Thursday, February 28, 2013


by Fred Warren -

He was conscious, though he lacked objective evidence that this was the case. No light, no sensation of heat, cold, pain, or pressure on or within his skin. No odors, either pleasant or offensive. No lingering flavors within his mouth, not the faintest whisper to stir his eardrums to life.

If his heart was beating, he could neither feel nor hear his pulse.

Am I dead?

He was thinking, at least. That he was able to methodically catalogue the utter absence of any sensory feedback bore witness to cognition, if only via a slow and feeble synaptic spark.

There was memory, too. He had an identity: John Milton, resident of Avenir, businessman. Wait…that wasn’t quite true. He’d abandoned that life for something else, something new, something…no, someone…


The Dreamers. That was it. He was being wired into the virtual reality inhabited by the Dreamers. He’d taken the long, spiraling journey into the heart of the Avenir station, where he was led into a brilliant white space. He’d disrobed and entered a life-support pod, there was a sharp sting, and the light faded into nothingness. Until now.

Something was wrong. Anya said he’d awaken into a world both vivid and boundless, as subjectively real as the mundane, sterile, hopeless environment of Avenir, but so much more. So much better.

Myriad horrifying possibilities began scampering about his mind, pursued by a fear that ever-so-slowly took form—lithe, feline, and clawed—from somewhere deep within his imagination. It crouched and bristled, ready to pounce. What it ensnared would become real.

He needed to take a deep breath, steady himself.

He couldn’t expand his chest to pull in a fresh lungful of air. He couldn’t even tell if he had a chest or lungs to fill with air. He was drowning in a viscous soup of nothingness.

He screamed, soundlessly. Again and again and again.

A wave of calm spread over him then, for no particular reason and from no perceptible direction. It didn’t matter so much anymore that he couldn’t feel himself breathing. Something tickled inside where his head ought to be. Something familiar…

“What’s the matter? What does that alarm mean?”

“His heart and respiratory rates were spiking. I gave the big baby a shot of sedative to settle him down until I’m ready to activate his neural net.”

“It’s been a long time since anyone’s tried to plug an adult into our network, Victoria. A panic attack isn’t an unreasonable reaction to sensory deprivation.”

“It should feel restful, like floating inside a cloud.”

“That’s easy to say. You were integrated as an infant, so you can’t imagine how it must feel to someone who’s lived his entire life outside virtuality.”

“I remember exactly what it feels like. I loved it. In fact, I was really upset when they brought me online and I had to deal with all that noise and confusion again.”

“How could you possibly…”

“Did you forget who you’re talking with here? I’m precocious. Okay, all the connections are in place, self-check complete, statuses green. Time to light him up. I’ll engage the cycle extra-slow so we don’t kill him with sensory overload.”

“How thoughtful.”

“Yeah, he may be a whiny baby, but he’s the most interesting thing to happen in Paradise for the past five Foundings. There’s one thing I don’t get, though.”

“What’s that?”

“Why did you bring him in? I mean, he’s smart and devious and all that, but there are plenty of colonists who are more tech-savvy, and I would’ve expected you to find some kind of electronics wizard to take over Communications.”

“It’s…well, it’s complicated. I wanted someone who could hold his own with Aziz and the others, someone who understands the social and political dynamics of both Avenir and Eclectia. Well-rounded. Someone like that.”

“Then why not a politician? Admit it, Miss Sherikov, you’re sweet on this clodhopper. You know I’m going to find a cure for you, so you’re planning ahead. You want a boyyyfriend. You looove him. You want to…”

“I want…nothing of the sort. You’re being ridiculous. I suggest you refrain from further speculation on my motives, and stay focused on the task at hand. How much longer until he begins to regain sensation?”

“Oh, he’s been able to hear us for about three minutes or so.”

“He…what? Victoria Remsen, you little laska!  I’m going to deactivate your sensory inputs, permanently!”

“Take it easy. Maybe he won’t remember. Or, maybe he will.”


“Hee, hee… Moving on to the sense of touch.”

Monday, February 25, 2013


by Jeff C. Carter

Barney didn’t bother taking out his badge as he entered the Avenir morgue.  In his experience, coroners were always happy to talk to someone.  A skinny man with long black hair sat on the examination table, his mouth agape, eyes hidden beneath a pair of electronic goggles.  Barney coughed twice to announce his presence before finally jostling the man by the shoulder.

The skinny man swatted away Barney’s hand and grunted. “I’m working!”

Barney fished out his badge and leaned in to the man’s ear.  “Me too.  I’m looking for some missing persons.”

The skinny man slid the goggles up and eyed the badge before sliding off the table. “Grady Wilkyn, Medical Examiner.  Pleased to meet you.  Don’t get a lot of enforcers down here.”

“I’m looking for two missing doctors from St. Christina’s Clinic.”

Grady grabbed a control pad and scrolled through data on a large screen.  “Missing, huh?  We haven’t had any unclaimed bodies.  Not since the riot,” Grady said.

An old disposal tech rolled in a gurney holding a cadaver. “Got a fresh one,” the old man said.

“Give me a hand here, officer,” Grady said.  He tossed a pair of sanitation gloves to Barney.  He grabbed the dead body by the ankles and indicated the examination table with a nod of his chin.

Barney reluctantly hooked his hands under the corpse’s armpits.  They set the body down on the table and the old man shuffled away with a wave. 

Barney had seen dead bodies before.  They never ceased to bother him.  He saw them as tangles of unanswered questions. “I just need to confirm that the missing doctors aren’t here, then I’ll leave you to your work,” Barney said.

“Sorry Officer, this takes priority.  Avenir is a closed environment.  No bio-hazards allowed.  Every cadaver gets an immediate and complete autopsy.  Watch your toes,” Grady said.

The examination table sank into the ground and vanished beneath a heavy lid.  The medical examiner pecked a few buttons on his control panel and a deep rumble shook the ground beneath Barney’s feet. 

Grady snapped off his gloves and turned back to his computer. “Alright, when did you lose your doctors?”

Barney looked down at the floor and then up at Grady.  “I thought you had to perform an autopsy,” Barney said.

“I just did.  Don’t they teach enforcers what the medical examiner does?”

Barney blushed. “It’s been a while.  I met Mr. Neils a few times.”

Grady scratched his head and then smiled.  “Oh yeah, he ran this place way back.  Things have changed.  The body is on its way to the disposal queue.  If there are any next of kin the computer has notified them.”

“And the autopsy?”Barney prompted.

The medical examiner handed Barney a pair of electronic goggles.  “See for yourself.”

Thursday, February 21, 2013

The Engineer's Widow

by Caitlyn Konze -

The scrap of paper trembled in Anjelika's hand as she compared the scribble to the mag door identification. This was it. She flicked roaming hair off her shoulders. Auburn briefly haloed her face. Glass had insisted on repairing the shorts in her optic filaments before relinquishing the location of Mia Meerstein, wife of the dock engineer who investigated her mother’s accident.

A man with a briefcase clang-clipped past Anjelika, cloudy mustache perched on his lip. Most of his features were hidden below the brim of a cap.

“Can I help you?” Anjelika hadn't hailed the room yet, but a garbled voice came from the door's peep screen. Just a voice, no visual.

A clatter made Anjelika twitch with fear. Data sticks slid across the floor from the open briefcase of Mr. Mustache. Coincidence? Was she being tailed? Or was she slowly sinking into paranoia?

“Hello?” the voice in the door buzzed. “Who’s there?”

Anjelika pointed in the man's direction with her eyes. “It’s me, Mia. Did you forget about the recital?”

In a moment long enough for sweat to form on Anjelika’s brow, the only sound was Mr. Mustache plopping his data sticks into his briefcase one. At. A. Time.

“Is that you, Deedee? Sorry dear, vid screen's on the fritz. Be right out.”

Anjelika pinched her bottom lip between her teeth.

The mag door hissed open., and Anjelika was caught in a current of tangled, fading black hair.

“Your face is too honest to be one of them. What do you want?” the woman asked in barely a whisper. Then louder, “Sorry for the delay. You have the tickets, yes?”

Anjelika mimicked Mrs. Meerstein's whisper. “I need to know what your husband knew.”

Mia's pace slowed. “Somewhere public. Loud. I know a vapor bar in – ”


They stopped. Anjelika’s ankle was well taped, the pain reliever amazing, and she walked with barely a limp. Thanks to Daddy’s demand for defense lessons, her attacker was in far worse shape. Still, the thought of being near that place chilled her from the inside out.

“No tickets?” Right. They were still pretending to be old friends on an outing. Bootsteps crescendoed behind them. Mrs. Meerstein drove Anjelika into a jog. “You know, I remember ordering them on my credit last week. Silly me!”

They snaked around to a transport tube just as Mr. Mustache shouted “Door, hold!”

Mia waved. “Sorry dear, full tube. Door, close. X-Unit.” The widow turned to Anjelika, voice absent of warmth. “I’ll tell you everything if you get me off this floating prison.”

Monday, February 18, 2013


by Travis Perry

Burt had always been careful to save as much money as he could. Now he held all that remained of all his decades of hard work and thrift in the bugbristle sack in his right hand, maybe eight or nine blank copper coins left. From his boat at the dock, he looked over to his boys loading cargo on all three of his ships.

He’d been able to get financing on two more Zirconia-made aluminum boats, but he’d had to make down payments. He’d told his fishermen his plan and to a man they’d looked at him wide-eyed astounded. But they’d faced tsunamis with their boss, Burt Jonzn. They knew his instincts and in the end, they trusted him.

He trusted them, too, they were good boys—though they did need to be watched from time to time. Had he and Marta been able to have children, he’da hoped they would have turned out like his boys.

Sam would captain the second boat, Rekay the third. The boys began to load down from the rusted metal fishing dock onto the boats the supplies and provisions they’d just purchased with Burt’s life savings. The boys had chipped in too, even though he’d been against it at first. But his money had simply not been enough.

The boats sank low in the water as biodiesel for the motors got loaded in, along with heavy cases of scythegun rounds, and of course the weapons themselves, along with food and medical supplies. They’d cleaned out the Smit family store and had to go to the Palmer trading station to find all they needed, which Burt disliked. Palmer cost too much—plus the profits wound up on Avenir, instead of in Adagio itself…

The boys aboard, him and two others in his ship and two in each of the others, the three aluminum boats—not fishing craft at the moment, rather miniature cargo ships—cast off from the dock and headed out in loose formation past Adiagio’s open tsunami gate, headed for Funder’s Cove…