Short Stories (0 - 0K Words)
"Client Species" - Corey J. White (1486 words)
"You want to kill me, don't you?"
There was a pause.
"No, I don't want to kill you."
The room was a uniform grey across every surface. The air was thin, but warm and dry despite the water pumping through the coolant system. The processor banks were matte black and unmarked - not easily sabotaged - and slaved to the master CPU that sat somewhere behind the walls or beneath the floor.
Miranda was inside Axis Mundi's brain.
"Inhuman Interface" - Bob Ritchie (3221 words)
"There is much dissonance in your thoughts Tiksher," hummed Solpin; he continued with a gentle melodic question, "Why is this so?"
"Solpin, Solpin - I am an historian; you know this." The upper register of Tiksher's voice cracked from his distress. He sang a descending scale to calm himself, then asked, "Do you know, also, that the Conductor has assigned me the task of finding the origins of our race?"
"Medea" - Deborah Judith Walker (950 words)
It was the dead time of the afternoon. There was just one old boy nursing a beer at the end of the sports bar. But at least the footie was on: Ipswich Town versus Norwich City. And it was 2-1 up to Ipswich. It was going to be a walkover. This was a sweet job and no mistake. "Need any oxygen?" asked Simon, tapping the canister on the bar. Head Office had been on at him to push more oxygen to the punters.
"A Cup of Coffee for Rind" - Julie Novakova (2237 words)
The sun and the dampness were unforgiving. I felt relieved when I reached a small house located next to a small coffee plantation. I wiped my forehead, straightened my collar and knocked.
There was no response for a while and I began to fear that my journey up here might have been pointless. The sweat it cost me! But then the door opened and a short man with a deeply wrinkled face emerged. He studied me for a moment and then simply said: "I don't talk to any salesmen."
"I'm not a salesman, I'm press," I objected hurriedly.
"That's even worse." The door began to close.
"Nobody Here But Us Beavers" - Tara Saunders (6372 words)
Gather around me children. Have you ever wondered why there are no people in this world except for us Beavers? Listen close now, and I'll tell the story of how it came to be.
Dark-skinned and black-hearted, the Wolf hunkered in the fork of a willow tree, his shooter held loose across his body. He didn't look left and he didn't look right, just kept those big eyes of his fixed on Karl's island. They were something those eyes: white as white except where they were brown as brown. A man spying him leaning so peaceful in that tree wouldn't have guessed what he planned to do to Karl, nor why.
"Life Around the Bend" - Jakob Nexo Drud (2899 words)
John Lachman's riverside shack was a poem and a shamble in a rare spot of nature, exactly as I remembered it from twenty years ago. The road there was longer and more arduous, though, and not just because my knee hurt with every rattle of the rental. Back in the day, the gravel had been just as loose, but it had been paved by friendship and camaraderie against the DDT polluters upriver. Now I wasn't so sure what the road was made of. Hard feelings that had either cooled or festered, or perhaps a little bit of both.
I got out of the rental and stretched, struggling to straighten my leg. As I crossed his weed-dotted yard, John Lachman ducked out of the hut, putting on his hat against the sun. He looked well enough for a guy of 71, still a bear of a man with enough muscle on his chest and arms to match a dockworker. A beard had conquered the lower part of his face, white and mighty and wild like the beech and persimmon forest around him. He stopped a good distance from my car.
"Paul Weinman," he said. "You came."
"At our age you don't turn down old acquaintances. You might not get another chance to see them again."
"Playground 74" - Iain Ishbel (2020 words)
Lily pulled at the playground, but it didn't open. That was bad, but it wasn't definitely a Problem. Sometimes if things didn't work they were just stuck. The first thing to do was just try again.
She pulled again, and it began to open. Lily was happy about that. She didn't need to spend any time solving a Problem if it wasn't really a Problem. Then she wondered if it was maybe a Problem but maybe a tricky one. Maybe she was supposed to think about it more carefully before just fixing.
Too late now. Lily rubbed the spot where her third tooth was coming in. Under the surface of her gum she could feel its sharp edge beginning to poke through. That was good. A sharp tooth was useful for a little while.
"Hurry Up and Wait" - Holly Schofield (5419 words)
I dug my left toe farther into the loose dirt of the cliff and gripped a scraggly salal bush. The cell phone had landed on an outcrop a full meter away, beyond a patch of tall, yellowing grass. Western fescue. Slippery stuff, this late in the year. My right foot dangled above a large rock, slick with Oregon moss. A seagull shrieked far below, wheeling over the ocean. Don't look down. I eased onto the inner edge of the rock, shifting my weight off my aching left leg.
The rock overbalanced. I jerked back and listened to it crash against garry oak and scrubby arbutus as it fell and fell and fell. No splash - the tide was out.
"The World" - Lizz Shepherd (3199 words)
"I looked everywhere in the entire world for my sock. I can't find it," she said to her parents. And she had. She had looked over all three rooms and still couldn't find the sock anywhere.
"Ok, then it's time to retrace your steps," her father said.
"No, it's time to look harder," her mother said. "There's no reason to lose something in this amount of space," she said, frowning.
"Colonist M-DJ5487" - Ryan Anderson (4386 words)
It was a surreal combination of the thrill of victory and lead shot in my stomach when the head of the review board said, "Congratulations Dr. Danque, the board has decided to offer you a slot in the Settler program."
It was the culmination of what I'd spent my adult life trying to accomplish, but the moment had a bitter sweet tang to it. Ella would be devastated. I was devastated. It was so unfair, she was just as strong a candidate as I was. Why did they offer me a slot and not her?
"Drink Deep and Long the Circean Poison" - Deborah Judith Walker (4170 words)
There's something special about fenland, the holy land of the English. A flat, low-lying land where silver, drifting fog brings to mind the mysteries held in the human heart. Where else should the true artist reside? Not in cacophonous London, but here, in Boston, a stone's throw from the wild, wild sea.
Thus I was pondering, as I walked with my Circe along the wash, revelling in the triumph of another successful play performed by the Boston Players. True, the audience seemed forever dwindling, consisting mainly of avatars, but what else can you expect in these times when appreciation of the finer things is far beyond the ken of most? But those who did appreciate, ah those, the accolades of a half-dozen accomplished minds is worth far more that the accolades of a million dead-minded drones.
"I think that my next opus shall be of the fens, Circe."
"Sowmya" - Iain Ishbel (3596 words)
"No, Granny-ji, with respect, it is a real job." Sowmya sighed and touched her braid. "No, it is not teaching, research only - yes, Granny-ji. Teaching is a very fine - so pleased for cousin Jyoti. Yes, the schoolchildren are very lucky to have her."
Tiny feet pattered on the decking, but Sowmya held up a palm and Anita stopped hurriedly. "Excuse me, mama," she whispered, and tiptoed out of the kitchen compartment.
Sowmya nodded. "Yes, the youngest, Granny-ji. Anita, yes. Two thou - " She winced, and calculated hastily. "Six years of age." She waited, staring out of the foggy viewport. On Earth, the terminator was passing over West Bengal. Sowmya wondered if her great-grandmother, looking up from the streets of Old Calcutta, might see the station as a bright star in the orange twilight sky.
"The Righteous Indignation of the Naked Mole Rat" - Gareth D Jones (2893 words)
Naked mole rats are cool. Some people say they're cute, but they're not. They're just weird. Weird is cool though. They've suffered a lot from anthropocentric interference in the environment. You used to find them in large areas of East Africa, then the usual suspects started reducing their numbers: hunting, habitat loss, over-cultivation, climate change, you name it. I mean, how's a guy supposed to study an animal when it's being wiped out quicker than you can count them?
The last colony of naked mole rats was almost gone before the Kenyan government finally tried to do anything about it. Then, one day, the entire two thousand inhabitants of a nearby village disappeared. Now that's weird too.
"Proximity" - Iain Ishbel (5307 words)
Nameless, bodiless, half conscious - forced, in fact, into a therapeutic rest state by neural nanos - he floated in a watery white space. Minutes trickled past thinly, without guilt or pain, and the system maintained his daily rest with pulses in theta time.
Until a voice tried calling him down.
He ignored it, but it spoke to his nannies, and he became too dense to float. "No" he called out to the voice, "Not now. I need to rest."
"Farndale's Revelation" - Robert Bagnall (2560 words)
The rain was falling steadily when Corin Farndale flagged down the taxi outside St.Pancras station. The sky was a choppy grey sea scudding south, white horses alternating with granite depths. The rain came down in waves, thick drizzle followed by washes of drops so large they made individual splashes. Farndale could feel a stream of water seeping past his collar. The irony of the situation did not escape him.
The wiper blades on the taxi made a constant squeak, squeak, squeak. Farndale hunched in the back, briefcase on his lap, trying to recognize landmarks as the taxi inched its way forward. He hadn't been to the city for some years. Next to familiar buildings new monsters of glass and steel were rising. He wiped away condensation from the window and craned his neck. At least somebody will get to see blue sky, he mused.
"Green Future" - Deborah Judith Walker (910 words)
Hey, Mrs M.?
Miriam ignores the boy. She pushes her way through the tangled undergrowth of Trafalgar Square, past the stone lions with their impassive eyes virtually obscured by their liana manes. She must remember to bring a pair of shears, tomorrow.
"Hold on. Hold on."
The boy skips through the waist-high vegetation. He'll catch her soon enough. He's a kid from the Bloomsbury favela, born and bred to London's jungle. His name is Crich, and he's been bothering Miriam for a couple of months.
"SimulCorps" - John Paul Davies (2472 words)
Eleanor lay still in the darkness, listening: the short crackling bursts of live wires being touched together providing further evidence of Klint's nocturnal betrayal.
She imagined that the amorphous shadows occupying the room were those of her husband's creations, drawing near, until Klint finally dragged himself upstairs and slumped into bed beside her. His chest rising and falling as though controlled by a ventilator, a scent of scorched skin lingered; her husband a virtual stranger in the stifling gloom.
"Domain" (Story 2 of the Domain Main Sequence) - Coming Soon!
'Once in a hundred years' natural disasters were happening every week, things were getting very desperate . .
"After the first human minds were uploaded . . Domain evolved rapidly. Domain was initially a small network of Artificial Intelligences instantiated by a group of world scientists with support from western militaries (and later, from radical groups within other militaries). However, the uploading of human minds caused the system to change fundamentally . . and the new direction had existential consequences for Homo sapiens sapiens . ."
"The Road to Hell" - Julie Frost (4181 words)
We hadn't meant for this to happen...
"Libby! Libby the Labbie!" I called as I opened the back door into the yard.
Thank God the work day was over--the only thing keeping me sane these days was the anticipation of taking her to the dog park, injecting some normalcy into the abnormal tailspin my life had become.
Usually she yipped an answer whether she was inside or out, but not today. A cold ball of worry knotted in my stomach. Most of the time, I left her inside when I was at work, but the day had been beautiful and she hadn't wanted to come in that morning. I'd relented and let her stay in the supposedly bug-proof, mesh-covered kennel. "Libby?" I approached the enclosure, but no Mini-Lab waited for me at the gate, tail awag and mouth open in a happy grin. A movement from the side of the fence farthest from the house caught my eye.
"The Last Days of the Eyeball Man" - Iain Ishbel (2888 words)
The Eyeball Man was a guest on the world's biggest talk show when his last days began. The talk show was simulcast on four unrelated media, and had a real claim to be the world's most-heard words. Four minutes into the show, the Eyeball Man realized: the modern broadcast style of fast cuts and glib quips had long since overrun the human capacity for reason. He frowned, invisible behind the microphone. "Look," he interrupted. "I'm leaving. I'm not going to take part in this."
A rising starlet who was on the show to fundraise for a minor disease (and her new movie) tried to hijack the momentary pause. "You could take part in raising awareness for feline panleukopia virus, it's an important disease -- "
"Horace" - Laura Hill (2570 words)
"I'm sure that I knew as soon as I set a diminutive boot on the brace of the gutter that drained the roof valley so conveniently above an open second floor window, that this climb up the ivy clad wall of a mansion would change my life forever, but I was probably talking too much to myself to hear any carillon.
Talking too much is no doubt a character flaw. One that I talk too little about. And change is supposed to be a good thing. So is love."
"The Valley has Two Faces" - Gareth Jones (1751 words)
He could see it in their faces as they passed by, the way they looked at him. Different, freak, aberration. You don't belong here. Bailey had seen it his whole life. Even though he was born in the valley the same as everyone else. Grown in the valley.
Aberration was the official term. The scientists at the fertility centre had no explanation. Contamination of the DNA source, they thought. Nobody knew where such contamination had come from. Bailey trudged along the main track that led to the fertility centre, ignoring the passersby as he went. The sun was low, hovering just above the squat Western mountains that bordered one side of the valley. Somewhere beyond were bands of feral men. Bailey had never seen any, knew nobody who had. There were stories of how they hunted other men, moving like ghosts through the trees and rocks, impossible to escape from, impossible to see them coming. If they caught you, the stories went, they would keep you as a slave and brand you with a red-hot iron. Nobody from the feral tribes had ever been in the valley, yet they were the only source of outside DNA that could have contaminated the valley's pure strain.
"The Frozen Hive of Her Mind" - Deborah Walker (875 words)
"My sister came to my mother's funeral. She stood at the gates, watching my uncles carrying the coffin from the flower-lined hearse. She was a pale ghost, standing apart from the rest of the mourners.
Rose looked exactly as I remembered her. I hadn't seen her for twelve years, but she hadn't aged. I touched my hand to my hair, streaked through with grey. Terminal cancer does that, slowly pulling its victim toward its breast and swiping its vicious claws at the grieving family, bleeding the life of out them. I had sent word to Rose when my mother was first diagnosed. She was late, too late."
"The Three Child Law" - Robin Wyatt Dunn (1137 words)
"It wasn't done gradually enough, some said, but then, how do you do something like this gradually? And three was, in fact, gradual, as it could have been the Two Child Law, or, like China's, the One Child Law.
The older women were the first to object: they had waited, and they had saved, and they wanted their fertility drugs. But ultimately, it was the poor who found it hardest. For a simple reason: the poor, whether brown, black or white, had always bet on more bodies to help out."
"Cecilia" (Story 1 of the Domain Main Sequence) (7400 words)
Tragedies happen all the time, it has been that way for millenia but now a family must deal with their tragedy and also come to terms with what it means to be human.
"Celia didn't realise she was dead. Of course she wasn't permanently and irretrievably dead, but her continued existence was in doubt. Her vision was blurry and all sounds were muffled. She couldn't move her head and could only feel pressure in her chest, but could not feel limbs or guts. All this should have been frightening yet instead she felt oddly blissful.
Where am I? What is happening?
In her hazy state, the last things she could remember were from that morning - driving to her current gardening and landscaping job, parking her car . . After that, her memory was a total blank.
She tried to remember more but fell asleep again."