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MindState

“Cut the links!” Bethel says without hesitation, his voice far calmer than the situation would seem to merit. “Cut them all now.” But as Ryker the technician raises his hands to the keyboard to comply, Bethel raises a hand. “All but Sydney,” he says. “That was Stewart’s original destination. Leave that link open. Cut all the rest.” Ryker hesitates, as though unsure of Bethel’s resolve. The large time clock on the wall reads plus twelve minutes and thirty-seven seconds since transmission. “Do it, for Christ’s sake!” Bethel repeats, finally allowing a touch of urgency to enter his voice. Seconds later, six of the seven bars on the computer screen change from green to flashing red. A message appears on the ...

Arwen

“Arwen? Seriously? Arwen … What the heck kind of name is Arwen anyway?” “It’s a very unique name, the name of my favorite character from my favorite book around the time you were born.” “Unique, yeah, I’ll give you that—bonus points for uniqueness. But a fantasy novel? Hobbits? Dwarves? Elves? So, were you and dad, like, hippies or something? What else was in the running that lost out to Arwen? Moonpie? Swampgrass?” Arry lowered her head for a moment and rubbed hard at the bridge of her nose. Maybe it was the late hour, or the alcohol. All she knew was that it had taken her twenty-two years to have this conversation, and so far it wasn’t looking like it would turn out to have been worth the wait. In truth she didn’t ...

Icarus Falling

“The more you approach infinity, the deeper you penetrate terror” ― Gustave Flaubert   Armstrong Station – Thursday, March 14, 2097, 4:42 pm EST “This is our last case, so make it count. Supply ship’s not due for another couple of days.” Takashi lowers the large cardboard box of toilet paper to the galley floor and rises with a grunt. Allard looks up from whatever he’s tinkering with under the microwave console and chuckles. “If twenty-three of us can’t make ninety-six rolls of toilet paper last for two more days, there is something seriously wrong with this crew. That’s like two rolls a day per person. Just steer clear of the burritos.”   Northwest Oregon Oncology, Office 2104 – 12 Days Earlier “Year ...

Dispatch From the Hereafter

Despite a lifetime of religious cynicism and disbelief, it was still something of a disappointment, upon my death, to discover that there really is nothing afterward. Well, not nothing in the literal sense. My ability to be here and to tell you about it pretty much means that there must be something. But it’s certainly nothing in the eschatological sense that most everyone is back there basing their lives on and which serves as the foundation for everything they’re looking forward to in the hereafter—in fact, not only looking forward to, but for many people actually spending their lives striving toward. Only here’s the eye opening reality of it—what awaits over here is exactly the same for everyone, regardless of what you did ...

The Deal of a Lifetime

Rick was supposed to be writing, damn it. He had a contract and a deadline and he’d already long-since spent the meager advance. He had done the math and it was driving him mad. The publisher expected a four hundred pager, due in seven months time, which was, of course, insane, seeing as how the first book had taken nearly five years to research and write. Four hundred pages, about a hundred and fifty thousand words, of which he currently had maybe ten thousand. To make the deadline meant cranking out about ten thousand more words every week for the remainder of the time until the deadline. Who the hell could do that? Nobody, that’s who. Maybe Stephen King, but that was about it. The book would presumably be based on the topic already ...

The Challenge

“So you believe there is no point to life if you don’t die at the end of it,” MacDonald says, punctuating the statement with a sip from his bourbon. Ice cubes tinkle in the highball glass as he sets it down on the end table. Henderson, his companion in the chair opposite, sits for a long, silent moment, letting the statement hang, a legally concise distillation of his own more nuanced philosophical assertions of the past few moments. The only other sounds in the library are periodic crackles from the fireplace and the quickening breaths of a cold front just now arriving outside the big front window. MacDonald’s statement is neither rhetorical nor a mere exercise in eschatological musing, though the pair, fast friends since their ...

Those Who Speak, Ch. 1 – ...

June 20, 1955   1955 was barely half over and already it had been a year of auspicious beginnings and hopeful changes. President Eisenhower had, in February, sent the first handful of advisors to an obscure country in Southeast Asia called Vietnam, assuring Americans that it was strictly a training assignment and that the men would be home before year’s end. In March a dashing young guy with jet-black hair and a pretty good singing voice had made his first television appearance—guy named Elvis something or other. And up in Illinois an ambitious and entrepreneurial businessman named Ray Kroc had opened a little hamburger stand known as McDonald’s, bragging that he was offering something new he called “fast food,” like anybody ...

Those Who Speak, Ch. 5 – ...

March 18, 1963   “Reverend, you picked quite a day to be out here trying to do that all by yourself.” Cyrus was so engrossed in what he was doing that the sound of the car coming up the long driveway, the press of tires on gravel muted by the first leavings of the snowstorm, had barely registered on his senses. He was standing atop an extension ladder in front of the chapel door, doing his best to maintain balance while holding above his head the eight-foot-long board that was about to become the chapel’s nameplate. The weather to which the approaching visitor had alluded was most decidedly not helping Cyrus in his efforts. A mid-March snowstorm had been forecast to begin today and was expected to dump as much as ten inches by ...

The Blackening

In the final two minutes of descent to the comet, a number of things needed to take place in rapid succession and perfectly. The failure of even a single one risked jeopardizing the entire mission, which was now well into its fifth year and which had cost American taxpayers a bit over four hundred million dollars. The fact that what taxpayers would be getting for their nearly half a billion dollars was a container of comet dust about the size of a shoebox made the demands of perfection for the landing all the more critical. With one hundred twenty seconds remaining, the lander detached itself from the main vehicle. It then fired a series of quick brief blasts from its maneuvering engines to reorient itself so that the main descent booster ...

Those Who Speak, Ch. 4 – ...

February 11, 1963   “Mister Chamberlain, it’s a real pleasure to finally meet you in person,” “Mister Brentwood, the pleasure is all mine, and please let’s stick with Cyrus, shall we? No need to stand on formalities if we’re going to be working together.” “Fair enough,” Brentwood replied. “You be Cyrus, and I’ll be Frank. But I wouldn’t describe what’s happening here so much as working together, except perhaps in the most distant possible sense. After all, as I hope I made clear in our calls, it is not my desire or intent to interfere in any way with how you choose to build and operate this church. I’m simply pleased that you’ve agreed to help me out of a sticky situation, even if only ...