Ultimate Halloween

Halloween had always held a special place in Beto’s heart. In his mind, he’d always idealized and fantasized extensively about the many things that could happen during such a magically charged night. Both he and his best friend an front door neighbor Tato love Halloween so much that they had made stunts and pranks an art form as soon as they had been allowed to go out Trick or Treating on their own.

This year’s was likely going to be the last Halloween they spent together; Beto was four years older than Tato, though still not officially an adult, and he was waiting to hear back about his college applications. If all went well, by this time the following year he’d be off to study abroad. Therefore, it was imperative that they make the most out of this one. They were going to pull all the stops, spare no one, the works!

They had spent two days scouring the neighborhood for dog turds, scooping them up with a little plastic shovel and depositing them in brown paper bags. This was a classic staple, a stalwart of Halloween pranks. They couldn’t, of course, forget about it no matter how basic it was.

They had also made liberal use of one Anarchist’s Cookbook, which had some very interesting home recipes for explosives – nothing too damaging, they decided, as they didn’t want to be terrorists about it, just vandals – and were geared up for a truly memorable night of stunts and wreaking havoc.

It was already 4pm and the day was growing unusually dark even for that time of the year. By the looks of it, twilight would be taking place well before 6pm and dusk would have its reign early.

Beto sat on the front walkway of his family’s house, right below the weeping willow of the front yard, which branches just managed to reach and hang above him. He smelled something in the air that kept making the hair on his nape prickle. There was a message in the wind, a whisper, a rumor, and he didn’t quite know what it was, but it was exhilarating.

It was a promise pregnant with the notion of adventure, of danger. It was like a dream where one is both hunter and prey, where the thrill of the chase is experienced from both vantage points. Complete.

Tato arrived with gear in tow: meters of rope, a bag of practical tools and goodies, and an extra change of clothes. They would need to change twice, at least, if they were going to pull the night off.

They talked about the plan; where they would go and how they would proceed, just running it back for review, to make sure they were on the same page. They were synchronized like pros. It would be a cinch.

Their scheming was interrupted by a veritable eruption of sound caused by a colony of bats so voluminous it blackened the twilit western sky. The contrast of winged things  rendered solid black by their contrast against the fiery background of the setting sun over the mountains painted a picture that pulled hard on the strings of both their hearts. It spoke to them of what was coming in as ominous a tone as any portent ever could.

They stared at the large flock for a few moments until they heard the distant wail of several sirens fast approaching. Their instincts were flaring alarms of their own, and the hairs on their arms felt like they were standing on end. This is going to be crazy, Tato said. Beto agreed with apocalyptic glee. Indeed, it would be!

Tato ran inside Beto’s to get the home-made  explosives and a wooden baseball bat. Beto remained outside, watching dusk fall with gusto and anticipation. Tato returned a few minutes later and they set out on the path of mischief.

They had but traveled two neighborhood blocks when they came upon the first disturbance. It appeared that the undead had risen, wherefrom they could not say, but there was only one thing to do about it: swing away and be generous with the gasoline and fire.

They had always wished for a night like this and so relished the wanton violence and chaos like babes suckling at the mother’s teat. All manner of foul beings and spooks to bandy blows with and feel alive, all sorts of myth to set alight, they both thought as they waded through the useless crowd that fled. They may yet have been children for all intents and purposes, but they knew how to bleed like men. Before the night was through they would both meet a most gruesome end, but what a glorious end at that!

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That Old Monster

The years had been unusually kind, in a way, for him. Much had transpired since his inception in the late 1700’s when, during a particularly powerful thunderstorm, his progenitor and creator had placed him on a stone slab and lifted him up through a complex mechanism to the roof of his palatial abode so that a cobbled-together configuration of human organs and extremities might meet lightning directly and from the miraculous phenomenon of naturally-occurring electricity, spawn a spark of life in the ersatz vessel.

Much, indeed! Since the day after his creation, when he ran into the dark wilderness and had his first interactions with humankind. His first brushes with hate and intolerance. His baptism into violence… He had, thankfully, outgrown and shorn the trappings of such an existence long ago. After his initial ire against his creator, his father for lack of a better term, he learned to educate himself, and soon enough became as proficient a surgeon and scientist as his creator – much better, perhaps. He had then set to perfecting the opus left unfinished by his creator; himself.

The toil through the centuries had yielded a perfect specimen of human beauty and performance. He truly had become Prometheus. What he had never entirely managed, however, was getting a reign on the human emotions he experienced. All the time he had spent as both an outsider and as a master socialite had only served to further befuddle him in his pursuit for understanding the human heart. If it were only as simple as transplanting such an organ, he often thought while sitting alone in his study as he sipped on some fine single-malt scotch. For all his intelligence – which may as well be boundless, judging by his development thus far – and all his capabilities – which were countless –, he still had no clear grasp of the multi-dimensionality of breadth of human emotion. Every time he thought he might finally have a working hypothesis that might yield a proper theory, it crumbled into dust and sand in his very hands.

And what of this elusive, ethereal, abstract construction they called love? It was based on chemicals and electric currents within the brain, a staple of evolution and absolutely necessary throughout human history and prehistory for the preservation and proliferation of the species, and yet so strangely mutated and distorted in the past three hundred years or so. Perhaps even longer… The fact of the matter was that there really wasn’t much documentation of any scientific value on it, at least not in the higher thought area of the phenomenon. There was certainly a lot of data on the basic biochemical processes and bioelectrical interactions, how the neural pathways were altered through the presence of this strange and uniquely human abstract – though he suspected that certain apes and simians were well capable of it, as well.

What little he had been able to conclude was that there was a certain hint at madness, at mental disorder and neurological disease that went hand-in-hand with love. Philosophically, this was not the equal of what self-less love should be. Many religious and philosophical writings had been devoted to the notion of true, selfless love, denouncing any other manifestation of love as untrue. He had spent much time pondering this, in contrast with the depth of his own experience in the human condition, and found that the existence of one did not outright preclude the other. No, it was not exclusive that one would exist while the other could not and vice versa. Sometimes, the existence of the features of the less purely perceived permutations of love only meant that there were peculiarities in the features of the sentimental landscape of the person who was feeling it, while being perfectly capable of experiencing and expressing the more self-less aspect and, at some point reaching the pinnacle. However, this pinnacle was never truly sustained; it was only natural to reach it and loses it and reacquire it. Nothing ever remained the same.

He understood that he would likely outlive humanity as a species, and one day become something else entirely. He comprehended, as well, that he might never be able to understand this subject at all.

Self Awareness

Lin and Stacey had been together since Lin could recall. In fact, she really had a hard time trying to remember any time in her life when she wasn’t with Stacey! They had grown up together, gone to high school together, even made it through college together. Best fucking friends forever. Damn straight!

Things had gotten a little weird lately, however. Stacey wasn’t doing as much with her, she felt, even though they were together literally all the time. They had decided to move into the apartment together and it had all been fine until Stacey met Tom, India, and Mark. Once they came into the picture, it felt like everything had changed for Lin; no more long talks in the middle of the night while lying in bed looking up at the ceiling or out at the night sky. No more quiet mornings sipping coffee while doing the crossword puzzle in the newspaper. No more solitary strolls down at the park. It was all them and Lin had no choice but to tag along every time if she wanted to have time with Stacey. It was odd, now that she thought about it, that she seemed compelled to go along as if she was physically unable to refuse.

There they were, finally alone, just Stacey and her. Lin kept trying to start up a conversation, but Stacey just seemed so preoccupied with stuff that it was as if Lin wasn’t even there. It was infuriating! The relationship had become so unilateral it was almost abusive.

Lin had just about enough of it. She was confronting Stacey once and for all, and if things went South, well, fine. Lin would learn to live without her. Anything was better than being stuck in that limbo of uncertainty, apathy and disregard.

Lin was looking at Stacey draw up a design for a new line of clothes and suddenly she noticed that the design was very similar to one Lin had just imagined earlier that day. No. Wait a minute. It was exactly the same design! What the hell!

Lin was about to shout at Stacey when she noticed another strange thing: Stacey’s left hand, it had a scar. Not just any scar, but the same one Lin had on her left hand from when they were kids and she had cut herself with a carving knife. She had needed stitches and the scar became a gnarly, keloid thing. Lin felt dizzy and a little nauseous. She looked down at her own left hand and… there was just empty space. Where her body should have been, there was nothing but air.

Lin really was going to puke… Stacey stopped sketching on her paper pad and threw up onto the floor in a violent retching motion. Lin looked on incredulously, dumbstruck. What was happening? Stacey put one hand on her forehead, her eyes shut tight to the point of wrinkling her lids, and then looked up at Lin. Scratch that; she looked up at where Lin would have been, but it was as though Stacey was seeing through her. Her eyes looked at the same space where she was, but seemed not to focus on Lin at all.

Lin was trying to wrap her head around the situation, whatever it was. She wasn’t having much success. She dared not try to look at her own body again for fear that she wouldn’t see it there, again. It had to be some strange illusion. She was dreaming, she thought, she had to be.

Stacey returned with a mop and some paper towels. Lin was going to offer to help, but Stacey passed by her… or was it through her. She moved toward the front door, meaning to go out and take a walk. She needed fresh air. This was simply too surreal. She looked at the little wooden table where they would put their keys and the mail and looked down at an envelope. It was from her mother. Why hadn’t she seen this earlier? Why hadn’t Stacey told her about it?

She did a double take on the addressee name: Stacey Lin Parker.

It all came rushing in on her at once. She was Stacey, but also Lin. Rather, Lin was a part of Stacey, or had been until… Until what? That part wasn’t clear. All her memories were, in reality, Stacey’s, weren’t they? So, who was Lin, then? Why did she think of herself as a person when… Oh God. Oh God, no! She understood, now. How could she come to be? Why? She wasn’t a ghost; she was – oh God!

The Darnedest Things

(Overheard conversation at a bar)

What do I do? I’m a Gamekeeper.

Yeah, like a Park Ranger, yeah.

No, not government funded, no. It’s private funding, a foundation. I basically get to work with a bunch of weird species.

Weird, you know, weird.

Well, let’s see, what’s a good example…

Ok, I got a good one. You may recall a couple of films by one Steven Spielberg – you may have heard of the guy, pretty big deal in Hollywood – dealing with furry little creatures hailing from Asia with a rather silly set of rules for upkeep.

You do? Good. Well, these were loosely based on a real creature which is, sadly, now next to extinct.

Yeah, yeah, that’s right, I work with endangered species, but not like the WWF, no. Anyway, these gremlins, right? Though that’s not their real name and neither’s it that from the movie.

Yeah, no, they always get that shit wrong, you know. When they make movies about these weird critters from all over the place. For example, these little anthropomorphic beasties were more like lemures than their portrayal in the movies would have you believe, and they acted a little more like animals than smart little apes. None of that imitating human behaviors, that’s just to sell the movie and appeal to the kids.

Yeah, you remember those! Of course, of course; the rules they made up for them were pretty stupid and, honestly, terribly impractical.

No, no, it was no feeding them after midnight… I remember thinking about that after watching the movie and going, buddy, is that Eastern Standard Time or Greenwich? Pffff. And not getting them wet? The damned things are mostly water like us and every other carbonbased thing on this planet, and, coming from Asia, c’mon! The sheer amount of atmospheric humidity would have had them bubbling like nobody’s business.

What? No, yeah, that’s how they were supposed to reproduce. Nah, they do get it on, but that’s not quite how it goes. They’re not exactly mammals… ‘matter of fact, now that I think of it, I don’t think they fit into the usual subsets like oviparous and that crap.

Right, there was that last rule, the sunlight and bright lights thing. Though, that one is true; little buggers are nocturnal and their eyes aren’t good in the day. Light won’t kill them, though. That too would be stupid, seeing as even moonlight is nothing but sunlight reflected.

Yeah, exactly. Mostly, my job entails looking after the last specimens, documenting what I can about them before they pass out of this world, never to be seen again.

Yeah, it’s a little grim, this business, but noble, I think. I mean… I’m the last person to bear witness to many of the world’s species, those forgotten or as yet undocumented. It’s a sweet job in the end, especially by comparison. You should see I have a co-worker, but he’s got the worst part of the gig.

Lou, his names is Lou. He… well, he gets to do the field work. His part of the job consists mostly of getting to the species, both crypto and regular that we simply are unable to “rescue”-

Crypto? That’s short fro Cryptozoological, you know, secret or hidden, species that are not recognized by mainline science and that sort of thing.

Yeah, in any case, he’s got to get to them and get as much of the details as he can right as they exit the world. He’s a regular ray of sunshine, Lou. But who can blame him, I mean, he gets to see some seriously grim stuff.

Well yeah, he is a bit weird. Also, he’s got a talent or something that makes him just right for his job, unlike me.

Yeah, no, I’m just a regular guy who got an interesting gig. Lou, though, he’s touched by something, and can tell when some species is going out.

Yeah, he just seems to know before it happens.

No, I have no idea. Now, I don’t get how he does it, but he seems able to be everywhere, what with so many species hypothetically going extinct all the time according to the world’s pertinent number crunchers.

Yeah, it’s pretty messed up, but I get the good part. I just tag ’em, feed ‘em, record them and then one day they croak naturally.

There’s some really odd ones, like there’s some that were there from way before I got the gig and, if the logs are to be believed, have been there for decades. They probably live as long as turtles or something.

Yeah, yeah.

Yup.

Right… anyways, where is it you say you live?

I was just wondering if you would like me to drop you off since I’m leaving soon.

Yeah, I would like to go in for a drink, ‘matter of fact.

Names and Numbers

Mikhail was tired. He had been there for only a few months as far as he could tell, stationed in one of the various fringe posts as a lookout of sorts, a frontier man whose charge was that of monitoring and keeping a detailed log of all that occurred in the observable sector of space – if one could call it that – he had been assigned to. While the work itself wasn’t particularly demanding in a physical sense, the subjects of his surveillance mission was most taxing to the psyche, and so he was showing the clear signs of fatigue that came with being in a high stress environment for a prolonged period of time.

There was something wrong with time, or the keeping and measurement thereof, in this place, and he couldn’t be sure of exactly how much time passed since his arrival. Digital watches would malfunction in strange ways, traditional gear-work clocks did, too. Sometimes he thought that maybe more time had passed, but then, how could it? He didn’t appear to have aged at all since the beginning of his assignment and neither had any of the other frontier officers scattered in their own self-contained habitation modules.

Communication was kept by shortwave radio with some modifications. Officers would communicate with each other in very specific codes based on numbers and names, though the etiquette would sometimes be broken when the cypher would not suffice to convey a particular message, more often than not related to the menial and miscellaneous such as maintenance of the living modules. Some of the outposts had grown quiet over time, however, but Mikhail just couldn’t say how long ago. Communication with the motherland was also carried out in this manner, though they, too, had grown silent. Perhaps the war had finally broken out of Earth proper, the Cold phase of the conflict no longer keeping the Americans and his countrymen at stalemate. He, as did the other officers in their own outpost who remained communicative, continued to relay his reports to the home base despite their radio silence.

They were all well aware that madness was a possibility in under their current assignment. There was also the possibility of never being able to return home, for that matter, and one had to become rather practiced at applied stoicism in order to not let that looming shadow hang over one’s mind all of the time. Mikhail presumed that his silent comrades had more than likely succumbed to insanity. He himself often wondered if he might already be spiralling into dementia despite the measures he religiously took to stave off cognitive decay. He exercised frequently, he composed poetry, he listened to classical music on his phonograph – a rare allowance but permitted given the extremity of their assignments – and read the many books he had brought with him. An occupied mind was the best weapon against madness, or so it was thought by the experts on the matter, but there were the odd things that took place in his day-to-day affairs that were increasingly worrying him. He would forget what books he had read, and if he had read them recently. Gaps in his memory manifested themselves in ways that troubled him, to the point that he would be unable to recall what he was doing just a few minutes before at times. After a while he decided to keep a detailed log of all he did, but he sometimes forgot about the log itself, only to find it later and realize he had been keeping it while not actually recalling any of it. He would begin recording his activity, but the cycle would repeat itself. Furthermore, he had a hard time making sense of the previous blocks of logged entries, as he say many more than could be accounted for in the time he had been on his current post. He rationalized that it would likely have been written in some shorthand and was, perhaps, not an actual 1-to-1 account, but something else. And since date-keeping was practically impossible there in that strange area of the universe, the logs appeared to be numerically arranged rather than chronologically. It was both disconcerting and terrifying.

Still, Mikhail figured it wasn’t quite as terrible as it could be, all things considered. He took stock of his predicament in light of the colossal proportions of what their mission entailed, the sheer significance of what they were tasked with observing, and he judged himself fortunate.

He and his comrades were stationed in a strange anomaly of space – at least, anomalous to human eyes – and were charged with the observation and cataloguing, as well as reporting of all that took place in that quadrant of the universe, one that was not reached by means of rocket propulsion as was the method preferred by the space programs in both the U.S.S.R. and U.S.A. but rather through a gateway of sorts that was discovered deep in Siberia. The U.S.S.R. had kept this as its most secret discovery and eventually managed to send manned probes that actually came back without casualties or biological complications, which logically led to their current post.

The strange celestial bodies in the region of space where they were stationed were a constant defiance to what had been the basic understanding of the universe form the human perspective; landmasses stretching for miles like disjointed mountain ranges and plains suspended in what was assumed to be space, but not like we had known it prior. Each such floating mass dotted with megalithic structures that bespoke of intelligent design. Strange creatures the likes of which could hardly be described, much less understood from a viewpoint as narrow as that of their own scientists. There appeared to be intelligence behind the creatures, though it was too much to expect to understand their intelligence in terms reconcilable with humanity.

What was stranger, however, was that the creatures appeared to have built their structures, and based their activities, in relation to the dwarf star the masses orbited. A most intriguing puzzle, that one…

 

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The internet was abuzz with activity over at all the fringe topic messageboards and websites. A certain set of number stations were broadcasting more cryptic messages that ever before and the meaning of them were no clearer than those from all the previous years since they had been “discovered” sometime after World War II.

No government had claimed responsibility for them, thought they all seemed to broadcast messages in Russian. The broadcasts were obviously some kind of code, consisting for the most part of series numbers and names, though sometimes the odd non-codified exchange could be heard – no clearer for lack of context, however. When no messages were broadcast only cycles of tones and bouts of static would come through the shortwave radio station. But for the past three weeks there had been an overflowing bounty of activity and the web’s denizens were constantly churning out theories.

No one knew quite what to make of the ever-cryptic broadcasts, however, though the conspiracy theory which had begun to gain more and more traction linked them with recently increased military activity in Europe, with odd joint efforts by the U.S., Russia, the U.K, China, and a smattering of former Soviet Bloc nations. Nothing much was reported in mainstream news outlets both online and through the more traditional media technology, but infamous hack groups like Anonymous and others were constantly uncovering raw data that, coupled with the few snippets of reports on the military “exercises” being carried out in the Northern region of Europe, could be interpreted into something significant.

These hack groups claimed that they had found information about the stations and some relation to the operations, but that they had yet been unable to break deep enough into the military databases, many of which were not in the same web as the rest of the world in general. As these things usually went, it was only a matter of time before Anonymous or another outfit managed to break in and release the information for the free world.

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They had all become keenly aware of the fluctuations in the light of the dwarf star, the patterns, the explosions… Something was happening and, Mikhail, sensed instinctively, it was not good for the human race. There had been dreams, as well; strange abstract dreams where he only barely managed to hold on to his sense of self, as though he was being slowly consumed by something that seemed entirely too large to even hold in ones thoughts, a sentient presence, something that chilled him to his soul.

His exchanges with his stationed comrades had yielded nothing that differed from his own experience, but he did think himself the sanest one of them all. They had all mostly degraded to animal fear, some even going as far as taking their own lives. Those who still managed to speak with some sense were of a mind to follow suit as a last resort, a prospect which loomed nearer with the distorted passage of time.

The dwarf start was also growing, expanding, and Mikhail thought he could observe the silhouette of something within it, as one might see a shadowed outline through a backlit paper screen, like a shadow puppet. He did not lend credit to this, but his bowels had loosened as some atavistic fear shocked him the first time he glimpsed the shadow.

The Cold War be damned, the motherland be damned, his communiqués kept getting no reply at all, but surely someone somewhere must be listening. He decided after much consideration that he had to escape being consumed by whatever it was that dwelt in the dwarf star. The only way this could be achieved, however, was through death. He saw no other clear avenue of action.

With his last spoken words, projected at the microphone receiver of his shortwave special unit, Mikhail made the first meaningful broadcast not in coded format since he had been assigned.

“Someone, please, seal the gate. Destroy it, for the sake of all, destroy it.”

 

Author’s Note: I was inspired in great part by the subject of numbers stations and felt that there was something very Lovecraftian that could be used in tandem with the subject. In the end, it became less about the stations itself, my story, but I’m somewhat pleased with the result. If you guys are interested in the subject of the stations, here’s a couple of links that might get your started, though Google will of course be the best tool for casual research on this matter.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/UVB-76#Voice_messages

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Numbers_station

http://www.reddit.com/r/UnresolvedMysteries/comments/1zi00a/for_those_familiar_with_the_russian_numbers/

http://www.abovetopsecret.com/forum/thread1003293/pg1

The Ethics of Time Travel

Many a great wonder had come to be in the 23rd century, Maxwell thought to himself as he sat in the back of his small Personal Commute Pod or PCP – no relation whatsoever to the now-obsolete illicit drug – as it hovered over the magnetic strip-wires which lined the smart pavement just underneath the surface. The PCP was carrying Maxwell to the Committee, formally known as the Committee for the Review of Temporal Queries and Requests, as he had been fortunate enough to have had his request considered under the Last Wish amendment. He still had a life expectancy of a year, give or take, before the Hyper Cancer overcame the genetic palliative stasis bindings in his genes and thus undid him quite literally at a cellular level, but this nevertheless qualified him for an appeal under the law.

Such wonders, indeed! He continued to muse, recalling when he first learned as an elementary school student about the days when a human’s lifespan was not predetermined but rather left to random chance. This was before the time of the great expansion, before the scientific and medical renaissance of the late 21st century, which in turn ushered the discovery and creation of various procedures and treatments that effectively made death obsolete. It had been mere coincidence – or perhaps divine providence and humor, he would oftentimes think snarkly – that the world socialist government had been successfully launched and the world had conformed to it without much of a hitch. The syzygy of such effective health treatments and prevention, and egalitarian political regime, and the wealth of free access to all living human beings, had all proven too good a thing for the species and so overpopulation accelerated exponentially despite all contingencies placed against it. Overpopulation plus a nigh-endless lifespan soon forced the world’s greatest leaders and thinkers to implement a very necessary set of measures. All humans would be given a set lifespan of 200 years with no exceptions – save for the very rare cases where it was, after a great deal of tribulation, decided that extending or shortening a lifespan was in the best interest of the species – and a genetically engineered form of cancer would be administered upon a person’s 150th birthday, set to detonate, as it were, within the person’s cells on the day after their 200th birthday exactly.

A plethora of different advantages were given to the person once they reached what is known as the unwinding stage of human life. They were granted freedom to travel everywhere in the world and the off-world colonies orbiting Earth. They were allowed a great many things. And most importantly, the last 50 years of their life were spent without the obligation to work at all or to be kept under the control of the world government – hence the genetic hyper cancer as it guaranteed the person’s expiration as lawfully mandated.

One of the greatest, if not the greatest of discoveries was time travel. It had been practically proven at the dawn of the 23rd and become a fact of life halfway through the century. It was not, however, something just anyone had access to. No, in fact, it was the most highly and strictly regulated of all scientific advantages of human life. And it was only ever allowed once per lifetime under very specific yet obscure criteria – surely something to do with the possible requests not conflicting with government interests and other, corrupt things, Maxwell often thought.

He had been lucky enough, he guessed, to have been chosen for such an incursion into his own past. His reasons to request this were valid enough, he was confident of it, and the fact that he was now in the last year of his government approved lifespan made his request all the more poignant. He was just happy he would get to solve the one great question of his long and otherwise bountiful life: the exact circumstances under which his wife had died.

She was only 28, Lara, when she was apparently murdered, no suspect ever determined other than Maxwell himself, though he was summarily acquitted for lack of evidence linking him to the crime scene – their apartment – beyond the circumstantial and the eventual fact that he happened to be somewhere else in town, a fortunate thing since his alibi was documented by the surveillance equipment at a store at around the time of the crime and he had no means by which he could have made it to the scene in time. He had found his wife’s body three hours after her time of death, as determined by the forensics team during the autopsy, well into the evening of that fateful day when he returned from his errands.

The PCP glided to a halt in from of the Committee building where he would be shortly questioned, a mere formality given the fact that he’d already been cleared for Trans-Temporal Incursion, before entering the Planck-Device that would take him to the moment in time and space where his wife was murdered.

It often occurred to Maxwell that these matters of time travel were convoluted and, quite frankly, a mind-bogglingly difficult affair to manage. First, there was the question of why the resource was so limited; sure, he understood that allowing all people to freely move about the timeline could potentially cause chaos in unfathomable ways, and the state of matters in general could be unbalanced by the well-documented-yet-still-theoretical butterfly effect. Yet, he found it odd, that it would not be employed for so many issues like solving crimes such as his his wife’s murder amongst a plethora of other mysteries of species-wide interest. Perhaps, he thought, it really was so in order to protect the people, but he found it difficult to trust the institution that failed to catch the person responsible for practically rendering his life meaningless.

And now there he was, walking up the steps, walking down the halls with his dapper shoes’ soles producing nary a sound, getting into an elevator that mere seconds after putting his index finger to a touch panel miraculously transported him to the 75th floor where he would break physical laws believed insurmountable only a little over a century prior.

After changing out of his plainclothes and donning a one-piece suit of a material similar to latex, he was led to the location of the Planck-Device. The room was abuzz with activity; myriad screens with readouts mounted on the walls were attended by technicians and clerks, their work positively arcane to Maxwell. The questioning went by quickly, without issue.

“Maxwell Thorpe Argyle, do you swear on pain of dissolution to disturb nothing of the past?” said one of the clerks. He held a wrist cuff that would monitor his vital signs while also somehow measuring his influence of the time-space matrix and the flow of causality, as it was explained to Maxwell in the briefings when he had signed the affidavits and waivers for the Temporal Incursion, in order to verify if any tampering was done with the events of the particular moment in space and time where he would be transported. In the event of any such violation of the Butterfly Effect Agreement, his hyper cancer would be unshackled by a signal from the bracelet and his genetic dissolution would take effect immediately as damage control for any harm done to the fabric of the past. Other contingencies would also come into effect, released form the bracelet in question, that would isolate that particular moment in space-time and, through processes Maxwell didn’t care to even attempt to comprehend – he knew it would be futile in his case – the fabric would be repaired and reinserted. He’d heard it said that it was very much like working with a holographic hard drive, but that, too, was beyond his comprehension.

“I swear,” such useless formalities, he thought as he said it, the bracelet fastening ergonomically to his wrist, tight but not uncomfortably so.

He entered the chamber of the Planck-Device after a final calibration of the bracelet, a vertical cylinder of some sort of gleaming metal with no apparent circuitry or methods of input, windowless, and stood as the metal closed like a membrane, seamlessly locking him inside.

Ten seconds elapsed, he counted them as he had been instructed, and as he mentally counted off ten-onethousand an aperture dilated in the cylinder until the entire metal contraption retracted to a sphere that hung suspended behind him. He was not bother nor surprised by the miracle of such technology, his mind was focused elsewhere, on another miracle: he was in their old apartment. It really worked!

Despite all the scientific facts and assurances and the volumes of documented time travel, Maxwell had in a way not entirely believed it possible. He wasn’t quite sure what he expected, but a part of him had fully assumed that he would be disappointed, that some last minute issue would arise and his Trans-Temporal Incursion would be cancelled, that it would have malfunctioned and his one chance taken from him, perhaps a sham all along. But there he was, there in the flesh, in a time that was once his own but no longer!

He had been instructed against dalliance, he recalled, so he quickly admonished himself mentally and proceeded to move toward their bedroom, where Lara and he had once enjoyed such love, such joy…

He could hear her, he thought, yes, he heard her. For a second his heart skipped at beat with joy at being able to see her once more, though he knew he could not touch her or otherwise interfere. But this tiny burst of euphoria ceased when he recognized the kind of sound that was being emitted from what had once been their bedroom.

She was moaning. With pleasure.

Frozen at the threshold to the room, the door slightly ajar yet hiding the sight he now feared, Maxwell felt a cold emptiness at the pit of his stomach. Nausea nearly drove him to wretch.

He was, for all intents and purposes, invisible to any person in this location of time-space. He could move and go and, while he did have the potential to alter things and persons, to affect them directly, they would never see him, the temporal disturbance that he was, thanks to the bracelet and the suit.

Bracing himself for what might lie beyond, he carefully pushed the door open until he stood in the room, his then-still-living wife lying on their bed with her pants down to her ankles while a naked man Maxwell did not recognize pleasured her orally.

For what felt like an eternity he could only stare, agog, unable to feel anything. A full gamut of emotions likely stuck at the threshold of his soul, momentarily preventing any one from taking priority, stood pushing within him, a wave threatening to break and overtake all that was at the shore. Revulsion eventually won out, following by a building rage.

For decades longer than he could describe he had mourned her. Even now he had mourned, longing for her, longing for understanding of why she had left this mortal coil. He felt so betrayed.

Still looking on at the painful scene, his wife positively squirming with waves of pleasure, he walked to the end of the bed and, unblinking, placed both his hands on her neck and almost unconsciously began to choke the air out of her.

Her lover, whoever the hell he was, did not register what was happening at first, likely thinking her overcome with ecstasy. Eager lover that he must have been, the fool continued in his endeavor until Lara no longer moved. Maxwell watched devoid of emotion as his wife’s lover looked up casually, moving like a feline to climb over her motionless body, likely to seek penetration but only to find his subject’s face blue, eyes wide open and cartoonish.

Maxwell saw the look of recognition come over the man’s face, the horrified expression contorting his comely features as he pushed himself off of her corpse and off the bed, fell naked to the floor, scrambled backwards until he hit the wall and stifled a scream with his fist.

After a few second’s panic the man picked up his discarded clothes from the foot of the bed, hastily put them on and simply ran out. Maxwell allowed him to. The man was not important.

The room was just as he remembered it, and as he recognized that he only difference was how his wife was lying dead, the manner in which she was laid out, he realized that he should be dead. He had tampered with the fabric, hadn’t he? He should have dissolved.

Or, perhaps… he hadn’t? He didn’t understand. He tried to make sense of it. If he wasn’t dead then… then that must mean that he had been the killer all along… but how could that be? Was there a beginning to the time loop that this would inevitable create? Or had it always been that way, forever to be relived and played out like some cruel play?

He absentmindedly began to clean his dead wife’s nether-regions, taking care not to leave any trance of his presence, but also to erase any sign of her treason. Despite her betrayal, Maxwell still wanted her to be remembered as a good woman. He pulled Lara’s pants and underwear back on her and moved her, placing her in such a way that it would like as though she had been attacked, splayed only partially on the bed.

He then sat, pondering, wondering of the Government had known. They must have, as they certainly had analyzed the actual time-space regional data. And they had allowed it to happen again. Why? Surely this had not been the case under some timeline that no longer was. There must have been a point, somewhere, sometime, where Maxwell had been forced, convinced, or coerced into doing this…

He simply could not know.

He should take action, however. He should take action.

He walked to his Lara’s vanity table and, taking one of her lipsticks from the many atop it, began to write on the mirror with it.

When the time comes to find out who did this, do not. Do not travel the timeline, do not. It was always you.

As he finished the last word and punctuated the period he felt the dissolution begin. With his last thoughts before his very matter became amorphous bits of information floating in space-time, he hoped that his message would be enough to effect a meaningful change.

Back Story

Note: well aware that I have been missing my weekly story goal, in my defense I did spread myself a bit thin what with Easter vacations involving a trip out of town and other unrelated projects taking up my time. Among those projects was the entry to a 48 Hour Sci-fi contest for Sci-Fi London. I figured that, since I didn’t post anything in the last three weeks or so, I may as well post the story I submitted to that contest.

The contest required that I write a short based on a title, science theme, and a line of dialogue sent by the Sci-Fi London, record myself narrating the piece, upload it to YouTube and then submit the link to them, all within 48 hours of having the story prompt sent to me. This occurred over a weekend and, well, I have a regular job on the weekends which took a great deal of my time, leaving only a few hours to write the story, upload it and submit it. Having no real knowledge of video editing, and having to do the narration in one take, I managed to get it all done with just 8 minutes left before the deadline. My prize? A slight migraine and loss of sleep, but all is good as simply having finished it is a reward unto itself. For those so masochistic that they feel reading my sputum isn’t enough, here’s the link to that narration. *shudders*

 

 

Sisyphus. We are all Sisyphus, thought Alex.

He reviewed the data reading on his all-purpose screen, going through the various pages of information currently displayed on it with the tiniest cues from his eyes, learned minimal gestures for the purpose of operating all optical-input equipment in the lab.

The magic pill had dropped nearly a decade before and it had seemed to be the greatest discovery human kind had yet produced. We have had beaten sleep, slain the monster that consumed nearly a third of our lives. People could now work around the clock when necessary and later make up for the loss of sleep in their time off.

Alex himself had found it a blessing, an unuttered prayer answered by science. Since he could remember he had thought that sleeping, despite the biological need for it, was a terrible waste of time. Just imagine how much more fulfilling and productive our lives could be if we were only required to sleep a fraction of what we do now, he would often ask his friends.

Slumber had been his greatest enemy when he had joined Dr. Farmington and Dr. Pandit, and with them he had produced a compound drug that allowed humans to function without sleep for an indefinite amount of time while minimizing the side-effects long associated with sleep deprivation. The heart would sustain little-to-no damage over a prudent amount of time spent without sleep, the brain would not deteriorate, and the human body’s hormonal levels would remain stable, in short, panacea.

It had been such a sublime feeling, the moment of discovery, the battery of tests, the entire process ridden out on some surreal wave of elation and hope. And it had come to crash upon a wall of avarice, materialism and subjugation.

Big Pharma had always been a boogie-man of sorts to Alex, a silly conglomerate non-entity much like an urban legend, belief in its existence spread by whackjobs and conspiracy theorists. In the end, though, he found out that some fictions are far more real and dangerous than he had thought.

The world had been enslaved by the very drug which discovery he had contributed to. It wasn’t long after the research team reported their success to their investor than they lost control of their project and it became mired in a tangle of corporate bureaucracy. The team had been aware that the patent would not be theirs nominally, but they did think they would somehow retain some influence over how the drug would be developed after having achieved their success. They had been unceremoniously rubbed out of the loop instead.

What came after was the launch of the product, which met with great fanfare from much of the world, especially from major industries. Sure, robotics had made human hard labor virtually obsolete, but when it came to corporate positions it was all still human-centric territory. Needless to say, there was a veritable revolution for productivity across the board; everything from the fields of Medicine to Education to Sports saw an unprecedented rise in effectiveness and, perhaps more importantly to those calling the shots, profits.

Humanity’s capacity for greed drove the workforce ever on in search higher profit margins, woe to all who dare slack off now that sleep was just an option, or so seemed to be the pervasive policy that was tacitly implemented around the world in the first two or three years following the market release of Liv-A.

Then things took a turn for the draconian.

Legislation in some third world countries, namely those where the big corporations – pharmaceuticals included –, in a push to drive the margins even higher, made it all but illegal to sleep. In what Alex and his now-defunct superiors, Dr. Framington and Dr. Pandit, would have found to be a plot out of a farcical satire, the biological process of sleep – of rest! – had been outlawed for all practical purposes.

Little by little the injustices made law in the third world eventually crept into the modus vivendi of the first world and thus came the surreal age of sleeplessness. The era when sleep was simply no more and toil was all there was, all to which a human being might aspire, save for those sitting in ivory towers.

Sisyphus. The life Sisyphean, he uttered to no one at all with bitterness.

Two more decades had passed since slumber had become illegal. It carried penalties worse than murder or rape. In some countries it was equated with war crimes and treason. Humanity had become a joke unto itself.
Liv-A, the irony of the name did not escape him. Live. Life. More hours to live your life, the advertising slogan had piped in the exaggerated baritone of the commercial voice-over. Sure. More hours of wakefulness to be robbed of your life, more like.

In his darkest hours, after Dr. Padit’s unresolved death and Dr. Farmington’s suicide, Alex had become a recluse, lost in his own head, thinking of how he might undo the damage he had helped perpetrate upon humanity.

Come on, think! What would Dr. Farmington have done?’ he would often intone out loud, pacing and shouting like a man gone mad with grief.

Sometime after his self-imposed estrangement from the world, Alex had come upon an answer. Watching old animated movies absentmindedly, the streaming service playing one feature film after another while he ruminated, it came to him. Sleeping beauty! He would turn the entirety of humanity into sleeping beauty.

Here was his final contribution to human kind, his plea for salvation in his mind. It would take him some time, it would take him great effort, but he need not sleep, after all, did he?

The hours would fly by as he pored over the data on his display. His body kept fit by periodic breaks of exercise and nourishment. He toiled and chipped away at the puzzle and he was now closer than ever to finding the compound that would turn the world into a fairy tale, no longer a farce.

Once he found it – and he was sure that the advent of discovery drew near – he would turn to dispensation, the means and method thereof. He would have to make sure that only those enslaved would fall under the new spell of chemistry. In his enfeebled brilliance Alex hardly considered putting the powers-that-be under the spell and allowing those enslaved carry on, free. No. Others would rise to take their power, fill-in the vacuum, taking over the ivory towers for themselves. Better to let the tower-dwellers remain awake, left to their own devices while the world they once enslaved slumbers until their flesh is no more.