued his self congratulatory celebration. “Whooo HOOOO, don’t need no legs in space, they just get in the way. Haha. Don’t need legs for walking around. Useless in spa… oh… shit…” His face went white as his eyes fell on Herschel “Monkeyboy” Greenbaum.
Greenbaum’s father was the chief biologist at Genedyne Laboratories. He had pioneered the work in the hybridization of primates. Specifically between spider monkeys and humans.
Herschel regarded the amputee coolly as he brushed and patted his hair with his feet while casually twiddling his thumbs.
by submission | Nov 20, 2011 | Story |
Author : Martin Berka
Tom stood meters behind the ethicist, armed to where his teeth had been until they encountered grenade shrapnel two years ago. She knelt in the alleyway, engrossed in some insect or small plant ? it was not his job to understand. He could end this right now, and never again have to wonder what she was thinking.
Slowly, reach up and draw the pistol from the shoulder holster. With minimal movement, point. Fire.
He had sworn three oaths, and signed as many secretive contracts, promising to protect her for two years, until his replacement arrived. The contracts had been burned, their copies purged from every database by viruses, and everyone who had witnessed the oaths was dead. The agreed-upon period had expired, and now, excellent offers promised wealth and safety for a few minutes’ work.
Dash forward, gripping the left hip knife. Hold down by the shoulder and stab at the base of the neck. Clean the blade and sheath it.
Tom did not know what the world as a whole saw in the ethicist. A scattering of technologists, wealthy idealists, and experimentally-minded societies had chosen her to be half the world’s judge. The multi-trillion-dollar computer system that would see and evaluate all actions of a few billion people had the legal knowledge and logic, but the ethicist would provide pure, evolving, emotional humanity. The psychologists swore she was the perfect personality, with all the best mental indicators and potentials. Of course, they had said the same about Tom and his capacity to be the protector.
Certain other corporations, religions, and countries saw the ethicist as a criminal, a false prophet, and a herald of one-world government, respectively. The resulting war had left millions dead, many more under occupation, and shredded the Justice Project before it passed a single judgement.
They had escaped, just ethicist and protector, aided by luck and others’ copious sacrifices. Then they escaped again, and again, fleeing bunkers, cities, countries; every population held a few who hated everything the ethicist stood for. The two had together grown scarred, and occasionally very thin, but Tom doubted they were entirely alone: whenever the need arose, there was always a pilot, gun dealer, or prosthetic surgeon suspiciously willing to take mercy (and a profit loss) on two refugees. These suspiciously well-placed good Samaritans tended recognize the ethicist, and to see her as a responsibility, a messiah, or an enemy (though the latter, infiltrators, all met rather sudden ends at Tom’s now-artificial hands). Tom had desperately queried each, but bare rumors came back. Perhaps the Project was strong and growing. Maybe the unending war’s tide was about to shift. Someday, a new protector would arrive.
Tom himself saw a twenty-year-old woman, with a different name and hair color every month; the real ones eluded his forty-year-old mind, along with the history of the strange girl he had first been introduced to a decade ago, on a Project campus now probably melted and radioactive.
Now, she stood, revealing her focus — a faded group photo in a broken frame, once mantle centerpiece of some family, recently driven from this new ghost town. Seeing the two attackers’ corpses, she gave Tom a nod and a weary smile, laid a hand on one’s head, and walked slowly towards the abandoned store where supplies might be salvaged. Jogging to catch up, enhanced ears listening for any sign of hostile life, Tom pondered the future, Justice’s pipe dreams, and what the ethicist, young enough to be his daughter, was thinking. Breaking years of habit, he asked.
by Duncan Shields | May 26, 2011 | Story
Author : Duncan Shields, Staff Writer
Detective Peterson was reviewing the interview footage of Kyle Raven. It was late at night and Peterson had looked at the footage many times. He was troubled but he couldn’t figure out why. He rewound the video tape and watched it again.
“That’s the thing, right?” Kyle Raven manically rabbited on during his interview, “If time travel ever gets invented in the future, they’ll come back here. Or before here. Right?” He was pure sinew, no body fat at all. Kyle Raven looked like a human rat. His eyes burned out from his head like meth-addict searchlights. “And they’ll mess it all up. Everything. Causality will fracture the universe. We’ll be screwed.”
“The voices told me this.” Kyle said gravely and then suddenly chuckled, “The visitors showed me.” He banged the table with his fist and thrust his chin up like an angry king. “I have a job. If you’re wondering where all the time travelers are it’s because I killed them.”
Detective Peterson and his crew had just pulled sixteen bodies out of Kyle Raven’s basement. The man was a psychopath and delusional. Peterson had seen this before, people lashing out at imagined threats. Aliens, illuminati conspiracies, demons, fairies; all conveniently taking human form and needing to be killed.
“I’m not the only one” said Kyle. “I’m one of many. The visitors employ a large number of us. I’m a temporal cleanser. A timeline deputy. You can’t stop us. I don’t care what happens to me. I’ve saved the universe sixteen times.”
One thing that was bothering Detective Peterson was that the FBI had showed up immediately along with several other black cars with no markings on them. They’d loaded up the bodies and taken them away. They had the proper authorization and there had been no trouble. In cases of this magnitude, the FBI was usually involved in one way or another but it felt unusual to him.
Peterson had helped excavate the bodies and some things didn’t add up. A body from what looked like one of the oldest graves came out looking like it was freshly buried. A stink of putrefaction was wafting out of it but the skin of the corpse appeared fresh and young. One of the bodies had what appeared to be a glass prosthetic leg. Two of them were tall enough to be professional basketball players. One dead girl’s cel phone kept vibrating in her pocket as the team lifted her out and everyone’s phone in the basement vibrated in time with that girl’s phone for six rings. Peterson was the only one who noticed that and he had kept that to himself. Then there was the five-year-old with grey hair and a business suit.
Peterson had thought at the time that the killer just liked to dress up his victims. He’d seen crazier things done to bodies.
But now here he was, reviewing the interview footage. Kyle Raven was in custody downstairs. No one had rescued him or paid his bail and he was on suicide watch. By all accounts, he was merely dangerously insane.
Something was bothering Peterson about the whole episode. The bodies, the FBI, and this interview. He rewound the interview to watch it again.
Just as he was about to press play, there was a knock at the door. Detective Peterson felt an unreasonable fear in the pit of his stomach.
“Who is it?” he asked.
“FBI.” Said a low voice outside.
by submission | Apr 22, 2011 | Story
Author : Wasco Shafter
“Thirty minutes until heart failure” chirps a voice in Mark’s head. He flips through the internal photographs on his heads-up display, but there’s nothing new there. His heart is a confused, rotting lump of electrified meat rattling his ribcage. Five minutes has not done much to change this.
Beyond his display, surgeons twiddle their scalpels. Mark can see one chain-smoking on the observation deck. The surgeon closest to him waves a breathing mask in his face. Mark shakes his head, then returns to the medical feed on his earpiece:
vaccine for brain flu … cure for cushing’s disease … bionic arm … Ping!
“TOKYO: NEW PROSTHETIC HEART OPERATES AT 10X EFFICIENCY”
He drags the figures around in his mind. Three minutes for the 3D printer to assemble one, twelve minutes to do the surgery, fifteen minutes to play with.
“I can wait.”
The surgeons throw up their hands and sub-vocalize queries into their own earpieces. The pieces obediently sift through the sum total of human knowledge, aggregate relevant data into feeds, whisper the results into their ears. They listen to baseball scores, celebrity gossip, the whereabouts of their spouses. Mark listens to the steady march of biomedical research:
cure for anorexia … vaccine for hopelessness … bionic eye… Ping!
“Twenty minutes until heart failure.” The surgeon in the observation deck puts out his cigarette. He moves his lips, and his earpiece’s sensor reads them. Mark hears,
“I can wait,” he replies.
The surgeon digs around for a lighter. “You’re really letting this go down to the wire, guy.”
“The wire keeps moving. Got a ping just now tells me a new type of heart takes half the time to install.”
“Great,” Says the surgeon, “Get it. We’ll have you out of here in nine minutes.”
On the operating table, Mark shakes his head. “I don’t want that heart. I want the time its existence gives me. Can’t afford to get surgery, just to have a better heart come out fifteen minutes later.“
Mark sets his earpiece to ignore the surgeon and focuses again on the medical feeds:
cure for addiction … vaccine against starvation … bionic breasts … Ping!
“Fifteen minutes until heart failure.” Six minutes left to find a better heart. Information pours into Mark’s skull through his ears, his eyes. He mutes his death-clock, places it in the corner of his display instead. Eleven minutes, twenty seconds. Scripts comb the torrent, highlighting breakthroughs of tangential interest:
cure for heartlessness … vaccine for heartworm … bionic blood … Ping!
“3-D PRINTER SOFTWARE UPGRADE. PRINTING TIME REDUCED TO THIRTY SECONDS.”
He teaches a widget to calculate the time until his point of no return, places that countdown directly beneath the death clock. Two minutes, forty seconds.
He sees the mirrored image of his death-clock on the surgeons’ displays.
cure for common cold … vaccine for impure thoughts … bionic hair …
Thirty seconds. The surgeon with the breathing mask moves in. Mark flails his arms. He can’t speak, but his earpiece reads his lips:
“NO! NOT YET!”
Ten seconds until point of no return. One. Negative five. Mark doubles the breadth of his searches, combs four datastreams at once. The surgeons solemnly disconnect from his feed one by one, and file out of the room. The surgeon on the observation deck crushes out his cigarette, and then he too leaves.
And four minutes later, when Mark finds a new prosthetic heart in Beijing that operates at 100x normal efficiency, and can be easily installed in the time he has left, there is no one to do the surgery.
by submission | Oct 14, 2010 | Story
Author : George R. Shirer
“When I was a kid, we didn’t have to slog all day to get places,” said Grandpa Whiteman.
Johnny adjusted his pack and kept his eyes on the road. The blacktop was cracked and broken, and if you didn’t watch where you stepped you could trip and hurt yourself. If you were lucky, all you’d get were skinned knees and maybe some bruises. On the other hand, Johnny knew folks who’d broken ankles and worse from a bad fall.
“Momma would pull out the car and we’d be in Hatterstown like that.” Grandpa Whiteman snapped his fingers for emphasis. “I miss that.”
Johnny nodded. The straps on the pack were cutting into his shoulders. He stopped for a moment to adjust them.
“You okay, Johnny?”
“Fine, Grandpa. Just needed to shift things a bit.”
“Sorry, boy. I don’t mean to be a burden.”
Johnny glanced over his shoulder, at the big jar that held what was left of Grandpa Whiteman. It fit snugly inside the pack, the old man’s sense-organs poking over Johnny’s shoulder like a slimy, pink periscope.
Grandpa Whiteman was mostly nerves now, stuck in a shatterproof jar and hooked up to a voice box and a prosthetic limb. All in all, the old man probably weighed about twenty-five pounds.
“I think you’re putting on weight, grandpa.”
The old man laughed. His sense-organs reoriented themselves so he could peer into his grandson’s face. The prosthetic hand reached around and patted Johnny’s flesh and blood appendage.
“You’re a good boy, Johnny.”
“Thanks, grandpa.” Johnny took a breath and they walked the rest of the way home in companionable silence.