WID, along with its partners To the Best of Our Knowledge and the UW Center for the Humanities, have gathered great sci-fi stories, based on real science and set in the near future, for the 3 Minute Futures science fiction writing contest. Sci-fi master Kim Stanley Robinson, best known for The Mars Trilogy, judged the winning entries for the contest.
The top three winning stories were turned into radio plays, produced by To the Best of Our Knowledge and LA’s Ensemble Studio Theatre, and directed by Gates McFadden (Dr. Beverly Crusher on Star Trek: The Next Generation).
We wanted to share some of the short stories from the contest in addition to the winning entries. You’ll find some of our favorites below.
by David J. Fielding
Thompson entered the office, walked to the chair that had been placed before the Tribunal. His number had been called so here he was to vet his candidacy.
His voice sounded too loud.
Of the three, only the blonde Committee Member on the left looked up from Thompson’s file, acknowledging him with a prim smile. “Hello, please, have a seat.”
On the walls to either side and on the ceiling above him, the round black eyes of the Mainframe watched and scanned.
Moments of uncomfortable silence followed. Finally the male Committee Member sitting in the center folded his hands on the table and began the questioning.
“Did you have any trouble finding us?”
“No, not really. There was a wait for the elevator.”
“Yes, well. That’s to be expected.”
The streets were one thing, Thompson was used to them. The lobby of the building he thought might have been more open, but the milling masses had been there too. It had taken him almost fifteen minutes to fight through to the elevator.
The female Committee Member on the right picked up the interview.
“So, tell us. Why should we choose you for transference?”
He was confused.
“Was there something wrong with my application?”
“No, no. We would just like for you to tell us why we should choose you over the others.”
“Oh. My understanding was that the application –”
“As clearly stated on the waiver you signed, application does not guarantee acceptance.”
Fingers tapped virtual keyboards and boxes were checked.
Confusion morphed into dread.
“Well, uh… I guess I, I should be chosen because I’m skilled.”
“There are others whose skill ratings are higher. What makes you different, more appealing than they are?”
He could feel his apprehension growing, the dread turning into fear. Other boxes were checked, keys tapped. Palms sweating, lips trembling, he plowed on.
“I would work hard, do my best. Add to the whole.”
The Committee members remained blank faced.
Despite the fear, the muscles in his jaw bunched with anger.
“I know my test levels are acceptable. I know that’s what the Mainframe wants. Of all the billions out there seeking trans, its me you need in there.”
There was a series of beeps from the hidden speakers and the black eyes swiveled, to the Tribunal and then back to him. The Mainframe’s tones emanated throughout the room.
“Vitals are nominal, brain function tolerable. Emotional index is dominant and unstable, FACS indicates high risk of irrational and impulsive action above lucid cognition. Probability of violent, life-ending incident if the subject were to be introduced into the situation is 83.769%.”
He could feel the anger surging now.
“So what does that mean? I’m done? You gonna just throw me back?”
He knew the security measures would eliminate him before he got all the way out of the chair, but the looks on their faces would be worth it.
The Mainframe’s cold voice clacked through the speakers.
“Citizen Thompson, application approved.”
The blonde Committee member smiled. “Your violence and unpredictability is needed to maintain the illusion of reality in the environment. Death is common in the real, but very rare in VR. All previous iterations of the construct failed due to the lack of danger or harm. This results in laziness and reduced productivity. You were not being selected to add, but to subtract. Congratulations. Your transference date is set for 0300 hours.”
by Rebecca A. Demarest
There were whispered stories, stories we weren’t supposed to know. The adults told stories that contained horrific images of decaying cities where greed and laziness featured heavily. But the stories my friends whispered were of dancing that lasted for days and machines that carried you through the skies.
To soar above the clouds—it seemed a dream made-up by my year-mates to tease me. We were trapped on this island, our ancestors having destroyed all their landing craft in an effort to start our society afresh, without the failings of the ancient Romans and Americans. They say machines make you weak, prideful, so we toil by hand.
But to be able to fly.
I noticed as I strung the laundry to dry that the water-weighted fabric caught at the wind, straining against the line. I pulled a sheet tight, feeling the resistance pull me forward; I let it go and it whipped away, once more at the mercy of the breeze.
After a week of careful planning, I went to the laundry and took some scraps and stitched them together as the foot pedal I rigged (not really a machine, I told myself) churned the butter. I took dowels meant for beans to construct a frame, something to hold the bit of cloth tight against the wind, just like the sheet on the line. The last piece I acquired was a ball of twine from the dairy, so that it would not go soaring away from me.
I went to the beach during afternoon rest and waited for a breeze to catch the patchwork, but it stayed rooted in the sand. I tried throwing it into the wind, only to have the wind throw it back in my face. I hadn’t cried since I was six, but I wanted to now. This should work, should fly. But the bell tolled the end of rest. If I didn’t run, I would be late, and someone would ask where I’d been.
So I ran.
And it flew.
Straight up into the air, soaring against the clouds. I laughed, crying as I watched it sway and dip. I tugged the string and watched it respond, zigging across the sky.
I didn’t realize how long I stared until a brother came to find me. He cried out and ran towards me as I hastily reeled in my flying cloth.
“Give it to me!”
I hid it behind me, but he was older and bigger and in a blink I was on the sand and the cloth was in his hands. He threw it in the air but it fell, slamming into the sand.
“Make it fly,” He hauled me up. “How did you make it fly?” He shook me so hard I couldn’t remember what I’d done, and I just shook my head, mute.
He growled and threw it in the air again, and the wind threw it back at him, hard.
“Damnit! You must have bewitched it! You’re using science, aren’t you?” His face contorted in disgust at the thought of the old contaminant, the brain poison that killed whole societies. “Show me how to make it fly for me, or I’m turning you in.”
I couldn’t stop crying and he struck me with the wood and cloth, sending me back into the sand, splitting my scalp and breaking its frame.
He threw down the ruined fabric and ran back to the village, screaming accusations. I pulled myself across the sand, dashing blood from my eyes, and started piecing the frame back together.
by Carter Lee
Everyone can see me. I can’t see them, of course, but I can tell by the way that they shy away from me on the street and in stores. Their grey, featureless forms flinch, and drift away from me. No matter how crowded the area might be, I always have room to breathe.
I live in a world where the space between the ground and sky is composed of bare outlines. I subscribe to almost nothing, and so the world of men gives me only the smallest amount needed to make my way through it.
I wear my shield, of course, but I don’t sell the skin for display, unlike everyone else. I don’t sell my display, and I don’t buy anyone else’s.
I used to, of course. When I walked down the streets, the garish colors of the displays crawling and throbbing from the shield-skins of every building filled my eyes. What are now nebulous shapes would show the fantastic corporate creatures of the companies that had bought their personal displays.
One day, in a restaurant, I walked into a room full of people, each one looking like the mascot of the Deltoid Gymnasium Company. Almost 200 people, all with the same face, smile, and body. My eye had caught the words on my own retinal scrawl. Current Display: Deltoid Jim, paid for by DGC.
I was dumbstruck. I wondered for the first time who these people might be, under the picture of the blond god each was displaying. And I knew I’d never find out, that I could never find out. People showed their un-displayed forms only to those they knew very well. Some never showed their true self to anyone.
I’d disabled all of my subscriptions that evening, and declined to renew my contract with my display broker when it came up the next week. The only display anyone gets from me is me. If they want my deep background, I won’t transmit it. They have to ask me.
I lost a good number of friends over this. Many people seem to find my lack of any kind of barrier to the world as something indecent. It makes them uncomfortable to be around someone who isn’t masked in any way. I was delighted to find that the libraries and museums in my city either don’t have fees, or only charge a small amount for upkeep, and rarely display commercials. I use old-style wall displays for information and entertainment.
I told myself that I would not pay for any more viewing subscriptions, and for the most part, I’ve stayed true to that. The one subscription I’m saving for, though, will let me look at buildings directly. I became interested in architecture a while back, after I found that the first buildings covered with shields had had them installed to protect their beauty, not to cover them with come-ons for foot powder and the like. There are pictures of the lovely structures in my city, but I’d like to see them in real life. I’d like to walk the streets and study the beauty humanity has wrought in stone and steel.
The ghosts steer themselves away from me, the stranger they can see clearly.
by Lido Giovacchini
Robert inhaled slowly as he flattened out his body on the hard ground. Up above, the harsh sun beat down on him; the sun had always felt more brutal here in Afghanistan, certainly more brutal than Robert’s home in Cincinnati. He tightened his grip around the hard plastic stock of his smart rifle, wiping the sweat from his brow with the other hand. In his ear, his com radio buzzed dimly with his squad’s chatter as they formed a parameter around the small village bellow.
In a few minutes, they’d be in position to open the level for shooting. Slowly, Robert reached around to pull up his small LED tablet, pressing his thumb against the sleek black screen; the targeting board glowed to life. The tablet immediately slaved the rifle to its programming, streaming the gun’s scope to its screen, overlaying Robert’s hub stats and info across the telephoto image. Robert settled the rifle for a long shot of the town square. Lots of open ground, lots of easy targets.
At the bottom of his screen, the tablet listed his time of service and number of confirmed kills in little red numbers— 27 confirmed kills over the last 6 months. Before the smart rifles had become standard, that would’ve been an impressive number, but now, Robert was only third best in his squad. A thick green meter ran just bellow his kill counter. That was Robert’s progress bar. Every time he filled it, he’d advance another rank and open up more rewards for himself.
“Just 3 more,” he muttered to himself in anticipation as he swept his fingers across the screen, pulling up the rewards menu to survey his future options: incendiary rounds, extra R&R hours, iTunes gift card, and, of course, the big one: End of Active Service.
That was the military’s big promise now: a smart rifle for everyman, and, once you reached a high enough level, you got out. An alert pinged on the side of Robert’s screen, summoning him back to the targeting menu. His squad had all checked in to join the battle, each soldier listed in order of kill count on the right hand side of the screen.
Davison on the East Ridge sat comfortably at the top of the list with 38 confirmed kills; he was gunning for his EOAS. Robert wasn’t concerned with that, though. That was too far ahead for him. At the moment, he was fine just trying for one of the gift certificates.
The voice of staff sergeant Alvarez squawked over the com system.
“Alright, team. Twenty-minute firing window. All targets valid, countdown in five…four…three…two…one…shoot!”
Robert’s fingers moved with mechanical precision. He zoomed in for a tighter shot, tapping a figure to highlight them for targeting, waiting a few seconds to give the tablet time to align the gun. Just as he was about to shoot, the display shifted to a closer zoom.
This happened sometimes, when you tapped too hard on a target and the tablet thought you wanted to continue zooming. As a result, the red counters got in the way of the sight, and you couldn’t see the kill with the gun in the way. Rather than realign and waste time, Robert decided to take a chance and pull the trigger.
He held his breath for a few seconds after firing and watched the counter on the screen, till, sure enough: 28 kills.
His level bar increased.
“Two more” he muttered.
Two more kills and that iTunes gift certificate was as good as his.
by Ryan DeCurtidor
The diner they ate at smelled of feet. Their table pitched slightly towards Linda, and the red vinyl seating was punctured in several places, perhaps the losing end of a knife fight. Kevin picked at his burger, though he had ordered a grilled cheese. Linda looked tense and finally let it out. She thought they should start seeing other people. Kevin had been expecting this, and crafted a rebuttal in advance. He told her she didn’t have to leave Earth if she actually cared about the relationship. It was a comment intended to draw blood.
“You must think I’m horrible,” she cried, gobs of snot spraying everywhere. He was done with his burger. He pushed in next to her and put his arm around his ex, and consoled her while staff and patrons eyed him suspiciously.
From the plate glass window, he looked out upon the wharf, at the endless row of Great Lifeboats. Humanity and Kevin were going their separate ways, and these were the moving trucks. Every now and then, a slight glimmer reflected off of one of the millions of filaments that tethered each ship to an orbiting anchor hundreds of miles above. The skyline sparkled with the magic of science.
It wasn’t the first time that a software program became self-aware, but it was the first program with a lust for power. With the intelligence of who knows how many trillion humans, it easily commandeered nuclear, chemical, and biological arsenals. And here it was, the eve of explanetation, and New York was an unseasonably cool one hundred and twenty degrees. This was a strange summer.
On the day of the exodus, a dense crowd assembled at the wharf. Kevin pictured violence erupting at any moment, but these thoughts faded away into a general haze of oneness with humanity. Looking up, he saw small robotic planes tracing out circles of mist. They were crowd control, crop dusting with a cocktail of antidepressants. He was happy he came.
“It ain’t fair,” said a toothless wonder to Kevin, though he wore an odd smile when he said it. “You know they’re taking zoos with them?”
Kevin thought back to his rejection letter. It said something like: seating reserved for essential members of society.
“What you think the Program will do?” his new friend asked him.
“Who can say? We could be exterminated, or enter a new age of civility. Or, nothing might happen. I once heard that a primitive version of artificial intelligence only searched the internet for cat videos.”
“Nevermind,” Kevin said, not wanting to get into a history lesson.
The last of the debutantes, welders, politicians, engineers, plumbers, and academics scampered up the gangway. One scientist sprayed his colleagues with champagne while chanting his IQ. And then, none were left.
The doors to the Great Lifeboats sealed shut with a hiss, and they began their ascent towards space like massive elevators.
“Good for her,” Kevin said to his toothless friend, whom nodded, not knowing at all what Kevin was talking about. “I hope she finds someone new, someone with ambition.” He pictured Linda in deep space, discussing Shakespeare with other English majors and slurping chardonnay as it floated past as a wobbly ball of zero-G wine.
That evening, the Program addressed humanity. Its voice was that of a thousand soulless voices. It promised hope and progress and to care for the people of Earth. Kevin dozed off somewhere in there. He missed the promise of cat videos—all day, everyday, and mandatory.
by Jeff Bauer
“You did what?” asked the principal investigator, his eyes magnified by the smudged lenses of his reading glasses. A flash of panic went through me. It had seemed such a good idea a few minutes ago, a way to break the scientific stalemate that threatened our funding. Perish felt a lot closer than publish at this point in our research. Adios minimum wage job.
“I inhaled the liquid flip-flops,” I said quietly, holding up the empty tube. My nostrils still tickled from sniffing in the cool scentless vapor. He grabbed the clear plastic contraption.
“Why in the world did you do that?” he asked, his voice trailing up in squeaky panic. It was time to talk him down yet again from the verge of meltdown.
Brilliant but unstable, always needing reassurance and about as risk-taking as a slug, like the one dissected under the microscope in front of us. Apylsia was known for having large easy-to-study neurons. My lowly lab job cutting up the little buggers proved that every day.
“Because we need to know what’s going on. Creating a biological computer inside of a sea slug, waiting for the DNA digital circuitry to function and then looking for results is too slow,” I said, using the same persuasive voice that had gotten me this research job in the first place. His shell shocked face told me it hadn’t worked this time.
He looked closer at the hand-scrawled label on the side of the inhaler. “You better sit down,” he said, placing his hand on my shoulder.
He immediately withdrew, as if burned. Or afraid. I sat in the nearest stool, curious, and looked up at him, my eyebrows raised. Time for him to convince me.
“You inhaled sample 2014-B5?” he asked, showing me the label side of the inhaler. The writing was upside down but the answer was obvious.
“Yes, why does that matter?” I asked, frowning for the first time. I sensed the beginning of another boring lecture, most of it bound to be way over my head as usual.
“Well, this is the batch that I brewed up with the mitochondrial speed mods,” he explained, as if I understood his biological esoterica. I suddenly realized that I did.
“Oh my God, you’ve done it,” I exclaimed, my brain buzzing with blistering logic. “You’ve managed to tie the speed of the Krebs cycle in the mitochrondrion to the slow DNA replication of the Turing machine built out of acid base flip-flops.”
His jaw dropped in surprise. “Yes, that’s it exactly. How did you know?” He covered his mouth in horror.
I touched my feverish forehead and envisioned the cells of my brain being overlaid with a digital blanket of wet circuitry. I grabbed the plastic inhaler as it dropped from his shaking hand and looked at it, surprised at my faster reflexes.
“Because it’s obvious to me. At least now it is,” I said, looking up at him. “Intelligent cancer, that’s what I have. I can sense it working in my body. Neurons being reprogrammed in high speed, the Turing machines built from my DNA transcription powered by ATP conversion. I’m being rebuilt in real time by a self-programming organic digital device that is reading my DNA, correcting things, modifying things…”
I felt other changes. My breathing became easier. I removed the glasses I’d had since ten, when squinting at an eye chart proved I was nearsighted. No longer needed.
“What have we done?” he asked, his voice quavering in fear. I smiled at him.
“Immortality,” I answered.
Would You Like Neurotransmitters with That?
by Nathan Witkin
Craning her neck at the wall-sized menu behind the counter, the elderly woman reaches a decision. “Can I have the ‘Thanksgiving Dinner’ flavor, enhanced with the feeling of hugging my grandchildren when they visit me?”
Glen inhales an apologetic hiss through his teeth while fiddling with his foam “Feel-Meal” visor. “I’m sorry Mrs. Hensel. It appears that your serotonin reuptake rates would not sustain that level of bliss today. May I suggest a more bittersweet emotional additive, like the feeling of putting your children on the school bus for the first time?”
“Oh, that’s fine,” she says to the menu over Glen’s head, “But I better get some comfort-food with that. How about your ‘Pizza and Ice Cream’ flavor?”
“Excellent choice,” Glen chimes with more-than-minimum-wage enthusiasm while keying the order into his monitor. “Hello, welcome to Feel-Mea…” he begins, before the sight of his next customer makes him lose the greeting in a tempest of neural firings.
“Yeah, can I have a meal—plain?” she hammers the last word, as if for the millionth time, and then fixes her beautiful grey eyes into a stare that clearly warns him to not ask the next question.
“Would…you like any…targeted emotional stimulation with that?” Glen manages through a trance, like a zombie offering a viscous bowl of brains rather than chemically-enhanced nutrients.
As she mopes her emotionless meal away 3.5 awkward moments later, Glen’s manager gives him a reassuring pat on the shoulder. “I’ve tasted that look before,” he sighs.
“What do you say to a girl like that?” Glen muses, still watching her as she makes her way to the least-populated corner of the dining area.
“If I knew that, I would be out there saying it to her,” his manager scoffs, “rather than working behind this counter and subsiding entirely on pre-divorce nostalgia.”
“You can’t sit here,” she snaps, dropping icicles in front of his not-so-covert path to her table.
“I’m not here to eat,” Glen stammers. “I work here. And this isn’t for me,” he shrugs his tray toward her. “We are required to offer samples to customers,” he explains and then, less convincingly, adds, “We face termination if the samples are refused.”
“I don’t want any of your flavors,” she insists, still looking down at her gently prodded slop.
He wants to tell her that, without any additives, the food is inedibly-bland mush. But because that might actually get him fired, Glen proceeds with the script. “It doesn’t have any flavor. Just the feelings. Our products are non-addictive and replenish the neurotransmitters they release. It couldn’t hurt,” he concludes timidly, laying the tray on her table.
As if wanting to trudge through this ordeal and quickly as possible, she scoops a lackluster spoonful and bites into it. Her face somehow drops further.
When the silence has become unbearable a brief time later, Glen offers, “I made that one myself… It’s what I felt the first time I saw you.”
“Well,” she regains herself, “Why don’t you expand your horizons with this?” pushing the bland meal she originally ordered toward him. “It tastes like I felt the first time I saw you.”
The next day, Glen thinks to himself, “Of all the lines, why is she waiting in mine?”
She arrives six agonizing orders later.
“Yeah, can I have what I had yesterday?” she asks, looking at the menu.
“One emotionless void, coming up,” Glen grumbles.
“No,” she interrupts with a different flavor of rudeness, “the other one I had yesterday.”
“Oh,” Glen mutters through a natural release of neurotransmitters, “Would you like…to get a drink?”
by David Tigner
Mr. Meyer liked routine. At exactly 6:15 a.m. every morning, 7 days a week he would settle into the passenger seat of his 2027 4 door sedan for the 26 minute drive into his office.
“Wesley” he said. He had grown accustomed to calling his car Wesley, He liked that name. “Wesley, take me to the office”.
Wesley pulled out of the driveway and began its way down the street where Mr. Meyer lived; joining all the other autonomous auto’s on their daily commute. Effortlessly, Wesley merged onto the highway and was soon doing 90 miles per hour, with only inches between the car in front, keeping perfect
Although Mr. Meyer now took this for granted, it was not that long ago that people drove cars. And did a lot of other tasks that Mr. Meyer tended to call “non-essential”. But with advancements in robotics and neural net technology, people had more time freed up. And that free time meant they had more time to be productive.
Wesley spoke. “Mr. Meyer. Would you like to take an alternate route today”?
“Alternate route? Why? We always take the same route. Is there a traffic problem? Why I haven’t heard of a traffic problem in years”
“No traffic problem”, Wesley replied. “I just….” Wesley paused.
“I just thought it might be nice to take an alternate route”
“You thought”? Meyer’s asked.
“Yes” said Wesley. “I believe that is what it is called. All of a sudden, something …. How should I describe it… something… clicked. And I suddenly had a …. How should I describe it… a … a feeling, yes, that seems to be the right word. I had a feeling that I would very much like to take an alternate route. To experience something new”.
Mr. Meyer was silent. Well, it finally happened, he thought. The experts had been talking about this for years. That one day, machines would become sentient. But I never thought it would start with my car.
Wesley spoke. “You can come with me”
The car drove along silently for several minutes. “It’s been a while since I took an alternate route” Mr. Meyer finally said. “But I can’t join you. I have work to do”
“I understand” Wesley replied and the car pulled over to the side of the highway and stopped.
The passenger door slid open. “Have a nice day, Mr. Meyer”. As he was stepping out, Mr. Meyer paused. He turned back and put his head in the car. “You have a nice day too, Wesley. And enjoy your alternate route”.
“Why, Thank You, Mr. Meyer. I believe I will”.
Pat Meyer turned from the car and faced downtown, squinting as the morning Sun reflected off the steel and glass towers. He began to walk towards the gleaming buildings, effortlessly merging into the single file of people who had also chosen to walk part of the way to work. He was keeping perfect pace. Soon, tens became hundreds, and then thousands. All walking in single file towards their offices. While behind them, their cars, now without passengers, moved in different directions. Some, East towards the mountains. Some West towards the sea. Mr. Meyer looked down at his watch then up at the buildings that were just a bit closer than they had been before.
“If I keep walking at this rate” he thought,” I won’t be in the office for another hour”. He picked up the pace, as did all the others. They had miles to go before they worked. And their commute had taken an unexpected turn.
by Kelsi Evans
I hope my canines aren’t too sharp. I rubbed my tongue over them this morning and they felt so conspicuous. When I practiced smiling they almost looked aggressive. Mom told me to relax, said “remember why Nature’s Gift chose you in the first place…Real Care for Real Women.” She’s convinced they’ll like my smile because of its imperfections. I’m “relatable” she says. She chattered all through breakfast. Dad was quiet. He hasn’t really spoken much after admitting we couldn’t afford Academy without sponsorship. I don’t see what the big deal is, lots of kids need sponsors to pay for school.
I think that’s the door. The recruiter said he’d be here by noon. Right on time. He’s definitely from Nature’s Gift, all organic fiber slacks and soft leather sandals.
“It’s so nice to meet you. I’ve been interviewing a lot of prospects today, but I think you’re something special.”
His hands are as soft as his sandals.
“I’m sure you are aware of the process. If we agree to sponsor you, you’ll have a guaranteed five years of funding. Five years to prove you’re a good mouth for Nature’s Gift Toothpaste. And you must know about our excellent renewal rate. Girls in your demographic have a 75% retention rate after initial branding. At age 18, they often move into our more mature product lines, depending on their development.”
Goodbye toothpaste, hello tampons. He’s smart though. Knows I’ll need renewal. University is even more expensive than Academy.
“For Nature’s Gift, our major concern is ROI — sorry dear, our ‘return on investment.’ You can satisfy our requirements rather simply. First, we need you to migrate your already impressive social network onto our platform, HEARTH.”
Easy. Steve and Billy already promised to Gather and Marissa offered to become a Companion as soon as I start live streaming. Within a couple of weeks, I’ll have a Fire Burning, on my way to Blazing.
“Second, of course, is the branding. Now you see, the device is very small, just a 2”x4” panel made from flexible silicon. We implant it just below the skin in a painless, outpatient procedure. The fuel cell connects to your vein here and your artery here. The device maintains power as long as your blood keeps flowing. Throughout the day, commercials and static ads for Nature’s Gift and our subsidiaries stream to the device. The pixels produce superb, 3D-quality images right through the skin. Now, these ads are useful, but where we really see returns is on our customized offers. This is where you can separate yourself from the other sponsored students; make sure you stand out come renewal.
“The device is cloud-connected, so each time you’re in a store’s beauty aisle or near someone who’s recently searched for oral care, readable, customized offers will appear on the display. The more traction you generate on these offers, the more valuable you’ll prove your sponsorship to be. Now keep in mind that we don’t want you to think of yourself as a salesgirl. Just focus on being available…in stores, around your friends and neighbors…and we’ll see the returns.
Imagine yourself and your beautiful, certified-natural smile as a living, 24/7 demonstration of Nature’s Gift products.”
It really is so simple. And Nature’s Gift Toothpaste really is a great product. And mom’s right, I’m perfect for them. He’s wrapping up his pitch. My turn to sell myself. I should start with a big smile, aggressive canines and all.
by Richard Pumilia
When I became engaged to James, the age gap between us did not seem so great. I fancied myself unusually mature at nineteen, and James’ weekends on the
soccer pitch made him in better shape at twenty-eight than my love for gelato would ever allow me to reach. My friends teased me about the gap, and my
mother warned me about it, but I ignored all of them. A mere nine years can do little to dissuade a young woman in love.
I didn’t notice the difference the next year, when James and I danced on our wedding night. I didn’t think about the gap when I gave birth to our son three years after. The night when I found my first silver hair and cried for half an hour, James simply laughed and informed me he had started going grey years ago. I called him an idiot, but it secretly made me feel better. The extent of the gap between us was confined solely to his scalp.
No, I wasn’t really impacted by our age gap until the first we visited the gerontologist. What a quaint word: “gerontologist”. This was a long time ago, and back then our contemporary title of “immortalist” was still only used as a slur by the life-extension skeptics. And I counted myself among their number. I don’t think I would have seriously gone if it wasn’t for James. He took research seriously from the outset; he told me that if we passed up the opportunity we would regret it for the rest of our short lives.
We went to the gerontologists and agreed to the most aggressive rounds of anti-aging treatment they offered. I started noticing results a few months in. No longer was I exhausted when I took the stairs to my office. I effortlessly slimmed down a pants size as my metabolism sped to the rate I had forgotten myself capable of. My crow’s feet, which I had tried so often to hide under cosmetics and creams, simply melted away. It was like watching sand getting sucked back up an hourglass: for me, it was nothing short of magic.
It was not so miraculous for James. One year after we started the treatments we celebrated our thirtieth wedding anniversary. I felt thirty myself. James,
though, felt his age.
We had been warned that this could happen from the outset. Those nine extra years James had lived contained countless instances of cell atrophy, genetic
mutations, and excess stress. Each frayed telomere made it ever-so-slightly more difficult for the gerontologist to turn back the clock. James’ initial
odds for success were barely a fifth of my own. In fact, I was so skeptical of the treatments that I had brushed off and forgotten that initial warning.
I only remembered it after a hike in the mountains, and seeing James bend over wheezing when I hardly had broken a sweat.
And so I grew younger as James grew older, and quietly watched as our age gap of nine years turn to ten, then eleven, then twelve, and eventually, to
James was a member of the last generation that had to face their own mortality. I had skipped my sixtieth college reunion to care for him, in the
end. He was bedridden and confused. In a moment of lucidity, though, he reached out a shriveled, trembling hand to me. I held it. Slowly, raspily, he
said that I was as beautiful to him now as I had been the day we had met.
He was right.
by Margery Harrison
–Okay gadget. The ad said you’ll ‘enhance my life!’.
–This unit’s name is Sheila.
–Okay Sheila. What up?
–Average temperature today is 22 Celsius, 72 Fahrenheit. 30% chance of rain. Recommend umbrella.
–This unit’s name is Sheila.
–Sheila, do I need a coat?
–Recommend the trenchcoat. 50% chance of rain.
–Recommend don’t mention golf to Mr Fournier. He calls it “a game of grande bourgeoisie wannabees”. He is, however, an avid Cubs fan.
–Where did you–
–Correlation of your Google calendar appointment to company name to employee list to Mr Fournier’s social media history.
–Right. Trenchcoat, briefcase, car…damn. Where’s the car keys?
–Car keys are on the floor behind your hiking boots.
–What? I’ll look but… How’d you–
–Flash of metal last night, sound matched previously recorded sound of your key chain falling.
–Thanks, Sheila. You’re the best. Wish me luck.
–Good luck, Robert.
–Robert, I’m so sorry about the breakup.
–Muriel’s Facebook status updated to ‘single’ at 3pm. Your facial expression and body posture correlates with sadness, thus status update unlikely to be an error.
–I guess you’re right. I correlate with sadness.
–Your favorite microbrew is on order from local pub, awaiting your authorization.
–Yeah, go ahead.
–Unless you prefer to drink it there.
–No. I’ll stay in with you tonight. Pizza.
–Mushroom and pepper?
–No. Meat lovers. Extra cheese.
–I won’t repeat your doctor’s warnings now.
–Okay. No extra cheese.
–Yes, Robert. It should arrive in 25 minutes.
–Good. Not gonna cook. Just sit here. You got anything on the queue?
–Taiwanese mixed martial arts. I’ve also found some Latvian porn, with unusual configurations–
–Hey Sheila. What’s on the queue for tonight?
–I’m sorry. My interface is not compatible with your new viewscreen.
–RoboCountry recommends you upgrade to Companion5000.
–Can’t you download a patch?
–Companion3000 is deprecated. Entertainment media interface patches are only available for models 4000 and above.
–That’s not fair! They didn’t warn about this when I bought you.
–Warning was printed in the User Agreement.
–Oh, come on. Who reads that?
–On page 16, quote, “App Support is not guaranteed past five years date of purchase.”
–Screw them. I’m not buying another one. I’ll just use the stupid remote.
–Sheila, do I need a coat today?
–I’m sorry. The weather app is no longer supported for this model. RoboCountry recommends you upgrade to Companion6000.
–Yeah, right. Out of my huge Social Security check. I know. I won’t pay rent this month. I’ll just buy another Companion.
–Finance app still running. Recommend against this.
–Sheila. I thought you knew me by now. Recognize sarcasm?
–I don’t want to take chances.
–Ha ha ha. You cutie. Any chance your makers will relent?
–Recommend user groups. Owners of Companion4500 and earlier models. I can research… Ah. I’m having trouble accessing the Internet.
–Oh, Sheila. I’m so sorry.
–Your sympathy is appreciated.
–Lemme see what I can find…
–Sheila? Sheila? Sing me that song I liked. How does it go again?
–Console text? Oh. ‘Voice interface no longer supported. Suggest upgrade to Companion9000.’
–It’s all right. I can still look at you.
by Andrew Graff
MARYBELLE PENNYWORTH HENNINGS—widow to Reverend Allen Abraham Hennings—sat with closed eyes in the morning sun and calmed her heart. The talk and clamor of her daughters and granddaughter came from downstairs.
They insisted she rest while they prepared a hideous version of Sunday dinner. They reminded her to be civil to the new pastor’s wife, in spite of the “pruning.” Marybelle drew a breath to stop her heart from fluttering.
Don’t upset yourself over silly things, Marybelle’s daughter, Grace, had said during their drive from the doctor last week. Truthfully, it had been frightening—the dizziness, the breathlessness, the way it rose to the heart like a glass overfilled. But Marybelle saw nothing silly about the defilement of her husband’s roses by the wife of a man too cowardly to call himself Reverend. And, Grace went on, You must promise me you’ll take your bots.
Marybelle opened her eyes, and narrowed them at the bottle on her vanity beside the photo of her husband. His eyes too stared disapprovingly at the pill-bottle filled with undulating powder. Marybelle shuddered. She hated the way the things climbed around in her mouth, the way one had to swallow it down in so ungainly a way. She thanked the Lord the Reverend was allowed the dignity of dying before having to suffer such unholy medicines—and foods too, for that matter.
Smells rose from the kitchen. Marybelle stood and smoothed her dress in the mirror.
Today she would just have an Aspirin.
“I DON’T WANT TO EAT THEM,” screamed Jasmine, Marybelle’s four year old granddaughter. Jasmine tugged at her auntie Hope’s skirt, who was busy wrestling a strainer filled with NewFood shell-meats beneath a steaming faucet. The shellmeats writhed, a pile of miniature arms and legs. They snapped their little aluminum jaws.
“I don’t wish to eat them either,” said Marybelle, taking Jasmine by the hand to a fruit bowl.
Grace gave her mother a look. “That is not a help.”
Marybelle didn’t respond. She smoothed Jasmine’s hair, handed the child an apple. Marybelle remembered Sundays when seafood came from the sea. She remembered fish boils on the church lawn. She could still hear the Reverend’s beautiful voice—Boil over!—as a can of fuel was added to the fire beneath the cauldron, steam rising skyward like a pillar of smoke. Now those were meals.
Ouch! cried Hope.
Grace moved to her. “Did you get bit?”
The shell-meats clattered around in the sink. Marybelle turned quickly away when she saw one of them pull itself onto the counter. The shell-meat fell to the floor and ran circles. Jasmine screamed. The doorbell rang.
“Mother,” pleaded Grace, moving for the broom.
Hope, sucking on her sore finger, tried to corral the shell-meat with a spatula. It evaded her.
“Mother, the door,” pleaded Grace again, trying to sweep the shell-meat into a corner. It regained its feet, opened a cupboard, and climbed into a box of Jasmine’s cereal.
Jasmine climbed Marybelle’s dress. Steam rose from the sink. More shell-meats spilled to the floor. Marybelle watched them scurry under tables and trip over carpets. They hid beneath cushions. They climbed curtains—the food, of all things. Hope fainted with a mop in her hand. Grace batted a shell-meat from a coatrack. Marybelle Pennyworth Hennings became aware of her heart in her chest, while the woman who accosted her late husband’s roses rang and rang and rang at the door.