The Coin-Operated Boy

Author : William Tracy

She loved the Coin-Operated Boy.

None of the men in her life would really love her. Yes, they were strong, and handsome, and promised wealth and luxury. They were also full of hate, and lies.

The Coin-Operated Boy was none of these things. He was quiet, and had an almost effeminate sort of beauty. He promised her nothing, gave her nothing, but never hated, never lied. Her coins would go clink-clink, and the cogs inside him would go tick-tick-tick, that was all.

The men came and went at their own whims. They wanted attention when she was busy, and were busy when she wanted attention. They forgot her birthday, and she forgot theirs. They forgot that her favorite flower was a red, red rose.

The Coin-Operated Boy was always there. She could leave him for months. Every time when she came back, he was still waiting for her with a smile on his face. She only had to put in her coins, clink-clink, and he would love her.

He never asked her any questions. He never scolded her. He was never jealous, and he never hated. The springs and levers inside him just went tick-tick-tick.

She would ask him if he loved her. Every time, the Coin-Operated Boy would go tick-tick-tick, and then he would answer yes.

His love was deeper than the shining ocean. His love was brighter than the burning sun. His love was more beautiful than the pale moon.

She would ask the Coin-Operated Boy how he could love her with his clockwork heart that went tick-tick-tick.

He loved her more ways than there were stars in the dark sky. He loved her more ways than there were flowers in the green hills and cool valleys.

Always, she would put in her coins, clink-clink, and always the gears in his heart would go tick-tick-tick.

Her lover came back.

He had black, black hair that shone when the light was right. He had bronze skin that glistened with sweat, and deep eyes that shone like the ocean. He had long sideburns that framed his face like a picture. He had a dusting of stubble on his sharp chin. He wore a slick vest that wrapped over rolling muscles. He had a voice that was like poetry.

He loved her, had never stopped loving her. He was sorry he had left her, so sorry. He wanted her to come with him, to come back with him to live with his family.

He brought her a red, red rose.

She took his hand, and looked into his eyes, and she saw her face reflected in them. They kissed, and the passion ran hot and wild in her veins.

The Coin-Operated Boy looked at them, and tilted his head to one side as though he had never seen this before. His mechanical soul of gears and springs and chains and levers went tick-tick-tick. Then, the Coin-Operated Boy asked a question.

“Do you love me?”

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Author : Rob Burton

He lifts the stained snow to his visor. Tiny mechanisms sample the stuff and, after sterilizing it (though that was hardly necessary at such low temperatures), sprays it as an aerosol into his nose and mouth. A tiny readout in his visor confirms his suspicions. ‘Waste dump’, he informs the others over the communicator. ‘They are lazy or foolish. Perhaps both.’

One of the others intentionally lets ‘Disgusting animal’ slip over the comms. He tries not care. Still, they live in the filth of cities, hoarded together like rats their very air a stinking fume. He’s had to share the tight, closed systems of a planetary transport with them and their sweat and filth for weeks. Sanitised urine was nothing.

He’d been brought as a guide to dark, icy Ganymede. Over-equipped as the folly of the rich men who employed him would have it, he knows he could survive indefinitely in this suit and on the life seeded onto this once sterile orb – though the others hardly recognise its existence. They all could, if they weren’t such fools, live by the life that, like him, loves the ice and the cold that is retreating so fast from their own world. Cold and ice these men treat as an enemy to be conquered.

They love their little wars. They use their murderous potential for nothing. They crave the opportunity to unleash it. They mutter discontentedly as they progress, doubtful of his ability to read the signs that to him, though subtle, are everywhere. They joke about kicking him into a crevasse.

In the dim starlight the entrance to the base is indistinct, covered with re-frozen ice that only he can tell apart from its immediate surroundings. The base itself clings to the underneath of the ice sheet, at the border with the water layer. Its location could not be found from space, so many miles beneath the ice, and the vehicle that had brought the relief crew was itself sunken far below the surface.

On Ganymede, in order to hide something you merely have to heat it up and let it melt into the ice for a while. An energy–expensive process, but warfare seems to ignore the energy rationing that has made so many lives a misery. People seem to believe that it is more important to cause human misery than prevent it, for a reason he could not understand. With a little waste of power, smaller things – like personal transports – might disappear forever into the ice to the eyes of those unused to it. He has to throw a snowball onto the area above the entrance to mark it for the soldiers.

They click their weapons into firing positions. Their leader uses an electronic eye that he trusts more than his own senses to look for its kin about the entrance. Finding none, he sends two of his command forward to set the melters. They should uncover the entrance in a matter of hours.

Their guide turns to go.

‘Where are you going?’

‘Away’, he simply states.

‘What? Don’t; you want to go home?’

‘My contract pays out to my family at the point that I deliver you to your target.’

‘But you are our guide…’

‘…and I have guided you. You are the paid killers, not I.’ He doesn’t add that he considers them ill-prepared and unlikely to survive.

‘Where will you go?’

‘Do you care?’

‘Let’s pretend for a moment that I do.’

‘This is a world. I intend to get to know it before you ruin it too.’

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Author : Debbie Mac Rory

“I’m gonna take it”

“I don’t think you should…”

“What? It’s just lying here, it’s not like it belongs to anyone”

“You don’t know that”

“You mean one of these boulders is suddenly going to come to life and chastise me for taking its petrified little baby rock?”

“Well, no, not that-“

“You need to grow some. It’s just a pretty stone so I’m takin’ it”

“It’s not in our mission statement”

“Excuse me?”

“We’re not supposed to bring anything back. You don’t know what might be in it”

“Tell you what, if anything does hatch out of this little stone, I’ll step right up and say ‘my bad’. How’s that?”

“You’re not even taking this seriously”

“Because there’s nothing to worry about! Alright, ok, tell you what, when we get back to base and get out of these suits, I’ll buy you a drink”

“From where?”

“From the still, naturally? Where else you gonna get anything these days?”

“The still? The same one that you conned me out of two weeks of dessert so you could fuel the damn thing?”

“Yep, that’d be the one”

“The same one you haven’t given me a drop from?”

“Until now…”

“Hmph. You owe me a lot more than just one drink”

“Agreed. So I’ll just pop….this…in…. like so. There. Now, let’s get back to base.”

“I still thin-“

“Yes, I know, you think it’s all a bad idea. But what’s done is done now. Forget about it! Let’s just get those drinks”.

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Money Man

Author : Peter Pincosy

Steel floats overhead, encased in concrete, wrapped in duct and wires, our own inorganic trees. Coughing bloat from the towers pushes out heat into the sky, lays labor on the air. In the cracks fly screaming machines their tops reflect varied colors. Shuttle to a corner, stop, take the light at speed, the rhythm falls in precision. A humble man stands in his booth, hands at his side. He smells the spring air and sighs at another day, his hands pass money along with speed. His booth consists of snacks, magazines, glossy simple somethings that provide little sustenance, an item to pick up on your way. Soft hours pass in which nothing happens, but the breathing air around him fills with objects, sounds and he tilts his eyes.

The ugly past arrives in recall. He murdered men. Some that look just like the ones that file past in suits. In dark alleys, he remembers their struggle. Easy with experience he finds the thought appealing now and then.

But his hands are tied by the monitor. Lashed around his neck, buried into his brain stem it reads his body, scrolling numbers, lines and lines of information. If he could remain perfectly calm and hallucinate a scene of pastoral making while committing the act, he could do it again. He wipes a sweaty palm on his shirt and reaches out to take a proffered dollar. One by one he pulls them in and each one represents a slim movement upward, a piece of food, when he used to just take what he wanted.

Now they watch him closely, and he’s allowed to operate, but at the first sign of disturbance, if someone wants to detain him, if he moves from a state of humility and gains ego or dreams of murder too intensely it all stops and he can feel himself looking out from a useless body that must be reset. A man in a mask comes along, pulls out a key, and inserts it into his neck. Searing pain overcomes everything and chemicals are forced into receptors, another hard reset. Afterwards, out of the dark, he arrives and starts again, and the memories, the passions, it all comes slower, the effect of the new start manifest in a decreased sense of self.

With a stiff one dollar bill he receives a note, written in a crooked hand, “Your monitor has been blocked, live out your instincts.” And adrenaline rushes through his body. He could do it right now perhaps. Reach over the counter and pull the old lady close to his face, spit and breath mingle with choking sounds as he rips the life from her. And as he imagines this he realizes that he wouldn’t have made it this far if the monitor weren’t blocked. How many could he manage to finish off? Maybe they’ll realize and he won’t get another chance. He sees a man standing next to a secluded opening. Quickly, he turns in the face of the puckered old lady who shakes her dollar at him insistently. He flies through the back door and as he approaches the man, his fingers already feel the life end under their pressure. The man looks directly into his eyes, unwavering, unafraid. One hand in his pocket, and it moves, only a step away, the world suddenly halts, functions shutting down in sequence.

On the ground, as his sense of scent closes off and only eyesight is left, a note flashes in front of his face. “Another step toward squashing your brain to mush. –Recidivists Eradication Project”

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Reversed Universe

Author : Patricia Stewart, Staff Writer
Three aliens floated a few dozen meters beyond the ship’s forward observation viewport. They were formless blobs approximately two meter in diameter. The center creature was glowing a faint orange-red, with numerous concentric yellow circles forming and disappearing every few seconds. The two outside creatures displayed counter rotating fluorescent red spirals on predominately blue bodies. “They’re obviously trying to communicate with us,” concluded the science officer. “I’ve been studying them for hours, but I’ll be damned if I can figure out what they’re trying to say.”

“They appear to be semitransparent,” the captain observed.

The science officer grimaced.

“You have something to report, Lieutenant?” probed the captain.

“I’m sorry, sir, but I was holding off on speculation until I had a better understanding of the physics. It appears, sir, uh, that the aliens are composed of… damn… stationary photons.”

Despite the apparent absurdity of the statement, the captain managed to maintain his professional demeanor. “You’ve got my attention, Lieutenant. Feel free to speculate. Off the record, of course.”

“Aye, sir. Thank you. As you know, in our universe all electromagnetic radiation moves at the speed of light. The instant a photon comes into existence, its traveling at the speed of light. Never faster, never slower. However, our sensors indicate that those creatures are composed of photons that are not moving relative to us, which according to quantum chromodynamics, is impossible. They appear to have a cohesive structure composed of light ‘particles,’ rather than condensed matter. It’s like their wave-particle duality is all particle and no wave.”

“How is that possible?”

“If I were to guess, sir, I’d say that they exist on a separate membrane where the fundamental relationships between elementary particles are reversed. In other words, photons move slowly, and matter must move at 300,000,000 meters per second.”

“Fascinating,” replied the captain. “I was thinking, what if… Now what’s going on?” The brightness of the creatures suddenly intensified, and their color patters began to reverse and pulsate. “Boy, they certainly seem to be pretty animated about something. Do you think they’re threatening us?”

“Unsure, sir. Look, they’re backing away.” Suddenly, the interior of the ship began to glow a bright red, which quickly changed to orange, then yellow, green, blue, and finally violet. Nausea overtook the crew, and one by one, they collapsed to the deck and lost consciousness. When they finally came to, the view outside the observation port had changed dramatically. More than half the sky was occupied by a giant spiral galaxy. “Damn,” the science officer muttered. “That’s Andromeda. It’s supposed to be 2.5 million light years away. It’s probably only a few hundred thousand now. I guess those guys were trying to warn us not to get to close. We must have temporarily entered their universe. I suspect that we traveled more than two million light years while we were unconscious.”

“Can we get home?” asked the captain.

“That may be a moot point, sir. Unless I’m mistaken, we didn’t get here by distorting space-time in the conventional sense. Most likely, we temporarily acquired the properties of the alien’s universe and our physical matter has been moving through space at the speed of light. If true, that means that although we didn’t experience the passage of time, we’ve been traveling for more than two million years. Even if we could get back ‘home,’ we’d be the equivalent of australopithecines to our descendents.”

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