From intercession to love
The love removed
To the sun. Ends.
From intercession to love
The love removed
To the sun. Ends.
By. Karl Lykken
I see the fear in my eyes, and it tells me that I know I win. For a moment it takes the edge off my excitement until I watch myself reluctantly accept a knife from Anders while I unsheathe my own. Besides, that gash on my cheek must mean it will be my closet duel yet. But then, how could it not be? I feel my blood pulsing with the force of a typhoon even as I watch it drain from my face.
“You haven’t thought this through,” I hear myself say. “The thrill isn’t worth it. You’ll regret it as soon as it’s over. Believe me, I know. Please, don’t kill us.”
I’m disgusted with my cowardice. I decide to aim for my belly, as the shame brought on me calls for seppuku. Unless…
I smile in appreciation of my ingenuity. “You’re trying to get into my head, which would seem simple enough since it’s your head, too. But I’m afraid it won’t work. I won’t doubt myself; my self-regard only grows. Anders, count us off.”
Anders moves to the steps of the arena, and I look past him to the vast field containing all the unmarked graves of my previous opponents. This promises to be the first time my foe will prove worthy of a grave marker. Anders turns back to face me, his eagerness palpable. “Three,” he begins.
I look back into my eyes as my mouth speaks. “This isn’t a charade. I’m you, and I’m scared.”
“I admire your commitment to the bit,” I reply, raising my blade and squatting slightly. “I’d expect no less of myself.”
I leap forward only to see myself turn my back and take off in a sprint. What game is this? Obviously, I can’t catch myself on foot, so I come to a halt and grab my knife by the blade. I bring it behind my head, then whip it forward, sending it spinning right into my left hamstring.
I watch myself skid across the sandstone, acutely aware that while I am uninjured, I am also now unarmed. I rush forward, hoping that fall stunned me. I drop roughly to one knee and start reaching for my knife when I realize my body is flipping over. I try to fall backward out of its reach but–gah!
I feel the knife burn across my cheek, and I close my eyes for the briefest second. I reopen them just in time to see my right boot collide with my chest. I collapse backward onto the hard stone, and I feel my fingers on my throat.
This can’t be. I can’t die, not even by my hand. Oh God, this can’t be happening!
Maybe it’s not. I see the bloody knife in my hand, but in my eyes–only terror. There’s no glimmer of thrill, of triumph, of bloodlust. There’s just dread, pure and unbounded. In an instant I understand the thoughts that must be churning through my mind: if I die, then how could I go back and be right here, poised to kill?
It’s a poor time to get hung up on a paradox. I look from my frozen eyes to my unprotected throat, and I don’t hesitate. I strike, leaving myself gaging and gasping. I twist the knife out of my hand and in one swift motion jam it in the side of my neck.
I stare at my trembling, choking future self, and somewhere deep in the core of my being I feel the same horror that I see in my dying eyes. It spreads slowly through my blood, and I jump in fright like a small child at the harsh crack of Anders’ clapping.
“Well done, sir,” Anders says, sauntering gradually toward me. “That was something special to see. We should get you cleaned up, though. It’s almost time for your journey.”
His blithe expression stings worse than my cheek. How is my faithful companion of a decade so undisturbed by the sight of my own corpse lying not two feet from me? It’s more than I can take. I shake violently and vomit, emptying my stomach of everything except the expanding mass of unadulterated fear. I close my eyes and try my best to keep my voice even as I speak.
“Anders, I don’t want to die. I won’t go back. I won’t just walk into my own knife. I won’t do it. We’ll destroy the time machine.”
Anders smiles. “Sir, did you wonder why your future self was unconscious when you came out of the machine?” he asks, pulling a tranquilizer gun out of his coat. “Because I didn’t.”
“What are you doing, Anders? What the hell are you doing?” I try to crawl backward, but my arms have lost their strength. I lie helplessly on the ground as Anders steps up beside me.
“I admit, the fight didn’t live up to my expectations, but I still won’t deny myself the privilege of seeing it,” he says, taking aim at my frantically beating heart. “Honestly, you should feel lucky. That was a once in a lifetime experience, yet you’ll get to live it twice.”
Karl Lykken writes both stories and software in Texas. His flash fiction has appeared in Theme of Absence, The Flash Fiction Press, and Every Day Fiction.
Yosa Buson is a musician from Northern California.
By. Stephen Oram
Screaming white noise. Pitch black darkness.
What a way to be greeted into a new day.
Aiden felt around for the edge of his cardboard mattress. Beyond its frayed borders buried among the food scraps and his few discarded clothes was the nectar he craved.
The withdrawal was intense as the nanobots issued their friendly warning that his addiction needed feeding for him to stay alive.
Fumbling around in the detritus of his life he found his last vial of nanobot nectar and gulped it down.
A pinpoint of bright light appeared. Then another. And another. And another. He blinked. The nanobots were working. A gradual shift from the oppressive white noise to the welcoming sounds of a city about its daily business.
As his sight returned he noticed the clock on the house control unit in which his robot waited while he slept.
‘Jessie. Why didn’t you wake me? I told you – 7am.’
‘Good morning Aiden. It was in your best interests to sleep longer. Your metabolism needed the rest.’
‘Don’t you do what I tell you anymore?’
‘Not if it would cause you harm.’
‘For fuck’s sake. Being late for these lunatics will cause me more harm than a little tiredness you stupid robot.’
‘Would you like me to cancel your appointment?’
Aiden sat on the edge of his bed rifling through his clothes desperately trying to find something wearable. Everything was dirty, but he sniffed each item and gradually pieced together an outfit for the day. Maybe after today’s transaction he’d be able to buy a pure water bath to reactivate the self-clean molecules in his clothes.
‘It’s best to play safe today and inhabit the old female body.’
Jessie transferred from the control unit to the mother bot, as Aiden affectionately called it. With Jessie at the helm, the mother bot shook off the junk piled on top of it and stood up.
Aiden lifted the top four layers of his corrugated cardboard bed and took out a bag of vials wrapped in an old rag.
It would be delicious to keep a couple of the sweet nanobot nectar vials, but he was a mere delivery boy and even his addiction couldn’t overcome his fear of his supplier or today’s customer.
He handed the bag to Jessie.
‘Aiden, it’s illegal for me to carry this.’
‘Just carry the bloody thing.’
‘I have stored a copy of you issuing that instruction to protect myself from decommissioning.’
‘Let’s go,’ he said, more to himself than Jessie who would follow him wherever he went.
The streets were packed with humans going about their business, each accompanied by their own unique-looking robot following half a step behind.
‘Whatever happens with these guys,’ said Aiden to Jessie, ‘you must protect me.’
‘Understood,’ said Jessie.
‘Who knows what harm they might do to me if they’re not happy with the goods. It’ll be more than refusing to pay, that’s for sure.’
The door to the gang’s offices was conspicuous by its failed blandness. Painted dark battleship grey it was criss-crossed with STF filled plastic bars down its length. Bars that would instantly harden if forced.
The tiny speck of red light above the door let him know that someone inside was watching. He waved. Jessie waved too. ‘Remember. My life is in your hands,’ he said quietly.
With an over-engineered creak the door opened and the sound of a violin concerto drifted down the hallway.
‘Mendelssohn E Minor Opus 64,’ said Jessie matter-of-factly.
Aiden fixed his smile and walked towards the source of the haunting music. Beautiful in normal circumstances, but somehow made sinister by the setting.
‘Pass me the bag,’ he said to Jessie.
Through the smog of highly illegal cigarette smoke he could see the silhouettes of the gang members lost in the euphoria of nectar and music, each cradling a knife across their chest.
Their leader, who was standing watch, swaggered over to Aiden. He gave her the bag and she offered him a cigarette. The precious hand-rolled cylinder sat in the palm of his hand; it was only the second time in his life he’d been offered one.
Jessie crushed the cigarette to a pulp. ‘Smoking kills.’
All heads turned towards them.
‘Shit,’ said Aiden. ‘Sorry. Bit of a misunderstanding. These robots, eh?’ He laughed a hollow laugh.
The gang leader stared at the crumpled mess in Jessie’s hand. ‘Expensive mistake,’ she said as she ran her thumb along the sharp blade of her knife. ‘Aiden, isn’t it?’
‘Leave,’ she said. ‘Leave now.’
‘The nectar?’ he asked.
‘Thank you. Appreciated.’
‘Get out,’ she said quietly. ‘Now!’
She turned to the nearest gang member. ‘Terminate that robot,’ she said, looking at Aiden for confirmation.
When he didn’t reply she took a step closer to him while rubbing her blade against her leg.
He gulped, looked at Jessie and nodded his agreement.
Jessie adopted a fighting pose; she was equipped to maim and kill if necessary.
The gang leader took another step closer to Aiden.
‘Protect me,’ he shouted.
Jessie knocked the bag out of the gang leader’s hand and the vials of nectar spilled out on to the floor.
An unconvincing smile formed on Jessie’s lips as they emitted a high pitched whine, triggering a few of the vials to emit an orange glow which was followed quickly by a puff of black smoke.
They were destroying themselves.
The gang leader dropped her knife and scrabbled around on the floor desperately trying to gather as many as she could.
‘Shit and double shit,’ said Aiden.
Jessie grabbed his hand and dragged him out of the building.
‘Enemies for life,’ he said, as they walked away quickly. ‘No money. No escape.’ He turned his head. ‘Your stupid robot rules. I’m as good as dead.’
‘I will protect you,’ said Jessie.
Stephen Oram writes near-future fiction intended to provoke debate. In his time he’s been a hippie-punk, religious-squatter and a bureaucrat with a gentle attraction to anarchism; he thrives on contradictions. As 2016 Author in Residence at Virtual Futures he was one of the masterminds behind the new Near-Future Fiction series and continues to be a lead curator. He has been published in several anthologies, has two published novels, Quantum Confessions and Fluence, and a collection of shorter pieces of work, Eating Robots and Other Stories.
Yosa Buson is a musician from California.
By. Roland Dodds
The tiny machine pushed the tank of pesticide slowly up the mound, scanning the horizon for possible rodents and thieves that would stop its accent. The droid was badly damaged from the unstoppable sun peering through exposed sections of ozone. The solar panel that once kept the machine running well into the night was cracked, thus accumulating energy inefficiently. The serial number that once distinguished the robot from others like it was scratched and indiscernible. This number meant little; as far as the machine knew, it was the last of its kind.
Much like the days that preceded it, the droid pushed the pesticide drum up the hill to spray on the human crops that were scattered along the ridge. Its visual sensors had failed to pick up any living plants for some time; it was unclear when the last crop died out. Yet, the machine continued its task faithfully, executing its programmed orders as efficiently as its tattered frame would allow.
The robot was equipped to fend off individuals that intended to steal its poisonous cargo, but they too had disappeared in recent years. Or was it decades? The mechanical worker continued to probe its surroundings nonetheless.
When it reached the top of the hill, it sprayed the pesticides on the barren ground until it had dispensed with the entire tank. It sluggishly turned to descend the hill only to see a small creature peering from a circular wrought hole. As it was getting dark, the small creature exposed its head to get a better view of the mechanical beast standing before it. The droid could see that the creature was a common field mouse; the machine had seen many during its years of operation. Running through its functioning memory database, the machine could not recall the last time it encountered a living specimen of this kind.
The robot was an unknown entity to the mouse. Understandably, it quickly ducked back into its burrow, allowing the rodent to inspect the machine from the comfort of its shadowy home. The mouse intrigued the droid; as it had no contact with a living rodent in some time, it edged closer to the animal’s hole in the hopes of investigating it further.
This class of farming machinery was programmed to dispel with any rodent present in its designated area, but it did not attempt to destroy the mouse. Perhaps the operating code had deteriorated like its physical body; maybe it no longer had the corporeal ability to chase down varmints. It simply stood with its sensor stuck down the mouse’s burrow, looking at the frightened creature intensely.
Thirty minutes passed while the droid examined the mouse. The machine failed to realize that its designated working period had come to an end and the night sky had blanketed its solar panel in darkness. It hastily retracted its sensor but found that its wheels would no longer turn: the machine had depleted its battery. The farming droid would need to stay on the exposed ridge overnight, something it had never done before.
A cold, furious wind blew in from the south, pelting the metal exterior of the machine with sand and dust. The debris pushed itself into every crack and hole of the droid causing its basic functions to stutter. It could see that the mouse was still locked on the foreign invader standing above its home, its eyes like two stars cutting through the night sky.
Inaudibly, the two beings watched the other unsure what would come next.
When the sun crested the following morning, and the machine’s batteries again began to recharge, it could feel its wheels again begin to roll. It spun in a clockwise motion a dozen or so times to remove the dirt that had collected in its frame. It could see that the mouse was still sitting in its hole, gazing back at the newly animated droid. It stopped to examine the mouse once more, but then realized that it had not refilled its tank of pesticide due to its failure to return to camp the previous evening. The machine quickly grabbed the cylinder and rushed down the hill.
The mouse emerged from its hole to watch the machine roll away. It stretched its legs, brushed the dirt off its fur and scurried off in search of food.
Roland Dodds is an educator, researcher and father just north of San Francisco who writes about politics, culture and education. He spent his formative years in radical left-wing politics, but now prefers the company of contrarians of all political stripes (assuming they aren’t teetotalers). He is a regular contributor at Harry’s Place and Ordinary Times.
Zany Zongas were an experimental band from San Diego, CA.