Author : Brian Armitage
The field sputtered light, a cloud of particles flashing in waves and sparkles. Edward was surprised, and a little disturbed, at how bright and colorful it was. He looked over at Sandra, the company liaison, with her carefully neutral expression. “How, uh, long does it usually…” And his breath stopped when Joan’s face appeared in the glittering fog.
She stumbled forward as though shoved from behind, and looked around slowly, dazedly. Edward still wasn’t breathing when her eyes settled on his feet, and crawled up his body to meet his stunned gaze.
Joan glittered softly, the back wall of the particle chamber just visible through her transparent form. Her features, her entire body was hazy. But the eyes. When they settled into his, he knew. It was her.
He looked mutely to the woman in the suit, but she had already slipped out of the viewing chamber, supposedly to give him privacy. What he could not forget, however, was the company’s policy of monitoring all visitations, ostensibly for the purpose of security. They would hear all of it.
Edward looked back to Joan, and the words leapt out of him. “I married Rachel.”
She stared at him, her eyes clear. Her mouth moved. “You married Rachel.” Her voice projected from the speakers, a harsh digital transmission.
Edward could not suppress a shudder. He had too look away from those eyes, and turned his gaze to where her legs dissolved into mist, then immediately to the ridge where the two-inch pane of glass separated the two chambers. Still, he felt vulnerable. “I never meant to-”
“You brought me back,” Joan said, stalking toward the edge of the energy field, “to tell me you married my sister.”
She waved her left hand in front of her, exactly as he had before. “No, just… no.” Her eyes scrunched shut in in frustration, and she covered her face.
Joan’s hands swept away from her face, sending waves of charged particles scattering through the chambers, and looked at him. He knew that cold, blank expression. When he had pushed her too far. “Go to hell, Ed.” She looked over her shoulder. “Turn it off.”
“Joan!” He cast about desperately, looking for a technician. “Please, no! Don’t!”
“We’re sorry, Mr. Eisenberg,” the liaison’s voice said, with a touch of sadness, “we must honor the deceased’s wishes.”
The particles flashed and began to dim, and Joan with them. Edward ran to the glass, pressing against it. She shook her head as she faded from view, and tossed up her hands. “You thought I didn’t know?” she shouted. It was barely loud enough to hear on the laboratory speakers. Her eyes disappeared last, and with them, the light was gone.
Sandra looked sideways at her intern, who stood next to her, watching the monitor as Edward Eisenberg collapsed. “You asked why we make them pay in advance.”
Author : Brian Armitage
Iskerreth stood before the assembly, manacled. The humans looked on, waiting. Listening. All was imminently silent. The Korrosk soldier straightened his back, his muscles shifting under his scales, his head quills flat against his scalp. He pressed his elbows together in a show of humility, and spoke.
“I have fought against and killed your brothers. I deserve death, and am… dumbfounded that I am here, alive. Even to speak before you, humans of authority.”
His bright orange eyes with their horizontal slit pupils scanned the Solar Congress, his audience. The gills on Iskerreth’s neck, bright purple when they opened, fluttered with anxiety.
“A slave is sold, and goes to his death. Korrosk are bred for numbers, not for strength. Our lives have little meaning, and our deaths none. We have fought and died without honor for… too many generations. The Veleura command, and the Korrosk obey.
“So many that we have fought are slaves, as we are.” The alien stopped suddenly. His tail came to rest, and his gills stilled. His head bowed low. “We were not prepared for Earth.” It was a moment before he spoke again.
“Our masters gave us your communications. We listened to you as we fought. As I… shot down your fighters, I heard one of your commanders.” With a deep breath, Ishkerreth raised his head. “For a moment, he sounded like our masters, saying, ‘Do you want them to die for nothing? Fight on!’ But when he spoke again, I was shaken. He said…” The warrior’s shoulders began to shake.
“He said, ‘they volunteered for this.’”
The Korrosk soldier shuddered, tilted back his head, and roared, a deep vibrato from the depth of his chest. Only barely audible was the gasp from the crowd. He clutched his head in his hands.
“They chose the fight! They chose! A choice the Korrosk have never been given. And we never shall, unless…”
Iskerreth’s quills rattled against his scaled head. The Korrosk lifted his eyes to his audience, and dropped to his knees. His gills again began to flutter.
“We beg you. We beg you… give us the choice. Only allow us the chance to choose, and we will serve you. Never have we chosen our fight. Never have we died with honor. Allow us… the choice. If you do… I offer you the oath. The oath we are made to swear to our masters.”
He raised a clenched fist to the very center of his chest, above his heart. His entire body shook. Then, Ishkerreth opened his mouth and bellowed the oath, with zeal:
“We will trade the years of our lives for a moment of yours! We will trade a sea of our blood for a drop of yours! We fight at your pleasure! We die at your wish! Send us, and we will go! For…” For a moment, he choked. His breath heaved once, and he shouted ever louder, “For the honor of the fallen!”
And he fell quiet, head bowed. Silence. The warrior sobbed once, and was still. He slowly regained his feet and lifted his head.
“If any of you would stoop low and stand alongside us, I-”
The entire audience rose to its feet. 80,000 humans and Korrosk stood, just as the Solar Congress had stood together those hundred years ago. The great hologram of Ishkerreth in the center of the stadium looked around on all sides, awestruck.
From his private booth, Moshkerreth raised a clenched fist to his heart. His wife squeezed his hand, her pink skin soft against his scaled fingers.
“Happy Allegiance Day, Mr. President,” she said.
Author : Brian Armitage
Murray grunted, straining against the bars of the cage, willing his arm to stretch further. Finally, his fingers closed on his prize. He plucked the knight from the board and dropped it carefully into place, one move away from Hjdarrrr’s bishop.
Hjdarrrr’s single eyestalk elongated, the pink photosensory bulb blinking at the white knight. “Oooom,” the alien said, its entire furry body vibrating as it spoke, “very good move.”
Murray grunted again, this time in disgust. “About time I made one.” His cage rocked slightly as he settled against one side. He was suspended above the chessboard, the steel cage mounted to an overhead track for easy storage.
Every hair on the rabbit-sized creature turned light blue, indicating sympathy. “Do not beat yourself up, Murray. You are the best chass player I have ever played chass with.”
“It’s chess, Dar. And I just taught you to play yesterday. I’m the only person you’ve ever played chess with.”
The alien’s color shifted to a hue Murray didn’t recognize, and its eyestalk straightened, pointed at him. “…my statement is true.” Then, it turned back to the chessboard. The black queen shimmered and lifted from the board. A point above Hjdarrrr’s eyestalk was glowing. The queen drifted across the board and landed, covering the white knight from a distance and effectively cutting off its offensive. With a shift to red-orange – self-confidence, or perhaps pride – Hdjarrrr nodded its eye at Murray. “You may go.”
Murray grumbled. “I can’t believe we lost the war to you.”
Hjdarrrr’s color remained the same. “We are smaller beings, but our tactics were superior.”
“Yeah, tactics.” Murray glared at the chessboard from above. “Doesn’t hurt that you’re all telekinetic.”
“Your statement is true.” The alien stared up at the human, awaiting his next move, but Murray sat motionless. “Do not be bitter, Murray. Someday, perhaps your race will develop mind skills of its own.” A tinge of patronizing yellow.
“Maybe.” Then, Murray pointed, eyes narrowed.
The white knight shimmered, scooted across the board, and tipped over Hjdarrrr’s bishop.
The color drained from Hjdarrrr’s body. The eyestalk froze, focused on the white knight. Slowly, after a long time, it rotated up to face Murray.
Murray pointed at the alien, gathering his focus. “You said it.”
Author : Brian Armitage
They met with four hours left. He had hung up his cell phone and stared at it for a second, suddenly out of people to call. When he finally looked up, he saw her across the street, holding the same pose â€“ wondering, he knew, if she had forgotten anyone, but slowly realizing that there was no one left.
He had to convince himself to wait for the commuter rail to pass â€“ one car, only three passengers â€“ before he dashed across the street to her. She pulled out of her reverie, and looked to him as he stopped a pace away.
â€œWhat’s the count?â€ she asked. She wasn’t afraid of him.
He glanced at his phone, suddenly urgent. â€œFour hours. Will you marry me?â€
â€œWh… yeah. Yes. Yes.â€ She nodded, looking anxious.
He laughed once, a single burst. â€œThank you! I just… I don’t want to… be alone at-â€
She nodded again, dropping her purse and taking his hand. â€œGo ahead.â€
He leaned forward to kiss her.
She snapped her head back, tugged on his hands. â€œNo! Wait. Vows.â€
He winced. â€œI’m sorry! Sorry.â€
â€œIt’s okay. Don’t worry. Go ahead.â€
â€œOkay. Our first fight.â€ They both laughed, and in a moment, he collected himself. â€œOkay. Um…â€ He took a deep breath, and held her gaze. Her eyes were bright blue. â€œI swear, by everything I am, that… I will protect you, and… stand by you… for the rest of our lives. Whatever happens, I am yours.â€ He swallowed hard.
She pressed her lips together, sobbed once, and said, â€œI… promise you that I will be with you for the rest of our lives. I will love you… with… everything. That I am. And nothing will separate us, ’till death do we part.â€
Then, they kissed.
They jogged to a hotel a block away and grabbed a set of keys from the rows laid out on the counter. He held her in the elevator, pressed close with their eyes both shut tight. Once in the room, they made love recklessly. They laughed when they accidentally bashed their foreheads together, and clutched each other when they cried. Time crawled.
With ten seconds left, they sat together on the floor, leaning on the bed, wrapped in each other.
â€œThank you,â€ he said, and the last tear blinked from his eye.
She smiled and squeezed him. â€œIt was a good idea.â€ She lifted her head, and her smile shifted sideways. â€œI’m Melanie, by the way.â€
He had to chuckle. â€œJeff.â€ He removed one hand from her back and offered it to her.
She took it and shook. â€œNice to meet you.â€
They kissed, and the lights shut off. Along, they knew, with life support. Then, it was quiet. Much more so than either of them had expected.
After a minute, Melanie shuddered. â€œHoney?â€
She drew in her legs. â€œI’m cold.â€
Jeff, without a beat, reached behind him and tugged the rumpled comforter off the bed, wrapping it snugly around himself and his wife. â€œBetter?â€
She closed her eyes. â€œYes. Thank you.â€
Author : Brian Armitage
â€œHe’s up. Turn it on,â€ someone says. The doctor.
As I open my eyes, the whiteness hits. It’s like I’m having an idea, but it’s too much for my brain to hold. I squeeze my eyes shut and gasp, trying to…
…where am I? The doctor is looking at me, smiling. Confidently. Behind him, the other doctor, holding an implant control. â€œWhat’s going on?â€
â€œAlways the first thing they forget,â€ Dr. Meyers says, the one in the back. Like I’m not even in the room. How do I know his name?
Dr. Canton pats me on the knee. I can barely feel it. I’m strapped to the bed at the knees. â€œWatch the wallscreen, Mr. Daughtry. This video should explain everything. Screen one, play.â€ The white idea is alight again, and it’s burning… and I can’t remember where my house is. The video starts, and a face pops onto the screen. I jump, and the bed slides against the wall.
â€œHey, Mike. It’s me. You. Well, yeah,â€ the recording says. Chuckles. â€œBut man, soon we’re not gonna be anyone anymore. We’re getting the Parson Treatment.â€ The recording grins. â€œIt’s all getting erased.â€
Another pulse. What’s my last name? What’s my dad’s name? And the recording just grins at me. It starts talking again, and I just gawk. I grip my hair, eyes vibrating. â€œNo, no, no… you dumb bastard. What did you do?â€
The doctor in the back of the room laughs aloud. The doctor by the bed shushes him, but he’s trying not to laugh himself.
â€œ…done, you’re not gonna remember anything! Nothing! Not Kiera leaving, not…â€
â€œKiera left me?â€ When? I start crying. The white idea roars. Why am I crying?
â€œ…won’t hurt. They say they need you to be awake for the procedure, because of the brain chemistry. It’ll be weird, but… we’ll finally be done.â€
What procedure? I can’t remember any… no. Not a Parson Implant. No.
â€œPeople say it’s suicide, but it’s not. They’re wrong.â€ The man in the video clenches his jaw, looks like he’s going to point a finger at the camera, but he doesn’t. Who is he? â€œWe’re finally going to be useful for someone. They’ll use our body, but we won’t have to deal with it anymore.â€ He tries to smile. â€œFinally done.â€
â€œ85 percent,â€ says the doctor with the device in his hand.
â€œGood enough. Go ahead,â€ says the other.
The doctor’s finger taps the device. What is it-
A white idea rushes at me. It burns, but… it burns, but… A white idea. A white. I try speak. I try stop. Wall man say okay. Is okay? No! Not wanting!
* * *
â€œAnd, done,â€ said Dr. Meyers. Flatline on all three scales. Nice and clean.
Dr. Canton patted what was Mike Daughtry on the knee again. The patient started, then squinted at his own knee. â€œScreen one, pause recording.â€ He waited for the confirmation chime, then burst into laughter. â€œOh, man! We’re watching that one again tonight. Did you see that? He forgot his wife left him! Perfect timing.â€
â€œPerfect timing,â€ Meyers repeated, shaking his head. â€œClassic. We should probably think of a better excuse to wake them up first, though. Someone’s not gonna buy it. But thank you, Mr. Daughtry, for totally buying it.â€
The patient had turned toward Meyers. His jaw moved slightly, once.