Short Stories (2 - 5K Words)
"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?"
"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.
"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.
"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.
"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.
"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.
"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."