Memories, Light the Corners of our Minds

Author : Steve Smith, Staff Writer

Lucas Three sat in the coffee shop long after she left, long after the people that had watched the scene play out had moved on. He sat for hours after she’d calmly, mercilessly ended their three year relationship with a calculated precision of language that even he couldn’t have delivered more succinctly.

“This has been fun, really, it’s been fantastic, but you knew this was never going to last.” She didn’t touch her latte, which was never a good sign.

“You’re never going to get old, and I’m going to age out and die. At some point you’re going to leave me for someone younger, and by then I’ll be too old to find anyone to love me and I’ll simply die alone.” Her hands flew about the space in front of her as she spoke. He often wondered if she were forced to keep her hands in her pockets, would she be able to speak at all? He smiled at that thought, and the smiling caused him pain.

“Already my friends find you ‘quaint’, and your friends look upon me as some kind of lesser thing. Janson Four called me a relic. A relic? I’m twenty nine years old, I’m not a god damned relic.” She raised her cup and put it back down without drinking. “What are they going to be saying about me at fifty nine? Seventy nine? Am I to be a sideshow freak at your social events? I’m sorry. I’m not going to put myself in that position. You knew this day was going to come, and it has. I’ve had my things moved out of the apartment this morning, you can have access revoked at your convenience, I won’t be coming back.”

She’d risen at that point, and suddenly aware that her unintentionally raised voice had turned heads and sparked a series of whispered conversations, she softened visibly, shoulders dropping, eyes losing their searing glare of purpose to tear up at the edges in a haze of uncertainty.

“Listen Lucas, I’m sorry. I really am. I’ve loved you, I still do love you,” her voice broke, “but I can’t go on loving you, I have to go.”

She made it to the door before she turned again.

“Goodbye” was all she said, and then she was gone.

When the coffee shop proprietor none to subtly turned off the lights and motioned to the closed sign by the door, Lucas stepped out in the nighttime air. She had been the most beautiful thing he’d ever seen, a bright light in a sea of grey, and she was gone. Were he to have a heart, it would have been breaking, and as much as he knew he wasn’t built to feel what he was feeling, the thoughts and emotional response racing through his head were too much for him to take. If he didn’t do something, he feared he would break completely.

On the pier, listening to the waves shushing the shoreline, he overrode the safeties and did a search of his memories, collecting every single moment they’d shared together into an array, and without a second thought iterated through the batch and deleted them all.

When the process completed, he felt a strange sense of emptiness, but the anxiety had dissipated.

As he turned, he saw her, perhaps the most beautiful thing he’d ever seen. They walked towards each other, and he could see that she’d been crying, her face streaked and makeup spoiled. “How quaint” he thought out loud, and she stopped, her eyes searching his.

“Lucas,” she spoke as he passed, “Lucas,” her voice almost pleading, “I’m sorry, I don’t want to live without you.”

As he reached the end of the pier, the strange and beautiful woman’s voice trailed off behind him, and he wondered who her words were for.

He turned the corner past the coffee shop he haunted daily, and stumbled, mind racing, mental and emotional processes run amok for no discernable reason. He’d have sworn, if he’d had a heart and ever allowed someone inside it, this is what it would feel like were it to be broken.

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What's in a name?

Author : Duncan Shields, Staff Writer

Yes, the aliens were invasive. Savagely invasive. But how could we blame them? We were a treasure trove to them.

The aliens had no name of their own, you see. As a warrior race, they let the planets they invaded name them. As they took planet after planet and civilization after civilization, they collected names. They were up to one hundred and sixty four.

Unpronounceable names screaming forth from terrified beaks, mental picture collages from psychic races, bursts of scent from pheromone speakers, they were all collected in their databank.

If a planet had no sentience, the aliens moved on. Slaughtering animals that could not name them held no interest.

And this is why Earth was like a rainbow of temptation to them.

With over 6900 languages on Earth, the aliens could increase their name count (and thereby their reputation) by factors of ten. And that didn’t even include slang or scientific definitions.

They took their time, making sure to take at least one speaker of each language to record their names for posterity while they laid waste to us.

It was fascinating for us to find out that the way we split and diverged our languages was unique. Most alien civilizations leaned towards a common language but we didn’t. What a strange thing to find out on the eve of our doom.

They didn’t destroy the forests or the oceans. They only targeted the cities and the towns.
As a reward for our staggering bounty of names, they left enough of us to start another stable gene base with the promise that they would be back in another ten thousand years to do it all over again after we’d evolved and split and developed new languages.

There are a hundred thousand of us now. They picked us all up and dropped us in Indonesia where it’s hot most of the time. We’ve started having as many babies as possible and doing our utmost to survive and keep each other safe.
Earth is reclaiming the ruined cities. The stink of human death is dissipating on the wind. In time the animals will multiply faster than we can eat them and the oceans will fill back up with fish.

Although this is the worst chapter of human history, or maybe even the end of it as we have no way to record our findings now other than scratching on bark or painting on cave walls, it sometimes feels as if we are in a new Eden.

I am thirty-two years old. I am on a beach in this hot country. The sun is going down. I can smell the boar our party killed cooking on the dinner fire. Sixty-three women are having babies in the next few months. We are by necessity polygamous to increase diversity for strength. We have no shame at nudity and we must not tolerate jealousy.

We’ve painted pictures of the aliens on any available surface as a warning to future generations. We are struggling to maintain one language among us but we are from all over the world. It’s hard. But we’re trying harder than humanity has ever tried to speak one language to each other so we can all understand. We are one tribe now.

I cannot bring myself to thank the aliens. My own family and all of my friends were killed. I am the only person from my city left alive.
But sometimes in moments like this sunset, I feel something like gratitude in my chest and it makes me feel conflicted inside.

I turn away from the sunset and go to eat.


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How to Fly A Spaceship

Author : Andrew Hollis

The manual had been totally inadequate. For a start the Chinglish translation was hopelessly out of date, there were archaic digiverbs in it that must have been superseded at least three authorisations ago.

Of course flight inexperience would be no excuse, especially when explaining how a Mastodon runner had ended up fur-balled across the front skid!

But if he stopped at a detox point on his way back to the Arc he could hose off the mess and concoct some story about pranging a floater. Tell the dispatcher it was a false trace, no runner found. Then on the return trip his ship had smacked into a discarded fuel pod. He pulled some hair from the twisted skid; shit, with floaters scattered all over the place it’s a believable excuse.

The Waxer buzzed in his ear, “three zero, snoozed the Masto yet?”

He winced at the static fuzzing across his eardrum, “Nope, it was a false trace, nothing there but prefabs and blowflies”.

“The trace looked strong, did you ask around?”

Sure he’d spoken to the settlers, they were happy to carve up the carcass and share it out, no questions asked. It made a change from blowing nosebags of disgusting Nutrinow.

‘Yeh I spoke to the land agent, they’ve seen nothing. I’ll checkout the bat farms in the valley. Maybe it’s there hoovering up fruit.”

The fuzz tickled again, “Ok but keep it slow through there, don’t want your air shock flipping trays.” Yeh the last thing I need on top everything else is a dozen hanging baskets of splattered fruit wrapped around the fins.

He flicked on the Grav-it and dropped gently to the red earth. The holoplay was scuffed but had survived his frustrations; he dusted it off and re-launched a how-to of the ship’s dashboard.

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Clockwork Heartbreak

Author : Glen Luke Flanagan

Click, whir, grind. Melvin’s movements were always accompanied by this sequence of sounds. His jeweled clockwork joints moved with a decidedly inhuman precision, but his troubled face wore the mask of a truly desperate man.

“What is love?” he asked, while his golden fingers tapped nervously on the crystal casing of his knee. “This is the question that has been troubling me. It haunts all my waking moments, yet I cannot bring myself to wind down until I understand the answer.”

As if afraid that he would power down just by mentioning the matter, Melvin’s hands strayed underneath the casing on his back and began to wind himself up frenetically.

Delicate human hands came to rest on his crystal knees, and soft blue eyes found his mechanical ones. A gentle, melodic voice found its way through his tension, and soothed him.

“It’s alright, Melvin. As the first of your kind, it’s natural you should have these questions. We’ll find the answer together, I promise you.”

Dr. Lucy Malone always knew how to sooth him. Melvin relaxed with what almost looked like a deep sigh, but of course it was not, because he did not breathe. Dr. Malone smiled at him, patting his knee comfortingly.

“Same time again tomorrow, Melvin?”

She knew the answer would be yes, if only because the Institute of Strange Intelligences required these counseling sessions, but she always gave him the courtesy of treating him like any other patient. He nodded, and shook her hand.

Tucked away in a comfy little apartment provided by the Institute, Melvin poured over the classic human texts on love. Byron, Shakespeare, Solomon. But they all seemed to deal with the symptoms, rather than the crux of the matter.

Finally, Melvin gave up on his research, and spent the night in meditation, his gears and cylinders whirring quietly in the darkness.

Over the next several sessions, Melvin and Lucy discussed his problem. She described her personal experiences with love, and he tried to put these in context by comparing them to what he had read. Inevitably, there were discrepancies, which confused him and amused her. But eventually, he began to look forward to the sessions for the conversations themselves, rather than as an opportunity to sate his curiosity.

Then one day, he came in to find a stranger in the therapist’s chair. In many ways, she was like Lucy – tall, blonde, and soft-spoken. But she was not Lucy, Melvin felt that with every fiber of his being. Her eyes did not linger in the same ways hers did, nor did her touch have the same tender sympathy. She shook his hand with a crisp air of professionalism.

“Dr. Malone was in an accident,” she said. “She didn’t survive the resulting operation. I’m sorry, Melvin. I’ll be working with you from now on.”

Melvin sat quietly on the soft leather couch, processing. The new doctor watched him for several minutes, and finally reached to touch his knee lightly.

“Melvin? Is everything alright?”

Finally, he raised his head, and looked at her with sorrowful metal-and-glass eyes.

“I know what love is,” he said. “And I wish that I did not.”

In his own apartment, a curtain opened to let in sad silver moonlight, Melvin sat in reverie. The past weeks flashed through his mind, each moment with her as vivid as if he were seeing it again for the first time.

As the night crept on, the clicking and humming of his gears began to slow, but he made no move to wind himself up. After a while, there was only silence.

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The Drifter

Author : Tony Taylor

Out here things make sense. The only thing I see is the glitter of stars beyond my visor. My breath is loud in my ears, rhythmic and soothing. No longer do I hear that infernal whine. No more of the yelling. When I’m alone things are so much easier. There are no complications, just me and the stars. There are no constraints, no anger or jealousy, just the vast freedom of the universe. It is open to me like a book, free to explore.

I knew as a kid that I would never fit in. I was bounced from school to school as we moved about the country. Even when we did settle in for a while, I found myself quiet and reserved. I was the kid that sat in the corner, silently scribbling on his desk.

Things never got better as I grew older. From career to career, my focus shifted. Machines were my only lasting interest. They provided stability, a constant in my life. When everything else would change and falter around me, those metal cogs and rubber belts were a constant reminder of what was right. They made sense. If they didn’t work, there was a reason, and I could find it.

I thought they were supposed to weed out my kind of personality. I thought this kind of thing was supposed to be impossible. Maybe my mind is just what they were looking for. They wanted someone crazy enough to take the risks, someone stupid enough not to see the consequences, someone who wanted to leave everything behind as quickly as possible.

It all sounded so very romantic. Explore the stars. Observe the galaxy and go boldly into the unknown. I could get away, start over.

“Stop tearing at the walls!” They said. “You’re going insane!” I’m crazy? Couldn’t they hear it? Couldn’t they feel the noise drilling into their skulls? They say I’m not balanced, and that I wasn’t adapting well. Hah, what a joke. They are the ones trapped in that metal coffin. They are the insane ones.

I’m not the guy who chose to bring along that asshole. I’m not the one that plowed through our rations like a starving animal. I’m not the one who refused to listen to reason. Why couldn’t they leave me alone to do my work? Why couldn’t they just stay away? I was just trying to help them, yet they couldn’t let me.

He deserved that bloody, ragged wound on his arm.

It was suffocating in there, nothing but sweaty, smelly bodies. All of them whining and talking and demanding and yelling. All the time, like broken records, they droned on about what they left behind. To turn back now would be insane. Fools, the whole lot of them.

I’m delirious? I’m insane? You’re the one that locked me in that airlock. You’re the one that hit the release and sent me into the void. At least you had the decency to give me a suit.

I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t feel a little happy when that metal coffin erupted into bright light.

No, I’m not crazy. I’m just a drifter.

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